“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.

“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

“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.