Yesterday I discussed ATU 312, the first of three ATU tale types appearing in Bluebeard Tales From Around the World. Today I will briefly discuss ATU 311: Rescue by the Sister. There are 22 tales of this type in the collection. You can read some of them on SurLaLune as well as D. L. Ashliman's site.
From my introduction:
The second tale type, ATU 311: Rescue by the Sister, is also known as “How the Devil Married Three Sisters” as well as “Fitcher’s Bird,” the name of the variant in the Grimms’ Kinder- und Hausmärchen. In this tale group, a wealthy and mysterious gentleman woos or even kidnaps three sisters successively. When he brings the first one home, he gives her the keys to the castle as well as an egg. She is given full access to the castle but forbidden entrance into one room. While he is away, she opens the door and discovers the dead bodies of several women. She drops the egg which becomes stained with the blood in the room. When her disobedience is revealed, the gentleman kills her and places her in the room. The same sequence of events occurs with the second sister. When her turn arrives, the third sister receives the same instructions. She opens the door, too, but manages to avoid exposure by safely securing the egg. She then resurrects her sisters—or at least reclaims their bodies—and sends them home to their parents through wit and deception. Next she escapes through various subterfuges and eventually has the gentleman and his home destroyed as punishment for his crimes.
Note that curiosity and its consequences are sometimes presented in this group, but not often with as strong a moral against them as in ATU 312. The heroine here is not guilty for transgressing the restrictions placed upon her. She is heroic for rescuing herself and often her siblings as well.
I infinitely prefer this tale type over 312. I also prefer ATU 955 which I will discuss tomorrow. There has been some debate over the years whether this one should be lumped together with ATU 312 and not have its own classification. It is sometimes hard to distinguish between the two because the tales are closely related and often share many elements. But I prefer to separate them myself. It's not completely accurate, but in my brain I think of ATU 311 as the one in which the heroine rescues herself and often her siblings. In ATU 312 she most often does nothing to help herself besides wait for assistance. The heroine is rather unlikeable in ATU 312. She is greedy and foolish with no gumption. In ATU 311, you like her and even want to be her for she is smart and takes action to save herself and those around her.
This tale type is also the bridge between ATU 312 and ATU 955: The Robber Bridegroom for it shares traits with both while those two don't share as many traits beyond a murderous male(s).
And the real conundrum is why this tale has so often taken a back seat to Bluebeard. Historically, with Perrault's influence, we can understand when we see how passive fairy tale heroines grew in influence especially after Perrault's time and into the 1800s. But when I hear fairy tales once again bashed for being anti-feminist or such, I just remember my spunky ATU 311 heroine and I am happier.