Cinderella stories not only criss-cross the globe, they also cross gender lines. I encountered my first male “Cinderella” at the local bookstore on my search for a copy of Riesel’s Riddle. I found out that Silverman’s book is out of print, but I walked away with another one of Shirley Climo’s Cinderella tales (She has quite a few) – The Irish Cinderlad! In her author’s note at the back of the book she explains that she based her book on a combination of two different versions of the Irish tale, “The Bracket Bull” found in Four Irish Stories by Douglas Hyde (1898) and Sara Cone Bryant’s (1905) story “Billy Beg and His Bull”. She also explains that the male version of Cinderella is not native to Ireland. They are found in Japan, Africa, Scandinavia, England, Hungary, the Balkans, and India. I’m sure there are others – I will learn more on my journey for multicultural Cinderella stories!
I wanted to see how Climo’s book took the two different stories and made it into her own.
Douglas Hyde was a poet, scholar, and the first President of the Republic of Ireland (June of 1938). He wrote down Celtic stories from seanachai (storytellers):
I wrote this story carefully down, word for word, from the telling of two men—the first, Shawn Cunningham, of Ballinphuil, and the second, Martin Brennan of Ballinlocha, in the barony of Frenchpark. They each told the same story, but Martin Brennan repeated the end of it at greater length than the other. The first half is written down word for word from the mouth of Cunningham, the second half from that of Brennan. (Hyde, 2005, pg. 98)
Hyde tells the story of a boy who after the death of his mother gains a stepmother and three stepsisters (one of which has an eye at the back of her head). They send him to herd cattle, and don’t give him anything to eat. A magical bracket bull (speckled) befriends him and the boy pulls out a banquet from the bulls horn. His stepmother doesn’t like this and ends up trying to kill the bull by telling her husband she needs the braket bull’s blood to cure her of an illness. The bull is headed towards the butchers, however he escapes, after killing the two butchers with the boy on his back. The bull ends up dying from a bullfight but tells the boy to make a belt from his hide. The boy gains employment as a cattle herder. He is warned by his employer about giants living on the land next to his, and they keep anything that goes on their land. The boy doesn’t listen, lets the cattle onto the three giants land. The giants threaten to kill him, he fights back with the belt from his bull. They each in turn beg for mercy and the boy says – sure if you give me your sword, in their own stupidity they die as the boy cleaves off their head! He then goes into town because he hears that every seven years a dragon comes out of the sea and requires a fair maiden in exchange for the village. This year the fair maiden chosen is the Kings own daughter. (Why is it that a fair maiden is the required sacrifice, hmmm). The boy takes three days to kill the dragon, but doesn’t want anyone to know. Each time he runs away, however the third and final time the princess grabs his shoe. Of course she tells the king that she will marry no other than her savior, who will fit into the shoe. Her dad has princes from other kingdoms try on the shoe first, when that doesn’t work he sends his servants and forces all men rich and poor to try it on. Of course the boy fits the shoe and he and the princess get married!
Sara Cone Bryant
Sara Cone Bryant (1905) wrote children’s stories and tried to teach “how” to tell children stories. Kind of cool that she was a reading specialist back in the beginning of the 20th century. Not much is known about her (at least not that I could find in my limited research time) except for what I found in her own words. She facinates me, so I know that a post on her book will be shortly in the works. She adapted this particular story from Seamus McManus book entitled “Donegal Fariy Stories” first published in 1900. Sara Cone Bryant’s Cinderlad has a name, Billy, and he is a prince. When his mother the queen dies she makes her husband, the King, promise that Bill and his bull never be parted. He remarries and and his new wife couldn’t stand either Billy or the bull. She feigns an illness that the only cure is that of the blood of a bull. The king will do anything for his queen (heck, he already lost one wife) and sets a date for the death of the bull – as a big old party! The bull is magical – in that it talks to Billy. Billy tells him his fears and the bull tells him not to worry, for he will not be the one to die. The bull ends up jumping over the crowd and hits the queen square in the head with his hoofs, and now she is dead. The bull and boy run off, but not to worry – Billy pulls a feast fit for a prince (hahaha, he is one) out of his ear. The bull has to fight three other bulls. He kills the first two, but the last one kills him. He knew of his fate ahead of time and told him to take out the napkin in his ear (the one that makes an everlasting meal), a stick which turns into a sword when he waves it over his head, and a piece of hide used for a belt which makes Billy invincible. Billy goes out into the world and becomes a herd boy. While herding six cows, six horses, six donkeys, and six to pasture he crosses into the neighbors land. The neighbors happens to be three Giants. Billy fights and kills all three (the first has two heads, the second has six heads, and the last has twelve heads). Each one begs for mercy, but Billy doesn’t afford it. Maybe it is because they tried to eat him, just for being on their land. Granted, he shouldn’t have been trespassing, but still!! The next day Billy goes into town and learns that the King’s daughter will be gobbled up by a dragon with many heads if her champion doesn’t kill him (the King has his own champion. Can you guess who HER champion is? Yup. Billy, but he slips off without telling anyone who he is, but he leaves his boot. As you guessed it, the Princess sets out to find the lad that can fit the boot. Billy is allowed later to try on the boot because the Princess likes his face (he is a handsome lad ya know!) and voila. He admits that he killed the dragon AND he is the son of a King, no mere peasant for this princess!
The Irish Cinderlad by Shirley Climo (1996) follows these two tales rather closely. Becan (Irish for “little one”) is a small boy with HUGE feet. He loses his mother at the age of thirteen, and soon after his father brings home a new wife and three stepsisters. Of course they don’t like Becan, and they force him to take care of the cows in hopes that the mean one will kick him. The mean speckled bull ends up befriending the hungry Becan (they starve him of course) and tells Becan to pull out a tablecloth full of food out from his ear. Just as in the other tales the stepmother wants the bull, but this time it isn’t as a cure – she just wants him in a stew. Becan and the bull run away, of course. As in the other stories the bull comes to a grisly end (of another bulls horn). As he lays dying he tells Becan to twist off his tail, and although becan doesn’t want to he does. In this story he also goes to work as a cowhand, and he once again trespasses on a giants land. Here the story diverges – there is only one giant. The giant tries to kill Becan for trespassing. Becan whips out the bulls tail and chokes the giant. Another divergance – the giant begs mercy and Becan gives it, in exchange for the giants shoes (remember Becan had HUGE feet). The story then goes back to the same pattern of boy rescues princess from dragon and because he is shy he runs away, but not without leaving his giant shoe behind. You know how the story ends! Well, except with a kiss and a becoming blush – not from the damsel in distress, but the boy!
Climo did a nice job of staying true to the this Irish Folktale. As in all of her books she incorporates the language, food, housing, and customs of the country of origin. Unlike the other tales Climo utilizes descriptive language to paint a picture in your head. Lorettta Krupinski adds to this through illustrations using small strokes to invoke texture, almost like you can reach out and touch the soft snout of the speckled bull, feel the mist from the ocean, or the rough scales from the dragon. I don’t like the idea that Becan tresspasses, and then practically steals the giants shoes (I know, the giant would have killed him, but still), kind of goes against my own moral code of ethics. I know that this is a great talking point with my children, which every good book should do – give parents/teachers an opportunity to discuss, share, teach!
Bryant, S. C. (1905). How to tell stories to children: And some stories to tell. Cambridge: The Riverside Press.
Climo, S. (1996). The irish cinderlad. New York: HarperCollins Publisher
Hyde, D. (2005). The bracket bull. In Graves, A.P. (Ed.), The irish fairy book (celtic, Irish). Dover Publications.