Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Snow, the Crow, and the Blood

During the month of March, I thought I'd share some Irish folklore! This tale, "The Snow, the Crow, and the Blood" is included in Surlalune's Twelve Dancing Princesses from Around the World collection in the Grateful Dead section. There are similarities to Twelve Dancing Princesses, such as following a Princess who goes to the netherworld by means of an invisibility cloak, and the title itself is also a reference to the tri-color theme most famously known in Snow White. (And some other interesting themes and similarities with other fairy tales, which we can discuss in the commments!) Enjoy-

One winter's day, the son of the King of Ireland, Jack, went out to shoot. He shot down a crow, and when he saw the crow in the snow, he decided "he never saw anything blacker than the crow, or redder than the blood, not anything whiter than the snow round about." He decided he would not rest until he found himself a wife with hair as black as the crow, cheeks as red as the blood, and skin as white as the snow.

He told his parents the King and Queen of his quest, who tried to discourage him, because it might be impossible to find such a bride. But Jack insisted and set off with a hundred guineas.

Not too long into his journey, Jack came across a crowd fighting over a corpse. The dead man had owed a debt and the people to whom the money was owed didn't want him buried until they were paid. So Jack took the hundred guineas out of his pocket, paid the dead man's debt, and went on his way. Soon afterwards, Jack was approached by a little red man who offered him his services. Jack protested that he had nothing to pay him with, but the man insisted it would be free of charge. The little red man also knew of the one woman in the world with hair as black as crow, cheeks as red as blood, and skin as white as snow-the Princess of the East, and would lead Jack there.

First they came upon the Castle of the Giant of the Cloak of Darkness. Jack knew of the giant's fearsome reputation and wanted to move on, but the little red man insisted they stay the night. They entered the castle and the red man demanded food and beds. The giant threatened to kill them and Jack was very afraid. But then "in a flash, the wee red fellow whips out his sword" and fought with the giant, and killed him. After a good night's sleep and eating their fill, they left the next day with the Cloak of Darkness.

The little red man did the same at the Castle of the Giant of the Purse of Plenty, as well as the Giant of the Sword of Light-he killed the Giants and took their treasures.

The two men traveled until they got to the East, and Jack went to court the Princess. She was just as beautiful as he had imagined, but she demanded three tasks of any who might court her. If the men failed the tasks, she would take off their heads. She showed Jack her rose garden-there were three hundred and sixty five rose bushes; all of them had a man's head on the flower except one, and the Princess told Jack she hoped to have his head on the last rosebush.

She then told Jack his first task. He must take the gold comb from her hair during the night, but she would spend the night "neither on the earth nor under the earth."

Jack was troubled and told the wee red man his task, and the red friend told him not to worry. With the Cloak of Darkness, he followed the Princess into Hell, where she kissed the Devil and talked with him. The red man snatched the comb from her hair and returned it to Jack, who showed it to the princess in the morning.

She was upset, but gave him his second task; to retreive the diamond ring from her finger. The red man accomplished this the same way, as well as the last task, to retrieve the lips the Princess had kissed, which the red man did with the Sword of Light.

The Princess had to consent to marry Jack once he completed the three tasks. Before the red man left he gave Jack instructions for making his wife good, for she was possessed with devils.

It was then that the red man reminded Jack of the debt he had paid for the corpse that was being buried at the start of his journey. The man told him, "it was I whom you buried, and I have tried to repay you a little. Now, good-bye, and may you and your wife prosper ever after."

Images and full tale text here

*I have also just added a tag for Irish folklore if you'd like to read more! A few others will, hopefully, come this month

UPDATE: Gypsy of Once Upon a Blog has shared some more insights and information into the tri-color aspect of fairy tales here, definitely worth checking out!


  1. What is it with guys and the insistence on getting the beautiful girl above all else?! Heh. The rose bush symbolism is fascinating in this one especially in light of the article you linked to.
    I just wrote a giant comment that wouldn't post because it was too huge so I will mail it instead. Needless to say I am completely fascinated by color theary in fairy tales and particularly with the tri-color frequency of red, white and black.. Love it!
    Plus: Irish Folklore! Yay! :)

    1. I updated the post with a link to your post!

      And the rosebush scene-first of all super creepy!!-but it seemed a total gender-reversed Bluebeard's closet to me! It made me think about the other fairy tales where princes who attempt to win a princess are killed, like Sleeping Beauty and the princes in the briars, Twelve Dancing Princesses and the beheaded princes...maybe not that different from Bluebeard!

  2. It seems odd when the suitor in fairy tales wants to marry a lady even if she wants to kill him. Sometimes she's heartless and then learns to love him dearly, and other times she tries killing him after they're married.
    OR... maybe in this case, it wasn't /her/ who wanted to kill him but the devils inside her who wanted to kill him, and the three tasks were to help her be free of them. I would have liked to have seen what happened after that, and what the woman thought of him after she was freed.
    I loved that his name was Jack though. The whole beginning of this story made me want to hug it.

    1. I know, I didn't like the ending, the "curing" of the devils seemed to be a cheap justification for being shallow and preferring beauty over character. Kind of like "Ricky with the Tuft"-an ugly man should of all people see beneath the surface, yet he still chooses to bestow wit on the beautiful princess rather than marry an intelligent yet ugly princess.

      Yet there are different ways of looking at the stories. You could see it as "you have no hope for love unless you're hot" but you could also see it as "true love helps your partner to see the best in you/doesn't see your flaws any more." And while it's foolish to assume that you can totally change your partner in a relationship, it's true that in a healthy long-term relationship you can both improve each other's character. Tony inspires me often and helps me become a better person-so it all depends how you interpret the stories.