Monday, May 16, 2011

The Girl Who Was Born with a Snake around Her Neck



Bluebeard Tales From Around the World

If I were asked what was the most unusual tale in the entire collection in Bluebeard Tales From Around the World the answer without a second thought would be "The Girl Who Was Born with a Snake around Her Neck" from a collection of Breton tales from François-Marie Luzel. I had never seen this one in English and so I translated it for the collection and what an adventure it was for it is not a typical Bluebeard fairy tale.

It begins like many other fairy tales, just not like other Bluebeard ones, for it tells of a childless couple hoping and praying for a child. Here is an excerpt a few paragraphs into the tale:
“If he also gave us a child,” said the woman, “even if she was born with toad or a snake, I would be happy!”

One day, nine months later, she gave birth to a little girl. Surprisingly enough, the child was born with a small snake wrapped around her neck. The reptile immediately escaped into the garden where it hid in the grass. However, a red mark remained around the girl’s neck like a necklace, perfectly imitating the snake.

The girl was baptized and received the name of Lévénès due to the joy she had brought her parents. The child grew, full of health and beauty.

One day, when she was twelve years old, she was sitting alone in her father’s garden when she was surprised to hear a little voice next to her saying, “Hello, my sister, my sweet little sister!”

And a gentle snake came out of the bushes, headed right towards her. The child was afraid at first, but the snake said, “Do not worry. I will do you no harm, quite the contrary, because you are my sister, my beloved little sister.”

“Jésus! A snake is my sister!” exclaimed Lévénès.

“Yes, because your mother is also my mother,” replied the snake.
It winds around  a bit more--making it a longish Bluebeard tale--and it eventually turns into a Bluebeard story. Luzel even inserts a footnote: "From here, the original story is lost in another story, a variant of Bluebeard by Charles Perrault." This husband murders his wives when they become pregnant. I don't agree that the story was "lost," I think it may have been transformed by the teller, however. What I love about the story is how the snake ultimately rallies the girl's family and friends and they all rescue the girl, although the snake does the primary work. The snake sister thus saves the human sister, there are no brothers around to do the job.

But the tale has some other ending details that are disturbing and make the tale feel disjointed at least to modern sensibilities, for in this tale, the young wife has given birth to the murderous husband's child. The people destroy the baby as spawn of the man. That is very disturbing and Luzel says so in his own notes.
Also, a disappointing omission is that the snake sister isn't disenchanted which she very much appears to be considering all of her actions. Luzel's comments:

The ending appears to be incomplete and altered. It seems the snake should have been baptized, and then it would have recovered its human form, lost no doubt by the evil spell of some magician. It would have become a beautiful young girl or else a princess. Also, the newborn babe should not have been put to death.
Despite these quirks and perhaps flaws, the tale is unforgettable as a Bluebeard story. And fascinating. And it would be fun to rewrite it into another variant, a modern interpretation with some of the quirks remedied at least slightly.

3 comments:

  1. This is amazing! I've never heard of this one. Thanks for sharing. And your analysis really helps. I've got to start buying your books!

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  2. I find it interesting that Biancabella and the Snake by Straparola begins the same way.

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  3. In "The interpretations of fairy tales" by Marie-Louise von Franz, there is a story about two sisters, one ugly and the other beautiful, and she calls the smarter, yet ugly sister, the Shadow. It makes sense that the snake remains so at the end of the story and the baby monster is killed, in this way, the psychological meaning of the tale is complete: the Shadow will always remain unknown to the psyche, and could only be contacted in her primitive form. On the other hand, the baby is the cause of death of other women, so when he/she is born, instead of the mother dying, the baby dies. Is not a product of love or union, but of violence. In this way, the monstruos line of the father, his legacy to the world, is broken and therefore, the mother, and other women, are saved. Does it make sense to you?

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