The last two Fairy Tale Tuesdays have been somewhat grim, what with all the crushing and devouring, so this week I’m reviewing something a little brighter. In this story from Sorche Nic Leodhas’ collection of Scottish folk lore, Thistle and Thyme, a girl goes out one morning to wash her face in the morning dew – a beauty treatment handed down through the generations – and never comes back. Her younger sister decides to do something about that. With a purse of her father’s gold and her mother’s sewing kit (plus a knife her mother thinks might come in handy too), she heads off to start searching.
At length she hears tell of a wizard who lives on the gloriously named Mischanter Hill and has been known to abduct young women before. The missing girl’s sister loses no time getting there. It’s a formidable slope, so at the foot of the hill she stops for a breather and encounters a tinker pulling along a heavily loaded cart. Taking pity on his predicament, she offers him her purse of gold to buy a horse. The grateful tinker offers a word of advice in exchange: everything she sees and hears at the top of the hill is not to be trusted, and she’d really be better off going home.
She has no intention of doing that. Even the tinker, having known her for five minutes, didn’t expect she would. Bidding him a courteous farewell, she continues on her way.
The punishing incline forces her to take a second break halfway up and she meets a man in such ragged clothes he’s trying to pin them together with thorns. The girl gives him the pins from her mother’s sewing kit. “Gold and silver are a match for evil,” he responds, mysteriously. He also tries to dissuade her from reaching the wizard’s castle, and has about as much success as you’d expect.
At the top of the hill stands a pair of gates. The girl knocks calmly and the wizard himself comes to open them. His countenance is visibly evil (I don’t know what that looks like, possibly a long moustache for twirling?), but he pretends to be polite. When the girl asks for him to hand over her sister, he tells her to come inside while he looks around. You never know what might have fallen behind the sofa…
He leaves her alone and the walls abruptly catch fire, filling the air with smoke. The girl is about to run from the blaze when she remembers the tinker’s advice and realises it’s all an illusion. She’s barely sat down again when she hears her sister crying out for her. It’s so hard not to follow, but she’s sure it is another trick and binds her arm to the chair with her mother’s thread to stop herself chasing the voice down. Only when the sobbing subsides does she cut herself free.
The wizard is startled and displeased to see her still waiting when he returns. He tells her the castle is full of maidens and she will have to pick her sister from the others. The room he leads her to has seven statues, all alike, one of whom is theoretically her sister. Remembering the ragged man’s advice, the girl takes her mother’s silver thimble from the sewing kit and puts it on the thumb of each statue. When it turns black, she knows it is touching another illusion; only when it turns silver again does she know she’s found her sister. “I’ll just take this one,” she tells the wizard firmly, and the statue is restored to flesh and blood. Seizing each other’s hands, the girls make a break for it.
The wizard is not prepared to lose so easily. He conjures up a huge wolf and sends it to run them down, but the younger sister spins around with a golden needle from the sewing kit held out like a sword. When the wolf leaps for her throat, she stabs him between the eyes and he falls down dead. Thank you, farsighted mum!
Livid with rage, the wizard flies in pursuit himself. All the girl has left to fight with is her knife, given with both parents’ blessings. She throws it directly into the wizard’s heart. As he falls, the castle collapses into a heap of stone and dust, and the sisters walk slowly down the hill.
On the way they meet a beautifully dressed young man, oddly adorned with pins. “The wizard laid a spell on me that I’d be mending my clothes with thorns until the end of time,” he tells the younger sister ruefully. “But now the spell is lifted, and I’m a free man once more.”
Next they see a second young man standing beside a grand coach. “You’ll not be remembering me,” he remarks to the younger sister, and returns the purse of gold. With all the curses now lifted, the quartet climb into his coach and set off for the girls’ home. This must be one hell of a road trip, because by the time they get there the older sister has fallen for the young man with the pins, and the younger sister is engaged to the ex-tinker. I don’t think any happily ever after would dare fail her.
I’m a sucker for a tough as nails heroine, and this girl takes down her enemies with a sewing kit. Rescuing her sister. Because she is AWESOME. Her mother is also awesome, for recognising that every girl on an adventure needs needles, thread and a really sharp knife.