Tag Archives: transformation

Take Care Out There


Transformation is often used as a punishment. The White Cat, in the French folktale of the same name, is originally a princess who has been given to the fairies by her mother as payment for some enchanted fruit (well that’s the currency you buy your enchanted fruit with isn’t it?). Everything ticks along nicely until the princess tries to escape whereupon the fairies turn her in to a white cat, making all her subjects feline too. Her restoration depends on a prince falling in love with her for her personality, which she keeps along with her ability to speak. Naturally, even though she now lives in a secluded palace hidden in a dense forest, the youngest of three king’s sons turns up on a quest. The White Cat has also been given some magic abilities and is able to help the prince out by providing the small dog he has been sent to get. It’s not enough of course and he is soon back for some cloth so fine it can pass through the eye of a needle. The third time he turns up she helps him out by once more becoming her beautiful human self so they can get married. Not much of a punishment really.

Prince Dung Beetle does less well. We meet him in his insect form when a poor girl who is running to the doctors to get medicine for her ailing mother slips and nearly crushes him. Since she sprains her ankle avoiding this rather sudden end to the story he helps her out saying “climb on my back” (notice he retains his speech as well) then flying her to the doctors and back home with the necessary medicaments. The mother is instantly cured and suggests the girl should feed her “little horse” but he is nowhere to be seen. Moments later the restored prince turns up and explains that he had been turned in to a dung beetle to do penance for being cruel to helpless creatures in his youth and had spent many years suffering, only to be freed if someone was kind to him. Since the girl had affected his cure he naturally offered to marry her and make her family wealthy as well. So that turned out all right too.

They don’t all end happily ever after. When an old woman in rags came in to the bakery asking for just a little bit of bread the bakers daughter at first refused to give her any. After some additional pleading from the beggar woman the baker said “Tear off a bit of dough and make her a roll.” The daughter tore off a tiny little piece and left it to prove with the rest. When she came back she found the dough had risen enough to be a whole loaf. She ignored the good fortune that luck had bestowed on the old lady and tore off an even smaller bit than before then put it back down for a second proving. Once more the tiny piece of dough gained the size of a full loaf so she tore off an even smaller bit and put it in to bake. Those of you who know your folk tales will not be surprised to hear that when they took the bread out of the oven there was no small roll but only full sized loaves. Still the baker’s daughter tore off a chunk from the end of one and handed it to the old woman saying “I don’t know what’s going on here but that’s all you are getting”. The old woman began to change, growing taller and more beautiful, and revealed herself to be a fairy. “You had many chances to be kind with no loss to yourself” she said, “but you chose to be mean. Now I curse you to live in darkness and feast on vermin!” and with that she waved her wand. The baker’s daughter began to shrink, feathers sprouted from her skin, her eyes grew wide and a mournful hooting escaped the beak that grew where her lips had been. She spread her new wings and flew away to the woods. There she lives still, only coming out at night to hunt for rats and mice. So always be kind, even to the lowliest creature they may be a prince or a fairy, after all the owl was a baker’s daughter.

…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.

The Travelling Talesman www.thetravellingtalesman.co.uk

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Filed under Talking Animals, Transformation

What Big Teeth You Have.


When the moon is full take care, for that is the time that someone afflicted by a curse may undergo the terrible transformation, their feet and hands grow long and hair sprouts all over their body as they writhe in agony. Finally their face pushes forwards in to a slavering, canine snout and, head back, they let out a spine chilling howl. Now, in this monstrous form, they search for a lonely victim to rend, tear and devour. Only a silver bullet can stop them.

This werewolf, however, is a Victorian literary concoction. The werewolf of folktale is a very different beast. The full moon plays no part. Transformations being brought on by the donning of a wolf skin, the application of an ointment, or simply because the mood takes them. How are we to cope? At least with the lunar induced metamorphosis we know when to get the special ammunition on standby. Fortunately as well as being less predictable the folk wolfman is less invulnerable and can be killed by most normal methods for dispatching mammals.

The Daughter Of Ulkolak has a werewolf for a father. He is a woodcutter and one day starts eliminating his nine daughters because the are too expensive. When the youngest (and prettiest) is brought to the edge of the pit in which her sisters lie dead she asks Ulkolak to turn away while she undresses for her impending immolation. When his back is turned she pushes him in the pit and runs away. The werewolf is soon in pursuit so she throws her handkerchief behind her which he stops to rend into pieces. As she flees amongst the trees with the paws of death hot on her trail, she slings bonnet, gown, apron, petticoat and shift behind her, each buying her valuable moments. The now naked girl comes to a hay field and hides in a rick where the wolf fails to find her and she is eventually rescued.

“You want me to do what?”

In a little Red Riding Hood variant the werewolf, having slaughtered granny and disguised himself in her bed, bids the girl take off her clothes one by one, throw them in the fire and climb in to bed with him. At the end of the the classic “Oh, granny what big eyes you have” sequence, when they reach “All the better to eat you with” she cleverly escapes and is chased naked through the forest.

In these two tales we see a number of common threads: the separation from older feminine family members, the sequential destruction of clothing and a naked woodland flight to safety. The origin of this story lies, not in the transmutation of man in to wolf, but in the rebirth of girl in to woman. The story has been told for generations by mothers to daughters to prepare them for the inevitable changes of life, a classic warning of what is to come. The werewolf is either a symbol of the predatory male or a metaphor for the newly awakened sexual urges of adolescence. The youthful maiden ventures out of the home environment leaving the support and advice of her family. Her childish self is stripped away from her bit by bit and she has to face the frightening world of sexuality.

Our attitudes to the wolf are changing. In more recent re-workings of the werewolf trope, such as Being Human, they are regaining control. Maybe the warnings of this tale help us all towards taking responsibility for our animal side. 

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You have to kiss a lot of frogs…


Well, actually, no. You don’t. There really is no point at all in going round randomly kissing amphibians in the hope that they will become lovestruck royalty, and even less in killing them. All else aside, they have to be able to talk or the chances of them being a magical creature are slim, and even then just because our cat appeared to call me a “wingnut” the other day doesn’t make her magical. We want whole clear sentences from them, ideally ones offering assistance with a tricky situation or high speed transportation.

It’s not just frogs either, all sorts of animals can come along and start chatting away; the White Cat from the story of the same name is a sophisticated conversationalist with her own castle; the fox of The Golden Apple (well it is midsummer, they were bound to come up) from Norway is witty and erudite. One thing most of them will never do is tell you that they may be royalty, gorgeous or highly eligible and the answer to your prayers in some other way. Often it is a condition of the curse which gave them animal form that the actions they ask of you be unbiased by their previous political clout or social and financial status.

Don’t worry, statistically they are fairly unlikely to ask for a snog or even a peck on the cheek in a traditional folk tale. It is far more common for these loquacious animals to help you along with your quest and save your skin on numerous occasions, often when you are only at risk because you ignored their initial good advice. They will repeatedly prove a loyal bosom buddy to you, before politely and kindly requesting that you cut off their head. Not what one normally expects from a good friend.

So if you’ve been given a list of impossible tasks to do and the local wildlife has come over all verbose:

1) DON’T assume it’s all down to the ale or that you’re going mad and ignore them hoping they’ll go away

2) DO exactly what they say, and I mean exactly, follow those instructions carefully, you will only make more work for yourself in the long run if you don’t.

3) DON’T get smart and think you know better than they do or tweak the details because it was only a pond dweller who advised you. They’re animals that can talk so they probably do know what they’re talking about, have they not proved that on your quest?

4) DO for just a moment put aside any emotional attachment you might have to keeping them with you, if they have asked you to ritualistically decapitate them it is probably the only way to release them from their cursed state into their human form so they can make all your dreams come true (not just the weird ones involving talking animals)

5) DON’T however, get ahead of yourself and start slaughtering garrulous critters unless they specifically request you to do so (over-enthusiastic slaying has already rendered them endangered, we see very few of them around these days)

6) DO be aware that not all chatty beasts are marriageable material: some turn out to be your dead parents come back to look after you or they might just be honest to goodness, straight up, every day, perfectly normal talking animals. But that’s a story for another Folk Tales Corner.

…here’s to living happily ever after, until the next adventure.

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Filed under Animals, Fairytale, Folk Tale, Quest, Storytelling, Summer, Talking Animals, Transformation