Illustration by H. J. Ford from Andrew Lang’s The Pink Fairy Book, 1967

Today’s tale, “The Water of Life,” come to us from Spain. It was collected by D. Francisco de S. Maspons y Labros in Cuentos Populars Catalans (1885), and included by Andrew Lang in his The Pink Fairy Book (1897). I found it on-line here.

We have three brothers and one sister. Given that set-up it’s no suprise that the sister, traditionally the weakest, is the heroine. Remember, fairy tales love underdogs.

The four siblings worked very hard, became rich, and built a palace. It was much admired, but an old woman told them it needed a church, so they built a church. I’m not sure why they had to listen to a random old women, but older people are usually considered wise and , especially in fairy tales, it’s usually a good idea to take the advice you’re given. The palace and church were even more admired, but an old man told them it needed a pitcher of the water of life, a branch where the smell of the flowers gave eternal beauty, and the talking bird, which all could be found at the top of “yonder” mountain. Notice, it’s the talking bird, not just and old bird that can talk. The oldest brother decided to set out after it. The others asked the old man how they could know he was safe, and the man gave them a knife: as long as it was bright, he was well, but when it was bloody, evil had happened to him. Only in fairy tales would an old man just happen to have a knife like that.

The oldest brother met with a giant who warned him he had to walk past stones that would mock him; if he did not turn, he could gain what he was after, but if he did, he would turn to stone as well. The brother went to the mountain, but the stones jeered at him so loudly he turned to throw a rock at them and turned to stone.

Warned by the knife that something had happened, his two brothers followed him, one after another, and both suffered the same fate.

Their sister then took the journey to the mountain. I might have stayed at home if I were her, but the whole family was pretty persistent. She actually listened to the giant’s advice, smart girl, and did not turn. At the top of the mountain, she found a pool, and the bird perched on a branch of the tree. She took them all, but was tired and on her way back down she spilled, which turned the people back to life. Realizing she could break the spell, she sprinkled the water on all the stones and restored them all to life. At home, she planted the tree and watered it, and it grew, and the bird perched in its boughs.

A prince came to see the wonders and married the sister in the church the siblings had built.

So, they all get a happy ending, thanks to the sister. She gets to marry a prince of course, and her brothers aren’t stuck as stones. I find it interesting that the whole story starts because of their hard work. If it weren’t for their own efforts, they would have still been living cramped in a small cottage. Granted, they got some good advice along the way, but it was still their own actions that was rewarded in the end.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.


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