Fairy Tale Tuesday No.45 – Foni and Fotia

This Sudanese fairy tale comes from Ruth Manning Sanders’ 1973 collection A Book of Sorcerers and Spells. An orphan girl called Foni is minding her flock of goats, her cows, and her own business, when the wicked sorcerer Duma happens by and decides she’ll do for a wife. He thinks he can win her affections with a bit of pretty jewellery, but she quickly puts paid to that idea. “Go away!” she tells him firmly. “I don’t want your earrings, I don’t want your beads. I will never be your wife, no, never, never!”

I’d say that’s pretty unequivocal, wouldn’t you? But wicked sorcerers are not known for their ability to take a hint and Duma turns all Foni’s goats into stones in an attempt to make her change her mind. She doesn’t. The next day when he comes back with promises of rubies and diamonds, she shouts at him to go away. Offended, he turns all her cows to stones. She has no herd left, and without it, no livelihood. “When you are my wife,” the sorcerer assures her, “you shall live like a queen.” “I don’t want to live like a queen,” Foni retorts furiously. “I want my goats and cows. I will never be your wife.”

Again, unequivocal! Duma only laughs and vanishes, planning to try again when she’s properly desperate. Unfortunately for him, just at that moment a friend of Foni’s sees her crying in the field of stones. He’s a young man called Fotia who is both nice and cute. Hearing Foni’s story of the stalker sorcerer, he offers on the spot to marry her and she says yes. Duma, who has made himself invisible so he can spy on the effects of his spell, is enraged. He turns Foni into a bear and Fotia into a lion. Being a very powerful sorcerer does not necessarily give you a mature approach to relationships.

His plan doesn’t work as well as he might have liked, though. The transmogrified young couple find a cave in the mountainside and live there together quite peacefully. The biggest problem is diet: as a lion who doesn’t remember being human very well, Fotia is constantly trying to convince his girlfriend to eat the meat he drags home, while she patiently reminds him she’s actually vegetarian now.

One day he finds a little boy asleep under some bushes near the cave and brings the child home, hoping that such a lovely morsel with tempt Foni. It certainly makes her happy, but not in the way Fotia expected. Foni still remembers being human and, far from eating the little boy, she adopts him. She isn’t to know that he is really the king’s son and that huntsmen are everywhere searching for him, led by the king himself. When they find the boy’s cap amidst a lion’s tracks, they’re sure he must have been eaten. Distraught, the king follows the tracks to the cave, intending to exact his revenge on the lion – only when he gets there, he sees his son very much alive, being carried about in the arms of an adoring bear.

Foni sees the king, works out what has happened, and carries the boy out to return him. The prince doesn’t like that; he’s been having fun in the cave and wants to stay with her. When the huntsmen raise their spears to kill the bear, the prince screams furiously. Realising there’s something a bit odd about all this, the king has both Foni and Fotia tied up and brought back to the palace with him instead, where they can be examined by his personal sorcerer Salem.

Salem takes one look at the pair of them and recognises the handiwork of his old enemy Duma. He explains the situation to the king and comes up with a plan to set things right. The lion and bear are locked in a garden with enough food to last them forty days while outside the spiked iron gates Salem builds an enormous fire. On the twenty first day, Duma takes the bait. He sends a violent storm to put out Salem’s fire; Salem fights back with piles of wood to keep it alive. At last a scream rises from the mountain. Duma’s hubris has finally rebounded upon him.

With his death, his spells are broken. Foni and Fotia are returned to their human shapes and, as a reward for excellent childcare, the king throws them a lavish wedding. They return to the mountain to find Foni’s herd likewise restored, peaceably grazing like nothing exciting has happened at all.

In a world where there are sorcerers wandering about the countryside, there will inevitably be abuses of power. Duma’s deliberate destruction of Foni’s livelihood in an attempt to coerce her into marriage is the most basic form of blackmail, but he never bests her, not even when she’s trapped in the shape of a bear. Judging from Salem’s reaction (crazy transformations and misery, yep, that’s him all right) this isn’t the first time Duma has misused his powers. It’s pretty satisfying that his inability to accept no as an answer is what eventually brings about his destruction.

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