(10/24/00 10:07:56 pm)
I am compiling a list of sister tales this week. I can think of Snow White and Rose Red, Silver Nose (Italian), and of course the nasty sisters of the heroine in Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. Please help me jog my memory and think of more. I prefer stories in which the sisters are at least kind to each other if not actually working together. I can always go to Stith and Thompson later, but I would love to know the tales that come to your mind when I mention this theme.
Help and thanks!
(10/24/00 11:57:28 pm)
|Re: Sister Tales?|
You've just mentioned the ones that come most immediately to mind. Also the various tales where one sister is kind and industrious, while the other is mean and lazy...such as Diamonds and Toads, or the "house of cats" fairy tales (upon which Ellen based her wonderful new story "The Cats of San Martino," in the anthology Black Heart, Ivory Bones.)
There's also Marie-Jeanne L'Heritier's "The Discreet Princess," one of the 17th century Parisian salon fairy tales, about three sisters locked in a tower by their father. The eldest are foolish and manage to get themselves impregnated by an evil prince, but the youngest is a feisty little thing and saves the day for them all. Jack Zipes translated it in "Beauties, Beasts, and Enchantment: Classic French Fairy Tales," and Gilbert Adair published a translation in "Wonder Tales" edited by Marina Warner.
Those are mean or foolish sisters, however, not kind ones...although
even those can be looked at in a different light, as in Emma Bull's
heart-breaking poem about Cinderella's sister: The Step-sister's Story.
It was published in The Armless Maiden, and is also posted on the
Endicott site at: www.endicott-studio.com/cofstep.html
(10/25/00 2:34:22 am)
|Re: Sister Tales?|
Again, not a kind sister tale, but still a good one, is Papa Gatto: An Italian Fairy Tale, by Ruth Sanderson (Illustrator)
Papa Gatto, a feline who advises royalty, needs a nanny for his kittens. His advertisement, "Choose your payment, no amount too great," attracts the lovely but greedy Sophia, whose hiring ends in dust, cobwebs, neglected kittens, and a new advertisement that brings Beatrice, Sophia's good-hearted stepsister. The arrival of the "kind and generous prince" results in mistaken identity and romantic confusion, but all ends well, thanks to Papa Gatto's special matchmaking talent.
I'll try to think of more as I sit at work.
(10/25/00 5:19:23 am)
|sisters in arms|
"Molly Whuppie" rescues her silly sisters from the giant. (there is a rather nice version of this in picture book form and I think it was Walter de la Mare.) They aren't cruel, just a little silly. And then what about some of the versions of Bluebeard, where the youngest sister winds up by seeing her sisters in hell behind door number three (and then does she rescue them from hell?) Ah..I've found the italian version of this: "How the Devil Married Three Sisters"..in which the youngest rescues her not so lucky two older sisters (this is in Stith Thompsons, 100 Favorite Folktales)
Oooh, I just found another one I haven't read in years..."One-eye, Two-eyes and Three-Eyes"..though the odd-eyed sisters are rather nasty...however there is reconciliation at the end. (also in 100 favorite folktales.)
There is also a great tradition of good girl/bad girl narratives. They are usually hilarious, because the good sister passes all the tests (and some of them are disgusting...in a South African version she has to lick the gooey stuff out an old woman's eye) and is such a goody-goody that its almost insufferable...and a relief when she gets her prize of the gorgeous husband and gets off the stage. Because then the bad sister shows up (looking for her prize) and is just a holy disaster!! I love it, she does everything wrong, wonderfully, angrily so and of course winds up with the husband that looks like quasimodo...the thrill of that narrative is in the sharp contrast of the two sisters, not that any of us can be as perfect as the good sister, and we are confident that we shall never stoop to the gloriously dreadful depths of the bad sister. I know there are some tame versions of this on the European continents...I'll look and see if I can find a cite for one of the South African ones!
And when I finish my new books, "Three Sisters" based on an Italian folktale, well...there's another one...but it will be a while yet before its released!
(10/25/00 7:21:25 am)
Don't forget the "12 Dancing Princesses" (or however many there are...I think it varies).
They were certainly working together.
(10/25/00 12:38:21 pm)
Tattercoat is the name of the witch child (born so because her mother didn't follow the old woman's directions to the letter) who rescues her sister from the curse of having a donkey's head, then sees her safely betrothed to a prince before marrying the prince's brother. This story can be found in the book of the same name. There may well be other useful sister tales in there, too.
And wasn't there a sisterly aspect to The Twelve Months? Wasn't the girl sent out into the snow by a stepmother, and when she came back with her gifts, didn't the stepmother send her own daughter out with unfortunate results? This was in one of the Lang books, I think, but I know I've read it elsewhere too.
(10/25/00 2:23:14 pm)
Indeed, I was actually going to
post a link for "The Twelve Months" at work, but it got
really busy. Here you go:
looks like another good Cinderella site)
If I remember right, there's also "The Little Mermaid."
I think in the original tale, she has many sisters who, when the prince
marries another, give her a knife to kill him with, letting the blood
spill on her ugly human legs and restoring her beautiful tale. Which
she then kills herself with and becomes the seafoam.
I think Tattercoat was used as part of Noble-Hearted Kate: A Celtic
Tale, by Marianna Mayer, Winslow Pinney Pels (Illustrator). Except
the sister has a ram's head.
I found this title on Amazon today: Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and
Beloved Sisters : Heroines in Folktales from
Around the World, by Kathleen Ragan (Editor), Jane Yolen. The TOC
listed looks amazing:
All for now!
(10/26/00 12:09:44 am)
|My sister, my friend|
In the catagory of literary fairy tales, rather than traditional folktales, there's also "Goblin Market" by Christina Rossetti, one of my very favorite "kind sister" tales (which loops us back to the discussion on Victorian fairy tales and sexuality, from the old chat boad.) And in some fairy tale variants, the fairies themselves, both good and bad, are presented as groups of sisters.
A related theme is female friendships in fairy tales. Heroes and heroines are so often solitary in their journey that these seem harder to find, but off hand I can think of a few genuine friendships (as opposed to Good Fairy/Mentor relationships): Kay and the Robber Girl in The Snow Queen (HC Andersen), Ingrid and Kip in Kip, the Enchanted Cat (Russian), Faith and Daisy in The White Deer (Madame D'Aulnoy), and the two wives in the Scottish version of Snow White.
I don't mean to derail the Sisters discussion, Heidi! Just to add a parallel track.
Edited by: Terri at: 10/26/00
(10/26/00 9:43:24 am)
|Re: My sister, my friend|
Thank you, everyone. I don't consider the friendship tales to be derailing the topic, Terri. And I am always grateful for Midori's knowledge of African tales. It is still one of my weakest areas.
I also remembered Scheherazade and her sister who helps her by requesting the tales every night and later marries the Sultan's brother. I don't think Sister Anne in Bluebeard is very helpful though. She just watches for her brothers. : ) I always liked Angela Carter's transformation of the family into a rescuing mother in Bloody Chamber.
I had forgotten or didn't know about so many tales that have been mentioned. If you think of anymore, please post them. It is so nice to not have to rely solely on my own brain.
(10/28/00 9:18:07 am)
On D. Ashliman's site, which you and Kerri turned me on to, there's an Italian tale about the devil and three sisters, which is similar to/a variant of? the
Bluebeard tales. The Devil marries each of the three sisters, forbidding each to open a door -- on the other side are the fires of Hell. Of course, the first two cannot help their curiosity and are caught, and it's up to the third sister to rescue them and beat the devil at his own game.
(10/28/00 10:18:22 am)
Oh, wasn't there a story about a man who couldn't cut his nails, hair, or shave for 7 years, who then came upon a man with 3 daughters, the youngest of which promised to marry him. He returns in 7 years, all cleaned up, and claims her for his bride?
Edited by: Kerrie at: 10/28/00
(10/31/00 2:03:33 pm)
Hope you're not done with this project. I used a few sister tales in my novel, mostly from Yiddish, in which there are loads about sisters. Sisters tend to be pretty close in them, except in one called "Clever Kashinke and Foolish Bashinke," the sort of Yiddish diamonds and snakes tale (which I love as well).
Two of my favorite friendly sister tales are:
"Sore-Khane at the Tip of the Church Tower," in which a daughter climbs up the church tower because she is unmarried and lonely. Her family--mother, father, brother and sister--plead and plead with her to climb down but she won't. Her sister goes home dejected. Eventually Sore-Khane comes down on her own, and welcoming her back, the sister cooks her 'boiled groats with milk,' or oatmeal. A comforting end; and
"The Poor Rabbi and His Three Daughters," in which three sisters share but a single shabby dress. Two of the sisters always have to 'stay in bed on top of the oven while one showed herself in town.' One day one daughter goes to town in the dress and tears it. Ashamed and spiritless, she feels she can't go home. Night falls. She's traumatized, wandering around afraid of demons. And heartbroken, her sisters wait at home, unable to go look for her because they have no clothes and have to stay, unclothed, 'in bed on top of the oven.'
These tales are recorded beautifully, with all the idiosyncracies of Yiddish syntax, in a Pantheon collection.
(10/31/00 4:13:41 pm)
|a bolt from the blue|
Kate, This is a bit off topic but your stories reminded of a haunting short story in a collection of Egyptian short stories I had once (I am scrambling through my shelves to find it now!...probably a collection translated by Denys Johnson-Davies). It was about a widow and her three unmarried daughters. Without a husband to provide income and broker a deal for a marriage all three are doomed to a spinsters life of poverty and loneliness. An itinerant blind knife sharpener shows up one day to sharpen the knives. The widow is very kind to him and eventually they marry. But the house if full of "hungry women" and so it seems to the blind man that every night, while he checks the ring finger of the woman he's in bed with, to insure that the marriage band is there, he can not escape the fact that his wife changes physically from night to night. But no one admits to anything and the blind man is never sure himself. Lovely little tale about the conspiracy of silence and getting by on the margins.
It's a great story...if I can find it again I'll post the title. (even though it's not really folktale..it feels like it should be....)
(11/2/00 10:42:47 am)
I don't think that's off the topic at all, Midori. I would love to know the title and author of this story. Also, if it 'feels' like a folktale perhaps there is some folkloric origin for it. It sounds like there probably is, no?
For some reason your summary reminds me of a story by Mohammed Mrabet (the Moroccan storyteller Paul Bowles translated). I'm going to scour his books to see if there's a similar story...I may be making that up...but the knife sharperner rings a bell.
(11/2/00 1:34:02 pm)
Actually Kate this story works in both the sisters post and in the infedelity post come to think of it.
Yes, here it is: "House of Flesh" by Yusuf Idris and you can find it in "Eyptian Short Stories" selected and translated by Denys Johnson-Davies. It's published by Heinemann's Three Continents Press, 1978. It's really a great story. I was wrong about the knife sharpener (now I will have to remember where I read him!). It is a blind Koranic reciter, who comes to the house to recite the prayers during the period of mourning for the deceased husband. Idris is one of the very best Egyptian short story writers. All of his work is stupendous. There is one collection, "The Cheapest Nights" that is very good.
(11/11/00 12:10:40 pm)
About "Bluebeard" Tales... the "Bluebeard" story, with Perrault as the pardigm, is AT 312. The Bluebeard-like stories of "The Devil and 3 Sisters," "Fitcher's Bird" (Grimm 46), etc., are AT 311. The name for AT 311 tales is "Rescue by the sister." Some, like Paul Delarue, have argued for combining these two tale-types, as the plots are so similar. However, a condemnation of female curiosity seems to be implicit or explicit in many 312 tales, while in 311 stories, curiosity, tricksterism, and female cleverness are often valorized. The "Sister Anne" of Perrault is interesting; she is a helping figure, even though Perrault hasn't allowed her to do anything but act as lookout -- in contrast to the proactive sisters in 311 tales.
(11/15/00 5:54:40 am)
|Not so nice sisters|
Most of the stories discussed here so far seem to be of sisters who rescue. What about those who kill? What comes to mind is the folk ballad "The Two Sisters" or "The Cruel Sister", rendered years ago by Pentangle (and others I'm sure) wherein one sister drowns the other, then goes off and leads a wonderful life until a harpist makes an instrument from the dead girl's bones--ribcage if I remember right (hair for the strings?)--to play at the cruel sister's wedding. When he plucks the strings, the harp sings out the girl's name, revealing her crime and, ultimately destroying her. Again, it's been years since I heard the song, but I don't remember anyone in effect being saved in this tale.
Someone else surely has a better memory for it than I, but it seems archetypal in many details.
(11/15/00 8:03:35 pm)
|sisters who kill|
I know it's not a folk tale per se, but I immediately thought of the Papin sisters when I read the phrase "sisters who kill"...
(11/15/00 9:01:17 pm)
I was trying to find the Russian infidelity folktale that Kate mentioned in another topic and I came upon a webpage that has a listing of, and in some cases the full story for about a dozen Russian folktales. No luck with the "Babooshka" tale I was looking for, but it did turn up several sister tales. I think they are mostly of the un-helpful type, but if you'd like to check them out, the site is:
There is a version of one-eye, two-eyes, three-eyes as well as 'Kotura' (about 2 lazy older sisters) and 'Akanidi' (about the three daughters of the sun, two of which are downright mean.) For the most part they seem to be different versions of familiar folktales, but perhaps there is something you can use.
(11/20/00 1:30:44 am)
|Sisters who kill...|
Greg, I'd forgotten about that ballad, which is one of the more chilling "sister" tales around. Clannad did a version of it, and I think Loreena McKennit did too, but the Pentangle one is still the best. Patricia Wrede came across a version of the ballad with three sisters in it, and she wrote a story based on it: "Cruel Sisters," published in her YA collection The Book of Enchantments, and reprinted in Year's Best Fantasy & Horror, Vol. 10.
Karen, I just read in the London Times that there are 2 new French movies out based on the Papin case; one is a fictional account, and one is a documentary. The director of the documentary has discovered that the youngest sister is still alive, although elderly and disabled at this point. She'd been working as a nanny in Nantes, under an assumed name of course. If I was a woman living in Nantes who'd employed a nanny for my child in past decades, I'd find that news a wee bit disconcerting....
(11/21/00 4:27:31 pm)
|the name of Papin...|
O my- that happened with that "heavenly Creatures" movie- they discovered one of the "girls" had become a crime writer in England (!).
A little gambit for the animal transformation thread- French newspapers at first mispelt "Papin" "Lapin", meaning rabbit (!)
Who are the Papin sisters?
BTW, yes, Juliet from _Heavenly Creatures_ is Anne Perry, writer of some
great Victorian murder mysteries.
There's only a couple Grimms' tales which involve cruelty b/t natural
sisters -- one that involves a changed Uriah letter, but the title escapes
me now -- I'll look it up.
All right, but don't read this if you
are easily grossed out. In 1933, a prominent lawyer in Le Mans named Lancelin
returned home to find the bodies of his wife and teenage daughter. Their
eyes had been gouged out, and then they'd been savagely hacked and beaten
to death. They'd been murdered by their maids, two seemingly mild-mannered
sisters (aged 21 and 28 ) who'd worked for them for the past six years.
The police (who described the murder scene as one of unbelievable human
ferocity) found the blood-drenched sisters upstairs naked in bed, clutching
each other. The sisters had never been known to utter a word of complaint
about the family, and there seemed to be no motive for the crime. But
the eldest sister, it was subsequently discovered, was quite mentally
disturbed, and modern investigations have suggested that she may have
been raped by her own father in her youth.
The case was a huge deal in France, and has inspired all kinds of books
and films. Satre and de Beauvoir wrote about it extensively, seeing the
sisters as the victims of class struggle. Genet wrote a play about them,
Les Bonnes (The Maids) on a similar theme. The Affaire Papin also inspired
Margaret Atwood's novel Captive. One of the new films, Les Blessures Assassines,
is a dramatized account of the lives of the Papin sisters. The other,
In Search of the Papin Sisters by Claude Ventura, is a documentary that
raises new questions about the lawyer, Lancelin, and a possible hushed-up
financial scandal. Ventura is the one who discovered that the youngest
sister, Lea, is still alive.
Edited by: Terri at: 11/23/00
The Papin sisters, according to one
psychiatric expert at their trial, were "Siamese souls". ONe
of the nastiest aspects of the murder was Lea's "mirroring"
of Christine's murder of the mother in her murder of the daughter. Whatever
Christine did to Mme Lancelin, she duplicated on the body of Mlle Lancelin.
The sisters were found in the same bed, wearing two blue kimonos, having
taken off their blood stained dresses and cleaned the carving knife, hammer
and pewter pitcher they used and returned each object to its appropriate
place. Their reason for the murder was frustration over a faulty electric
iron, which, according to two commentators at the trial "highly contraried"
the Papins "as good servants".
Awaiting trial in gaol, Christine Papin experienced a number of visions,
largely considered to be a performance at the time (although they were
later analysed by Jacques Lacan). She began by asking "where was
I before I was in the belly of her mother?" and progressed to wondering
where the Lancelin ladies might be, if they had assumed other bodies,
if metempsychosis was possible. She believed that she had been her sister's
husband in a former life and claimed to see Lea (her bride) hanged from
an apple tree, with both Lea's limbs and the limbs of the tree broken.
Distressed, she leapt to the top of a ten-foot barred window and remained
there until Lea was brought in as a sedative. When she saw Lea, Christine
cried in exultation "Say yes, say yes".
After this incident, Christine hungerstruck, wept and prayed, sunk into
periods of silence and traced holy signs on the prison walls with her
tongue. When an prison official asked her if the trances weren't just
"make-believe", she replied "if monsieur wishes".
Lea was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment and twenty years' municipal
exile. Christine was sentenced to be guillotined in the public square
but, as women were no longer beheaded in France in 1933, the sentence
was symbolic and really meant life imprisonment.
Thank you for the explanation!
Actually, I have heard of them, but I never connected the name to that
case. There is play by Wendy...somebody, called _My Sister in This House_
that was based on the case -- it won the Susan Smith Blackburn prize for
1986 (?) for best drama written by a woman. It's a terrific play.