The Grateful Dead Tales From Around the World (SurLaLune Fairy Tale Series) is available for ordering and immediate shipping!
Last week I shared Grateful Dead Motifs and Tale Types and today I am going to discuss the ATU 507 tale type. While many people would assume that a tale with a Grateful Dead type would be scary and bloodthirsty, overall that is not true. Except for when one is discussing The Monster's Bride tales. These tales are the ones that started me on this years long journey of Grateful Dead discovery, for the tale type shares qualities also with The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Which is why Twelve Dancing Princesses Tales From Around the World is on sale this week for a dollar, down from its usual $4.99 in ebook format.
As you'll see below in the excerpt from my introduction, this tale type contains what is essentially a possessed, evil princess who causes the death of her bridegrooms on their wedding night. They die very badly but each man is willing to take the risk to gain her as a wife and her kingdom. It doesn't go well for any of them until our hero gains advice from a Grateful Dead traveling companion on how to survive the night. This is the one Grateful Dead tale type that would make a fine basis for a horror movie, for it includes a battle of good versus evil, and often an evil sorcerer, man-eating basilisks or dragons, and other horrors.
ATU 507 The Monster’s Bride tales begin like the standard ATU 505 tales with a young traveler providing a funeral for a stranger by paying for the corpse’s debts and/or funeral, often using his last resources to do so. Soon afterwards he is joined during his travels by a companion who helps him. They agree to divide all of their increases equally at the end of a period of time. At this point, the tale type diverges into two different main parts that were previously divided into AT 507A, AT 507B, and AT 507C.An example of ATU 507 can be read online on D. L. Ashliman's site at Sila Tsarevich and Ivashka with the White Smock. As you can guess from the title, the tale is from Russia.
In the first version, formerly AT 507A The Monster’s Bride, the dead man helps the hero aquire magic objects along their journey, usually from three giants. The hero then passes tests set forth by the princess to win her hand, although she is infatuated with a monster, usually an evil magician, ogre, or devil. The grateful dead man succeeds in killing the monster that controls the princess and purges the power that still ensorcels her with either a beating, burning, bathing or combination of these of either the evil magician or the princess herself.
In the second version, formerly AT 507B and AT 507C, all of the princess’s previous bridegrooms have perished during their wedding night. The grateful dead man counsels the hero to marry her anyway. During the wedding night, a serpent or dragon enters the bridal chamber to kill the hero. In some variants (AT 507C), the serpent actually emerges from the princess’s mouth. The grateful dead man enters their chamber and kills the serpent. Often he cuts the princess in two to remove the serpent or its enchantment upon her, thus saving her life, too, for she is resurrected from this violence.
These ATU 507 tales often include a division of spoils up to the physical dividing of the princess to test the hero’s honor. The hero begs for the lives of his wife and his children, if there has been issue from his marriage, offering all of his riches to the companion in exchange for their lives. Once he passes the test by showing his willingness to equally divide all of his gains, albeit very reluctantly, the grateful dead man reveals himself and gives all to the hero.
Most readers may be reminded of the judgement of Solomon to divide a person to solve a legal matter, but the hero’s challenge has arguably a stronger relationship to a different Bible story, that of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac. Abraham is led to the brink of sacrificing his son to test his commitment, a test he passes after which his son is spared. An interesting discussion of the similarities between these stories can be found in William Hansen’s article, “Abraham and the Grateful Dead Man.” [Found in Folklore Interpreted: Essays in Honor of Alan Dundes]
Also, for readers interested in other popular tale types, primarily ATU 507, as well as some variants of ATU 505, are closely related to ATU 306 The Danced-out Shoes, more familiarly known as The Twelve Dancing Princesses. A previous SurLaLune anthology—Twelve Dancing Princesses Tales From Around the World (2011)—offered several ATU 507 tales closely related to ATU 306 that also appear in the present collection. Please consult the earlier book for further discussion of ATU 306 tales.