Monday, March 10, 2014

My 11 Favorite Fairy Tale Heroines

Heroics in fairy tales rarely involves combat (See fairy tale heroes). Instead fairy tale heroes typically use cunning, hard work, or a relationship with others, especially fairies or the spirit world to achieve their goals. So with the exception of the Nogoodoi Sesen (and possibly the princes in "The Twelve Huntsmen") most of these Heroines aren't warriors, because that's not what fairy tales are about. Fairy tales are the tales of farmers, not soldiers, and the themes tend to reflect this idea.

The other important key to understanding many fairy tales is that they take place in the spirit world as they are often times remnants of older stories from folk religions.

(As always it's perhaps best to use these stories as writing prompts to stimulate some of your own ideas)



The Seven Ravens (German)
In ancient Germany the Shaman women had to go through a trial of fire and iron. A spirit journey of pain and blood in order to gain their powers, and their place as leaders of society. The heroine in this fairy tale goes on one of these journeys. She is chased by the heat of the sun, and uses a knife to cut off her own finger as she needs to stick it in a keyhole to enter the glass mountain (the land of the dead) in order to retrieve the spirits of her brothers.


Burd Janet (English)
Burd's love is stolen by the Queen of the fairies, so on Halloween night she must sneak past the partying ghosts, monsters, and creepy dark fairies in order to free him.

Molly Whuppie (English)
When it comes to brutal cleverness Molly Whuppie is the queen. Her sisters and her are left in the woods by their parents to starve to death, and they end up in an ogres home. She however, tricks the ogre into killing his own daughters, steals his treasure and helps marry off her sisters to princes so they can all live happily ever after.

Lina (German)
"Fundevogel" is perhaps the most confusing tales the Grimm Brothers ever collected. It's the tale of a girl (Lina) whose father finds a boy in the forest. The cook wants to eat the boy and Lina must run away with him and thwart the cooks efforts by turning into ponds, churches, and more.
I see one of two scenario's for this confusing story. The first is that Lina is a witch and the boy is her spirit helper. The second is that she's actually a spirit in the other world (a fairy), and the boy is a lost dreamer or shaman whom she's trying to save. The cook than is either a witch or an evil spirit with whom she lives.

Cinderella (German)
Cinderella in the German tale used her own powers to bring her mothers spirit back to life in the form of a tree, and it was her mothers spirit which gave her the gifts that allowed her to live happily ever after .So in the German version of the tale Cinderella uses her magic to make herself successful.

Girl in the Well (Russian)
When someone enters the other world they often times have to use hard work to build a relationship with the spirits, and the heroine in this tale does that very well.

Girl from a Dame Her Hen (Norwegian)
When her foolish mother looses her hen she keeps sending the girls sisters out to find it, and they keep getting captured by a troll like man. The youngest sister, however, tricks the troll and frees her sisters.

Spindle Shuttle Needle (German)
In ancient Germanic lore a girl could become greater even than a god by learning how to spin fate (Thus the reason Odin chooses to learn this art). This is the tale of a girl who makes her own happily ever after by spinning fate. So in some ways this is the tale of the beginnings of a fates life ( Fates such as the wicked and good fairies in "Sleeping Beauty" were).

Twelve Huntsmen (German)
A princess decides to pursue her prince by dressing up her twelve ladies in waiting and herself as huntsmen so that they can work for him by pretending to be men in his employ. During this time she does something to convince the prince to trust her more than he trusts his own wizard servant, though what that is the fairy tale doesn't say. As a huntsmen, however, you would be safe saying she saved his life, slew a unicorn or dragon, or performed some similar feat.


Nogoodoi Sesen (Eurasian Steppes)
This is a long tale, so rather than translate the whole thing to English I'm going to give a synopsis of it.

Some evil spirits possess Nogoodoi's parents and cause them to murder her brother and dump his body in a lake while she's far away. But she's a shaman so a magical horse comes down a rainbow and tells her what happened. She dresses up in men's clothes which she has hidden away ( journeying into the spirit world often required men to take on women's clothes and women to take on men's clothes). She even uses magic to change her physical appearance to that of a man.

She then sets out and on the way she has to fight and kill a fifteen headed monster named Abarga Hara with an arrow. She then encounters another villain named Raksha Yaksha, whom she defeats by tying one of her silky black hairs into three knots and throwing it him, at which point it becomes a ring of fire and burns him up.

She finds her brothers body when some ravens descend from the sky. They ask her how she came to a place where birds have never flown and horses have never walked (indicating that she's in the spirit world). She realizes that they are Etseg Malaan Tenger (spirits of the heavens which usually appear as swans or beautiful women). They help her recover her brothers body from the lake where he's been dumped. But even with his body she can't bring him back on her own so she enters the realm of the sky in order to find a more powerful Etseg Malaan Tenger.

In the sky world she enters the tent of a deity of sorts, whom she teases by refusing to speak to him, when he grows angry she teases him further by dropping some pipe ashes on his nose, causing him to draw his weapon, at which point she reprimands him for drawing a weapon on a women. She then offers the man/spirit a kiss in return for the information she needs to bring her brother back. This man gives her a hair from his bird which will allow her to capture the Esteg Malaan Tenger by turning into a magical net when she throws it at the swan maiden. Once she's captured the Esteg Malaan Tenger she forces the swan maiden to bring her brother back to life. After which the Swan Maiden falls in love with her brother and marries him, giving this shaman hero a powerful sister in law.


The Sister Who Captured the Fairies (Oorqen) (Manchuria)
A girl pretends to be her dead brother, proposes to three fairies so that when the fairies discover her dead brother they cry and bring him back to life so that they can be married.

I put this as sort of a synopsis as well

A brother and sister lived deep in the mountains, one day while the brother was out hunting he was having ill luck so he decided to try fishing instead. Soon he caught a beautiful red fished which cried and begged for its life. Feeling bad for the fish he let it go, as it happened the fish was the son of a Dragon King, and in gratitude for the life of his son the Dragon King sent a magical horse to the boy. This horse brought the boy great luck while he was hunting, so that once while out hunting during mating season he saw three stags fighting over a doe. With his new found abilities he was able to quickly kill all three stags, unfortunately one of these stags was alive enough to gore him when he got close to it, killing the boy.
On seeing that the boy had died the horse put him up on her back and took him back to his sister. The girl wept when she saw her dead brother, for her father and mother had both died when she was  very young and now her elder brother had left her alone. After some, time, however, she was able to work with the horse to come up with a plan. She put on her brothers clothes, and changed herself to appear to be a more handsome version of her brother. Than she rode the horse to the three star ponds. One beautiful heavenly (fairy) maiden was bathing in each pool.
“Steal the maidens clothes,” the horse told her. “Without these they can't return to heaven.”
So the woman took the fairies clothes and then called out to the fairies who ducked down, but it was too late.
“I've seen you naked, so now you must marry me as is the custom,” the girl told them. “What's more your clothes are with me and I'll only let you have them back if you agree to marry me.”
The fairies did like the look of the one they thought was a young man and agreed softly. “I need more than a simple agreement. You must leave your footprints on the ground and put your fingerprint to a contract,” the sister told them.
The fairies agreed to all of these and when they had left their fingerprints and footprints the sister returned their clothes and they went up to heaven to inform their parents of their agreement.
The sister waited by the pools of water for some time until at last the fairies called her up to meet their Father and Mother.
The sister mounted the horse and flew up into the sky, where she was given a feast as a guest. After paying her respects the sister displayed the contract of marriage. The fairies parents were upset, they didn't want their daughters to marry a human. They could not oppose the union directly however because of the contract. So they told the sister that she must jump onto the stone threshold so hard that it would break, shoot an egg from 30 paces, and the eye of a needle from 100 paces.
The sister had no choice but to agree, though she was nervous that she wouldn't be able to achieve all of this. The fairies were upset, for they liked the young "man," they flew off to think of a plan to help "him.".
The sister shot the egg and the eye of the needle. Then she went to the threshold and as she leapt up into the air three bees landed on her and pushed her down with a great force causing her to shatter the threshold. The three bees as it turned out were really the three fairies, but they flew off before their parents learned what they had done. So the parents now had to agree to the marriage.
The young woman rushed ahead of the fairy girls on the way to her house. When she got there she stripped down, put her own clothes on again and put her brothers on him. When the fairies had arrived the girl called out to them, weeping that her brother had died on entering the house. The fairies rushed forward with waters of life which they used to bring the girls brother back to life. Soon after the fairies married the sisters brother and lived happily with their new sister-in-law. When these fairies died they became the goddesses who help to cure illness, the eldest was Egeduge who protects against smallpox, second is Nichikun who protects against measles, and the youngest is Ehu who protects against typhoid fever.


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