The Woodcutter’s Three Somewhat Ordinary-looking Daughters

Porrentruy Castle towerA Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a woodcutter who had three somewhat ordinary-looking daughters. The eldest daughter liked to fish. Her mother said, “You will always be able to feed your family with the fish you catch.” The second daughter liked to make pots out of clay. Her mother said, “You will always be able to feed your family by selling your pots.” The youngest daughter liked to fly kites. Her mother said, “You will never feed your family; all you do is fly kites and climb trees to get them down.”

One day the woodcutter said to her daughters, “It is time you went out into the world to seek your fortunes. Here is some food for your journey.” To the eldest she gave half a cold chicken. To the second she gave half a wheel of cheese. To the youngest she gave half a crust of stale bread. Then she sent them out one at a time, a day apart.

The eldest daughter had been walking for a day when she came upon an old man sitting by a stream, spinning monofilament into reels. “Good day,” he said. But she hitched up her skirts, crossed the stream, and continued on her way. A day later she came to an old deaf potter whose cart was blocking the road. “Deaf potter, move your cart!” she demanded, but there came no answer. So she pushed the cart into the ditch, and continued on her way.

The second daughter had been walking for a day when she too came upon the old man sitting by the stream, spinning monofilament into reels. “Good day,” he said. But she hitched up her skirts, crossed the stream, and continued on her way. A day later she also came to the old deaf potter, who had just gotten her cart out of the ditch. “Deaf potter, move your cart!” she demanded, but there came no answer. So like her sister before her, she pushed the cart into the ditch, and continued on her way.

The youngest daughter had been walking for a day when she in turn came upon the old man sitting by the stream, spinning monofilament into reels. “Good day,” he said.

“Good day,” she replied.

At that moment he dropped his reel into the stream where he could not reach it. So she hitched up her skirts, waded into the river, retrieved the reel, and gave it to him.

“Because you have helped me,” he said, “I will give you this golden creel. Anything that you put into it will turn into a somewhat ordinary-looking songbird and fly away, never to be seen again.”

“Thank you,” she said. “I’m sure that will be of great use.” And she continued on her way.

A day later she came to the old deaf potter, who had once again just gotten her cart out of the ditch. “Deaf potter, could you move your cart?” she asked, but there came no answer. “Oh wait,” she said. “Duh. You can’t hear me.” So she waved a greeting.

With a sad frown, the potter pointed at the cart’s axle, which was broken. So the woodcutter’s daughter hitched up her skirts, cut down a small tree, fashioned it into an axle, and mended the cart.

Then the potter handed her a jar, and using impromptu hand signs indicated her gratitude and explained that any liquid poured into the jar would flow into the sea, never to be seen again. In like manner the youngest daughter thanked the old woman, and indicated her certainty that the jar would prove useful. And she continued on her way.

On the third day from home, the eldest daughter reached a castle on a patch of high ground between two swamps, just as three trumpeters blew a horribly bad chord, three somewhat ordinary-looking princes waved manly handkerchiefs from a high window, and three heralds proclaimed with great gusto: “Hear ye all subjects of King Windblown the Kite Flyer: Whatsoever woman shall shinny up the drainpipe and fetch down my golden kite from atop the tallest tower, saith the king, shall have one-third of my kingdom, and one of my three sons in marriage. But she must in no wise open the wooden shutter that is halfway up the tower.”

None of the princesses in the town were willing to try, mostly because they weren’t any good at shinnying up drainpipes, but also because the kingdom consisted of a patch of high ground between two swamps, and the princes were somewhat ordinary-looking.

“I shall get the kite,” said the eldest daughter. She figured being married to a somewhat ordinary-looking prince was better than fishing for a living. So she hitched up her skirts and started to shinny up the drainpipe. She slid down two feet for every three she climbed, but she eventually reached the wooden shutter. Then she was overcome with curiosity, and opened it. A young hag with a golden pitcher poked her head out.

“Give me a piece of chicken,” said she, “or I shall pour this foul-smelling liquid upon your head!”

“No. This is my chicken.”

“Then take this!” the hag cried, pouring. The daughter was temporarily blinded, and shinnied back down in defeat. She crawled into a corner, and munched on her chicken.

The next day the second daughter walked up just as the trumpeters were playing painfully, the princes were waving manfully, and the heralds were proclaiming stridently. “I shall get the kite,” she said. She figured being married to a somewhat ordinary-looking prince was better than making pots for a living. So she hitched up her skirts and started to shinny up the drainpipe. She slid down two feet for every three she climbed, but she eventually reached the wooden shutter. She too was overcome with curiosity, and opened it. A fierce rat with a golden tooth poked his head out.

“Give me a piece of cheese,” said he, “or I shall gnaw your fingers off!”

“No. This is my cheese.”

“Then take this!” the rat cried, gnawing. The daughter started slipping, and shinnied back down in defeat. She crawled into a corner, and munched on her cheese.

The next day the youngest daughter walked up just as the trumpeters were squawking, the princes were flapping, and the heralds were bellowing. “I shall get the kite,” she said. Not because she wanted to marry one of the princes, but because she figured her sisters would torment her if she didn’t try. So she hitched up her skirts and started to shinny up the drainpipe. She rose three feet for every two she climbed, and she soon reached the wooden shutter. Like her two sisters before her, she was overcome with curiosity, and opened it. The young hag with the golden pitcher poked her head out.

“Give me a piece of chicken,” said she, “or I shall pour this foul-smelling liquid upon your head!”

“But I have no chicken.”

“Then take this!” the hag cried, pouring. But the youngest daughter held aloft her golden pot, and the liquid flowed into the sea, never to be seen again.

“Curses!” cried the hag, withdrawing into the tower.

Then the fierce rat with the golden tooth poked his head out. “Give me a piece of cheese,” said he, “or I shall gnaw your fingers off!”

“But I have no cheese.”

“Then take this!” the rat cried, gnawing. But the youngest daughter grabbed the rat and stuffed him into her golden creel. Instantly he turned into a somewhat ordinary-looking songbird and flew away, never to be seen again.

Then a huge raven flew up and began to peck at her left kneecap.

“Wait, did I miss someone on the road that I should have stopped and helped?” she cried.

“No,” said the raven.

“Is there anything I can do to make you stop pecking me?”

“Have you any stale bread?”

“Sure, here,” said the daughter, tossing the raven what she had left.

“Thank you,” said the raven as best she could with her beak full. Then she flew away, never to be seen again.

After this, the youngest daughter quickly reached the roof, grabbed the kite, and shinnied down. When she reached the ground, the king said, “O lady fair, from what rich castle do you hail?”

Looking at down her woodcutter’s daughter’s clothing, she wondered if maybe the king weren’t a little near-sighted. Just then her sisters ran up, shouting, “She’s no lady fair. She’s a woodcutter’s daughter like us.”

“Well that hardly matters,” the king said, “seeing as my kingdom consists of a bit of high ground between two swamps, and my sons are somewhat ordinary-looking. Which one will you take as your husband?”

“Pick me!” shouted the eldest son from the high window.

“No, me!” cried the second.

“Nobody ever picks me,” whined the youngest.

“I choose,” said the youngest daughter, “none of the above. I’d rather have a golden kite. Thanks! Bye!”

And she continued on her way.


Copyright © 2013 Alex Riggle. All Rights Reserved.

8 thoughts on “The Woodcutter’s Three Somewhat Ordinary-looking Daughters

  1. I especially like the somewhat ordinary looking princes. Does the woodcutter’s daughter have more adventures with the golden kite?

  2. I’ve now spent some seconds subjecting this to a deconstructionist technique concluding that its meaning is ultimately unknowable, but concurring with the the value of kingly kiting.

  3. I’d sure like to be able to rise three feet for every two I climb! I like how they were all ordinary-looking. Most people are, after all.

    • Yes. I’ve been listening to Andrew Lang and everybody is just cavity-inducingly beautiful, and that’s generally the only criteria for picking one’s spouse (in either direction). It was getting on my nerves. Hence all the ordinary-looking people. 🙂

      • Cleverness and empathy are much better traits to look for, good for you for wrapping that into happily ever after.

  4. This reminds me of Tiffany Aching in Terry Pratchett’s books. She knew that she wasn’t blond and beautiful like princesses in books, but she figured out that she was a protecter and that she was witch material

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