(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.↩