Tag Archives: princess

The Story of the Maiden’s Tower

Text: “This is apparently a popular Turkish legend that I was told on a family trip to Istanbul. It is the story of The Maiden’s Tower, a popular tourist destination. It tells the tale of a princess who was locked in a tower to protect her from a prophecy that she would die from a snake bite. As the legend goes, the king of Constantinople was told by a fortune-teller that his daughter would die from a snake bite on her 18th birthday. In an effort to protect his daughter, the king had a tower built in the middle of the Bosphorus Strait, where he locked the princess away. On the princess’s 18th birthday, the king brought her a basket of fruit as a gift. Unbeknownst to the king, a snake was hiding in the basket, and when the princess reached in to grab a piece of fruit, the snake bit her and she died.”

Context: CW is a close friend of mine and he claimed this popular Turkish legend was told to him and his family by way of a tour guide while they were visiting Istanbul. He claimed, “I thought this story was cool but the most interesting part was how the tower was real and it was so isolated from the whole area that the story kind of became believable in a way”. I found this interesting and asked him to explain more and he just stated that actually seeing the setting of a legend for himself made the legend come to life and seem more believable, whether or not the story is true, it was unique getting to know it was actually possible. He remembered this story because he enjoyed the trip so thoroughly and he actually had a few pictures of the tower which allowed me to understand why the story seems so possible.

Analysis: After rereading the account of this legend I was able to find two main lessons. Firstly, the story highlights the dangers of overprotectiveness. The king’s decision to lock his daughter away in a tower shows how a desire to protect someone can become excessive and ultimately lead to unintended consequences. Instead of shielding his daughter from harm, the king inadvertently brought about her demise. Secondly, the story underscores the notion of fate and how it cannot be avoided. Despite the king’s best efforts to protect his daughter, the prophecy that she would die from a snake bite still came true. With these two lessons in mind, the legend had a purpose and therefor was easier for me to understand. It seemed to me that this legend was likely popular among all residents of Turkey considering it manifests in a popular location within one of Turkeys most populated and popular locations. The story being told to CW and his family indicated to me that it was also popular for the story to be told to visiting groups of tourists. After some research I found that the exact origins of the story of the Maiden’s Tower were unclear, as it has been passed down through oral tradition over many centuries. But it is believed to have originated in ancient Greek mythology, where it was known as the “Legend of Leandros and Hero.” The story was later adopted by the Byzantine Empire, which built a tower in the Bosphorus Strait to protect the city of Constantinople from invasion. Over time, the legend evolved into the tale of the princess who was locked in the tower to protect her from a prophecy. This timeline meant this story has a rich history and consisted of elements from several different cultures which made it all the more interesting.


The Princess and the Pea

Informant KK is a USC freshman originally from Pasadena California. KK first heard this tale as a young child from his mother.  


“So there’s this prince in a castle who still has his mother and father, the king and queen, who tell him he needs to find a princess to marry. Women from all over the kingdom offer their hand to become the prince’s wife, but the queen has a test for them. She places a pea under their mattress to see if they’ll notice it, and none of them do. Because none of them do, the queen says that none of them can marry the prince. Then, one night, a girl wearing rags knocks on the castle’s gates in a heavy thunderstorm, and the queen is hesitant to invite her in. But, the prince is adamant that she be let into the castle because it is unfair to let her be outside in the storm. So they let her in and she asks for a place to stay. The prince allows this, so the queen, wanting to make sure the girl can’t pass the test, places 100 mattresses on a bed with the pea at the very bottom, and says to the girl, ‘This is your bed for the night.’ The next morning, when they have all woken up, the queen asks the girl how she slept, and she said, ‘I slept terribly, there was something under the mattress that was bothering me so much, and when I lifted up the mattress, there was a pea there!’ By the order of the game, she became the princess and married the prince. I like how it’s kind of absurd, like how could someone feasibly sleep on a mountain of 100 mattresses, for one thing, and secondly, how would they be able to sense a pea at the very bottom?” 


“Some of the variations of the story are like, the prince tests them, or sometimes there’s no competition, it’s just that the queen wants to test her. Sometimes the number of mattresses changes. I believe there’s one version where the queen first tried one mattress, then she passed the test, then the queen asked her to try again on 100 mattresses. My mom told me the first version, and I learned later about the other variations. I believe she told me a very simple version because I was very small.”

As an additional note, the Princess and the Pea is known as ATU 704 from the Aarne-Thompson-Uther tale type index.


This tale has many characteristics from Axel Olrik’s 1921 book, Epic Laws of Folk Narrative research, such as the limitations to two characters to a scene — either the lady and the prince, the lady and the queen, or the queen and the prince — and the repetition of threes, presumably in the number of potential brides which offered their hand in the challenge, which is a common motif in tales. Presumably, the tale carries the moral that a person is not defined by their financial status. The queen wanted to find a “real” and “worthy” princess, so she made it difficult for the lady with the rags to win the challenge, yet she ultimately won in the end, showing she had the value all along inside of her heart — a good lesson to teach a child.

The Stone Ñusta (Princess) of Pisac

“Okay, esta es la historia de una princesa, una Anusta Inca, y esta es la historia de donde es la abuelita, toda la familia de tu abuelita Elva, de Pisac.

Hay un cerro a que le dicen Apu, que decian que era el protector del pueblo, Pisac. La princesa, hija del ese entoces, el principe, el rey de esa zona, Inca, era unica hija. Y le dijeron que el unico que se podia casar con ella era el que construiera un puente de piedra en una sola noche, en el Rio Vivilcanota que esta a la orilla del cerro del Apu. La condicion era de que ella tenia que subir el cerro toda la noche mientras el novio construia el puente de piedra en el rio.

Mientras ella subiera, no podia mirar para atras. El el momento que ella mirara para atras, todo se convertia en piedra. El tenia que construir el puente, y ella tenia que subir el cerro. Esa era la condicion para que se pudieran casar.

Entonces, el principe que era del otro pueblo, y que el matrimonio de ellos iba a constituir la allianza de los dos pueblos, estaba muy enamorado de ella y dijo que el iba a intentar de hacer el puente en una noche. Entonces en la noche que el estaba haciendo el puente, el estaba casi casi terminando, y dice la leyenda que todo el mundo le silvaba, que ella escuchaba como que la gente la llamaba por su nombre y que le silvaba y ella no podia voltear. Pero cuando ya se estaba amaneciendo, ella sintio que alguien la llamaba mucho mucho mucho, penso que ya podia voltear porque ya estaba amaneciendo, y el todavia no habia terminado el puente. Y entonces cuando volteo, todo se volvio de piedra.

Entonces cuando tu te vas al pueblo de tu abuelita, tu ves a una princesa, que es como una formacion de roca y de piedra, y tu ves unas rocas en el rio, como si se hubiera hecho un puente que no se ha terminado, ya l final, una roca grande que dicen que es la estatua del principe.”

“Okay, this is the story of a princess, an Anusta Inca, and this is the story from where your grandmother is from, and your whole grandmother’s family, in Pisac.

There is a hill that they called Apu, and they say that it was the protector of the village Pisac. The princess, the daughter of this, at the time, prince or king of the Inca village, was an only child. And they told her that the only man that she could marry was a man who could build a bridge made of stone in just one night, in the river Vivilcanota at the shore of the Apu hill. The only condition was that she also had to climb the mountain all night, while the fiancé built the stone bridge at the river.

While she climbed she could not look behind her. The moment she looked behind her, everything would turn into stone. He had to build the bridge and she had to climb the range, that was the condition so that they could marry.

So, the prince who was from a neighboring village, and the matrimony of these two would constitute the alliance of the two villages, was very enamored by her and said that he would try to make the bridge in one night. So at night when he was making the bridge, he was almost almost done, and the legend says that everyone was calling her and whistling at her. And that, she would hear people calling her name and whistling and she could not turn around. But when the sun was rising, she heard someone calling her a lot a lot a lot, and she thought that she could turn around now because it was already a new day… but he had not finished building the bridge yet. And so when she turned around, everything turned into stone.

So when you go to your grandmothers village you see a princess, who is like a rock formation made of stone, And you see some rocks at the river, as if someone had made a bridge and had not finished it, and at the end of that, you see a big rock that they say is the statue of the prince.”

Context: The informant is my mother, a Peruvian woman whose parents both come from villages near Cuzco, Peru. She grew up in Lima, the capital and the most metropolitan city in Peru. Peruvian culture, however, is deeply rooted in pride about their myths and legends, and these forms of folklore are widely known. I actually inquired about Inca creation myths on my own, but realized that this is a prime example of folklore.

Analysis: I spotted some of Propp’s functions in this myth, as well as some of the classic elements of myths, as this is a fairly traditional structure for a myth just with a bit more detail.

Gutter School Superstition

My friend was already aware of my folklore project. While getting coffee, we were happened to be telling stories about our experiences in high school. I realized this would be perfect for this assignment. GG is the informant, PH is myself.

PH: Do you have any folklore about your school, like stories everyone would tell, or things everyone would do?

GG: Oh, I think I have one. I don’t know for sure if it’s folklore.

PH: You tell me and then we’ll see.

GG: Okay, at my elementary school there was this gutter by the lunch tables and kids would say… just to freak other kids out… they would say it was built on an old ranch where there was a princess or something or a rich family and where the gutter was used to be a little stream and she fell face first and hit her head and died in the stream so people would never step in the gutter because she would come to haunt you

PH: Yes, that is folklore! Thank you.



“Instead of growing up on Cinderella, my sisters and I grew up hearing the tale of Sitareh. The story is very similar, but for some reason, I just didn’t enjoy Cinderella as much as I did Sitareh. So here goes. Once upon a time, Sitareh, the young daughter of a courtier in the Shah’s palace, lost her own mother at a very young age. Her father, the courtier, deciding that she needed a new mother, went ahead and married another woman, who had two daughters of her own. Excited to not be alone, Sitareh was eager to meet and live with these three women. Unfortunately, while they were very sweet to her in her father’s presence, the moment her father left on a trip to a neighboring kingdom, they began to show their true colors. In a quick succession of events, Sitareh becomes essentially their maid. They take advantage of her kind nature because her father isn’t around to do anything about it, and she submits to it quietly, waiting for her father to return. So, obviously, as is normal in these kinds of stories – the Shah has a young son, the Shahzad (prince), who is around the same age, maybe a bit older, than the three girls. One day, the Shah decides that his son is old enough to get married, because people got married really young in those days. Like at sixteen. So the Shah arranges an event, not a ball, exactly, but more like a talent show of all the eligible bachelorettes in town. Of course, this includes Sitareh and her stepsisters, who decide that the poor girl isn’t to attend this event. The stepmother, evil as she is, supports this decision. Because she sucks, and she knows that Sitareh is more beautiful and talented than her daughters, and would snap up the Shahzad in an instant if she were to attend. Sitareh, however, really wants to go – if not to marry the Shahzad, then maybe to just get out of the house and stop doing so many chores. So she begs and begs until her stepmother gives her a chance to go, with one caveat. She has to complete this impossibly long list of chores, just like in Cinderella, and find suitable clothes to wear. The stepmother obviously doesn’t think that the girl can do it all in time and find herself an outfit among the rags she has to wear, because her horrible stepsisters have stolen all her pretty clothes and jewelry. Against all odds, though, Sitareh does finish these tasks – I don’t remember exactly what they are – and manages to, in the time she has left, put together an attractive bedlah outfit, with a pretty veil of many colors, which she constructed out of her variety of rags. However, in a jealous rage at how beautiful she looks, the stepsisters lock her into the house and go to the event themselves. Sitareh, upset, turns to her sitar (a string instrument) and begins to sing on the terrace of her house to express her feelings. The Shahzad, who is bored with the party and quite frankly appalled at the girls who have come, happens to have escaped the party and is passing by her house when he hears her voice. Completely entranced, he is pretty disappointed that he can’t see the singer’s face. He calls out to her, and in her embarrassment, Sitareh runs from the terrace and retreats back into the house. As she does, the wind snatches up her multicolored veil and sends it fluttering straight into the Shahzad’s hands. By the next day, he hasn’t decided on any of the girls who attended the event, and instead has his heart set upon the mystery girl with the beautiful voice. He tells his father, who agrees reluctantly, and goes to return the veil to the girl. The stepmother and stepsisters, getting wind of his plan, shut Sitareh away in her room and decide to claim the prince as one of their own. The prince arrives at the house, eager to find the girl, but is disappointed that she isn’t there. However, Sitareh, clever as she is, starts to sing her song from the previous night, upstairs in her room. Hearing the strains of her voice, the Shahzad quits the living room and runs up the stairs, bursting into the room to find the beautiful Sitareh clad in her rags. He gives her back her veil and asks for her hand in marriage. She, obviously, agrees, and they get married. Out of the kindness of her heart, she forgives her stepsisters, who in turn get married to the sons of two ministers. And everyone lives happily ever after!”


The informant revealed the reasons for her affection with this particular story – “I like this story more than Cinderella for two big reasons. The first is that it reminds me of my Arab heritage and my roots because of the setting and the various elements. Also, more importantly, the version my grandmother told me was very empowering, in that Sitareh accomplishes everything independently in the story, without taking the help of a fairy godmother, or any magical elements. I think she told it to us in this way because she wanted us girls to feel like we could have everything we want in life simply with our own efforts. That’s what I really like about this story. An interesting note is that this story is one of the many tales told in versions A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, which in the legend are told by the queen Scheherazade, who, like Sitareh, created her own opportunities and came out on top.”


This story is, very obviously, a version of the “Persecuted Heroine” taletype, of which the Cinderella story is the most popular and famous example. One can see a lot of Vladimir Propp’s 31 story functions appear in this story, including the smooth opening, the absentee parents, the problem for the heroine, her confinement, her subsequent escape, and the eventual resolution of the problem. However, this version retains a lot of elements of the culture from which it sprung, including such components as Sitareh’s veil (standing in for the ubiquitous glass slipper of Cinderella) and the sitar which she plays. What is interesting, as the informant mentioned, is that Sitareh doesn’t seem to receive help from any external magical entities (one of the more prominent Propp’s functions), instead accomplishing everything due to her own efforts and her singing voice, which engineers this story not only into a märchen, but also a moral story with a powerful message to young women, regardless of whether or not this was just a characteristic the version the informant’s grandmother told her and her sisters to encourage them to achieve whatever they want to by themselves and for themselves. An intriguing parallel is drawn by the informant between the heroine of the tale, Sitareh, and the heroine of the larger legendary narrative, Scheherazade. Both of them are clever and strong young women who take a unique talent, for Scheherazade, her story-telling abilities, and in the case of Sitareh, her beautiful singing voice, and use it to get exactly what they want, all through their own efforts. The themes explored by this story, therefore, are pretty empowering and progressive, especially in the time at which they were supposedly told. Of course, if Scheherazade was the one who told the tale, one would expect the tale to have a strong female heroine much like herself.