Authors: The Crimson Fairy Book
Each Fairy Book demands a preface from the Editor, and these
introductions are inevitably both monotonous and unavailing. A
sense of literary honesty compels the Editor to keep repeating that
he is the Editor, and not the author of the Fairy Tales, just as a
distinguished man of science is only the Editor, not the Author of
Nature. Like nature, popular tales are too vast to be the creation of
a single modern mind. The Editor's business is to hunt for
collections of these stories told by peasant or savage grandmothers
in many climes, from New Caledonia to Zululand; from the frozen
snows of the Polar regions to Greece, or Spain, or Italy, or far
Lochaber. When the tales are found they are adapted to the needs
of British children by various hands, the Editor doing little beyond
guarding the interests of propriety, and toning down to mild
reproofs the tortures inflicted on wicked stepmothers, and other
These explanations have frequently been offered already; but, as far
as ladies and children are concerned, to no purpose. They still ask
the Editor how he can invent so many stories—more than
Shakespeare, Dumas, and Charles Dickens could have invented in a
century. And the Editor still avers, in Prefaces, that he did not
invent one of the stories; that nobody knows, as a rule, who
invented them, or where, or when. It is only plain that, perhaps a
hundred thousand years ago, some savage grandmother told a tale
to a savage granddaughter; that the granddaughter told it in her
turn; that various tellers made changes to suit their taste, adding or
omitting features and incidents; that, as the world grew civilised,
other alterations were made, and that, at last, Homer composed the
'Odyssey,' and somebody else composed the Story of Jason and the
Fleece of Gold, and the enchantress Medea, out of a set of
wandering popular tales, which are still told among Samoyeds and
Samoans, Hindoos and Japanese.
All this has been known to the wise and learned for centuries, and
especially since the brothers Grimm wrote in the early years of the
Nineteenth Century. But children remain unaware of the facts, and
so do their dear mothers; whence the Editor infers that they do not
read his prefaces, and are not members of the FolkLore Society, or
students of Herr Kohler and M. Cosquin, and M. Henri Guidoz and
Professor Child, and Mr. Max Muller. Though these explanations
are not attended to by the Editor's customers, he makes them once
more, for the relief of his conscience. Many tales in this book are
translated, or adapted, from those told by mothers and nurses in
Hungary; others are familiar to Russian nurseries; the Servians are
responsible for some; a rather peculiarly fanciful set of stories are
adapted from the Roumanians; others are from the Baltic shores;
others from sunny Sicily; a few are from Finland, and Iceland, and
Japan, and Tunis, and Portugal. No doubt many children will like to
look out these places on the map, and study their mountains, rivers,
soil, products, and fiscal policies, in the geography books. The
peoples who tell the stories differ in colour; language, religion, and
almost everything else; but they all love a nursery tale. The stories
have mainly been adapted or translated by Mrs. Lang, a few by
Miss Lang and Miss Blackley.
There was once a king's son who told his father that he wished to
'No, no!' said the king; 'you must not be in such a hurry. Wait till
you have done some great deed. My father did not let me marry till
I had won the golden sword you see me wear.'
The prince was much disappointed, but he never dreamed of
disobeying his father, and he began to think with all his might what
he could do. It was no use staying at home, so one day he
wandered out into the world to try his luck, and as he walked along
he came to a little hut in which he found an old woman crouching
over the fire.
'Good evening, mother. I see you have lived long in this world; do
you know anything about the three bulrushes?'
'Yes, indeed, I've lived long and been much about in the world, but
I have never seen or heard anything of what you ask. Still, if you
will wait till to-morrow I may be able to tell you something.'
Well, he waited till the morning, and quite early the old woman
appeared and took out a little pipe and blew in it, and in a moment
all the crows in the world were flying about her. Not one was
missing. Then she asked if they knew anything about the three
bulrushes, but not one of them did.
The prince went on his way, and a little further on he found another
hut in which lived an old man. On being questioned the old man
said he knew nothing, but begged the prince to stay overnight, and
the next morning the old man called all the ravens together, but
they too had nothing to tell.
The prince bade him farewell and set out. He wandered so far that
he crossed seven kingdoms, and at last, one evening, he came to a
little house in which was an old woman.
'Good evening, dear mother,' said he politely.
'Good evening to you, my dear son,' answered the old woman. 'It
is lucky for you that you spoke to me or you would have met with a
horrible death. But may I ask where are you going?'
'I am seeking the three bulrushes. Do you know anything about
'I don't know anything myself, but wait till to-morrow. Perhaps I
can tell you then.' So the next morning she blew on her pipe, and lo!
and behold every magpie in the world flew up. That is to say, all
the magpies except one who had broken a leg and a wing. The old
woman sent after it at once, and when she questioned the magpies
the crippled one was the only one who knew where the three
Then the prince started off with the lame magpie. They went on
and on till they reached a great stone wall, many, many feet high.
'Now, prince,' said the magpie, 'the three bulrushes are behind that
The prince wasted no time. He set his horse at the wall and leaped
over it. Then he looked about for the three bulrushes, pulled them
up and set off with them on his way home. As he rode along one of
the bulrushes happened to knock against something. It split open
and, only think! out sprang a lovely girl, who said: 'My heart's love,
you are mine and I am yours; do give me a glass of water.'
But how could the prince give it her when there was no water at
hand? So the lovely maiden flew away. He split the second bulrush
as an experiment and just the same thing happened.
How careful he was of the third bulrush! He waited till he came to a
well, and there he split it open, and out sprang a maiden seven times
lovelier than either of the others, and she too said: 'My heart's love,
I am yours and you are mine; do give me a glass of water.'
This time the water was ready and the girl did not fly away, but she
and the prince promised to love each other always. Then they set
out for home.
They soon reached the prince's country, and as he wished to bring
his promised bride back in a fine coach he went on to the town to
fetch one. In the field where the well was, the king's swineherds
and cowherds were feeding their droves, and the prince left Ilonka
(for that was her name) in their care.
Unluckily the chief swineherd had an ugly old daughter, and whilst
the prince was away he dressed her up in fine clothes, and threw
Ilonka into the well.
The prince returned before long, bringing with him his father and
mother and a great train of courtiers to escort Ilonka home. But
how they all stared when they saw the swineherd's ugly daughter!
However, there was nothing for it but to take her home; and, two
days later, the prince married her, and his father gave up the crown
But he had no peace! He knew very well he had been cheated,
though he could not think how. Once he desired to have some
water brought him from the well into which Ilonka had been
thrown. The coachman went for it and, in the bucket he pulled up,
a pretty little duck was swimming. He looked wonderingly at it,
and all of a sudden it disappeared and he found a dirty looking girl
standing near him. The girl returned with him and managed to get a
place as housemaid in the palace.
Of course she was very busy all day long, but whenever she had a
little spare time she sat down to spin. Her distaff turned of itself
and her spindle span by itself and the flax wound itself off; and
however much she might use there was always plenty left.
When the queen—or, rather, the swineherd's daughter—heard of
this, she very much wished to have the distaff, but the girl flatly
refused to give it to her. However, at last she consented on
condition that she might sleep one night in the king's room. The
queen was very angry, and scolded her well; but as she longed to
have the distaff she consented, though she gave the king a sleeping
draught at supper.
Then the girl went to the king's room looking seven times lovelier
than ever. She bent over the sleeper and said: 'My heart's love, I
am yours and you are mine. Speak to me but once; I am your
Ilonka.' But the king was so sound asleep he neither heard nor
spoke, and Ilonka left the room, sadly thinking he was ashamed to
Soon after the queen again sent to say that she wanted to buy the
spindle. The girl agreed to let her have it on the same conditions as
before; but this time, also, the queen took care to give the king a
sleeping draught. And once more Ilonka went to the king's room
and spoke to him; whisper as sweetly as she might she could get no
Now some of the king's servants had taken note of the matter, and
warned their master not to eat and drink anything that the queen
offered him, as for two nights running she had given him a sleeping
draught. The queen had no idea that her doings had been
discovered; and when, a few days later, she wanted the flax, and
had to pay the same price for it, she felt no fears at all.