Hungarian Folktales: Cinder Jack

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Image by Anthony van Dyck [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Presented below is a retelling  of a Hungarian folktale called Cinder Jack from The Folk-Tales of the Magyars by Erdélyi, Kriza, Pap, Jones, and Kropf.

The Tale of Cinder Jack

There was once a farmer who had three sons.  One morning he noticed a considerable amount of damage had been done to the vines in his vineyard so he asked his eldest son to guard it.  The eldest cheerfully complied and took a cake with him to eat for his lunch. At lunchtime as he was eating the cake a frog appeared and asked him for a piece.

“Never!” cried the boy, “Go away!” he shouted and threw a stone at the creature.  The frog hopped off saying no more and in the hot afternoon sun the boy fell asleep.  When he woke up he discovered someone had been in the vineyard destroying many grape vines.

Of course his father was not very happy and the next day sent his second eldest son to guard the vineyard.  Exactly the same thing happened with him, the frog came and asked him to shade his food. He gave it nothing and chased it away and fell asleep and when he woke up found the vineyard had been vandalized.

His father was furious and at a loss to know what to do.   His youngest son, who they called Cinder Jack because he always sat with his feet in the ashes of the fire to keep them warm, spoke up saying,  “Father, my two brothers have tried and failed therefore trust me and I will not fail you and the vineyard will remain safe.”

This caused his father and two brothers to laugh and make fun of him because they thought him something of a simpleton.  Nevertheless, Cinder Jack was adamant and at last his father allowed him to guard the vineyard. So the next morning Cinder Jack went into the vineyard taking a cake with him for his lunch.

The Hungry Frog

After spending all morning alertly patrolling the vineyard he grew hungry so he sat down took out the cake and began to eat.   As he ate the frog appeared and hopped up to him and sat staring at him with a questioning look on his face and then asked for a piece of the cake.  Cinder Jack immediately broke of a generous portion and gave it to the frog.

After they had finished eating the frog gratefully gave the boy three rods.  One was made copper, one of silver and the other of gold. The frog then told him that three horses would appear pretty soon and begin to trample the vineyard.  Like the rods the horses would be copper, gold and silver in color.  Then he told him that if he pointed the appropriately colored rods at the horses they would become as tame as can be and obey his commands.

Just as the frog foretold the horses arrived and began to trample over the grapes. Cinder Jack pointed the rods at them and told them to stop.  Just as the frog had said, they did and obeyed his every command.  That year the vineyard produced beautiful grapes that made the most wonderful wine. Cinder Jack never told his father nor his brothers what happened just resumed his usual position by the fire with his feet in the ashes keeping them warm.

The king of the land had a beautiful daughter and he decided it was time she was married.  To find what he thought of as a suitable husband he decided he would hold a competition with her as the prize.  He had his servants erect a tall fir pole before the church with a golden wreath of rosemary tied to the top.  Then he made proclamation saying that any man who could retrieve the rosemary from the top of the fir pole in one jump would win the hand of his daughter in marriage.

The Copper Knight

The news spread far and wide and all of the best and most noble knights of the land came to try their luck but all failed.  As the last one rode sadly away a knight suddenly appeared dressed in copper armor riding upon a copper horse with his visor covering his face.  Racing up to the fir pole spurred his horse into a jump and easily snatched the rosemary wreath from the top of the fir pole and rode off before anyone could move.

His two brothers had witnessed the scene and when they returned home they told their father about the mysterious copper knight and his massive jump.  Cinder Jack was sat with his feet in the ashes as usual and told them that he had seen the entire scene much better than they. When they asked him where he had been to see it all he told them, ’On top of the fence.”  Therefore the two brothers went and pulled down the fence to prevent their younger brother using it to see from again.

The Silver Knight

The following Sunday, because the copper knight had not claimed his daughter’s hand, the King ordered that a higher pole be erected with a golden apple on top  and announced that whoever could pluck the golden apple from the top of the pole could have his daughter’s hand in marriage.

Once again all of the knights of the realm tried to pluck the apple and all failed.  As the last one failed there came riding a knight all in silver armor riding upon a silver horse who spurred it to a massive jump and plucked the golden apple from the top of the pole and rode away before anyone could approach him.

Again his brothers came home with the news of what they had seen.  Again, Cinder Jack told them he had witnessed the event much better than they by standing on the pig shed. This annoyed his brothers so they demolished it so that he would not be able to use it again for that purpose.

The Golden Knight

The third Sunday, the king ordered an even higher pole to be erected and this time one of his daughter’s silk handkerchief was placed at the top.   Once again all the knights in the land came and tried their luck and all failed and at the very last there came a knight clad in golden armor riding upon a golden horse.   The golden knight spurred his horse to a magnificent jump and took the handkerchief and rode off.

Again the two brothers went home to report what they had seen but this time Cinder Jack told them he had witnessed the scene from on top of the roof.  Furious, the two brothers took off the roof of their house to prevent Cinder Jack using it again.

The following Sunday the King announced the knights who had taken the rosemary, the apple and the handkerchief should bring these prizes to him to prove their worth in a final competition. When none of those knights presented themselves the King ordered every man in his kingdom to appear before him but still he could not identify any of the winners.  As everyone was about to go home in the distance a knight riding a golden charger clad in a suit of armor of shining gold came galloping towards them. Seeing this the King ordered the cannons to be fired in his honor and the church bells to be rung.

The knight galloped up and seeing the princess by her father handed to her the rosemary wreath, the golden apple and the handkerchief.  Then he dismounted and politely and respectfully told the King he had come to claim his daughter’s hand in marriage.  Lifting his visor he revealed his face and the townsfolk were astonished to see it was none other than Cinder Jack.

Marriage

The King kept his promise and Cinder Jack married his daughter.  All of his people loved and respected him and he had a long and happy reign. Now you would think that Cinder Jack would perhaps want revenge for his treatment by his brothers, but instead he rebuilt the house completely and gave them and his father riches and presents. He invited his father to live with him and his wife in their palace.  When the King died, because of his kind nature and generosity they made Cinder Jack their King.

© 25/07/2018 zteve t evans

References, Attribution and Further Reading

Copyright July 25th, 2018 zteve t evans

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Tales from India: The Judas Tree

Presented below is a retelling of a short folk story from India called, The Judas Tree, from Eastern Stories and Legends,  by Marie L. Shedlock.

The Judas Tree

King Brahmadatta of Benares had four sons.   Like most boys they were naturally curious of many things in the world. One day someone mentioned a Judas tree which piqued their curiosity, but none of them knew what one was.  They decided they would like to see a Judas tree and they sent for their charioteer who would take them wherever they wanted and told him of their desire.

“Take us to see a Judas tree,” they told him.

“Very good, if that is your desire, then I will!   When I am ready I will come and take you.” he told them.

First of all, he came for the eldest son and drove him in his chariot to a place where he knew a Judas tree grew and showed it to him.  The boy was astonished to see that the tree was covered in brown buds.

The charioteer went for the second eldest son  at a time of year when the trunk and branches were covered with glorious pink blossom.  The third son he took when green leaves were beginning to unfurl and the fourth he took when its branches were heavy with fruit.

It so happened that some time later when the brothers were all together someone asked what kind of tree was the Judas tree.

The first brother said, “It is like a burnt stump!”

“No,” said the second, “It is like a banyan tree!”

“Not at all!” protested the third, “it is like a green cloud!”

“Never!” cried the fourth, “it is like an acacia!”

They were all puzzled at the very different answers they gave so they went to their father, saying, “Father, tell us what kind of tree is the Judas tree?”

Their father looked surprised at the question and said, “Why do you ask me that, my sons?”

They told him of how they had asked the charioteer to take them to see a Judas tree and he had taken them at different times individually.

“Ah, now I see!” said their father, “All four of you asked him to show you the Judas tree and he fulfilled your request and showed you one.  Your problem is that you did not specify you all wanted to see it together, you did not specify the season and that is why the Judas tree is different for all of you.  Listen now to this rhyme,

“All have seen the Judas tree

What is your perplexity?

No one asked the charioteer

What its form the livelong year!”

© 18/07/2108 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 18th, 2018 zteve t evans

The Murderous Plot of Albina and her Sisters and the Origin of Albion

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Jerusalem The Emanation of The Giant Albion – The William Blake Archive [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (cropped and digitally altered)
This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com February 22, 2018 as British Legends: The Origin of Albion and the Bloodlust of Albina and her Sisters written by zteve t evans

Of the Great Giants

According to British medieval legend and myth, the island now known as Britain was once named Albion after an exiled queen named Albina.   She was the eldest of a family of sisters who had been exiled from their homeland in Greece, though some versions of the story say Syria.   How this came to be is an outlandish and in many ways disturbing story, found in the 14th century poem, Des Grantz Geanz (“Of the Great Giants”) which was popular in its time and probably best read as an allegorical work.  British traditions of the Middle Ages were heavily influenced by the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth in his book Historia regum Britanniae  (The History of the Kings of Britain) written about 1136 that tells that when Brutus of Troy arrived on the island that that been revealed to him in the Prophecy of Diana, he found it was just as she had described, being a green and fertile land populated by only a few giants.  Brutus and his Trojans fought the giants until at last the biggest and strongest of them was  the only one left alive. His name was Gogmagog and Brutus had deliberately saved him to fight his own champion Corineus who thrilled at such challenge.

Geoffrey of Monmouth never said where the giants had come from or why the island was called Albion.  This perplexed medieval scholars and a story evolved that attempted to explain this discrepancy. According to medieval tradition, before the fight began Brutus was said to have asked Gogmagog who he was and of the origin of his people.  Gogmagog was said to have given the Trojan a fantastic tale revealing the origin of the giants and how the island had been named, “Albion”.  Presented next is a retelling of the story Gogmagog allegedly told Brutus and has been sourced from several medieval and Anglo-Norman accounts and more recent works.

Albina and her Sisters

According to Gogmagog the story of the origin of the giants of Albion began 3,970 years after the world began.  In a country now called Greece there ruled a very powerful king.  This king was very noble and very righteous and the head of a strict patriarchal state and society.  His queen was a very beautiful woman and they had a very happy marriage and were blessed with thirty beautiful daughters who were said to be very tall in some accounts.  The giant confessed he did not know all their names but knew the eldest, tallest and most influential of these was named Albina.

He told Brutus, that in accordance with the custom of the time and of their society the king decided that their daughters had come of sufficient age to marry. He then decided without consulting his daughters which daughter would marry which of the many kings, princes and rulers that would be a good political match for his realm.  All thirty of the daughters were then married to their allotted husbands with much ceremony and fanfare.

However, his daughters were said to be very proud and strong-willed women who wanted their own well-being and desires met. They were fiercely independent and hated the idea of being married to men who were not of their own choosing and did not love. To them it was an indignity and an insult to have to be subjugated in any way to any man regardless of how rich and powerful he was or whatever benefits it might bring for their father’s kingdom.

A Murderous Plot

They vowed they would be no man’s possession and instead would be the rulers of all men regardless of their status.  To further these vows they plotted together in secret and hatched a most extreme plan.

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Welsh Folktales: The Maiden of the Green Forest

In Wales there are many folktales and legends that tell how humans and people from the Otherworld sometimes fall in love and marry.  Very often it is a man who meets a woman from the other world and they fall in love. The woman or her father, often insists on a marriage contract being agreed by the bride’s groom that must be strictly followed. The groom agrees and the marriage takes place and they live for a time in happiness and then something happens that destroys or breaks the contract and destroys their happy life. There are many variations of this theme and presented here is a retelling  of a Welsh tale taken from Welsh Fairy Tales by William Elliot Griffis.

Prince Benlli

It is said that on the rare occasions when women of the Otherworld consent to marriage with a mortal they will only do so if the prospective husband makes a contract with them that must not be broken and must be strictly adhered to.  This story tells how a prince of Powys named Benlli found this out to his own cost. He had a fanciful notion in his head that to woo a woman all he had to do was say, “Come and be my bride,”  and they would instantly follow him saying “Thank you for asking, of course I will be your bride.” and the two would stroll off to church for the wedding.  At least this in his simplicity was what he thought,

The Maiden from the Green Forest

It so happened that sometime, somehow,  in the past he had been successful with this style of wooing.  He was married to a woman who had once been fair and beautiful but whose beauty and youth had quickly fled after marriage leaving her grey haired and wrinkled. It was probably the thought of a lifetime with her conceited husband that caused this, but Benlli now wanted a young pretty wife with rosy cheeks and long flowing golden hair and hoped to find one to satisfy his vanity.

One day he went hunting in the Green Forest and while his dogs were flushing out a wild boar he was surprised to see a beautiful woman with long golden flowing hair ride out of a cave on a milk-white horse,  She was the loveliest woman he had ever seen and he fell in love with her there and then, but she was gone before he could react. The next day he rode to the same cave in the forest and waited hoping to see her again.  Sure enough, the same beautiful woman came galloping out of the cave into the forest and in an instant had passed him by and was gone.

On the third day Prince Benlli again rode to the cave in the forest and once again the beautiful woman came galloping out on a milk-white steed.  This time he spurred his horse forwards forcing her to stop and as was his style simply told her her to follow him to his palace and be his wife.

The Marriage Contract

The beautiful woman looked at him and said,

“I will will be your wife if you promise to fulfill these three conditions.  First, your present wife must go. Second, you must agree that one night in every seven nights on Fridays I shall be free to leave you and you will not follow me.  Thirdly, you will not ask where I am going, or what I do and you will not spy on me. You must swear to me that you will uphold these conditions and if you keep them my beauty will remain unblemished.  If you break your word the waters shall rise and the pike and the perch shall play between the the bulrushes and the long waving, water reeds shall grow in your hall. Do you agree?”

Without further delay, Benlli, agreed to these conditions and a solemn contract was made between the two and the Maid of the Green Forest became his wife.

As mentioned earlier, Benlli was already married and yet he had just wed the Maid and promised her that his first wife would go so how was he going to manage this situation?  Curiously, when the two arrived at his palace she had gone and never once returned, so that saved him a task.

Marriage

In the days that followed Benlii was very happy with his new wife who, everyday grew prettier and prettier.  They would spend days together chatting in the palace, or they would go horse riding in the Green Forest, or sometimes hunted deer. Indeed, the more her loveliness grew the happier he became. For a wedding present he gave her a ring that was set with a big and beautiful diamond and alone was worth a king’s ransom.  He gave her lavish jewelry of gold and silver and and a diadem studded with rubies and sapphires and loved his beautiful wife so much he would have given her anything. In those early days never once did he ever think of breaking his marriage contract.

However, time flies and in time all things change.  Three times three equals nine and after nine years with his wife disappearing every Friday night he began to grow curious as to what she was up to and where she went.  So much did he begin to dwell on the matter that it began to depress and worry him and became irritable and miserable in the company of others.  All of his servants and friends noticed the change in him but none dared to ask what the problem was.

Wyland the Monk

Then one night he had invited a very learned monk named Wyland to dinner and he had ordered the banqueting hall to be brightly decorated and that the best food and drink should be served.  He hired the best minstrel to provide the best music and entertainment.

Now, Wyland as well as being a monk, was also a man of magic and he knew and saw things that others could not see.  That night at dinner, despite all the finery, glamour and happy entertainment he could see Benlli was deeply unhappy and thoroughly miserable. He did not say anything to begin with but after the banquet was over he went home and decided he would call again in a few days time to see Prince Benlli and find out what was troubling him.  The next time he met Benlli, Wyland sat him down and said, “Tell me my friend, why are you so unhappy and miserable with life?”

Then Benlli related all to Wyland of how he had met and married the Maid of the Green Forest and of the three conditions of their wedding contract and said,

“Every Friday night, there am I with the owls hooting and the nightingales singing and my wife is absent from my bed until the sun rises.  I lay alone there wondering where she can be and what she is doing. Eventually, I fall asleep to wake in the morning finding her by my side.  I am overcome with curiosity and jealousy worrying about who she may be seeing and this is weighing down my soul. Even with all of my wealth, my luxurious palace and all its finery I am unhappier than any beggar in Wales or on the island of Britain!”

As Wyland listened to Benlli’s woes his quick mind realized there was a way he could make money from the prince’s woes and benefit his monastery at the same time.  All he had to do was to cure the troubles of Benlli’s soul and so he said,

“My friend, I have an idea that may help to ease your soul.  If you are but prepared to give the monks of White Minster one tenth of the flocks of sheep in your domain, one tenth of all the riches that flow into your treasury from the rents of the lands, and give the Maiden of the Green Forest to me, I can guarantee your soul will be free of all your troubles and at peace.  What do you say?

Benlli readily agreed and shook hands on the deal.

A Battle of Spells

On the next Friday night Wyland the Monk took his book of spells and went to the cave in the forest which he knew as being an entrance to the Otherworld.  There, he waited under the silvery moonlight. He had not been waiting too long when out of the cave on horseback there galloped a lady dressed in the finest clothes wearing a glittering crown upon her head.  He knew it was Benlli’s wife, the Maiden of the Green Forest and he stepped in front of her holding his book before him calling upon her to stop.  There then followed a battle of spells that saw lightning and fire light up the night as the two hurled spells and counter spells at each other.  Finally, summoning up the spirits of the air Weland told them of his plan to enrich the monastery and called upon them to assist and bind the Maiden of the Green Forest to his will saying,

“Spirits of the air, I call upon you to bind this maiden to me that she will always be at my side.  Bring her to me at the dawn of day to the crossroads before the town of Whiteminster and there I will marry her and she will be my own for all time!”

Waving his hands in the air and uttering special words he cast a spell that would prevent anyone from interfering with this and could not be broken.  Then he made his way to the crossroads to await the arrival of his bride-to-be at dawn. Arriving at the crossroads as the sun rose, to his disgust the first thing he saw was a hideous old hag who cackled and hissed and raised her hand pointing her bony finger at him. Set upon it was the big, beautiful diamond ring that Benlli had given to the lovely Maiden of the Forest when she had become his wife.

The Hag of the Green Forest

“Ha, ha, haaaa!  I hear my love approaching,  Come sweet lover and clasp me to thine bosom!” she shrieked through a mouthful of rotting teeth,

“Look at me, Wyland my love, look deep into my red and burning eyes and know that I am your betrothed.  This foul hag that stands before you was once the beautiful bride of Prince Benlli. When my beauty left me his love left with it but on the seventh night my magic brings back my beauty.  He has broken our wedding contract and I warned him, I said, ‘If you break your word the waters shall rise and the pike and the perch shall play between the the bulrushes and the long, waving, water reeds that shall grow in your hall.’   This promise is now fulfilled and both your spell and mine are complete. From you he has received the freeing of his soul and eternal peace, for he is dead. My promise caused the a rivers and springs to gush and rise into his halls which is now covered in water and perch and pike play among the bulrushes and reeds.   The clashing of our spells means they cannot be undone and no charm or counter spell will avail. Therefore, Wyland my love, come to me and claim me as your reward for we have both kept our promises. Come take me, I am yours!”

So it was that Prince Benlli broke his marriage contract and paid the price as the waters of the land rose drowning him in in own halls. As for  Wyland the Monk – man of God and magic – he reaped what he had sown for himself in the tender loving arms of the Maiden of the Green Forest.

© 04/07/2018 zteve t evans

Reference, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright July 4th, 2018 zteve t evans