Sixty Folk Tales

Today’s tale, “The Snake and the Princess,” comes to us from Russia and was included in A. H. Wratislaw’s Sixty Folk Tales from Exclusively Slavic Sources published in 1890. For a short story, it has a couple of the common fairy tale themes, but veers from the norm toward the end.

An emperor has three daughters. Of course there are three of them and I’m sure you can guess who most of the story is about- the youngest. The emperor becomes ill and sends the oldest girl for water. She goes to get it, but a snake stops her and asks her to marry it. She says no so it refuses to give her water. I guess the snake guards the water; it isn’t really clear. The same thing happens to the middle daughter, but the youngest agrees to marry the snake so it gives her water to take back to her father and he recovers.

That Saturday a carriage arrives and the girl weeps. Did she not realize she was going to have to live up to her promise? Eventually she goes off with the snake and its servants back to the snake’s home. “There they lived, and had a daughter born to them.” I don’t know if she was happy or miserable, if the snake was kind or not. It’s irrelevant to the story. What does matter is that they took a “godmother” to live with them and she was a horrible woman. The child dies as does the princess; we’re not told how or why. Did they become sick, did the godmother kill them? Then, this godmother sneaks off in the middle of the night to where the princess is buried, cuts off the princess’ hands, brings them home, soaks them in hot gruel and removes the gold rings.

The princess comes back from her grave, apparently with God’s approval, to retrieve her hands. She says,

“The fowls are asleep, the geese are asleep,
Only my godmother does not sleep.
She scalds white hands in water-gruel,
She takes off golden rings.”

The godmother hides under the stove and the princess says her bit again. The next morning the godmother is found dead under the stove. Her body is thrown in a hole, not given a proper burial.

We have the magical number three again, with the three daughters and the three attempts to get water. As usual, it’s the youngest one who becomes the hero, the one who is traditionally least valued who saves the emperor’s life. We have the evil substitute mother, in this case a godmother rather than the traditional step-mother. I assume she came to help care for the child, but she was bound to be the villain, and she gets her punishment- death- in the end.

I haven’t read many stories where the dead come back for just one moment however. I love that the princess gets her revenge, even if it’s after she’s dead. I wish she could have had a happy ever after though.

You can read the story on-line at

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

This was my third short story for R.I.P. VII, a reading event embracing the ghastly and ghostly, mysterious and grim. I think the princess coming back from the dead defintiely fits. R.I.P. VII is hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.


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