Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Dwarf (Feminist Folktales 11.)

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

The story

Traditional costume
from Asturias
A girl accidentally runs away with a stranger instead of her lover. Since she doesn't want to return home, she sets out wandering, and finds a new home with a childless couple in a small shepherd village. She lives happily with her new family.
However, tragedy strikes the king of their land: his only daughter becomes sick, and whoever watches over her at night dies by the morning. The king starts drawing names to designate people to watch every night, hoping one will survive and solve the mystery. When her foster-mother's name is called, the girl volunteers (insists) to go in her place.
At night she pretends to be asleep in the princess' bedroom, and witnesses a horrible scene: a Dwarf sneaks into the room, and strikes a pin into the princess' ear. She starts screaming, thinking she is being consumed by fire. When the Dwarf takes a break in her torture, she begs him to let the girl live. The Dwarf decides the girl is indeed pretty, and promises to let her live until morning. The he continues the torture. Eventually he leaves through a secret door, and the girl follows, finding his secret chamber. There she observes as he writes spells on pieces of paper; every time he throws a paper into a large cauldron, she can hear the princess scream. Eventually the Dwarf goes to sleep; the girl takes the chance to pour the contents of the cauldron over him, and he burns to ash.
The next morning the king is surprised and delighted to see both girls alive and healthy. He announces the name of the heroine in his kingdom. Eventually the news reach the poor guy who has been looking for his lover. They are reunited, and get happily married.

What makes it a feminist story?

Once again, we have a brave girl who knows what she wants. She doesn't just feel sorry for herself; rather, she makes a decision to elope with her lover, get married, and start a new life elsewhere. Sadly, it turns out she ran away with the wrong guy (it happens...). Let's also give a shout out to this stranger, who, while he doesn't question his luck when a girl drops into his lap, stops his horse at the first "no!" and lets her go her way.
I also like seeing adoptive families that work, instead of just being a temporary stop before the hero returns to the "real" family. The girl and her adoptive parents have a loving, caring relationship, and she is willing to sacrifice herself to save her mother's life.
It is interesting to note that in this story the heroine is not helped by a magic item or helper - she conquers the task by sheer force of will. This is accompanied by her bravery, which lets her act when she has the chance to destroy the villain.
I especially love this story because a girl saves a girl in it. Traditional stories with this motif are extremely rare, especially the kind where the two women are about the same age (as I assume they are here).

Things to consider

It would be worth it to look deeper into the folklore of Asturias to find out more about Dwarfs. To some audiences "Dwarf" might be a sensitive term; in those cases, another villain, eg. a demon could be substituted.


José María Guelbenzu: Cuentos populares españoles (Siruela, 2011.) Aurelio de Llano Roza de Ampudia: Cuentos asturianos: recogidos de la tradición oral (Impr. de R. Caro Raggio, 1925.)


Volunteering as tribute will no doubt remind some audiences of the Hunger Games. You can play this up or down as needed.

No comments:

Post a Comment