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Fairy Tales > The Battle of the Birds

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message 1: by Lynden (new)

Lynden Wade | 28 comments Can anyone throw any light on this?

I've been reading Joseph Jacobs' Celtic Fairy Tales, and I got to The Battle of the Birds. (There are other versions, e.g. the Norwegian one, The Mastermaid.) Jacobs admits in his notes that he has adapted his source, Campbell, and used events from various of Campbell's variants. But there is one incident that I can't find in Campbell - where the giant's daughter insists the king's son kill her, strip off her flesh and use her bones to make a ladder in a tree.

She does also give the instructions for putting her back together afterwards. But I'm caught between admiring the courage of this girl who does all the rescuing in the story, and concern that Jacobs has added gratuitous suffering for her. The versions in Campbell have her loaning her fingers to put in the tree, but she gets nine of them back again.


message 2: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 378 comments I am not familiar with this tale nor with Campbell's version of it. But your description reminded me of the story of Corn Mother from the Penobscot of New England.

In that story, Corn Mother sees her children are starving. She instructs her husband to kill her and drag her body across an empty patch of earth until her body is nothing but bones. He is told to bury the bones in the clearing and then leave the site for seven months.

When he returns seven months later, he finds the area covered with corn. In this way Corn Mother/First Mother gives the gift of her flesh as corn so that her children may live. Her children deposit kernels back into the earth to renew her flesh every year.

I think it is a fairly common motif in fairy tales and/or mythologies for a female to willingly sacrifice herself or a part of herself so that others may live.


message 3: by Lynden (new)

Lynden Wade | 28 comments That's an interesting parallel. Yes, various fairy tales have females sacrificing something, e.g. the little sister in Grimms "Seven Ravens" sacrifices a finger. But from my reading of the variants of "Battle of the Birds," it looks as if Joseph Jacobs has swapped a small sacrifice in the original (fingers) to a large one (whole life), taking it from another story. It looks like tampering to me. The death doesn't seem necessary for the purpose of the story. The version where she sticks her fingers into the tree trunk to make grips for the king's son to climb makes sense, in fairy tale fashion, and to change the story so she is killed and her bones stripped seems over the top.


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