Illustration by Montagu Barstow and Baroness Orczy, 1895
Illustration by Montagu Barstow and Baroness Orczy, 1895

“The Wishing Skin” told by Baroness Orczy in Old Hungarian Fairy Tales starts in typical fairy tale fashion. We have a childless couple, a woodcutter and his wife, who humbly but contentedly in a nice cottage with a garden in front.

One day a peddler stops at the cottage and when he leaves, drops a book of tales on the road that the husband, Jack, picks up. That night he reads the stories to his wife while she sews, stories full of fairies and magicians. That night he has trouble sleeping, wishing a fairy godmother would come and grant him all his wishes. The next day, while working, a rabbit comes up to him and starts talking, telling him that although he is obviously not a fairy godmother, he does know where there is a wishing skin, made by fairies. Anyone wearing the skin, which I picture as a kind of coat, can wish for anything and the wish will be fulfilled, but every time a wish is granted the skin becomes smaller. The woodcutter, of course, puts on the skin, and the first thing he wishes is for the skin to be his and for him to never have to give it up. We all know this can come to no good, don’t we?

He tells his wife, but she doesn’t believe him until he wished for a feast for supper.  And they keep wishing for bigger and better positions and ranks until they are the most powerful Emperor and Empress in the whole world, but with each wish, Jack becomes smaller and smaller until he is only 6 inches tall. Several times he attempts to resist his wife’s requests for more power, but women are often stronger in these tales and she gets her way.

His wife eventually tires of him and banishes him to a doll house in the palace garden and only takes him out to play with him occasionally. At last one day, the tiny Emperor takes of his crown, throws it to the ground and says, “—Oh, how I wish I were a full-grown man, a wood­cutter again, with my wife in my own little cottage, not dreaming even of such things as kings and emperors.” Everything immediately goes back to the way it was before he had even heard of the skin. Maybe it was all a dream, but from then on Jack and his wife live comfortably, and quite happily, in their little cottage.

You can read the whole story for yourself, including the bits where the King laughs at little Jack, here.

Greediness never does work out well in these stories. Neither does trying to better your station in life through magic rather than hard work and being a good person. We learned a similar lesson in the “Fisherman and his Wife.” 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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