Tag Archives: fairy tale

Tale: José the Beast Slayer

I work with my friend J, whose mother is from Portugal and father is from Mexico. I asked him to tell me one of his favorite stories that he remembers hearing while growing up to try and get a folktale out of him. He told me this story while we were working, I was the only member of the audience. He said that his mother would tell it to him when he was younger as a sort of fairytale.

The story is called Jose the Beast Slayer. The story starts with a woman being trapped in a wooden home with no door by her father. She is here for years until she eventually is able to escape and fall in love with a Duke. They have a son and soon after his birth the father dies and the son quickly proves himself to be wise and strong. He takes care of his mother for a while while they live in the woods. One day Jose the beast slayer runs into a giant and kills it quickly. He returns to his mother with some gold and the great news and she tells him he should go see the King and tell him of the story. When Jose meets with the king he quickly realizes that the king is his grandfather, the one who locked up the girl in the beginning. They are reunited and they go find the woman and bring her to the kingdom. Many years later when the king passes away and Jose the beast slayer becomes the new king of the land.

This to me as many of the elements of a typical folk tale. The hero is Jose, the protagonist is the giant. There is a brief love story. There is a happy ending of a reuniting family. The protagonist shows strength and intelligence beyond his years. The story inspires happiness and unity. I was surprised that there was nothing specific in the story that related to the culture of Portugal, but I didn’t consider that a loss or odd. The start of the story reminded me a lot of Rapunzel which also doesn’t represent one culture either.

The Frog Princess

The 26-year-old informant was born in Russia, but moved to the U.S. at a young age. During his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College, he was a teaching assistant for a Russian folklore class and found these pieces of folklore to be particularly interesting or representative of Russian culture.

“So there’s this prince named Prince Ivan who has two older brothers. Their dad, the King tells them that they have to find wives and they must do so by shooting arrows in different directions to find their brides. The first two brothers shoot their arrows and they land in the houses of noble and wealthy merchants. Ivan shoots his arrow, and it lands in the mouth of a frog that lives in a swamp. Ivan gets upset and is like, “How am I supposed to marry a frog??” but the King says he must because that was the agreement and he must meet is fate.

So Ivan marries the frog and his brothers marry their beautiful brides, and after, the King tells his sons that he wants each of their wives to bake him some bread for the next day. Ivan is freaking out and goes home and his wife, the frog, asks him what’s wrong, so he tells her what his dad just asked of him and his brothers. The frog tells Ivan not to worry and that she’ll take care of it. She tells him “morning is wiser than the evening,” and so Ivan goes to bed. That night, the frog takes off her frog skin and turns into a beautiful maiden and bakes the bread. The next day, the King is impressed and likes the frog’s bread best.

He then asks the three wives to make him a full silk carpet, and that night, the frog does the same thing and makes the best carpet. The next day, there’s a ball at the palace and wants all the princes to come with their wives. Once again, Ivan is sad because how can he go to a ball with a frog? But the frog tells him to go to the ball alone, and when he hears thunder and the earth starts shaking, just tell the other guests not to worry and that it’s just your frog coming in a little box. Ivan does this.

At the ball, the frog performs other magical feats. One thing she does it pour some water into her left sleeve and bones into her right sleeve. So as she dances, she swings her left sleeve out and creates a lake. She swings her right sleeve out and swans appear on the lake. The other wives are understandably jealous and try to do the same thing, except since they have no magical powers,  they just spray water and bones at the King and the guests.

Meanwhile, Prince Ivan sneaks away back home and finds the frog skin lying on the ground. Since he wants his wife to stay in human form, he burns the skin. When his wife gets home, she’s like, “What did you do? If you had just been patient for one more night, I would’ve been free from this curse, but now you must find me 33 kingdoms away in the castle of Koshei the Deathless,” who’s like a major evil figure in Russian folklore.

So Ivan sets off on his quest, and he first sees an old man. He tells the old man of his misfortune, the old man says, “Why’d you burn the frog skin?” But he decideds to take pity on him and gives him a magic ball of yarn. and tells him to follow it to find the right path. Along the way he sees a bear, which he wants to kill, but the bear speaks to him and says “Don’t kill me! I’ll be useful to you in the future,” so Ivan takes pity on him.

Next, he sees a duck, and wants to kill it, but the duck also asks him to take pity, so Ivan takes pity again. Next, he sees a rabbit, and the same thing happens. Then, he comes across a fish trapped in a shallow pond, and the same thing happens.

So then, he reaches the home of a witch named Baba Yaga, who lives in a magical house on chicken legs. He tells the house to turn to face him, and it does, so he’s able to enter. Baba Yaga can be helpful or sometimes a cannibal, so she’s like, “What are you doing here, young man?” and he tells her she’s got bad manners because she’s asking a guest questions before offering a meal and a bath, which is really representative of Russian culture. So Baba Yaga then provides both, and then Ivan tells her of his dilemma.

Baba Yaga’s possibly the only creature that knows where to find Koshei’s death, which is on the tip of a needle. The needle is in an egg, and the egg is in a duck, and the duck is inside a rabbit, and the rabbit is in a big chest, chained to the top of a tall oak, which is hidden. So, Baba Yaga tells Ivan where to find the oak.

When Ivan gets there, he doesn’t know how to get to the chest. Suddenly, the bear he spared shows up and destroys the oak, and breaks the chest open. Out of the chest springs a rabbit, which runs away, but the rabbit that Ivan spared appears and kills it. Out of that rabbit, a duck flies into the sky, but the duck that Ivan spares kills it. Then, the egg with the needle falls into the sea, but the fish that Ivan saved retrieves it from the bottom of the sea. Ivan then breaks the needle, and now Koshei is mortal, so he defeats him, getting his wife back and living happily ever after.”


For another version of this fairytale, see Vasilisa the Beautiful. Dir. Vladimir Pekar. Soyuzmultfilm, 1977. Film.

The Dog Buns

Context: One of my roommates, when he heard me explaining to a friend about how stressful it was to try and find folklore from different sources, offered some of the stories he knew from his childhood.

Background: This is a tale my roommate heard  when he was a kid.

Dialogue: It goes… There’s this Buddhist who’s, you know, vegetarian, everyone loves him, he’s very holy, um, and, the queen of the land who, I guess doesn’t really like him or wants to bring attention away from him and to herself, uh, comes up with this plan to make everyone hate the monk… So, she, um, cooks these dogs, and… puts them into meat buns… um, which could also look like vegetarian buns, and she gives all of them, uh, to the monk, and, she says, “Look! I’ve, I’ve prepared these nice, uh, veggie buns for you! Why don’t you go eat them?” Uh… She’s thinking, then she’s going to reveal they’re made of dog, and he ate them, and everyone’s gonna hate him… Um, but the monk instead digs a hole in the ground, buries the buns into the ground, puts dirt back over them, and waters them, and then the dogs come back out of the ground! And, then people realize that the evil queen put dog in the buns and now the dogs are back to life, and now they get rid of the queen, and everyone loves the monk again.

Analysis: Sort of just a cute story, really something meant for kids, like a fairy tale (and perhaps it is, and my roommate just didn’t refer to it as such). Nice little morality tale about not letting jealousy get to you, with the added iconography of the Buddhist monk instead of the traditional Western protagonist.

Masha and Natasha

AD’s grandma is originally from Kursk, Russia, and would always tell her fables and fairytales whenever AD came to visit. She has fond memories with her cousins sitting around her grandma as she would tell these stories in a thick accent. Her grandma would always compare herself to Baba Yaga or make jokes about her, and the stories were a very important part of their relationship. This was the most memorable fable she told AD. It follows many aspects of Propp’s fairytale structure, notable the abstention of a parent, an evil stepmother, a donor (the mouse), a test, and a homecoming. This is then repeated again by the other daughter, Natasha, but unsuccessfully, serving as a moral warning against selfishness.

“Masha is a sweet, prefect girl, a Cinderella type: beautiful, smart and sweet. She lives with her mother and father on farm. It’s nice but they don’t have a lot of money. Then, her mother dies, and her father remarries. The other woman has a daughter, Natasha, but she is opposite of Masha: ugly, spoiled, rude, selfish. Her mother loves her a lot. Masha’s dad loves the mom, plus she has money, which helps. The step mother does not like Masha, and wants Natasha to have all the opportunities. One day, she’s talking to her husband and says, “We cant afford to take care of both of these girls. Masha is smart and strong, she’ll be fine. Take her out in the forest and leave her with a candle and a little kasha (porridge) and she’ll be fine!”

After hesitation he agrees, and takes Masha, puts her in the cart with a candle & kasha. He then takes her into middle of the forest and doesn’t tell her what he’s doing. He says goodbye and leaves her. She’s cold and sad, so shemakes herself some kasha heated by candle. Then a little mouse comes over (“mouth” as pronounced by grandma) and asks

“Oh I’m so hungry, will you share with me?”

“Oh but I only have a little”

“Please, I’ll help you in return”

Masha, being generous and kind, gives him some. She doesn’t know here’s a bear in the forest, but all of a sudden the bear comes over and is like “Get out of my forest”

Mash says no.

The bear says, “Okay, I’ll make a little bet with you. I’m going to throw 3 stones. You are going to run in a circle around this cave. I’m going to close my eyes so I can’t see, and throw stones. If I hit you, you’re dead. if I miss all 3 times, I will give you all the riches, jewels, gowns and wealth you could want.”

Masha looks at the mouse, and the mouse says “Do it, I’ll help you.”

She takes the deal.

The mouse takes Masha’s place and runs in the circle while Masha stands aside.

The bear throws the 1st stone.

“Did I hit you?”


He throws the 2nd stone.

“Did I hit you?”


He throws the 3rd stone.

“Did I hit you?”


The mouse runs away. The bear gives Masha her riches, servants, and a beautiful carriage. The next morning, the rooster is crowing “coocuracoo.” Natasha looks and says “is that Masha?”

stepmom says,  “No she’s dead!”

“No it’s Masha!”

It’s her, returning with all these beautiful things. She has a happy reunion with father.

The stepmom can’t stand that Masha came back with all beautiful things. She wants the same thing for her daughter, and decides to send her out to same place so she can also get riches. Of course they send her with lots of food, lots of stuff, an entire full wagon into forest. The dad drops her off. She sits down and doesn’t know what to do, so she lights a candle and starts making food. The mouse comes over and says “Oh I know you”

“You don’t know me”

“Oh you’re not Masha”

The mouse asks for food, and she refuses to give him any because she’s spoiled.

Then the bear comes over, and proposes same deal he made to Masha.

Natasha takes the deal.

She starts running in the circle. obviously not as fast as the mouse who refuses to help her. He kills her with the first stone.

The next day, the rooster crows “coocooracooo”

The stepmother has been waiting for her daughter to return with the riches in a carriage, but all they see is the wagon coming, carrying Natasha’s bones.”

The Seven Ravens

The informant is a 21-year-old college student who was born in France, and continued to live there until moving to the United States at age 15. The informant’s mother is from Germany and his father is from Spain.

I asked the informant to grab a cup of coffee on campus, and questioned whether he had distinct memories of any bedtime stories that his parents told him when he was a child living in France. He described a tale that his mother would often tell him, called “The Seven Ravens.”

“A girl who is very sick and weak was born among seven brothers, so their father sent the boys to get this holy water to help their sister. But on the way, the brothers get lost, and so the father gets angry and says ‘I wish they were all turned ravens’ and they all turned into ravens. The girl eventually gets over her sickness and as she gets older she sees traces that she once had brothers. She became super curious and wanting nothing else but to find them. She met a witch who would give her this wish but she had to get all these specific materials to knot a sweater for every brother. She got super close but didn’t have time to knit the arm thing on one sweater, and all her brothers came back except one still had a wing.”

This German fairy tale, which describes a sister on a quest to find long lost members of her family, seems to closely follow the syntagmatic structure that the folklorist Vladimir Propp established for all folk tales. It follows a hero, the girl, who is sent on a long quest to fulfill a set of tasks that will satisfy her initial desire to piece together the traces of her brothers and ultimately bring them back into her life. Knowing that this tale is of German origin, I asked the informant if he knew what book his mother had read it to him from, suspecting that it was related to the vast number of fairy tales recorded by the Grimm brothers. His response confirmed my suspicions, as he said that “The Seven Ravens” came from a book of German fairy tales his mother had that mentioned the Grimm brothers. This märchen functioned as a source of entertainment for the informant, and provided his mother a fun and suspenseful story to tell her child while allowing him to settle down for bed. The informant’s mother and father were separated, which may help to explain why his mother was not worried about telling a story that did not shed a positive light on the hero’s father figure. Despite the father’s wrath in the tale, “The Seven Ravens” places importance on themes of family unity and persistence, and in turn functions to encourage young audience members to care for and support their family members and to never give up when faced with a difficult task.


For the version of “The Seven Ravens” first published by the Grimm brothers, see the annotation below.

  • Die Sieben Raben, Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales — Grimms’ Fairy Tales), final edition (1857), no. 25.
  • In the ATU categorical index, this falls under Aarne-Thompson type 451, The Brothers Who Were Turned into Birds. Tales of this type are found throughout Europe.