Everyone has heard of Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. Most people even know about Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, and Rapunzel. But for every fairy tale that the wider populace is aware of, there are literally dozens more which have inexplicably remained in obscurity. Here are ten such fairy tales that will redefine your conception of happily ever after.
10) Hello, House!
Another story about a trickster character, the Hello, House! tale focuses on how one animal outsmarts another. In the story, a sly predator sneaks into the trickster’s house in order to ambush him when he comes home. However, the trickster notices the predator. So the trickster yells a greeting at the house. After a short pause, the trickster loudly exclaims that the house is being rude for not returning the greeting. The predator quickly pretends to be the voice of the house and shouts back. The trickster then announces his triumph to the predator and runs away. One of the most interesting features of this tale is how widespread it is. Variations of this story can be found from Zanzibar to India to the modern United States!
9) Clothes Make the Man
Perhaps a condemnation of social customs or class barriers, the story archetype entitled Clothes Make the Man suggests that maybe the only difference between a dirty peasant and a lofty nobleman is the clothes on their backs. The basic story goes like this: a poor man tries to beg for alms or gain entry to a feast/celebration/wedding, is rejected, puts on nice clothes, and is instantly showered with alms and accepted into high society. In the version from India, it ends with the main character bowing before his clothes and saying, “It is clothes that are honoured in this world and nothing else.” The versions from Turkey and Italy drive the point home even harder by having their main characters offer food to their clothes while in rich company as well as announcing that they are obviously the reason why he is being treated well.
8) Fools Cannot Count Themselves
Changing the pace from the last two sad tales, Fools Cannot Count Themselves is a much more silly story. It goes like this: a group of travelers count themselves and realize that they are missing one of their number. They ask a bystander to help them. The bystander then realizes that each of the travelers forgot to count themselves. The subjects of the story are usually people regarded as silly or stupid by the culture that it originates from. For example, the men in the story from England are from Gotham, a village in Nottinghamshire, England whose men are apparently famous for their foolishness. In the Germany story they are from Swabia, a southwestern region of the country. In Pakistan the fools are from Bunery, a district in northwestern Pakistan. In Sri Lanka they are from Kadambawa.
7) The Moon in the Well
The Moon in the Well is another fool story about people who try and rescue the moon’s reflection from a body of water. In the version from Turkey, the fool is Nasreddin Hodja, a fabled Islamic trickster. The version from England is part of a larger story entitled The Three Sillies. However, in the story from Tibet, the fools are a band of monkeys. This version of the tale ends with this morale: “When the foolish have a foolish leader, they all go to ruin, like the monkeys which wanted to draw the moon up from the well.” While the Turkish and English versions are more simple stories charting the humorous antics of idiots, the Tibetan story is obviously a teaching tool.
6) The Tail-Fisher
The Tail-Fisher is an etiologic tale, or a story used to explain natural and cultural phenomena, that recounts why certain animals have short tails. The basic story follows as such: a trickster (usually a fox) tells another animal that the key to catching fish is using their tale as a fishing line. The process involves sticking their long tails into a hole in a frozen body of water, waiting an extended period of time, and pulling it out. Unfortunately, this leads to the animal’s tale getting frostbitten and yanked off. While the fox is the culprit, the unfortunate victim varies according to the geographical origin of the story. In Norway and Flanders (Northern Belgium), it’s a bear. In Scotland, Germany Celtic culture, and the traditions of the Menominee Indians (United States), the victim is a wolf. Two variations of the tale from the Americas involve a rabbit being tricked (Antigua (West Indies) and the United States).
5) A Corpse Claims Its Property
One of the most universal human taboos involves the disruption and abuse of the dead. To re-enforce this lesson, many cultures have warning stories about what happens when the dead are disturbed or robbed. One of these story types involves a person stealing from a corpse. The objects in question vary, from a white cap (Iceland), a shroud (Russia), a leg and stocking (Italy), and even a liver which is cooked and eaten (Germany)!! These stories frequently end violently with the death of the thief. This is particularly shocking considering the fact that the thieves are commonly young children whose crimes are purely accidental.
4) The Runaway Pancake
This tale involves a pancake coming alive and escaping its creator. It then meets a procession of individuals who try and eat it. But the pancake is able to escape until it is tricked and eaten by an animal, such as a pig or a fox. This tale can be found in Norway, Germany, Ireland, Lithuania, Latvia, Sweden, Slovienia, as well as multiple regions of Scotland, each with their own version. The American version of the story replaces the pancake with a gingerbread man. According to American folklorist D. L. Ashliman, the runaway pancake tale is an example of gallows humor meant to help children cope with the concept of death.
3) The Snow Child
The Snow Child is a humorous story that describes a woman’s outlandish excuse for why she became pregnant while her husband was away. In the variation from Germany and the more common European version written in Latin, the husband is a merchant who returns home after a prolonged absence of at least a year. When the husband accuses her of infidelity, the wife explains that through a series of bizarre circumstances, she became impregnated with a child literally made of ice and snow. The child is born and eventually melts into nothingness while on an excursion with their father. An astute reader will claim that this is evidence of foul play, but these stories make very clear that the father accepted the child as his own. Another version of the story that actually has a happy ending comes from Italy where a neighboring “clever gentlewoman” convinces the husband that the child had a 12-month gestation period because his wife saw a donkey (who also has a 12-month gestation period) on the day they conceived.
2) The Fisherman and His Wife
The Fisherman and His Wife is a common story appearing in over 30 countries (like Germany and Russia) that involves the serendipitous discovery of a magical being that grants wishes. Perhaps the most famous version of the tale involves a poor fisherman. Upon his wife’s requests, he keeps asking for more and more material wealth and power. However, when his wife forces him to ask the fish to give them the powers of God, he returns home to discover that they have lost everything and are poor once again. This tale re-enforces the idea that one should be satisfied with their lot in life and not lust for too many things. However, the tale also equates feminine power with greed. Curiously, there is a variation of the story from Japan where the man voluntarily relinquishes all of his power and wealth. Apparently only men have the moral fortitude to turn their backs on such extravagance…
1) The Mouse Who Was to Marry the Sun
The Mouse Who Was to Marry the Sun is a charming story about a parent trying to find a suitable husband for their daughter. The daughter in question is some kind of rodent: rat (Japan), mole (Korea), mice (France/French North Africa and India), etc. Sometimes the daughter was once a mouse and transformed into a human girl. But when the family goes out to seek suitors, none of them fit their daughter’s expectations. Even potential husbands like the sky, sun, and mountain are found to be lacking. Finally, they discover the perfect mate: another rodent. The daughter marries one of her own species and lives happily ever after. The obvious intended morale of this story is that “one’s true nature matters most in life.” In this manner it also warns against excessive greed.