Folk-Tales of the Magyars, The UNDER CONSTRUCTION | Annotated Tale

Lazy Spinning Girl Who Became a Queen, The

A COMMON woman had a daughter who was a very good worker, but she did not like spinning; for this her mother very often scolded her, and one day got so vexed that she chased her down the road with the distaff. As they were running a prince passed by in his carriage. As the girl was very pretty the prince was very much struck with her, and asked her mother "What is the matter?" "How can I help it?" said the mother, "for, after she has spun everything that I had, she asked for more flax to spin." "Let her alone, my good woman," said the prince; "don't beat her. Give her to me, let me take her with me, I will give her plenty to spin. My mother has plenty of work that needs to be done, so she can enjoy herself spinning as much as she likes." The woman gave her daughter away with the greatest pleasure, thinking that what she was unwilling to do at home she might be ashamed to shirk in a strange place, and get used to it, and perhaps even become a good spinster after all. The prince took the girl with him and put her into a large shed full of flax, and said "If you spin all you find here during the month you shall be my wife." The girl seeing the great place full of flax nearly had a fit, as there was enough to have employed all the girls in the village for the whole of the winter; nor did she begin to work, but sat down and fretted over it, and thus three weeks of the month passed by. In the meantime she always asked the person who took her her food, "What news there was?" Each one told her something or other. At the end of the third week one night, as she was terribly downcast, suddenly a little man half an ell long, with a beard one and a-half ells long, slipped in and said, "Why are you worrying yourself, you good, pretty spinning-girl?" "That's just what's the matter with me," replied the girl; "I am not a good spinster, and still they will believe that I am a good spinster, and that's the reason why I am locked up here." "Don't trouble about that," said the little man; "I can help you and will spin all the flax during the next week if you agree to my proposal and promise to come with me if you don't find out my name by the time that I finish my spinning." "That's all right," said the girl, "I will go with you," thinking that then the matter would be all right. The little dwarf set to work. It happened during the fourth week that one of the men-servants, who brought the girl's food, went out hunting with the prince. One day he was out rather late, and so was very late when he brought the food. The girl said, "What's the news?" The servant told her that that evening as he was coming home very late he saw, in the forest, in a dark ditch, a little man half an ell high, with a beard one and a-half ells long, who was jumping from bough to bough, and spinning a thread, and humming to himself:--"My name is Dancing Vargaluska. My wife will be good spinster Sue."

               Sue, the pretty spinning-girl, knew very well what the little man was doing, but she merely said to the servant, "It was all imagination that made you think you saw it in the dark." She brightened up; for she knew that all the stuff would be spun, and that he would not be able to carry her off, as she knew his name. In the evening the little man returned with one-third of the work done and said to her, "Well, do you know my name yet?"

               "Perhaps, perhaps," said she; but she would not have told his real name for all the treasures in the world, fearing that he might cease working if she did. Nor did she tell him when he came the next night. On the third night the little man brought the last load; but this time he brought a wheelbarrow with him, with three wheels, to take the girl away with him. When he asked the girl his name she said, "If I'm not mistaken your name is Dancing Vargaluska."

               On hearing this the little man rushed off as if somebody had pulled his nose.

               The month being up, the prince sent to see if the girl had completed her work; and when the messenger brought back word that all was finished the king was greatly astonished how it could possibly have happened that so much work had been done in so short a time, and went himself, accompanied by a great suite of gentlemen and court-dames, and gazed with great admiration upon the vast amount of fine yarn they saw. Nor could they praise the girl enough, and all found her worthy to be queen of the land. Next day the wedding was celebrated, and the girl became queen. After the grand wedding-dinner the poor came, and the king distributed alms to them; amongst them were three deformed beggars, who struck the king very much: one was an old woman whose eyelids were so long that they covered her whole face; the second was an old woman whose lower lip was so long that the end of it reached to her knee; the third old woman's posterior was so flat that it was like a pancake.

               These three were called into the reception-room and asked to explain why they were so deformed. The first said, "In my younger days I was such a good spinster that I had no rival in the whole neighbourhood. I spun till I got so addicted to it that I even used to spin at night: the effect of all this was that my eyelids became so long that the doctors could not get them back to their places."

               The second said, "I have spun so much during my life and for such a length of time that with continually biting off the end of the yarn my lips got so soft that one reached my knees."

               The third said, "I have sat so much at my spinning that my posterior became flat as it is now."

               Hereupon the king, knowing how passionately fond his wife was of spinning, got so frightened that he strictly prohibited her ever spinning again.

               The news of the story went out over the whole world, into every royal court and every town; and the women were so frightened at what had happened to the beggars that they broke every distaff, spinning-wheel, and spindle, and threw them into the fire!


Kriza, iv.

                The story of the mannikin who is clever at spinning or weaving is widespread. Thus, in a rubric of the "Catalan" map of the world, in the National Library at Paris, the date of which map has been fixed at A.D. 1375, we read, "Here  [N.W. of Catayo] grow little men who are but five palms in length; and though they be little, and not fit for weighty matters, yet they be brave and clever at weaving, and at keeping cattle...." (Col. Yule's translation in Cathay, and the Way Thither.)

               A Swedish story tells how a young newly-married girl is terribly upset by the constant calls of household work; and one morning, in despair at the many things to be done, she shut herself in the room, and, throwing herself on the couch, wept bitterly, saying, "Oh, unhappy me! Is there no one to help me, or comfort a poor woman?" "I can," said a voice; and lo! there was the old man of Hoberg, a good sprite, who had been a friend to the family for generations.

               "You bewail your slave life," said the old man, "but that comes from your want of practice in real work. I will give you ten obedient servants who will faithfully assist you in all your doings." Just then he shook his coat, and ten droll little creatures sprang out, and began to put the room in order. "Stretch forth your hands to me," said the old man. Elsa tremblingly put out her hands to the old man, who said--

"Tummetott, Hjertehand    
Slikepott, Lille Per Roligman."     
Långestång, [1]

                "Be quick and take your places!" In a moment the ministering spirits disappeared into Elsa's fingers, and the old man vanished.

               The young wife sat staring at her hands for a time, but soon felt a strange desire to work.

               "Here am I sitting dreaming," said she, with unwonted cheerfulness, "and it's already seven o'clock. Everyone is waiting for me," she continued; and, hurrying out, she began her work. From that time she was the model housewife of the district; see Hofberg, p. 58. "De tio tjenstandarna," from Småland. [2]

               Cf. the mannikin called "Panczimanczi," in Lad. Arany's "Eredeti Népmesék," p. 277. His height is half an ell, his moustache two ells, his beard three ells long. He is seen leaping merrily over a fire, and heard singing the following: "I am Panczimanczi; no one knows my name; I roast, I cook, I boil; the day after to-morrow I shall fetch my pretty bride home."

               In Kriza's tale his name is Dancing Vargaluska. "How the name is held to be part of the very being of the man who bears it, so that by it his personality may be carried away, and, so to speak, grafted elsewhere, appears in the way in which the sorcerer uses it as a means of putting the life of his victim into the image upon which he practises;" e.g. the widespread making of wax images to represent certain persons, and then melting them, that the persons named may waste away. Magyar peasants say, that hair combings must not be thrown away, lest the birds get them, and build them in their nests; for whilst they are doing so, you will have headache; and again, if a young girl wishes to compel a young man to marry her she must steal something from the young man, and take it to a witch, who adds to it three beans, three bulbs of garlic, a few pieces of dry coal, and a dead frog. These are all put into an earthenware pot, and placed under the threshold, with the words, "Lord of the infernal regions and of the devils, and possessor of the hidden treasure, give to N. or M. some incurable illness (or inflame him with unquenchable love for N. or M.), and I will join you."

               See also "The two Orphans," where the witch's daughter steals a lock of the queen's hair, p. 222. Cf. the Finnish method of curing "knarr" (German "Knirrband"), a complaint that is common at harvest-time among those who are not used to the reaping-hook. Amongst its symptoms are curious crackings of the wrist. The sick one asks someone who is well "to chop his knarr" for him, which is done as follows. The patient lays his sick hand upon a chopping block, and three pieces of three-jointed straw are so laid, side by side, as to correspond joint for joint. The "doctor" then takes an axe, and chops with all his strength into the block through the first joint. "What are you chopping?" asks the sick one. "I'm chopping the 'knarr' out of your joint into the wood." The same question and answer is repeated after second blow; after the last blow the chopper cries "Now he's gone!" In North Germany the ceremony is performed on the threshold, and ends with the sign of the cross. Cf. Finnish Folk-Lore in "Notes and Queries," 6th S. xi. p. 23. Also, Suomen Muinaismuisto-Yhdistyksen Aikakauskirja, v. p. 103.

               Algerian peasants have a great objection to their portraits being taken; and Holderness folks rub warts with stolen beef, &c., and let it rot, saying the warts will disappear with the decaying of the meat, &c., &c. "A similar train of thought shows itself in the belief that the utterance of the name of a deity gives to man a means of direct communication with the being who owns it, or even places in his hands the supernatural power of that being, to be used at his will." Tylor's Early History of Mankind, pp. 124, 129, and Lubbock's Origin of Civilisation, p. 245.

               Cf. Swedish "Jätten Finn och Lunds domkyrka." Hofberg, p. 12. The giant promises to build a church for the white Christ if Laurentius can find out his name, and if not he must forfeit his eyes--

          "Helt visst     
Är hvite krist     
En gud, som sitt temple är värdig.     
Jag bygger det jag, om du säger mig blott     
Hvad namn jag fått,     
Se'n kyrkan är murad och färdig.     
Men kan du ej säga mitt namn, välan,     
Du vise man!     
Gif akt på hvad vite jag sätter:     
Då måste du ge mig åt mina små     
De facklor två,     
Som vandra på himmelens slätter." [3]

                Laurentius found out that the giant's name was "Finn" by hearing the giantess hush her crying child.

               Similar tales are told of many churches. E.g. Drontheim Cathedral, where the giant is called "Skalle"; see Sjöborg, Collections, Part ii. p. 182. Of Eskilssäter's Church, where the giant's name was "Kinn," see Fernow, Verml. Beskr, i. p. 318.

               Also of a church in Norrland, where St. Olaf found out the troll's name, "Wind and Weather," see Iduna, vol. iii. p. 60; and about Kallundborgs Church, in Själland, cf. Thiele, Danske Folkesagn, i. p. 43.

               Tales from the Land of Hofer, "The Wild Jäger and the Baroness"; secret name, "Buzinigala," p. 110.

               In the Land of Marvels, Vernaleken, "Winterkolble," p. 24; and "Kruzimügeli," p. 28.

               Grimm. vol. i. "Rumpelstiltskin," pp. 221, 412. [4]

               The tale appears to be confused towards the end, the three deformed beggars being the three aunts of the Norse; see Dasent, p. 222. The ordinary story has no dwarf or secret name in it; cf. Spanish tale of "Guardian Spirits," in Caballero, p. 64.

               Also, Patrañas, "What Anna saw in the Sunbeam," p. 193.

               And in Portuguese Folk-Tales. "The Aunts." Folk-Lore Soc. p. 79.

               On the other hand, in the Swedish story from Upland the girl who could spin gold from clay and long straw was helped by a dwarf whose name turned out to be "Titteli Ture!". See Thorpe's Yule Tales, p. 168.

               See also, Grimm, ii. p. 163, "The Lazy Spinner," in which the woman by her wit contrives to evade her spinning; notes, p. 428. The Finnish story of "The Old Woman's Loom," from Korpo, is almost identical with Grimm's.


[1] A finger song, common, with slight variations, in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, and Swedish speaking people in Finland. Cf. Yorkshire--

Tom Thumbkins, Bill Wilkins,     
Long Daniel, Bessy Bobtail,     
And Little Dick.

                See Halliwell's Nursery Rhymes, p. 206.

[2] It is interesting to note the finger-lore of the people, e.g. Gubernatis, vol. i. 166, says: "The little finger, although the smallest, is the most privileged of the five." It is the one that knows everything; in Piedmont, when the mothers wish to make the children believe that they are in communication with a mysterious spy, who sees everything that they do, they are accustomed to awe them by the words, "my little finger tells me everything." See also vol. ii. p. 151.

               In Holderness, Yorkshire, it is a common superstition that if you pinch anyone's little finger when they are asleep, they will tell you their secrets; or, as some say, "if you can bear your little finger pinching you can keep a secret." If you see a white horse, spit over your little finger for luck. Schoolboys make their bargains irrevocable by spitting over their little fingers. [A] In Petalaks (a parish in East Bothnia, about twenty miles from Wasa) every one believes in a "bjero" [B] or "mjero," which is one respect resembles Sampo in Kalevala, insomuch as he brings good luck to his possessor. Sometimes he looks like a ball of yarn, but more often like a hare. The way he is manufactured is as follows:--A wafer spared from the Communion, some wool stolen from seven cow-houses on Maundy Thursday, and a drop of blood from the little finger of the left hand. During the performance the manufacturer must curse and swear without ceasing. The wool is to be spun on Easter morn when the sun dances; the thread to be wrapped round the wafer, and the whole put in the churn. Whilst churning, the spellmaker sings, "Milk and butter thou must bring to me; I shall burn in hell-fire for thee." After a time the "bjero" springs out, and asks, "What will you give me to eat?" "Raisins and almonds," is the reply. And all is complete. See Suomen Muinaismusto-yhtiön Aikakauskirja, ii.; Helsingissa, 1877, p. 133; Vidskepelser insamlade bland allmogan i Petalaks, 1874; Skrock och vidskepliga bruk hos svenska allmogen i Vasabygden. Af. Prof. Freudenthal, Helsingfors, 1883, p. 8; and Rink's Tales and Traditions of the Eskimo, p. 440.

[A] Cf. Tylor's Primitive Culture, vol. i. p. 103; vol. ii. p. 439-441.

[B] Några åkerbruksplägseder bland svenskarne i Finland, af. dr. J. Oscar Rancken, pp. 17, 24, 32.

[3] Tegnér: Prologen till Gerda.

[4] See variants given in Henderson's Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties, pp. 258, 262.

               Cf. Riddle set to three soldiers by the devil, and found out by the help of his grandmother. Grimm, vol. ii. pp. 152, 425. Also, Vernaleken, p. 206.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Lazy Spinning Girl Who Became a Queen, The
Tale Author/Editor: Jones, W. Henry & Kropf, Lewis L.
Book Title: Folk-Tales of the Magyars, The UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Book Author/Editor: Jones, W. Henry & Kropf, Lewis L.
Publisher: Elliot Stock
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1889
Country of Origin: Hungary
Classification: ATU 501: The Three Old Spinning Women

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