“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.

Folktales: Introduction

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I should note that rather than attempt to translate folktales and legends from every region and district–historical and modern–of France, I’m going to be concentrating my efforts right now on collecting folktales from two of the more well-known regions.

The first is Brittany, or Bretagne, a peninsula on the west coast of France which was settled by Celtic peoples and is thus stereotypically rich in myths, folktales, and legends. I am very happy to let that stereotype do most of my folktale-finding work for me.

The second general region I will be mining folktales from is on the exact opposite side of France along its borders with Germany. Again, I’ve found that French and German folklorists have done a lot of work there, for reasons you might be able to guess. (Hello, Brothers Grimm and German romantics.) If you’re interested in learning more about any of these topics, check the resources page.

Introduction

(Originally posted July 2014)

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Welcome to my little translation corner! What brings you? Are you interested in French fairy tales, folklore, and old fantasy? Intrigued by literary translation and want to learn more about its craft? Or are you a review blogger and want to join in on the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement by reading more foreign fiction? If so, you’ve come to the right place! But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the basics.

My name is Laura Christensen and I am a French-to-English literary translator specializing in French fantasy, fairy tales and folklore from the seventeenth century onwards.

As I type this, I am currently disabled by a chronic illness which makes it extremely difficult to churn through large texts in a reasonable amount of time, hit anything resembling a traditional set of deadlines, or compete with translation giants. Instead of giving up entirely on my translation and publication ambitions, however, I have rolled up my entrepreneurial sleeves to create little translator.

Here you will find three main types of translations:

  • Fairy tales, which you can purchase and read as an e-book from various retailers,
  • Folktales and legends, which you can read for free here on the website, and
  • Theater plays, all of which I will be releasing as monthly installments

You can keep track of updates by coming to visit the site each month, by supporting me on Patreon, by following me on Twitter, G+, or Tumblr, or by signing up for my newsletter. However, I will only send out a newsletter announcement when I have a new e-book release, so you won’t have to worry about an overabundance of e-mails.

Resources: Finding French-language books

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For French-speakers:

Q: How do I find and purchase French-language books even though I do not live in France and do not have the funds to just jump on a plane and go shopping in French bookstores?
A: The first step in purchasing books is to figure out how to browse and find something you want to read. Here are a few ways to do that from a distance:

  • If you search for the phrase “c’est lundi que lisez-vous ?” you will find all sorts of francophone bloggers and vloggers who talk about what they’ve read or are currently reading. They describe the book, talk about why they do or don’t like it, and sometimes they even provide links so you can purchase it yourself. (Examples: SFFF 100% VF (blog), Margaud Liseuse (vlog))
  • You can browse for books on retailers such as Amazon.fr, Décitre, and Fnac using their search categories and algorithms. More than likely, you won’t be able to make a long-distance e-book purchase at any of these retailers due to geoblocking or credit card restrictions, though you can certainly use their site to browse and make your book wishlist. (Note: You can use Amazon.fr to purchase print books and ship them to you. I’ve found that shipping&handling costs from Amazon.fr turns out to be the price of another book.)

The second step, if you don’t want to have to import print books, is to find an e-book retailer that 1) does not have their entire catalog geoblocked, and 2) accepts credit cards from other countries, whether via Paypal or otherwise. Here are a few websites I’ve found that sell French-language e-books around the world, however most of these have poor book-discovery methods, so I would suggest searching elsewhere before using these to purchase the books you want:

  • Immatériel.fr used to meet all of the above requirements. Now, however, with the change to 7switch, only a selection of their books are not geoblocked. If the book you’re looking for is published by a small press or is self-published, check here.
  • Iggybook operates a lot like Smashwords. Any e-books they sell direct from their own store is available for purchase around the world.
  • Youscribe is like the French version of Scribd and is reading-subscription based. However, the first month is free and you can also purchase and download individual e-books–even from major publishers.

Finding books to read in the public domain is much easier. Two major sites that have an extraordinary collection are

little translator Updates

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I started my “little translator” website one year ago this month.  To celebrate, I am restructuring how I handle monthly website updates.

I used to list updates on a static page.  Now, however, I want to make my website mobile-friendly while also making my updates easy to follow via an RSS feed and e-mail subscription.

All content, whether it be my original translations or resource collection, is still going to have its own static page for those like me who prefer that method of organization and browsing.  Otherwise, I’m going to start using wordpress’ blog set-up for those who prefer to eat new content this way.  All that is to say –

Welcome to the all-new little translator Updates.

Enjoy your stay.

Beware the faeries.

-little translator