Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Goose Girl: Conspiracies and Connections

In episode three, "The Stove Confessionals," we read the Grimm Brothers tale "The Goose Girl"  (AT-533 The Repressed Bride, if you're keeping track on your Bingo card).  This is a tale where a princess loses a bloody rag, is forced by her maid to strip and then wear shitty clothes, braids her hair in a field of geese for a few days, talks to the bloody severed head of a horse, and tells all her secrets to a stove so that she can be reinstated as a princess and watch her maid die a terrible bloody death inside a barrel.


It's also the first instance in the podcast where we start to connect our tales.  In this case, we decide that the Goose Girl is the Mastermaid's daughter, which of course makes her Immortal Bony's granddaughter.  We base this decision on a few points of evidence within the story:

  • The mother of the Goose Girl possesses the same blood magic as the Mastermaid, making three drops of blood speak when invoked.
  • The father is not in the picture, and in some versions of the tale has been dead for many years.  This, we believed, was the ultimate plan of the Mastermaid because there's no way someone with her intelligence and abilities would be happy with that airheaded prince
  • The Goose Girl displays some magic of her own with the whole wind stealing the hat business in the field of geese, which is presumably inherited from her magical bloodline, reaching back to Bony.
  • Her hair is described as "pure gold," so maybe the Mastermaid used some of that special gold brew that had turned her dumb husband's lock of hair into gold to fix up her daughter with some sweet locks
Of course, being the daughter of the Mastermaid and granddaughter of Immortal Bony raises some questions about the character of this meek and subservient princess.  SurLaLune has some excellent annotations on this story that discuss the symbolism present in the mother's gift, as well as the cultural expectations of the day, which are all sound literary theories, based in reason and research.

That is not our business, however.  Our business is to make wild suppositions and unfounded conclusions in order to drag these tales out of their silliness and into a more modern story, like Once Upon a Time but less blatantly Disney-influenced.

So I have two theories.  The first is the simple explanation that she inherited a little too much of her father's personality, and maybe her mother is sending her away to a distant kingdom to rid her own kingdom of that weak-willed influence, or simply because she can't stand this reminder of her obnoxious dumb husband.  She sent her with a treacherous maid and what is ultimately a fairly useless trinket of protection with the intent to have her betrayed on the road and unable to inherit any kingdom.

The second is that this persona is but a ruse, one meant to take care of two people: the chambermaid and the talking horse.

While the simplest explanation is usually the most accurate, I'd rather give the Bony line the benefit of the doubt and not simply write this woman off as a meek and mostly-useless princess.  I'd love for our version of this larger interconnected tale to be filled with capable female characters with complicated motivations and important roles to play on both sides of the greater war.  So let's explore this second option a little, shall we?

First we have a chambermaid who has notions well above her station, is not hesitant about usurping the princess and taking her place, and goes to desperate lengths to keep her ruse up.  She could be an ordinary greedy mortal or, perhaps... a troll trying once again to gain access to a kingdom.  After all, trolls can pass as ordinary people, and they seem to be constantly trying to marry princes through trickery.  Also this particular family line has already had at least two run-ins with trolls, so there could be some vengeance involved if this troll is at all related to the one they turned into nanoparticles.  She could also be related to the troll that the Mastermaid apparently killed in the process of taking over her home, like a granddaughter or something.

Then we have the talking horse Falada, who during the entire exchange between the princess and the chambermaid does not say a word, and who does not betray the chambermaid immediately upon arrival.  They are not in cahoots, though, because the chambermaid has him killed for fear of betrayal.  So the horse does not protect the princess, and is not guaranteed to protect the chambermaid.

In these early episodes, we had lofty ideas about being able to do real-people research into symbolism behind these folktales.  In this research, we discovered that horses are often clairvoyant in folktales, giving warnings to the heroes in a manner very similar to the birds.  But this one, in spite of his ability to talk, does not give any warning or assistance while alive.  I don't think all horses are necessarily aligned with birds, as we've had some fairy-friendly magic horses who are usually known for incredible speed, as well as the giant's fire-breathing horse.  Horses might simply choose sides individually, and this one has not chosen the side of the Immortal Bony line.

For this reason, the princess does not lift a finger to save his life, though several translations of the story make it clear that she pays off the slaughterer before Falada's murder.  She doesn't have his blood on her hands, so she doesn't inspire other horses to martyr him and join sides against her family, but he is out of the way.  

The only words we ever hear from the horse come from his severed head that she has nailed to a gate, which doesn't seem like the action of a meek and subservient innocent.  Perhaps she inherited some of her mother's blood magic, and is making the blood of the horse's head speak for her.

There's one more detail in this story that tells us a little more about Bony's family and their value to this war.  When the Goose Girl gets around her vow never to tell anyone about the chambermaid's treason, she does so by talking to an iron stove.  In some versions of the story, she even crawls into the iron stove.  This would indicate that she does not possess the fairy weakness to iron.  Whether this is a result of diluting blood with a human, or if the Bony line is not technically a fairy line, they would be useful allies to a band of creatures who cannot fight a common metal.  This could be more proof that the Czech tale Goldenhair is an origin story of Bony and his line, and that they potentially started as humans before Bony chugged the waters of life and death at the same time.

If you have any insights or ideas for how the Goose Girl can weave into the greater realm of folklore, please comment or send us an email.  And, as always, we love getting story suggestions from you! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Mastermaid: Conspiracies and Connections

For our second episode of WTFolklore, we traveled to Norway to explore the twists and turns of Asbjørnsen and Moe's "The Mastermaid."  Despite being the second story we read, this was actually the one that truly launched the podcast.  When pitching the idea to Tyler and Gordie, this was the story I quickly summarized as an example of how weird these tales could get.  We ended up doing Wonderful Sheep first because I wanted to set our hard launch date to Valentine's Day (to prevent the usual procrastination that kills group projects before they start), and that one did a good job of killing romance.

So, the Mastermaid is our first introduction to two factions of the folktale realm: giants and trolls.  At this point, we're not quite clear on their exact role in the overall battle between the fairy forces and birds, if any (though in the extended Andrew Lang version of Jack and the Beanstalk, it becomes clear that fairies at least are not on the side of giants, and perhaps have an active rivalry).

The giant is the first on the scene, as the employer of our young and bored prince.  At first he seems like a reasonable and even lenient employer, only requiring one task per day of the prince, and giving him free rein aside from the request maintain a bit of privacy in his own home.  Now, his one simple task turns out to be an elaborate trick to fill stables with horse shit, burn the prince up with horse fire breath, and... force him to do a tax audit maybe?  The consequences of screwing up the tax collection aren't clear, though the demon person who's giving him the "fire tax" just ominously states that it's lucky he didn't ask for a whole horseload.  Or maybe it's not ominous at all, and he is just happy that the fire tax isn't too high and is making idle conversation.  Who knows?

Now, unless the giant is just secretly into hilarious pranks, it is kind of a dick move to set your employee up for failure, especially when the consequences of failure are death.  This doesn't seem to be the behavior of someone looking out for the common good, so thus far there's no evidence that giants have any role on the side of the birds.  The best we could figure is that there is a very specific giant code for eating humans, at least in the mortal realms (as the Jack and the Beanstalk giant doesn't need to trick Jack into screwing something up to eat him).  Giant code is given further evidence in "The Brave Little Tailor," where the giant attempts to best him in a contest of skill, and then has to get him back to their own home before they're allowed to eat him.  At best, giants seem to be lawful neutral.

However, our prince character is not exactly a bastion of morality either; his first action before the giant's true intents are made clear is to directly disobey the reasonable request to some privacy.  He enters the forbidden rooms, messes with the giant's brews, and talks to his apparent prisoner-princess.  I don't think he's clever enough to have any particular agenda; he's just another example of bored royalty who got let out of the playpen.  His stupidity, self-involvement, and lack of experience with the real world make him an unwitting patsy of the true power player in this tale: the titular Mastermaid.

In this episode, we are impressed and a little terrified by the Mastermaid's coldly calculated plan to nab herself a kingdom.  She's been hanging out in this giant's house with relative freedom and the means/plan to escape for enough time to have accumulated a decent collection of corpse clothes.  It takes this particular easily manipulated nitwit to complete her plan, which she enacts with ease and precision.  This is, after all, a lady who has killed before and cooked corpses for her boss, who she now has no problem betraying.  Without hesitation, she draws blood from this prince she "loves," appears to feel no particular remorse when he disregards her warnings and never returns for her, and already has a backup plan in place (for which she carried around two live gold chickens during the whole fleeing scene, for a delightful image).

At this point in the story, the variation recorded on has a few points that are more detailed than my version:

  • When the Mastermaid takes over the old crone/troll's house with magic gold plating, the crone/troll is so scared that she forgets to duck and crushes her head on the doorframe.  Presumably the Mastermaid did not just leave her corpse in the doorway, or the three wooing bachelors might have had some reason to pause before parting with their entire life savings.  So sometime after the house takeover she either cooks or buries a troll, and cleans up the mess left behind on her pristine gold home.  Again, with no apparent remorse or surprise.
  • Each man who woos her has a much worse time of it in this version, sustaining more injuries from the calf and the door (which opens and closes all night, yanking around the clerk in a terrible dance), but the worst is the constable, who goes to stoke the fire with a poker but ends up having to pour hot coals over himself all night until his skin is flayed and burned.
We see later that the Mastermaid's purpose in bespelling these men is to weasel her way into a wedding invitation, but stealing all of their money and causing them physical injury seems to be just for her own dark entertainment.  This is strong evidence that she is not a force for good.

Additionally, as we pointed out during our reading of "Prince Unexpected," her particular powers of making body fluids speak (she makes the prince's blood speak in her own voice) and her magic flight that uses transfiguration spells to thwart her pursuer bears a remarkable similarity to one of Immortal Bony's daughters.  This unnamed daughter had the power to make her own spittle speak in another's voice, and had the same casual approach to large displays of power, like stamping her foot to open a pathway to the underworld and turning a horse into a church bell.

For this reason, we are running with the theory that the Mastermaid is one of Bony's (Koschei the Deathless, as he is called on his LinkedIn profile) 12 daughters.  If this is true, Bony and his daughters are planting their influence in several kingdoms in the human realm and establishing their family line in places of mortal power.  Since the Mastermaid especially has displayed a callous disregard for the mortal lives she encounters, we can guess their intentions are not in favor of the people they will be ruling.  Additionally, between their magical gifts and their underground home, I am theorizing that they are at least connected to the Unseelie Court, if they aren't full members of it. 

Now let's dig into some troll meat.

The two trolls to whom we're introduced in this story are relatively sympathetic characters compared to all of the other major players.  The first, who is in some translations just a hag, offers a stranger a home and then runs away/dies horribly when the stranger insists on changing everything about the home.  She's probably the kindest character in this whole damn story.

The next is the "bride's sister" who throws an apple at the dumb prince and causes him to forget everything until the Mastermaid pulls out her counter-apple plus two gold birds.  Now, enchanting someone to force them to forget everything about someone isn't exactly a good thing, but when that person you're making them forget is a manipulative serial killer who's trying to weasel her way into a kingdom, the morality goes a little more into the grey zone.  The fact that the Mastermaid was prepared for this occurrence implies that they are both aware of each other and each other's plans.

Ultimately both are in competition to gain influence in a mortal kingdom, which is something we see a lot in young lady trolls (See: the "Greenish Bird", "East of the Sun, West of the Moon").  Also, if this girl's a troll, wouldn't it stand to reason that her sister is also a troll?  Guess she got super lucky that slipped under the radar.  If the Mastermaid doesn't kill her, she might be the only troll to successfully wed into a human kingdom.

Other random connections:

  1. The golden apple used by the Mastermaid may have been obtained by her sisters in "The Nine Peahens and the Golden Apples."
  2. The mother of the Goose Girl has some blood magic that is similar to Mastermaid's, and may be her in the future.
Things to watch:
  • Troll politics, especially in relation to fairies and true-birds (not shapeshifted humans or magic birds, which may just be another kind of fairy creature)
  • Giant politics and giant code, as well as their relation to fairies and true-birds
  • Further links to the Immortal Bony family tree
That's all for now.  If you have your own theories about the Mastermaid, or if you have any great folktales about giants and trolls, please share them with us!  We need all the help we can get.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Look Back at the Conspiracies and Connections in "The Wonderful Sheep"

As we get closer to 100 episodes, we've started to look back upon the large catalog of folktales and folklore conspiracy theories and tremble at their scope.  New theories have cropped up throughout our recordings, and old folktales have faded from our memories or have been lost in our efforts to create a fully connected folklore universe.  No more, I say!  I am taking on the task of diving into our nearly 100 hours of recordings, as well as the original sources and some of the variants, to create a written record of the weird connections and conspiracy theories between all of these tales.

God help us all.

We begin with Episode One: Lying to Sheepmen, where we first encountered the infamous Madame d'Aulnoy.  I must now address a grave disservice I did to our listeners in this first episode: I summarized too much.  I was initially focused on communicating the big picture of the story and trying to fix the major plot holes that I missed some of those juicy little details that have since become some of the most fun talking points on our shows.

Details like rains of lobsters and trees full of meat.

We'll get there.

First, I just want to clarify a few names that were actually given in the story in addition to Miranda's.  The servant girl was named Patypata, the monkey was named Grabugeon (and, side note, in at least one translation of this tale wanted to "make a name for himself in Goblin Land."), and the dog was named Tintin (yes, really).  The sheep-making ugly fairy is named Ragotte, who is not mentioned by name in any other tale I've been able to find.  We'll keep an eye out for other mentions of bitter ugly fairies who can't find love.

Okay, now for those details I irresponsibly glossed over:

  1. Sheep boy had been spying on Miranda for some time, which explains how he knew about her talking pets, but adds more creepy context to his controlling and needy relationship with her.
  2. The sheep uses a pumpkin carriage drawn by six goats
  3. The princess is nervous that he's leading her to Fairyland, which wouldn't have been noteworthy at the time we recorded, but knowing now that the fairies are on the side of darkness is a telling moment
  4.  Sheep land has a river of orange-flower water, fountains of wine, and TREES with ROASTED PARTRIDGES, PHEASANTS, RABBITS, ETC GROWING FROM THEM
  5. The weather in sheep land is RAINS of LOBSTER PATTIES, SAUSAGES, TARTS, ETC as well as money and jewels.  These plants are living off the juicy meat liquids, I guess.
  6. The palace is made of the interlacing branches of fragrant trees (not the meat trees), which actually sounds kind of nice
The saga of how the sheep became a sheep is also pretty crazy.
  1. He'd hunted a stag and was separated from his attendants (our first instance of princes being completely unsafe outside of their royalty playpens), when the stag jumped into a pool of water.  When he followed, the pond dried up and a great gulf opened in front of him, with flames shooting out, and he falls to the bottom of a precipice.
  2. This is when Ragotte appears to threaten him into loving her.  He had known her for as long as he could remember (so presumably she was at his naming ceremony, and the age difference here is upsetting).  She offers him twenty kingdoms with a hundred castles (this seemed high to me, but apparently it's actually a low castle-to-kingdom ratio, so her deal's not as good as it seems) for him to marry her.  He reasonably asks that she remove him from his current danger so he could answer her, so she turns him into a sheep instead.
  3. For some reason all the other prince-sheep took him as their king
There are also ghosts in Sheepland.  This is mentioned in passing in my version, and expanded upon in the version linked to above (leading me to believe that my edition of this book was oddly truncated- she is "no longer fearful of the shadows" at the end of the sheep's tale, but they are not mentioned beforehand).

In my version, however, she does convince the sheep to send his Master of the Horse (??) to go get the shadows of the girl and monkey and dog to amuse her, so I guess they just steal these souls from wherever to keep her entertained.  Not sure I'd want my ghost to be trapped in a land of sheep to entertain someone for eternity...

That covers most of the crazy d'Aulnoynian nonsense I missed in round one.  Now the important part: weaving the threads of this tale into the broader tapestry of the WTFolkloreniverse.  This part will be updated as we find new connections (or as I remember the old ones).
  1. "King Freud" has conflicts with his quarrelsome neighbors, which we allude to in our reading of the "Brave Little Tailor" as well as a few of our more recent tales where kings just go off to war.  For now, we're definitely placing Miranda's kingdom adjacent to the Tailor's.
  2. They enter the Sheeplands through a cave, and Miranda thinks they're going to Fairyland.  This implies that there is at least one court of Fairyland underground (which is substantiated in other stories, as well as the folklore of fairy mounds), but we see in the Andrew Lang version of "Jack and the Beanstalk" that there is a fairyland in the realm in the sky as well.  Other stories, like the Skagit tale "Legend of the Star Children" imply a sky realm inhabited by beings that bear abilities similar to many of the fairies we've encountered.  I can't find mention of the physical locations of the Seelie and Unseelie courts, so I am hereby theorizing that the Seelie Court is in the sky realm of fairyland and the Unseelie Court is underground.  So far we've also seen a lot more wickedness and overt mischief from fairies associated with underground realms (even Magotine is best friends with the queen of the Underworld), and more subtle manipulation from sky fairies.
  3. Ragotte's use of a pit that opens up and shoots fire really feels like an allusion to Hell, which is not the first time fairies have been linked to the lands of fire and brimstone.
  4. Her talking dog and monkey are casually explained in an offhand comment about a fairy bewitching them.  The story phrases it to imply that a fairy just came and gave the animals the gift of gab apropos of nothing, but we saw later in "The Green Serpent" that fairies regularly wander around punishing humans for perceived faults by turning them into animals.  Tintin the dog would most likely have been an unfaithful lover.  A "cunning woman" who was cheating on her husband was turned into a monkey, so Grabugeon (whose gender is not given) could be her or a person who was in a similar situation.  Possibly the dog and the monkey were formerly lovers, both punished for the same wrongdoing.
  5. Grabuge apparently means mayhem or trouble, and the suffix -on forms a diminuative, so this pet's name was essentially "trouble." This is potentially a hint to that goblin land comment, which is never expounded upon
  6. In the end, Miranda inherits the kingdom unwed.  We'll have to watch out for stories about an unwed queen who also doesn't have unexplained dozens of children, unless Miranda likes to get freaky on the side.

Going forward, we have a few things to watch in order to fully integrate this tale:

  1. Unmarried, unnamed queen (or a queen named Miranda but that is a stretch)
  2. Further mentions of the Goblin Lands
  3. Other quarrelsome neighbors
  4. Super lonely, bitter fairies
  5. Realms whose princes disappeared forever/an extended period of time, or who are run by a vizier or something
We'd love to hear your own theories about "The Wonderful Sheep" and its role in the larger universe of folklore!  If you happen across any tales that might link to this one, don't hesitate to email or tweet it to us.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

D'Aulnoy Souls: A True and Factual Account, Finale

Hi folks, Tyler here

This week, the thrilling finale to "D'Aulnoy Souls":

We've come to the end of our dear d'Aulnoy's adventures. Now you know the whole story. How she came about, her rise to lordship, and what memories torment her so to write the stories she's written. It's definitely all true, and wasn't just an excuse for me to cram videogames onto the podcast. 

And so we bid farewell for now, at least until an expansion comes out

Thank you d'Aulnoy, for all that you do

Thanks everyone who watched along and enjoyed my little experiment here, hiccups and all, I appreciate that you saw fit to spend some of your time with me on this ride. 'Til next time!


Saturday, May 28, 2016

D'Aulnoy Souls: A True and Factual Account Part 6

Hey folks, Tyler here!

It's been a long, arduous journey for digi-d'Aulnoy, but the end is in sight. This week, we pop over to the Archdragon Peak for one last test of our mettle before we see this thing to it's conclusion.

She's starting to sport some stress wrinkles, methinks

Time for a spa day

Like a mudbath or something, that'd be nice...

Does d'Aulnoy have the stuff to call herself dragon? Can she muster the power within her to walk the path? There's only one man who can tell us for sure, and it's time to settle the score

Speaking of scores to settle, there's also an old, long forgotten God standing between d'Aulnoy and victory

And if we've learned anything about our dear old d'Aulnoy, it is her favorite and only pastime to take mythical beings and really just tear them some new buttholes

Pictured: soon to be "Butthole-less King"

Here's the episode in video form, if you'd like to see the ol' girl in action:

Next week will be the final installment of "D'Aulnoy Souls". Thanks for sticking it out with me!

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Saturday, May 21, 2016

D'Aulnoy Souls: A True and Factual Account, Part 5

Hi Folks, Tyler here.

This week...well, i'll let the video speak for itself this time. D'Aulnoy was really put through the ringer this time, but she perservered and became stronger for it:

We're closing in on the conclusion of our adventure, be sure to tune in next time!

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

D'Aulnoy Souls: A True and Factual Account Part 4

Hi folks, Tyler here

This week find's d'Aulnoy contending with spooky skelemen down in the catacombs, making new friends in the chilly town of Irithyll, and having the most badass, anime fight with a giant that the game could possibly muster. Two more Lords of Cinder fall this week, leaving only one before the end of this journey.

All in all, a good week for her, and her spirits are high

Shaka Brah

But next week...

She faces her toughest challenge yet, the largest personal roadblock I faced in the entire game. Stay tuned!

What could possibly go wrong?