GD: “Eglė, this girl, is bathing and a little snake comes up to her and she’s like ‘Oh no! The snake saw me naked, Ahh!’ And the snake speaks to her and goes ‘Hey girl, in order to make this right you have to come back and you have to get married to, like, me or one of my brothers. And she goes ‘Ahh, okay, oops. Stuff happens I guess.’ So the snake goes back to snake land and Eglė goes back to her family and she talks, and she’s like ‘This is the situation, this is what’s gonna happen, I’m gonna go be married off to the snake king.’ And a few days pass and hundreds and hundreds of snakes come to her house, come to her village and her family gives them first, like, a chicken and the snakes are like ‘Yeah, we got her!’ But it’s actually a chicken and then they do the same thing with a goat, and a sheep until they end up giving the actual daughter away. So Eglė goes with the snakes and goes to Snake Island and meets the snake king, but the thing is, is that he is actually just like a handsome, regular dude. They fall in love, and just have a good time and kinda chill on the island. They have four kids all whose names translate into names of trees.”
Interviewer: “Do you remember what their names are?”
GD: “Ahhh, I know their English translations. It’s, there’s Oak, Aspen, Birch and…could not tell you the fourth. But Eglė, I also should have said this in the beginning, Eglė translates to tree in English. So they are on snake island just having a good time, having the kids, and she doesn’t really talk about her life at home. She doesn’t talk about it because she grew up poor, she grew up in the village and now she’s just having a good time ruling all of the snakes. Until one of her sons asks, and her son and her decide to go back just to, you know, check in with the family, see how everyone is doing. But the king doesn’t let them in fear that she will not return. Eventually he does agree after some, you know, back and forth and gives her a special, like, call to do whenever if she needs to contact him or if there is an emergency that she needs to, like, contact him right away apparently this sound would transcend sound barrier. Um, but she goes and they’re there and the family does not want to give them back. Eglė wants to go, the son wants to go, but they, they will not go back. So, what happens is she does the call. She calls out for family, all of her family comes and with them, like her her kids come, and with them the hordes and hordes of snakes. This being said, snake king husband is still on the island. So there’s just a big battle between her family and snakes and in order to protect herself, and to protect her children, she turns them all into trees. The End.”
GD is a 19 year old Lithuanian-American second year student at USC studying Theatre and Classics. Her mother was born in Lithuania and moved to a Lithuanian community in New Jersey, where GD attended Lithuanian school and church. She first heard this story from her immigrant mother. GD describes the moral of this story as one about blood family versus chosen family. Your family is whoever you choose to spend your time with and represent yourself with, and sometimes that’s snakes. GD describes this story as being somewhat controversial in it’s message among traditional Lithuanian storytellers. What stuck with GD was that Eglė as a woman had the power and responsibility to protect her children and her family and was justified in doing whatever she had to in order to reach that goal.
GD says Eglė, Queen of Serpents was a bed time story that would be told to her as a child, but it was different in that it ended with a sort of triumph for the main character. Many Lithuanian bedtime stories, in GD’s words, ended with the cruel end of the main character in order to teach children about the dangers of the world.
This story is very reminiscent of Beauty and the Beast and other stories in which young women come face to face with horrible monsters only to learn that they are either secretly beautiful men or were beautiful men cursed to be monsters. These tales have a nice moral in that it teaches people not to be prejudiced and to instead get to know someone yourself before passing judgement on them. This story has the added moral of being able to choose your family and so I think is a great story to read to children.
This tale is classified, in the Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index, as tale type ATU 425M, “The Snake as Bridegroom” and can be found in Jonas Balys analysis of Lithuanian folktales (published in 1936).