Tag Archives: fairy tales

“Yeki bood, yeki nabood”

My friend Panteha is of Iranian descent on her dad’s side. She recalls a phrase in Farsi that her dad would always use to begin stories or fairy tales he told her as a kid.

The phrase is, in the original Farsi:
یکی بود یکی نبود

It is transliterated as “Yeki bood yeki nabood,” which roughly translates to “once there was one and once there wasn’t one.” This phrase is used in essentially the same manner in which many english speakers use “once upon a time” to begin folk narratives, particularly tales. Although these phrases have different literal translations, they serve the same purpose: to establish the fantastical or fictional nature of a folk narrative.

Tsarevna Lyagushka (Царевна Лягушка)

There’s a king with three sons. They’re all getting old enough to marry, and he says: “Go and take these arrows and shoot them off and wherever they land, there you’ll find your bride.”

The oldest one shoots an arrow and he goes and it lands in the court of a rich landowner. He marries the daughter.

The second oldest one shoots an arrow and it lands in the court of another wealthy prince.

The youngest one shoots an arrow and it lands in a swamp. He goes to the swamp and he looks and finally finds the arrow, and it’s by a little frog. The frog talks to him and says, “I’m a princess!” He is disappointed, but being duty-bound, he brings the frog back and they get married.

They go to a dinner where all the sons bring their wives. Using magic because it’s at night, the frog comes to the party and she’s the most charming person, and completely outshines the other two brides. She also does this special dance — the other two brides and the other brothers are astounded and confused.

The youngest brother goes back home and he sees the frog there, and he kills it but it messes up the curse on the frog — basically, she was cursed by this immortal evil person (kashey bezsmertny – informant’s note: “looks like Skeletor”). She used to be a princess but she was turned into a frog, but at night, she can be her normal self. The curse would’ve been over after that night, but because the prince destroyed her frog form, he messed it up and she was stuck in limbo.

So, the prince finds out that he has to defeat the immortal evil person in order to get her back. Kashey bezsmertny is at the end of the earth — on his quest to reach him and defeat him, he befriends several animals including a bird, a squirrel and a horse. Each time he befriends this animal, he helps the troubled animal and earns their gratitude and debt. He ends up facing kashey bezsmertny and able to defeat him, but only with the help of his animal friends, as it turns out. The princess returns to her form and they live happily ever after.

The informant heard this story when he was a child from watching a cartoon, but he also read it in storybooks. There are many variations of this story, which clearly follows Vladimir Propp’s fairy tale type model. The story apparently takes different iterations within Russian culture and varies between different cultures.

I spoke to my informant during an on-campus event.

Given that non-modern Russian culture was feudalistic, the idea of succession and success were both very important to families, especially families with multiple sons, who had to get married and start new lives elsewhere. For that reason, that’s why the idea that the father sends the sons out to get brides is so interesting to me — other iterations have the mothers sending the sons out, or the sons seeking adventure on their own.

For a slightly different version of this same story, see “The Frog.”

Auntie Cockroach (kids)

When he was four or five, his grandmother and mother told him a story about “Auntie Cockroach”. This folktale is a very popular Persian fairy tale for kids and it was a popular bedtime story for Arya. Her mother and grandmother would always end their retelling by asking him to answer what the moral of the story was (being generous, helping people and welcoming guests into your home).
He told me the following rendition from what he remembers:
On a very rainy night, auntie Cockroach received many visitors from animals who needed shelter. There was the zebra, the horse, the cat ad the mouse. The zebra asked to come in because his roof was leaking; the horse came next and asked for some food since he had been traveling all night and hadn’t been able to stop anywhere. Then came the cat seeking the warmth of a fireplace and finally, the mouse whose mousehole had flooded with the rains. Auntie cockroach let all the animals in and tended to their needs; the next morning, all the animals left and were eternally thankful for Auntie Cockroach’s generosity.

What’s interesting about this story, is that Arya revealed that there is another version that goes by the same name: “Auntie Cockroach and Mr. Mouse” and is the adult (more elaborate) version of the kids’ one he’d heard growing up. This version can be found online as a PDF and is titled “Auntie Cockroach (Khale Suske) and Mr. Mouse”