Tag Archives: French folklore

“The Silver Rose,” an Alsatian folktale

(Originally posted in the Folktales’ section of the little translator website, June 30, 2016)

I translated this particular French version of the tale from the Castles of France website, and this version has been frequently posted in other folktale centers around the Internet. Other versions were collected by or referenced to Auguste Stoeber, either in the Revue d’Alsace (1851) or Die Sagen des Elsasses nach Volksuberlieferung, gedruckten und handschriftlichen Quellen gesammelt und erlautert, mit einer Sagenkarte. (1852)


In the heart of the Vosges mountains of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines, there lived an entire nation of dwarves. These dwarves had built a subterranean city of shining beauty.

This city of crystal and silver was a permanent Gate between the two worlds. The dwarves dug into the earth and shadowed the men from whom they learned the arts of mining, of the forge, of gold and silversmithing.

But despite the good relations between humans and dwarves, skepticism and wariness began to increase in the hearts of man. Disputes, conflicts, and jealousies multiplied.

Then, it happened one day that the King of the Silberzwergen1 came up out of the mountain to contemplate the moonlight of the world of men. Near a stream, he saw a young woman who was the daughter of a rich miner and who had just departed from the cloister where nuns had raised her.

The young damsel was radiantly beautiful, and the king fell desperately2 in love. He revealed himself to her in order to confess to her his love, but she was frightened by the sight of this small, ill-formed creature, believing she had before her one of the demons the good sisters had spoken of. She fled without saying a word.

The King of the Dwarves was seized with a great passion for the damsel. He made a thousand attempts to seduce3 her, showering her with magnificent gifts. But she, terrified, always fled.

Mad with love, the King of the Dwarves no longer knew what to do. In the end, he offered the young woman the most wondrous treasure in his possession: the Silver Rose. It was the only one of its kind and held great power, crafted by the Ancients and the Goddess of the Moon. The Rose rested at the heart of the underground city, and it was the Rose that bound the two worlds permanently together by way of its magic.

But once again the young girl refused the dwarf’s advances. She fled, shouting hurtful words to the king as he held out the Rose to her in a gesture of supplication. As she ran, she had a terrible accident: she tripped on a root of a tree in the darkness of the night and fell into a river. Not knowing how to swim, she drowned.

The king of the dwarves felt an immense sadness after having learned of the young girl’s drowning. He returned to his mountain home and had all the mine’s tunnels collapsed behind him. As for his magical powers, the miners of the Valley of Sainte-Marie-aux-mines were no longer able to discover the veins of gold or silver flowing within the mountain. The King, still unhappy, took the magic Rose and departed for lands far away, in the regions to the east of the Waldwelt woods.

This unfortunate event had immense repercussions within the Waldwelt: upon learning what happened, its inhabitants felt it was no longer possible to maintain relations with humans if humans would only flee. Everywhere, faeries, elves, dwarves, and lutins4 disappeared little by little, leaving only a variety of legends and tales behind them.

As for the king of the Dwarves, he returned to his native land, in the mountains which arose at the castle of the Unicorn and the Forest of Shadows. There, he made a gift of this Rose to the Unicorn’s Lady, and this queen of the Elves accepted the guardianship of the treasure and cast it into the deepest well of her domain. The unhappy dwarf left to return to his dear mountains and died of grief….


1. German for “silver dwarves.”

2. The word in French is “éperdument” which is most often used in the context of love, as opposed to translation of “desperately” which can be used in many contexts. But this is a love that’s consuming, violent in its power and force, and may lead to destruction.

3. The French word “séduire” (seduce) didn’t gain a positive subtext (“entice”) until the late 18th century. If this tale were recorded as a 17th century fairy tale, I’d automatically assume, from this word, that the dwarf king’s intentions were less than noble. But instead all known recordings of this tale date from the 19th century, leaving us with the question: did the dwarf king only mean to entice her, win her over with his gifts? Did she run solely because she was afraid of how he looked?

4. Lutins are a French kind of hobgoblin.


 

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“Faeries in Upper Brittany, France”

translations

(Originally posted November 2014)

Translated from the article “Fées en Haute-Bretagne,” originally published in Le Magasin pittoresque in 1886. Reprinted online in La France pittoresque in January 2014.

cartebretagne-article1

In Upper Brittany, people often speak of faeries. In addition to the numerous legends told about them, several proverbs featuring faeries have lingered in contemporary conversation; people say “white as faerie linen” to denote linen of a brilliant white; “as beautiful as a faerie”1 to describe a preternatural beauty.

They are generally called “Fées” (Faeries), sometimes “Fêtes,” which is closer to the Latin “fata”2 than “fée” is; we would say “une Fête” for a female, “un Fête” for a male. “Fête” may be the basis of “Fuito” or “Faitaud,” which is the name for the fathers, husbands, or children of faeries (Saint-Cast). Near Saint-Briac (Ille-et-Vilaine), they are sometimes called “Fions”; this term, which can be applied to either sex, also seems to denote mischievous lutins3.

Near The Mené4, in the cantons of Collinée and Moncontour, they are called “Margot la Fée,” or “my godmother Margot,” or even “the good woman Margot.” On the coasts, they are often styled “good ladies” or “our good mothers the faeries”; in general, we speak of them with a certain regard.

The faeries were a beautiful people. However, among them there were ancients who appeared to be several centuries old; some had teeth as long as their hand, or their backs were covered in marine plants, mussels, or periwinkle shells: a way to denote their old age. At Saint-Cast it is said that faeries were garbed in cloth, although I was unable to obtain further details. In the interior of Brittany, people are more affirmative5; here is the written deposition I was given in 1880: “They were made like human creatures; their clothes had no seams or stitches, and you couldn’t tell which were men and which were women. When you saw them from far away, they looked as if they were wearing the most beautiful and shining clothing. When you came close, the beautiful colors disappeared. But on their head remained a type of cap in the shape of a crown which seemed to be a part of their person.” (Told by François Mallet du Gouray, a laborer)

On the coast, people claim that faeries belong to a cursed race, that they were condemned to remain on Earth for a certain length of time. Around The Mené and its canton of Collinée, the elderly said that during the angels’ rebellion, those who remained in paradise were divided into two groups: one took the side for the good God, the other remained neutral. This last group were sent to Earth for a time, and it was these half-fallen angels who became the faeries. A tale collected at Saint-Suliac by Mme de Cerny says that the faerie of Bec-du-Puy was exorcised by Saint-Suliac’s curé. No one saw anything, but a cry of pain was heard (Saint-Suliac and its legends).

In general, it is believed that faeries lived here once but that they disappeared in various eras depending on the region. In the interior of Brittany, near The Mené, from what I’ve personally heard, they haven’t lived here for more than a century. It’s the same around Ercé (Ille-et-Vilaine).

On the coast, where it is firmly believed that faeries once dwelt in the ocean swells and cliff grottoes, the general opinion is they left at the turn of the century. A number of people, now in their sixties, have heard their fathers and grandfathers say they had seen faeries. At present, I have only met one person who believed they still remain: she was an old seamstress from Saint Cast; she was so afraid of them that, when she went to sew at various farmsteads, she would take a long detour in order to avoid passing by a field known in that region as “the Faeries’ Convent” at nightfall.

The faeries have been gone since we first sounded the Angelus and sung the Credo; but as time moves on, religion will diminish, we will no longer sing the Credo, we will no longer sound the Angelus, and the faeries will return. The elderly said that they heard the older generations before them say there were faeries up until a certain period. Then the faeries had disappeared; but when a certain length of time had passed, they should return. They all left the same night; they will return the same night as well. I found the same belief, albeit more detailed, near Ercé-près-Liffré (Ille-et-Vilaine):

The faeries will return in the next century, since it is an odd number6. An invisible century, that is to say one where no spirits are seen, will be followed by a century in which they will be seen again.


1. The French phrase is “Belle comme une fée” which Mlle de La Force played off of in her 1698 fairy tale “Plus belle que Fée” (“More beautiful than Fae”) which was translated into the English title “Fairer than a Fairy.”

2. An excerpt from the article “Contes de fées de Perrault et de Grimm : fées, ogres et magiciens d’origine indo-européenne ?” from the Revue de philologie française et provençale : recueil trimestriel consacré à l’étude des langues, dialectes et patois de France published in 1893 and reprinted in La France pittoresque says, “Les fées (fat-va, celle qui parle, qui révèle ; cf. fat-um, le destin considéré comme la révélation de l’avenir, -fans dans infans, celui qui ne parle pas, fa-ri, parler, etc.) qui résident auprès des fontaines sont les sœurs des nymphes, fatidiques comme elles, et qui, comme elles aussi, sont les habitantes des eaux. Les unes et les autres symbolisent les liqueurs du sacrifice et les crépitements prophétiques qu’elles font entendre quand elles se transforment en flammes sacrées.”
Translation: The faeries/Les fées (fat-va, one who speaks, who reveals; comparable to the Latin fat-um, the destiny considered as revelation about the future, -fans in “infant,” one who cannot speak, fa-ri, to speak, etc.) who reside near fountains are the sisters of the nymphs, oracular like them, and who, also like them, are the inhabitants of water. Both faeries and nymphs symbolize sacrificial wines and the prophetic crackling emanations when they transform into sacred flames.
(In other words, a faerie is one who reveals or one who speaks the future.)

3. Lutins are hobgoblin-like creatures known for their small size, their mischief, and their love of women. However, they are thought to have originally been taller and connected to Greek water spirits.

4. A community of 7 communes characterized by valleys, forests, and fields, located in Central-Brittany.

5. The author is using law terminology (affirmative, written deposition) to give authority to this account.

6. I am assuming he is counting starting from 1 with the 18th century when the faeries were presumably still around.


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