“The Silver Rose,” an Alsatian folktale

(Originally posted in the Folktales’ section of the little translator website, June 30, 2016)

I translated this particular French version of the tale from the Castles of France website, and this version has been frequently posted in other folktale centers around the Internet. Other versions were collected by or referenced to Auguste Stoeber, either in the Revue d’Alsace (1851) or Die Sagen des Elsasses nach Volksuberlieferung, gedruckten und handschriftlichen Quellen gesammelt und erlautert, mit einer Sagenkarte. (1852)


In the heart of the Vosges mountains of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, there lived an entire nation of dwarves. These dwarves had built a subterranean city of shining beauty.

This city of crystal and silver was a permanent Gate between the two worlds. The dwarves dug into the earth and shadowed the men from whom they learned the arts of mining, of the forge, of gold and silversmithing.

But despite the good relations between humans and dwarves, skepticism and wariness began to increase in the hearts of man. Disputes, conflicts, and jealousies multiplied.

Then, it happened one day that the King of the Silberzwergen1 came up out of the mountain to contemplate the moonlight of the world of men. Near a stream, he saw a young woman who was the daughter of a rich miner and who had just departed from the cloister where nuns had raised her.

The young damsel was radiantly beautiful, and the king fell desperately2 in love. He revealed himself to her in order to confess to her his love, but she was frightened by the sight of this small, ill-formed creature, believing she had before her one of the demons the good sisters had spoken of. She fled without saying a word.

The King of the Dwarves was seized with a great passion for the damsel. He made a thousand attempts to seduce3 her, showering her with magnificent gifts. But she, terrified, always fled.

Mad with love, the King of the Dwarves no longer knew what to do. In the end, he offered the young woman the most wondrous treasure in his possession: the Silver Rose. It was the only one of its kind and held great power, crafted by the Ancients and the Goddess of the Moon. The Rose rested at the heart of the underground city, and it was the Rose that bound the two worlds permanently together by way of its magic.

But once again the young girl refused the dwarf’s advances. She fled, shouting hurtful words to the king as he held out the Rose to her in a gesture of supplication. As she ran, she had a terrible accident: she tripped on a root of a tree in the darkness of the night and fell into a river. Not knowing how to swim, she drowned.

The king of the dwarves felt an immense sadness after having learned of the young girl’s drowning. He returned to his mountain home and had all the mine’s tunnels collapsed behind him. As for his magical powers, the miners of the Valley of Sainte-Marie-aux-mines were no longer able to discover the veins of gold or silver flowing within the mountain. The King, still unhappy, took the magic Rose and departed for lands far away, in the regions to the east of the Waldwelt woods.

This unfortunate event had immense repercussions within the Waldwelt: upon learning what happened, its inhabitants felt it was no longer possible to maintain relations with humans if humans would only flee. Everywhere, faeries, elves, dwarves, and lutins4 disappeared little by little, leaving only a variety of legends and tales behind them.

As for the king of the Dwarves, he returned to his native land, in the mountains which arose at the castle of the Unicorn and the Forest of Shadows. There, he made a gift of this Rose to the Unicorn’s Lady, and this queen of the Elves accepted the guardianship of the treasure and cast it into the deepest well of her domain. The unhappy dwarf left to return to his dear mountains and died of grief….


1. German for “silver dwarves.”

2. The word in French is “éperdument” which is most often used in the context of love, as opposed to translation of “desperately” which can be used in many contexts. But this is a love that’s consuming, violent in its power and force, and may lead to destruction.

3. The French word “séduire” (seduce) didn’t gain a positive subtext (“entice”) until the late 18th century. If this tale were recorded as a 17th century fairy tale, I’d automatically assume, from this word, that the dwarf king’s intentions were less than noble. But instead all known recordings of this tale date from the 19th century, leaving us with the question: did the dwarf king only mean to entice her, win her over with his gifts? Did she run solely because she was afraid of how he looked?

4. Lutins are a French kind of hobgoblin.

Obscure French Folklore in Out-of-Print Collections (Review)

(Cross-posted from writing blog.)

This is going to be a bit different.

Well, this post is going to be a bit different, since I’ll essentially be presenting and reviewing two out-of-print French books, but stick with me.

Two Christmases ago I received several collections of Alsatian/Lorraine and Breton/Gallo folklore to feed my obsession.  Among them were Alsatian-centric Dragons, fantômes, et trésors cachés : légendes, traditions et contes d’Alsace,  with text by Guy Trendel and illustrations by Thierry Christmann (1988) and Contes populaires et légendes d’Alsace.  Translating to: Dragons, ghosts, and hidden treasures: legends, traditions, and folktales of Alsace, and Folktales and legends of Alsace.

 

I’d gone into the request for more books of folklore hoping that, since folktales belong to the people, that the folklorists would be presenting their tales as-told-by the people, maybe with some light editing for readability.  I know of collections that are essentially dictations of oral recordings, with names and ages stated of the individuals telling the tales.  Adolphe Orain, for example, is a 19th century Breton-Gallo folklorist who did just that.

However, while researching a few of the tales in Contes populaires, I looked into the resources quoted in the bibliography, tracked down and compared the present telling to the original recording and discovered that it had been significantly pared down and adapted.  I was then presented with the conundrum–does the folktale still count as belonging to the people in the past, does it still count as being “public domain” and open to translation, if the tale has been adapted and altered so much? If the folklorist has added so much of their own touch?  What is the nature of folklore, as it’s being passed down?

If you’ve been following my folktale and fairy tale translations on little translator, you know I’ve been sticking to–or trying my best to stick to–tales that are freely available.  But I didn’t realize when I started how many grey areas there would be to try and avoid.

Last year I translated the tale “Le chasseur vert” or “The Green Hunter” from the collection Contes populaires and offered it to my Patreon supporters while I was in the midst of trying to figure all this out.  Since I’ve come to the conclusion that it would be better to stick to only translating folklore from their original publications in the 19th century and earlier and, unfortunately, avoid any modern folklore collections, I’m going to make a change.

There is something I can do with these more modern-day folktale collections, however, and that is to show you how awesome they are, present you with their bibliographies in case any of you encountering this post also wish to read original French folklore or do similar research as me, aaaaand give you a token translation as part of this review.  I won’t make a habit of it, but I do still want to do all this cultural heritage justice.  It’s really hard to do research across borders, and I want to make it easier.

So, without further ado, “The Green Hunter” from page 182.

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“The Green Hunter”

The Green Hunter hunts men.

A poor woman from Saint-Amarin valley went on pilgrimage to Thierenbach. Once arrived at the foot of the Freundstein castle ruins, she considered for a moment the vulture nests perched atop the rocks and, at the thought of every lord past, present, and future, she began to murmur inwardly against God who would not give her even enough to buy a new pair of shoes.

All at once, she saw a small pile of écu blanc coins shining at her feet. As she bent to collect the treasure she cast a furtive glance around her; consequently, she perceived at some distance away a hunter clothed in green who was watching her beneath furrowed brows. Seized with fright, she left the coins behind and continued on her way through the forest, quickening her pace and regretting the loss of such a great fortune. On the other side of the castle ruins, she met a man walking alone, though he had a certain air of charm and grace and a smile on his lips. This affable gentleman condescended to address her and inquired after the reason for her sadness, sympathized with her, approved her complaints, took part in her grousing, and even encouraged her: together they broke the valley’s silence with their ranting.

Suddenly, the stranger’s eyes gleamed darkly. A terrible smile split open his mouth, revealing pointed teeth. It was the Green Hunter.

He took a cord from his pocket, strangled the old woman, and hung her from a branch.

One of the great things about taking a survey of folklore collections’ table of contents is that you can start to see a pattern.

For example, there are many familiar themes:  Catholic saints and miracles are as important as tales of ghosts in the cities and faeries in the woods.  “Une nuit dans les bois” features a man who gets lost in the woods and what he discovers.  “La chasse maudite” is yet another tale of a sort of Wild Hunt.  “Le guerrier dormant” is about a mysterious sleeping warrior–a historical figure who  might awake when needed to save them?

But there are also repeating, specific tales: “Le pont des fées” or “The Faeries’ Bridge” has been told in so many different versions for this region that I included it in my growing collection of translations.  “La légende de l’horloge” or “The Legend of the Clock” also is a local favorite.  Likewise, “The Silver Rose” which features in “Petit légendaire alsacien,” and “The Legend of Hans-Trapp,” a sort of bogeyman to scare children into being good.  Not to mention, a whole slew of legends about the Strasbourg cathedral.

The repeating themes and tales are what I look for when trying to find something representative to translate.

Another use for surveying tables of content is you can see a pattern of everyone’s favorite go-to folklorists for the region, which you can then use in your own research.  Names such as Auguste Stoeber (who wrote in German), Prosper Baur, and Abbé Charles Braun figure repeatedly.

As for the book’s collection itself, I think it’s really well curated.  Especially in the “Petit légendaire alsacien” chapter which has a whole slew of bite-sized tales that paint a fantastic magical realism picture, from the countryside to the city streets.  I think it has something for everyone and something for everywhere.

So, here is the table of contents and the bibliography. Go ahead and skip over them if you don’t speak French or German. 😉

Table of Contents.

  • Une nuit dans les bois, conte-préface de Erckmann-Chatrian. (“A Night in the Woods,” a folktale preface from author-duo Erckmann-Chatrian.)
  • La légende de Saint Materne qui a évangélisé l’Alsace, Auguste Stoeber.
  • Sainte Attala, Auguste Stoeber
  • Sainte Richarde qui a ressuscité un petit ours, Auguste Stoeber
  • Comment le château de Scharrachbergheim est tombé en ruine, Jean Variot
  • La chasse maudite, Charles Grad
  • Le guerrier dormant, Abbé Charles Braun
  • La légende du Vergiss-Mein-Nicht, Prosper Baur
  • Thibaut le jongleur, Charles Grandmougin
  • Traditions sur la fondation et la construction de la Cathédrale de Strasbourg (récits rapportés par Auguste Stoeber), Louis Schneegans 1850
  • La légende de l’horloge, Prosper Baur
  • L’invention de l’imprimerie, Livret de colportage, 1838
  • La comète, Erckmann-Chatrian
  • Le miracle des flagellants, Auguste Stoeber
  • Petit légendaire alsacien, Auguste Stoeber
  • Le garçon meunier changé en âne, Jean Variot
  • Le pont des fées, Marie Strahl
  • Les elfs, Abbé Charles Braun
  • Les nains de la gorge-aux-loups, Auguste Stoeber
  • Les spectres, Abbé Charles Braun
  • Le schaefferthal et Saint-Gangolf, Abbé Charles Braun
  • Les tziganes, Auguste Stoeber
  • Le tisserand de la Steinbach, Erckmann-Chatrian
  • La légende du bailli, Prosper Baur
  • La légende de Hans-Trapp, Prosper Baur
  • La légende de Till, Prosper Baur
  • La légende de la noble dame de Zornberg, Prosper Baur
  • Sorcellerie d’autrefois, Claude Seignonlle
  • Un beau chapelet de malédictions, Auguste Stoeber

Bibliography

  • Prosper Baur : Légendes et Souvenirs d’Alsace, Paris, Dentu. 1881.
  • Abbé Charles Braun : Légendes du Florival ou la Mythologie allemande dans une vallée d’Alsace, Guebwiller, J. B. Yung 1866.
  • Erckmann-Chatrian : Contes des bords du Rhin.
  • Abbé Hunckler : Histoire des Saints d’Alsace, Strasbourg, Levrault, 1832.
  • Auguste Stoeber : Die Sagen des Elsasses nach Volksuberlieferung, gedruckten und handschriftlichen Quellen gesammelt und erlautert, mit einer Sagenkarte. Saint Gallen, 1852.
  • Jean Variot: Légendes et Traditions orales de l’Alsace, Paris, Georges Crès, éditeur, 1920.
  • Claude Seignolle: Les Evangiles du Diable. Maisonneuve, Paris, 1963.
  • Revue Alsacienne (1877-1890).
  • Revue d’Alsace (Colmar), 1ere année : 1830 ; 2e année : 1851.
  • Revue des Traditions populaires (Paris), 1902.

The second book I’m discussing today has pictures!  Some in color, some in ink.  I really like it because the folklorist not only tells the tale, provides illustrations, but as you can see on the right next to the key icon, there’s even commentary on the tale’s themes, cultural trends, etc.

“The Haunted Coach of Rosheim”:

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This is one of the folktales that inspired my retelling short story “What She Saw by Lantern Light.”  In the original tale, it’s a young, newly-married woman who makes the overnight trek from Rosheim to Strasbourg to be there for the early morning market and encounters the flying diligence coach, as you can see in the illustration.

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In my retelling “What She Saw by Lantern Light,” I changed the protagonist to be a younger girl trying to support her family and I also added a few other inspirations into the mix to make it my own, which I’ve discussed previously.

The retelling appeared in Kate Wolford’s Frozen Fairy Tales, and I suppose it’s been out long enough I can spoil it, haha.

“What She Saw by Lantern Light”is available at various retailers.

 

In any case, I mentioned earlier that I look for repeating themes when I translate.  Location is another.  Certain locations in Alsace tend to collect stories.  One of these is Nideck–the Nideck castle, Nideck waterfall.  There are many tales of the giants who lived at Nideck, and about the nymph who lives at the falls.  Wangenbourg castle, which isn’t far from Nideck, is another with several tales to its name.  Hohenstein castle is another.

To demonstrate, I translated “La dame blanche du Hohenstein” from this collection.  Not only does it take place at a folktale hot-spot, but it also features a White Lady, a common creature in French folklore.  In the tales I’ve encountered, she often bears a key, and…well, you’ll see.  This is from page 35.

“The White Lady of Hohenstein”
Numerous people out walking at the approach of evening have seen a lady, dressed all in white, haunting the Hohenstein castle ruins.  She sits at the top of a boulder, so close to the sheer drop that she seems to want to cast herself from its height.  She extends her hands beseechingly to every passerby and utters little moans and cries of despair.

One day, a very long time ago, a reckless–albeit dependable–man who lived in the area was passing nearby when he saw the white lady.  Believing it was only a tourist who had lost her way and could not manage to climb down from her difficult position, he scaled the rock to help her.  He was just about to take hold of her when the lady handed him a key, begging him to find in the ruins of the old fortress a strongbox:

“You will see a monster crouched atop the coffer, but do not be afraid; it will flee as soon as you insert the key into the lock.  You will open the coffer and find a treasure.  Take as many gold pieces as you can carry, for they will be yours; but above all, do not forget to return to me the key I have just given you.”

Somewhat surprised, our exuberant fellow set out on his search for the coffer which he did indeed discover.  On the lid sat a horrible monster, just as she had said. But, courageous, the traveler inserted the key and the beast vanished into thin air as soon as the lid opened, revealing marvels, gold, and precious stones within.  Eager, he stuffed as much as he could into his pockets, even clutching so much in his hands that he could no longer retrieve the key for fear of dropping a single coin.  Carrying his treasure, he returned to the white lady who, at his approach, uttered a cry of despair.  The key, her salvation, was missing!  In an instant the riches taken from the coffer transformed into a fistful of dust that the wind swept from his hands.  Desire had once again triumphed over vows.

And so, the white lady still awaits a being of exceptional quality who will not forget their promise or sell it for a little gold!

I really enjoyed this collection.  There are shape-shifting rabbits, men with wolfish eyes and wolves with human eyes, scarab beetles that might be gold, a wicked black stallion who keeps a lady captive, a man on fire, a pet dragon, cow-ammunition à la Monty Python, and last but not least, two white cat mages:

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Hold onto these two.  You might see them again later 😉

Table of Contents. (Note, not all accents included, for speed of my typing).

  • Un voyage à travers un pays mystérieux
  • La diligence hantée de Rosheim
  • Le <<Kindelbronne>> de Rosheim
  • La Vierge miraculeuse de Rosenwiller
  • La nuit du jugement au Guirbaden
  • La trahison du seigneur de Hohenstein
  • Le blé et la vache
  • Le diable et saint Valentin
  • Le roi des nains
  • La tombe du géant d’Altorf
  • Le pont des fées
  • Comment se protéger des mauvais sorts
  • Sorcières et esprits frappeurs à Oberhaslach
  • Le premier miracle de saint Florent
  • Les scarabées d’or de la ruine du Hohenstein
  • Clauss, le chercheur de trésors
  • La fille du géant au château du Nideck
  • La naissance de la cascade du Nideck
  • L’ondine de la cascade
  • Le crime du chevalier Rodolphe
  • La dame blanche du <<Urstein>>
  • Comment reconnaitre une sorcière ?
  • Deux sources miraculeuses : Soultz et Avolsheim
  • Le Christ et saint Pierre à Wolxheim
  • Le dragon terrassé par saint Denis
  • L’origine du nom d’Irmstett
  • Les couvents engloutis
  • Le fantome de Dangolsheim
  • L’homme de feu de Balbronn
  • Le fantôme du Ochsenlaeger
  • Le squelette de Charles le Téméraire
  • Les animaux fabuleux de la Mossig
  • Le monstre puni
  • Le dragon du << Scharrach >>
  • La horde sauvage
  • Le puits de sainte Anne
  • Les chasseurs de lune à Wangen
  • Les souris et les chats blancs de Wangen
  • Noel et quelques coutumes oubliées
  • Le voleur de la Vierge du << Marlenberg >>
  • Le loup du << Kronthal >>
  • Le spectre de Wasselonne
  • Le fantôme du  << Schneeberg >>
  • Le << Goldbrunnen >>
  • La fileuse Berchta
  • Le fantôme du << Brotsch >>

Bibliography.

  • Anderhalt Joseph : << Die Nixe vom Nidecker-Wasserfall >>, in Neuer Elsasser Kalender, 1938, p. 52.
  • Bergmann : << Elsasser Sagen >>, in Jahrbuch fur Geschichte, Sprache und Litteratur in Elsass-Lothringen (Vogesen-Club), 1980.
  • Dorny André : << Légendes d’Alsace >>.
  • Enderlin Hans : <<Burg Nideck und die Sage >>, in Neuer Elsasser Kalender, 1921, p. 51.
  • Fuchs Albert : << War Wotan ein obergermanischer Gott und im Elsass bekannt ?>>, in Elsassische Monatsschrift fur Geschichte und Volkskunde, 1921, p. 423 et 547. Du même : << Die Nidecksage >> (das Riesenspielzeug), dans même titre que précédemment, année 1912, p. 34 à 48.
  • Klingelé Otto Heinrich : << S’Wuedis-Herr >>, Die Sage vom Wilden Heer, 1985.
  • Lefftz Joseph : <<Die wilden Leute im Elsass  >> dans la même publication, année 1935, p. 7 à 12.
  • Menges Heinrich : << 100 Sagen und Geschichten aus Elsass-Lothringen >>, 1911.
  • Mentz F. : << War Wotan im Elsass bekannt ? >>, in Elsassische Monatsschrift fur Geschichte und Volkskunde, 1911, p. 546.
  • Muhl Gustav : << … ein Hinblick auf die Scharrachbergheimer Johanneskirche >>, in Alsatia 1852, p. 180.
  • Muntzer Désiré : << Elsassisches >>, Le même pour << Die Geisterkutsche >>, même titre, année 1854/55, Sagenbuch, 1910, p. 213.
  • Otte Friedrich : << Elsassisches Samtagblatt >>, 1856-1858.
  • Schaeffer F. A.: <<Der Feengarten auf dem Langenberg >>, in Elsassland, 1923, p. 83-85. Du même : <<Die Riesensagen im Elsass >>, même titre, année 1924, p. 92-93.
  • Specklin R. : << Une carte des légendes d’Alsace >>, in Revue d’Alsace 1954, p. 141.
  • Stintzi Paul : <<Die Sagen des Elsasses >>, Colmar 1930, 3 volumes.
  • Stoeber Auguste: << Die Sagen des Elsasses >>, Sankt-Gallen, 1852. Du même, dans la revue Alsatia, Jahrbuch fur elsassische Geschichte, Sage, Altertumskunde, Sitte, Sprache und Kunst, 1851-1876. Egalement : << Die Hexenprozesse im Elsass >>, 1857 et << Zur Geschichte des Volkes Aberglaubens im Anfange des 16. Jahrhunderts am Geiler von Kayserberg Emeis >>, 1856.
  • Tuefferd E. et Ganier H. : << Récits et légendes d’Alsace >>, 1884.
  • Variot Jean : << Légendes et traditions orales d’Alsace >>, Paris, 1919.

Just skimming through that, even for the non-initiate it should be farely obvious that this region–situated right on the border of France and Germany and contested between the two throughout all of time–has resources in both French and German.  It would be really cool to pair up with a German literary translator sometime and do a collection of folklore and fairy tales from this region.

Maybe someday….

“The White Lady of Kœpfle Hill”

(Posted to the site February 2016)

Translated from the folktale “LA DAME BLANCHE DU KŒPFLE” collected by the Alsatian folklorist Auguste Stoeber, translated into French by René Stiébel and published in Revue des traditions populaires, volume 16 in 1901.

 

Between Didenheim and Zillisheim is a hill, belonging to this last town, called Kœpfle. A white lady is often seen there at noon carrying a set of keys. She seems to smile, and often she descends to the bank of the Ill near the Bisz watermill; there, she washes her face and her hair. Soon she returns, and one can hear her weeping until she disappears over the hill.

At night on this same hill, great blue wandering flames can sometimes be seen. The whole village believes the white lady guards a hidden treasure. People have sought it in vain. During the winter of 1849 a local left on this quest after saying Saint Christopher’s prayer1. He saw an apparition that he couldn’t describe. Then he returned home, sick with fear, and remained ill for a long time.


1. Saint Christopher is the patron saint of travelers. One of the traditional prayers is as follows:

Dear Saint Christopher,
protect me today
in all my travels
along the road’s way.
Give your warning sign
if danger is near
so that I may stop
while the path is clear.
Be at my window
and direct me through
when the vision blurs
From out of the blue.
Carry me safely
to my destined place,
like you carried Christ
in your close embrace.
Amen.
Sources: Prayer to Saint Christopher, Prayer to St. Christopher While Traveling

Alsatian folktale retelling published

This isn’t a translation but a retelling I wrote.  My short story “What She Saw by Lantern Light” can now be found in the anthology Frozen Fairy Tales.

Winter is not coming. Winter is here. As unique and beautifully formed as a snowflake, each of these fifteen stories spins a brand new tale or offers a fresh take on an old favorite like Jack Frost, The Snow Queen, or The Frog King. From a drafty castle to a blustery Japanese village, from a snow-packed road to the cozy hearth of a farmhouse, from an empty coffee house in Buffalo, New York, to a cold night outside a university library, these stories fully explore the perils and possibilities of the snow, wind, ice, and bone-chilling cold that traditional fairy tale characters seldom encounter.

In the bleak midwinter, heed the irresistible call of fairy tales. Just open these pages, snuggle down, and wait for an icy blast of fantasy to carry you away. With all new stories of love, adventure, sorrow, and triumph by Tina Anton, Amanda Bergloff, Gavin Bradley, L.A. Christensen, Steven Grimm, Christina Ruth Johnson, Rowan Lindstrom, Alison McBain, Aimee Ogden, J. Patrick Pazdziora, Lissa Marie Redmond, Anna Salonen, Lissa Sloan, Charity Tahmaseb, and David Turnbull to help you dream through the cold days and nights of this most dreaded season.

Table of Contents:

Introduction by Kate Wolford
The Stolen Heart by Christina Ruth Johnson
Faithful Henry by Steven Grimm
The Ice Fisher by J. Patrick Pazdziora
Buffalo Wings by Lissa Marie Redmond
Cold Bites by Tina Anton
Death in Winter by Lissa Sloan
Simon the Cold by Charity Tahmaseb
The Light of the Moon, the Strength of the Storm, the Warmth of the Sun by Aimee Ogden
A Heart of Winter by Anna Salonen
Happily Ever After by Amanda Bergloff
The Heart of Yuki-Onna by Alison McBain
The Wolf Queen by Rowan Lindstrom
What She Saw by Lantern Light by L.A. Christensen
The Shard of Glass by David Turnbull
How Jack Frost Stole Winter by Gavin Bradley

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“The Nymph of Wangenbourg Castle”

(Originally posted January 2015)

Translated from “La Nymphe du château de Wangenbourg,” from the Castles of France website, legends section.

Once, a long time ago in Wangenbourg castle, there lived a quarrelsome lord of dubious morality. On his return trip from a military campaign with his comrades-in-arms, he spied a lovely young woman in a nearby field of wildflowers. With a bouquet of daisies in her arms, she shone with beauty.

The lord was seized with a desire to have her by any means. Our princess, in addition to being beautiful, had been blessed at her birth by a faerie and everything about her was breathtaking. Numerous suitors had tried to seduce her, but being too young for marriage, she rejected each one.

The lord of Wangenbourg, however, used everything at his disposal to conquer this magnificent creature, this beauty of nature. As a result, she was conquered and accepted his proposal. He promised to cherish only her and to no longer covet other hearts. They were happy, and despite the burdens of the life of a lord, he kept his promise.

But one day he fell back into caprice and sowed his wild oats among other damsels, and thus our recidivist took up the rhythm of his former life. Our princess sorrowed greatly and even despaired. She decided to cleanse herself from the stain of his dishonor at the Nideck Waterfall which she knew well. But Wangenbourg is a long journey from Nideck for a frail princess on foot. Along the way she injured herself several times on low-hanging branches, sharp rocks, and thorns. It seemed to her that the flames of hell had risen from the ground to burn her. The forest was so thick that the sun’s rays barely penetrated the gloom.

When she arrived, exhausted, drained by fatigue and grief, her limbs were so weary that she slipped on the stones at the top of the waterfall and fell into the void.

Her good faerie, having gotten wind of her misfortunes, had trailed her closely and arrived just in time to snatch her from plummeting to her death. The faerie wondered what to do with this unfortunate but sublime princess who was forever burdened by these vile men. Then a brilliant idea occurred to her, and she transformed the girl into a Nymph.

And ever since that day, inhabitants of the surrounding countryside tell the tale of a white shade who dances on the waterfall’s mist, warning travelers of approaching storms.


I found another version of this tale in the book Dragons, fantômes, et trésors cachés : légendes, traditions et contes d’Alsace by Guy Trendel, published in 1988. Trendel’s telling returns to a time when nobility lived at Nideck. The story begins in a familiar vein: the family longed for a child until finally they were blessed with a daughter. They chose her godmother with care: a faerie who then blessed her with beauty. But then, when she had grown into a beautiful young woman who lived to pick flowers and wander the woods, she was spied by knight who had taken up residence in the castle near Wangenbourg. One day, while hunting, he happened upon this beauty in the woods, and he snatched her up, kidnapping her and taking her back to lock her up with him in his castle. She tried to convince him to let her return to her family, but in vain.

Days passed and the knight used all his wits to win her heart, and finally he succeeded. The very night she lost her heart to him, her faerie godmother appeared to plead with her to escape, but the beauty would not listen.

Eventually, the knight grew bored of this game and tired of his captive. To be rid of her, he accused her of cheating on him with one of his comrades-in-arms. Finally, after pleading and begging him to believe her innocence, he declared that he was ready to forget everything if only she went and filled a jug full of water from the waterfall at Nideck.

Happy to have a chance to prove herself to him, the beauty set off on her three day journey. But when she leaned over the cascade to fill the jar, it became so heavy that it pulled her over the edge into the void. Thus the faerie found her before she could plummet to her death, but distraught by the idea of evil men taking advantage of her goddaughter, she transformed the maiden into an ondine who now remains to dance in the spray and foam of the falls.

“The Cursed Bridge of the Faeries Over the Vologne River (Vosges Mountains)”

(Originally posted December 2014)

Translated from “Maudit Pont des Fées enjambant la Vologne (Vosges),” an article that was originally published in Le Pays lorrain in 1908, then reprinted online in La France pittoresque in October 2013.

A Vosgian1 legend states that a well-formed hunter from Gérardmer, who had been promised a glorious destiny so long as he never allowed himself to be seduced by any woman, permitted himself one day on the banks of the Vologne to be lulled by the kiss of an ondine with river green eyes, coral lips, and an enchantress’ voice….

(La Vologne. Image copyrighted 2009 by Flauder. Used with photographer’s permission)
 

Once upon a time, at Gérardmer, in the picturesque region of the Vosges mountains, there lived a hunter so handsome, so captivating, and so well-formed that no woman nor girl could resist his charms. He hunted the wildest animals, despising the dangers, happy if some stag or boar fell to his shots. As soon as it was morning, once the chilly dawn appeared, he would set out, traversing brambles and brush wet with dew, always on his guard, never missing his beast.

And so on each day. He would return home to his thatch-roofed cottage (for he lived in a cottage and not a palace, being as poor as he was handsome) in the evening, hours after night had fallen, and his courage and his prowess were spoken of for roughly twenty-five leagues around. People would buy his game, which reaped a fat profit for him, but he had eight little brothers and eight little sisters for whom he spent all that he gained, wanting them to lack for nothing. Sometimes he even went without food, happy if those whom he loved had what they needed. He had promised his parents at the moment of their death to take care of the sixteen little monsters.

Killing a lot of fat game, he clothed himself with pelts, which only served to intensify his male beauty. As well, many girls would have been happy to have him for a husband, since, as we have mentioned previously, they were foolishly in love with him. But he did not even notice them, having neither the time nor the inclination, finding them all repulsive.

But there was another reason besides…. An old woman, who everyone said was a faerie, who attended his birth and was his godmother, had proclaimed that he would be handsome and brave and would attain the highest honors so long as he never let himself be seduced by any woman. He knew her words and kept himself on his guard.


(Le pont des fées. Image copyrighted 2009 by Flauder. Used with photographer’s permission)
 
One day, when he had been pursuing a doe since dawn and had yet to obtain her by noon, he felt so overcome with fatigue that he fell asleep amid the ferns in the great trees’ shade on the bank of a mountain stream whose white and frothy water fell from cascade to cascade. There, in the dense forest, the air was sweet and refreshing. An old bridge, constructed entirely from stones centuries and centuries ago, it is said, by faeries’ deft hands, conjoined the neighboring mountains’ slopes. Eyes closed, the hunter appeared haunted by delicious dreams, and his beauty was resplendently striking.

He was sleeping, lulled by birds’ song and the patter of waves, when he felt, suddenly, a kiss pressed to his cheek. Before him appears2 the most astonishing vision he has ever seen: a woman, more beautiful than daylight, there and regarding him. Her eyes are river green, her cheeks incarnadine, and her lips coral. Her blonde hair falls to her feet, half-hiding an exquisite body where drops of iridescent water gleam. She smiles sweetly at the hunter.

Overwhelmed by so many charms, he believes he is still dreaming. Words stick in his throat, so preoccupied is he with admiring her!

But she approaches, encircles the young man’s neck in her alabaster arms, and, with a voice like heavenly music, says, “Oh, my handsome hunter, why do you not respond to my kiss? …Do I frighten you? I am she who protects you, and who, by her arts, watches over you from afar, at night while you rest, in daylight when you run through the woods. I am she whose spirit follows you wherever you might go, and who, without fail, protects you from all harm! Come….Come to me, oh my handsome hunter!”3

Aroused by her words, he feels the flames of his desire so keenly that he drops to his knees before her and cries, “Oh, no! You are so beautiful and so sweet. I am not afraid of you, you who unfailingly protects me, as you say, oh no, I am not afraid of you…!”

And he proclaims that he loves her more than himself, pulls her ardently against him, and covers her hands with kisses. Smiling, she looks up at him and replies, “Oh my handsome hunter, come with me! …Come to my crystal palace, where years pass more swiftly than days, where one lives happily in pleasures without number and joys without end, where the weather is always fair and one never has to work! Come to my crystal palace, oh my handsome hunter…!”

She kisses him, caresses him, holds him more tightly in her arms. Seduced, he does not resist her but little by little abandons himself. Together they roll, intertwined, on the moss, then on the path. She guides him to the stream’s edge…. Already they touch the green algae. She kisses him, and kisses him again, then, suddenly, feeling him under her power, her laughter rings out, and she casts him, tumbling down with her, into the deep4 water…!

The hunter had cried out5, but the stream had only let a strangled moan escape, which reverberated far across the mountain. Then everything became calm once more: the white water continued to fall from cascade to cascade, the birds to sing, and the pine trees to sway gently in the wind….

Never again did the hunter return to his cottage, where his eight little brothers and eight little sisters perished from hunger. But he is still spoken of in the surrounding countryside. A superstitious fear6 lingers in the place where he disappeared. Ever since, no one can pass it by without trembling, and in the long evenings of winter, in the cottages of the poor, when they gather to tell hearth tales by the light of the flickering fire, old women tell the story of the young hunter to shocked, little children.

And they are gripped by fear at this tale, because they are told that sometimes, at midnight, the ancient winds of the Vosges mountains echo with the frightening cries of the drowning hunter, or that still one can hear the divine melody of love songs issuing from beneath the waves, two voices mingled in golden harmony, one voice strong and male from he who is no more and the tender, enchantress’ voice from the ondine with river green eyes and coral lips….

For the edification of our soul
Each tale’s end requires a moral,
Just as in Donkeyskin or Puss-in-Boots Perrault
Himself has given us an example.
Thus, may it please you, Gentle Reader,
To derive this lesson from the tale:
That you must always obey your godmother
So over misfortune you may prevail.
Next, do not allow yourself to fall
For one who, with enchantment in her eyes,
Seeks with her charm to seduce and lull.
Ere long, you will wish you had been wise.
For if, in the rush of those first instants,
Your heart might sing sweet songs of delight,
You will soon, alas! count far more moments
Where it cries out with your agony and fright.
7


1. The Vologne river extends west of the Vosges Mountains, located in the Alsace-Lorraine region near the border of France and Germany.

2. Abruptly changes to French storytelling-present tense, to make everything more immediate. Up to this point it has been imperfect (these are the things he’s been accustomed to doing, setting the scene) and simple past, which is a past tense the French use just for telling stories.

3. If, as fae-kind, the ondine cannot lie but can only misuse the truth, then I can’t help but love the imagery of the ondine being his godmother’s foil and opposing force, watching over him and lying in wait until she had this chance to take him. Or…perhaps…what if the ondine has been his “godmother” all along, and only gave him the prophecy in order to keep him for herself? Either way, I like the contrast between the hunter’s two “guardian” faeries.

4. Deep? And yet by the images we see the water is shallow. I like to think there is something supernatural going on, where a woman can rise from shallow water and pull him down into mysterious depths.

5. Back to past tense.

6. I like the phrase “superstitious fear” rather than “superstitious belief” that is more commonly said in English.

7. Let’s just say that the original poem was not written by one of France’s top poets, so I do not feel entirely bad that not everything rhymes exactly, &c. In any case, I hope you enjoyed this month’s folktale!

“Faeries in Upper Brittany, France”

(Originally posted November 2014)

Translated from the article “Fées en Haute-Bretagne,” originally published in Le Magasin pittoresque in 1886. Reprinted online in La France pittoresque in January 2014.

cartebretagne-article1

In Upper Brittany, people often speak of faeries. In addition to the numerous legends told about them, several proverbs featuring faeries have lingered in contemporary conversation; people say “white as faerie linen” to denote linen of a brilliant white; “as beautiful as a faerie”1 to describe a preternatural beauty.

They are generally called “Fées” (Faeries), sometimes “Fêtes,” which is closer to the Latin “fata”2 than “fée” is; we would say “une Fête” for a female, “un Fête” for a male. “Fête” may be the basis of “Fuito” or “Faitaud,” which is the name for the fathers, husbands, or children of faeries (Saint-Cast). Near Saint-Briac (Ille-et-Vilaine), they are sometimes called “Fions”; this term, which can be applied to either sex, also seems to denote mischievous lutins3.

Near The Mené4, in the cantons of Collinée and Moncontour, they are called “Margot la Fée,” or “my godmother Margot,” or even “the good woman Margot.” On the coasts, they are often styled “good ladies” or “our good mothers the faeries”; in general, we speak of them with a certain regard.

The faeries were a beautiful people. However, among them there were ancients who appeared to be several centuries old; some had teeth as long as their hand, or their backs were covered in marine plants, mussels, or periwinkle shells: a way to denote their old age. At Saint-Cast it is said that faeries were garbed in cloth, although I was unable to obtain further details. In the interior of Brittany, people are more affirmative5; here is the written deposition I was given in 1880: “They were made like human creatures; their clothes had no seams or stitches, and you couldn’t tell which were men and which were women. When you saw them from far away, they looked as if they were wearing the most beautiful and shining clothing. When you came close, the beautiful colors disappeared. But on their head remained a type of cap in the shape of a crown which seemed to be a part of their person.” (Told by François Mallet du Gouray, a laborer)

On the coast, people claim that faeries belong to a cursed race, that they were condemned to remain on Earth for a certain length of time. Around The Mené and its canton of Collinée, the elderly said that during the angels’ rebellion, those who remained in paradise were divided into two groups: one took the side for the good God, the other remained neutral. This last group were sent to Earth for a time, and it was these half-fallen angels who became the faeries. A tale collected at Saint-Suliac by Mme de Cerny says that the faerie of Bec-du-Puy was exorcised by Saint-Suliac’s curé. No one saw anything, but a cry of pain was heard (Saint-Suliac and its legends).

In general, it is believed that faeries lived here once but that they disappeared in various eras depending on the region. In the interior of Brittany, near The Mené, from what I’ve personally heard, they haven’t lived here for more than a century. It’s the same around Ercé (Ille-et-Vilaine).

On the coast, where it is firmly believed that faeries once dwelt in the ocean swells and cliff grottoes, the general opinion is they left at the turn of the century. A number of people, now in their sixties, have heard their fathers and grandfathers say they had seen faeries. At present, I have only met one person who believed they still remain: she was an old seamstress from Saint Cast; she was so afraid of them that, when she went to sew at various farmsteads, she would take a long detour in order to avoid passing by a field known in that region as “the Faeries’ Convent” at nightfall.

The faeries have been gone since we first sounded the Angelus and sung the Credo; but as time moves on, religion will diminish, we will no longer sing the Credo, we will no longer sound the Angelus, and the faeries will return. The elderly said that they heard the older generations before them say there were faeries up until a certain period. Then the faeries had disappeared; but when a certain length of time had passed, they should return. They all left the same night; they will return the same night as well. I found the same belief, albeit more detailed, near Ercé-près-Liffré (Ille-et-Vilaine):

The faeries will return in the next century, since it is an odd number6. An invisible century, that is to say one where no spirits are seen, will be followed by a century in which they will be seen again.


1. The French phrase is “Belle comme une fée” which Mlle de La Force played off of in her 1698 fairy tale “Plus belle que Fée” (“More beautiful than Fae”) which was translated into the English title “Fairer than a Fairy.”

2. An excerpt from the article “Contes de fées de Perrault et de Grimm : fées, ogres et magiciens d’origine indo-européenne ?” from the Revue de philologie française et provençale : recueil trimestriel consacré à l’étude des langues, dialectes et patois de France published in 1893 and reprinted in La France pittoresque says, “Les fées (fat-va, celle qui parle, qui révèle ; cf. fat-um, le destin considéré comme la révélation de l’avenir, -fans dans infans, celui qui ne parle pas, fa-ri, parler, etc.) qui résident auprès des fontaines sont les sœurs des nymphes, fatidiques comme elles, et qui, comme elles aussi, sont les habitantes des eaux. Les unes et les autres symbolisent les liqueurs du sacrifice et les crépitements prophétiques qu’elles font entendre quand elles se transforment en flammes sacrées.”
Translation: The faeries/Les fées (fat-va, one who speaks, who reveals; comparable to the Latin fat-um, the destiny considered as revelation about the future, -fans in “infant,” one who cannot speak, fa-ri, to speak, etc.) who reside near fountains are the sisters of the nymphs, oracular like them, and who, also like them, are the inhabitants of water. Both faeries and nymphs symbolize sacrificial wines and the prophetic crackling emanations when they transform into sacred flames.
(In other words, a faerie is one who reveals or one who speaks the future.)

3. Lutins are hobgoblin-like creatures known for their small size, their mischief, and their love of women. However, they are thought to have originally been taller and connected to Greek water spirits.

4. A community of 7 communes characterized by valleys, forests, and fields, located in Central-Brittany.

5. The author is using law terminology (affirmative, written deposition) to give authority to this account.

6. I am assuming he is counting starting from 1 with the 18th century when the faeries were presumably still around.