4 Picture Postcards, 3 Suffering Sisters, 2 Dependent Daughters, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

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conception-of-merlin

In a blog post about “The Devil Marries Three Sisters,” Paula Reed Nancarrow includes this 15th century image, not from that tale, but illustrating the conception of Merlin. But, she notes, “you get the idea.”

As Sagacia sighed “More questions for wiser heads than ours,” Mailmouse suddenly leapt up, twirled three times in the air, and whisked a pawful of postcards from his bag.

“To answer your question . . . ” he stated, and bowed low to Simplia. It was, after all, she who had asked about the ratio of Bad males:Good Males vs. Bad Females:Good Females in Fairy Tales.

Simplia was dumbfounded.

“At your service,” Mailmouse bowed again.

Simplia flipped through the postcards. She eyed the wee rodent reproachfully. She looked back through the cards again, four of them, more slowly this time.

“So you HAVE been reading the postcards in your pouch!” she concluded with an accusatory eyebrow twist.

“I never said I hadn’t!” Mailmouse replied without apology. “Anything written on a card or on the outside of an envelope is considered public information.”

Simplia ignored him, returned to the card in her hand, and addressed her Simpleton friend.

“This one is from Norman Perrin,” Simplia said, waving a card with Old Bony Legs herself as painted by Ivan Bilibin, rising in her mortar, steering with her pestle. “He seems to be balancing out some of our evil men with evil women.”

There was a Demon Queen that ruled long ago in Somalia, but who? This is one of the times I really miss my books.
Other Wicked Women of note.
Baba Yaga. All her recipes start with “First go catch a child….
Grendel’s mother.
A Tibetan mother kills her own son to keep him away from a woman, the two end up turning into salt and yak butter, now they are united whenever tea is made.

“It’s not like we had doubted the number of wicked stepmothers, either!” Sagacia said with a sigh.

“Or stepsisters, or aunts . . . “ added Simplia.

“Mailmouse!” Sagacia glared, turning suddenly toward him. “You’ve been holding out on us!”

Mailmouse stuck his nose in the air and inhaled deeply.

Simplia handed another card to her. On the front was the cover image of Maurice Sendak’s “The Juniper Tree and other Tales from Grimm” and the back was simply signed “Lance M. Foster.”

“Oh, but the tiny-print text!” Sagacia squinted and read

My mother, she killed me,
My father, he ate me,
My sister Marlene,
Gathered all my bones,
Tied them in a silken scarf,
Laid them beneath the juniper tree,
Tweet, tweet, what a beautiful bird am I.

“I guess there’s enough blame to go around in that tale, for sure!” she summed up. “Though it is an odd thing to print on a postcard.”

Simplia nodded. “And this one clears up the laundry question from last time,” she said. “It’s from Jane Dorfman.”

Count Silvernose by Eric Kimmel is a picture book version of “Silver Nose,” an Italian folk tale that Italo Calvino has in his collection. Other versions titled “How the Devil Married Three Sisters.”
On consideration Kimmel probably added the laundry. The Count wants a laundress and shows each girl’s room full of dirty laundry and the forbidden locked room. The first two girls immediately unlock that one, wilting the rose and then getting thrown into a pit of fire, where they cling to a ledge. The smart third daughter rescues the sisters, fools the count and sends her siblings home in a laundry basket .
I think the story really did need the laundry, also the image of a room full of dirty stockings adds something.) Unlike the Devil-who-married story, she throws the count into his own pit.

“Storytelling License,” Sagacia said. “And well-used.”

“Oh, and listen to this,” Simplia said, waving a post card with an image of Maxfield Parrish’s “Jack and the Beanstalk.” It’s from Charles Kiernan.

My knee-jerk reaction is to say the male/female balance in fairy tales is fairly even. There are plenty of witches to fill the bad female roles to balance the evil giants and Bluebeards. The heros and heroines I think we could match up rather evenly.

What strikes me is how the demographics of the fairy tale reflect a population all of its own. In that world there are kings who get to choose which of his sons will rule after him, sons of poor peasants who get to marry a princess, and members of both sexes who are purveyors of magical devices.

How would the census report of fairyland read?

Occupation of head of household – witch.
Age – 200+
Dependents – two daughter – one servant (in-law?)
Ages – under 20
Education level – none.

Say, does anyone in fairy tales ever go to school?

“Censuses and classroom rosters!” Sagacia laughed. “Now THAT would be a fine resource to check out!

“Well,” Simplia said. “It’s better than trusting the postal service, I guess.” She glared at mailmouse again. “Or, at least, better than trusting the postal servers!”

She added, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!”

Mailmouse took his leave.