Fairy Tale Friday: The Snake Sister

The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales

Franz Xaver von Schönwerth

pg. 93-7

ATU 403 The White and the Black Bride 

ATU 480 The Kind and the Unkind Girls

There were a lot of different tale types in this one. Or at least I thought there were, but not so many when I sat down to write this up.

It begins with a witch’s ploy to marry Hans and Annie’s father, a recently widowed merchant. She uses her sorcery to make Annie sick and insists that she “‘Tell your father you won’t get better until he marries me'” (93). The father agrees, of course, but unfortunately, “[a]fter the wedding, he disappeared without a trace” (93). It was a unique plot method to get them an evil stepmother without the dad being bad or dense.

Hans leaves to “seek his fortune as quickly as possible” cause that’s what people (especially men) do in fairy tales (93). Also following tale type conventions, he gives Annie a knife, which he struck in a tree, and tells her “‘If this knife ever gets rusty , it means I have taken a bad turn. But if it stays shiny, that’s a sign that I will be back'” (93).

Later Annie has to get water from a dangerous place with wild animals. A dwarf guards the way. Because she honestly answers his question, she’s given a crust of bread to feed the animals. After she gets her water she hears a voice asking her to wash it. It turns out to be three skulls. I thought this was a unique twist on the Kind and Unkind Girls type. 

As expected, she is rewarded with beauty, luck, and a future as queen. Also as expected, the stepmother sends her own daughter out to the water. When she hears the skulls she “washed them all, but then she threw them back in the mud” (95). Why would you do that? Why go to the trouble to clean them just to be spiteful? How is that even a good idea?? She is cursed to be ugly, unlucky, and to be burned at the stake. These skulls aren’t kidding around.

To go on a bit of a side tangent, this particular tale type has an interesting fascination for me. While I can see the merit of rewarding kindness and honesty over spite and laziness, the severe dichotomy between good and bad is a tiresome. There’s no room for a mixed personality. In the case of ATU 480, it creates a symbolic divide between sisters. And I’m just like…no, can we try not doing that all the time?

While seeking his fortune, Hans tells a king about how beautiful his sister Anna is. The stepmother replaces her daughter for Anna. Hans gets in trouble, although I wonder why he didn’t just tell the king the stepdaughter wasn’t his sister, or at least not the sister he was referring to.

What’s interesting is that the stepmother (or old woman, as the fairy tale refers to her now) is constantly asking her daughter to plead for mercy for Hans. At first I thought, hey, character complexity, but nope, she might have just been worried he would give away the ruse.

Anna eventually returns after growing out of the ground and, as the skulls said, marries the King. I’m not sure I’d want to marry that king, not that women in fairy tales get much say in that.



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