Thursday, February 20, 2020

The pig (Feminist Folktales 8.)

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: Denmark

The story

A poor widow is working with her three daughters (combing flax, baking, etc.) when a pig runs into their garden. She sends her eldest to chase the pig away, and the pig lures the girl into a foggy forest where she gets lost. Suddenly the pig turns into a man who takes the girl home and locks her in a room. The same thing happens with the second daughter, but the third managed to win the man's approval, and gets free rein of the house. She finds her sisters in the locked rooms, and finds the keys to let them out. She makes a plan of escape.
One day the man comes home complaining it's cold outside. The girl asks him to take a bag of coal to her poor old mother. She hides her sister in the bag with gold and silver, and covers her with coal. The man carries her home on his back; when he tries to peek inside the bag, the girl yells "I can see you!" and he thinks the youngest daughter is watching him. He carries the first two sisters home, and then the youngest hides herself in a bag, so all thee make it back to their mother safe and sound. When the man comes home to an empty house, he bursts into pebbles out of anger.

What makes it a feminist folktale?

A brave and clever girl does not only rescue herself, but also saves her sisters.
This tale is related to the Bluebeard and Mr. Fox stories. But while in those (ATU 312) the previous wives are killed, in this type (ATU 311) the heroine finds a way out of danger, and she also saves the other girls. This is the reason I especially like this story: it is very rare in European folktales to find sisters who don't compete, but rather help each other and work together. This is a very important element to highlight, in the context of all the "evil stepsister" and "kind and unkind girls" tales. Traditional tales have very few female friendships to begin with, or good sibling connections in general, so it's good to emphasize the rare exception.
I also love this version in particular because it doesn't feature a romantic element. In many variants the girls go off to marry a rich and handsome stranger, and the moral of the story is along the lines of "don't marry rich and handsome strangers" (which is also an important message, but also kind of makes it all the girls' fault). In this Danish story the girls get lost in the woods chasing a pig, and they only go to the man's home because they "can't find the way home." They go to his house for shelter, not (misguided) romance, and none of them become his lover or wife.

Things to consider

The English text calls the animal a pig; in Hungarian I often say "boar" or "wild pig" because the creature comes out of the woods, and because "pig" is also a pejorative term for a pervert (which in this case is not entirely unfounded).


Clara Stroebe: Danish Fairy Book (1922.)
Sven Grundtvig: Gamle danske minder i folkemunde (1854.)


Interestingly, the name of this tale type in English is Rescue by the sister, but in Hungarian we call it Girl-killer. In some versions the man does kill the first two girls, but their sister usually brings them back to life somehow.

1 comment:

  1. Good story. Sounds like the Italian story, Count Silvernose. The youngest sister rescues the two older ones by hiding them in a bag (sometimes a basket) of dirty laundry. No one marries the count as he was the devil himself.