Kate and the Fairy Baby, illustration from English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs, 1895
Kate and the Fairy Baby, illustration from English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs, 1895

I admit it, I picked today’s story based on the title. “Kate Crackernuts” just made me smile. It’s a story from Scotland collected by Andrew Lang in the Orkney Islands and published in Longman’s Magazine in 1889. Joseph Jacobs edited and republished the tale in his English Fairy Tales (1890).

A king had a daughter named Anne, and his queen had a daughter named Kate, who was less beautiful. The queen was jealous of Anne, but Kate loved her. I’m sure no one’s surprised that the queen is turns out to be an evil step-mother, this is a fairy tale. The queen consulted with a henwife to ruin Anne’s beauty, and after three tries, they enchanted Anne’s head into a sheep’s head. Kate wrapped Anne’s head in a cloth, and they went out to seek their fortunes. The sisters are surprisingly close in this story. Siblings in fairy tales don’t usually stick together quite like that. And it’s usually the boys who go out to seek their fortunes, not the girls. I like the strong women in this tale, most noticeably Kate.

They found a castle where the king had two sons, one of whom was sickening, and whoever watched him by night vanished. Kate asked for shelter for herself and her “sick” sister, and offered to watch. At midnight, the sick prince rose and rode off. Kate sneaked onto his horse and collected nuts as they rode through the woods. A green hill where the fairies were dancing opened to receive the prince when he said a rhyme, and Kate rode in with him, adding her own bit at the end of his rhyme. No one noticed her. It kind of reminds me of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, where the princesses spend the nights dancing in the fairy castle. The second night passed as the first but Kate found a fairy baby in the hill. It played with a wand, and she heard fairies say that three strokes of the wand would cure Anne. So she rolled nuts to distract the baby and get the wand, then cured her sister. There are a lot of magical threes in this story.

The third night, Kate said she would stay only if she could marry the prince, and that night, the baby played with a bird, three bites of which, the fairies said, would cure the sick prince. She distracted the baby with the nuts again to get it. As soon as they returned to the castle, she cooked it, and the prince was cured by eating it. Meanwhile his brother had seen Anne and fell in love with her, so they all married — the formerly sick brother to the Kate, and the well brother to the Anne. It’s nice that Kate had to save the prince, not the other way around.

Both girls get their happy ever after, even the not quite as pretty one, but the Queen never does get punished.

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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