Thursday, January 23, 2020

The ring that said "I'm here" (Feminist Folktales 4.)

Another Thursday, another post for Feminist Folktales! It's a series of traditional stories from around the world that display motifs that reflect feminist values. I am not changing any of the stories, merely researching and compiling them, and posting them here as food for thought. You can find the list of posts here.

Origin: Spain (Asturias)

The story

A girl goes to collect firewood, but gets lost in the forest. Looking for shelter after dark she ends up at the cottage of a one-eyed giant. The giant locks her in his house and orders her to cook dinner or she'll be cooked herself. He also orders her to bring the meal to his bed. The girl makes a plan; she waits for the giant to fall asleep, then blinds him with a fire poker, puts on a sheep skin, opens the sheep corral adjacent to the house, and when the blind giant is letting his sheep out one by one, she sneaks out.
However, when the giant realizes she's outside, he starts complimenting her with sweet words, and throws a golden ring to her as a gift. She is suspicious at first, but he convinces her to put on the ring. The moment she does, the ring starts yelling "I'm here!", and she can't take it off. Eventually, pursued by the raging giant, she cuts off her own finger, and tosses it into the river. The giant jumps after it and drowns.

What makes it a feminist folktale?

This story is an excellent example of how different the same tale type can be depending on how it is embellished. The basic story, I assume, is familiar to everyone: It's Odysseus and the Cyclops, or, according to the folktale type index, ATU 1137, The Blinded Ogre. It is a common tale type around the world, from Finland to Chile, from America to the Caucasus, but this is the only version I have read so far that has a female hero. And the moment the hero's gender is changed, the story gathers a fundamentally different meaning.
(I have to repeat here that I'm not a psychologist or a story therapist, I'm just musing about what this story means to me. Stories mean different things to different people, which is only natural.)

I could just state that this story falls into the "feminist" category because it has a brave, clever heroine who rescues herself from a monster. That is plenty in itself to make the story likable. But the more I thought about it, the more I started to notice things that resonate with some women's real life experiences.
See if you feel the same: A girl, lost and alone, seeks shelter from the dark. But then it turns out that the man giving her shelter is aggressive, abusive, and dangerous. He takes her freedom away first (only he knows the password for the door), then demands household labor and obedience from her, threatening to kill her if she doesn't comply. The girl eventually gathers her strength and courage, takes up arms, fights for her freedom, and manages to find her way out of the situation, and back into the light. However, when she seems to have gotten away, the giant changes tactics. He compliments her, uses sweet words, and even offers a gift in the form of a brilliant ring. She is suspicious at first, tries to get away, but his kind demeanor breaks her defenses, and she puts on the ring. The ring becomes a shackle, yelling loudly for the giant to find it - as long as she is wearing it, there is no escape from him. She only has one chance left: she cuts off her own finger to her away.
If you ask me, this tale is the story of getting out of an abusive relationship. The loss of freedom, the fear, the hard-earned escape are not the end of the story: then comes the sudden change, manipulation, feigned kindness, and the ring that binds the girl. The ring is an especially powerful image here: society ingrains in all of us the idea that id you want to "keep someone," "secure someone", or "don't want someone to leave," you have to put a ring on them, and fast. This is the favorite last resort of sinking relationships where people would do anything to keep a partner around.

Put a ring on it.

I see this story is a feminist tale because it is about a girl who successfully rescues herself from an abusive situation. But not without a cost. This is a hard and heroic deed on her part. She literally cuts the giant off - with a drastic and final move to severe the thing that bound them together. This is not a polite, diplomatic, gradual separation. It is a complete cutoff. Sometimes this is the only way to get rid of monsters.

Things to consider

I have to add to the metaphor above that the girl in the story is not in a romantic relationship with the giant, merely sheltering at his house. Similarly, in the real world abusive relationships don't only exist between romantic partners.
At the end of the tale the girl keeps the giant's sheep, and becomes wealthy. I feel like it's really important to highlight that she has her happy ending, and a full life. As a storyteller, I'd definitely elaborate this part.
It is also important to think about what makes her pick up the ring; it would be a serious mistake to blame it on her being "stupid" or "naive."


Constantino Cabal: Los cuentos tradicionales asturianos (Voluntad, Madrid, 1900.)
José María Guelbenzu: Cuentos populares españoles (Siruela, 2011.)


Before the Greek choir pipes up: I'm not saying marriage is a mistake in general. Only the marriages between people who hurt each other.


  1. An excellent story! I didn’t realise the story type was common. I only know it from the Odyssey.

  2. There's a Basque cartoon based on this story:

  3. I'm really enjoying this series! Thank you for collecting and analysing these stories. <3

  4. Wow! This is powerful and awesome. I can't wait to tell this. I'm going to have to create an event and program specifically aimed at creating a space to tell this story. Also, story therapist? Is that a real thing? Thank you so much for this new blog!

    1. I'm happy you like the series! :) Let me know how the event went when you do it! :)
      Story therapy is a big thing in Hungary. It's a form of art therapy the way I understand it.

  5. This is very compelling. Thank you.