The Reed Girl is a folk tale from Eastern Europe found in a book called The Kingdom Under The Sea. That is literally all I know about it; it’s so obscure* even Google was like “Do you mean The Nutcracker?“. In the end Google redeemed itself. I found a version of The Reed Girl that’s slightly closer to the original folk tale available here. It’s essentially the same thing but with amusing olde worlde sentences that aren’t as child-friendly. Oh, and also a million times more WTF than my version.
All of the stories in The Kingdom Under The Sea are fabulous (with gorgeous illustrations by the way) and they contain the usual amount of lovely, illogical fantasy. The old crone Baba Yaga (who flies through the skies in a mortar and pestle) makes an appearance in several of the tales, much like a Grimm tale is never complete without a fucking king showing up at some point and usually marrying a twelve year old. But fairy tale lovers will embrace the what-the-fuckery, because that’s what it’s all about. But, inevitably, there was one story that was just far too WTF for me and it has stuck with me since I was seven years old…
The story begins, as many do, with a young prince in search of a wife. This young prince declares that he “would not take any poor skeleton of a girl” but that his wife must be the most beautiful girl in the world. So right away it’s established that the prince is
just an ordinary guy a dick. The prince asks the wise woman where to find the most beautiful woman in the world, and is told that she can be found in the seventy-fourth island of the Black Sea. More specifically, she can be found in the middle of a reed in the middle of the seventy-fourth island of the Black Sea. But the prince is warned to beware for a witch guards the reeds!
So whatshisface sets off on his journey to find the reed girl. There’s an interlude where he actually PULLS OVER AND ASKS FOR DIRECTIONS from a couple of old ladies who are glad he asked them nicely otherwise they’d have eaten him (standard). The prince is told that he’ll never make it to the seventy-fourth island of the Black Sea, as it’s only possible to access it “on a steed that has sucked dragon’s milk, eaten glowing coals, and drunk the fiery flame” – and between the hours of 8:00-5:30 at the cost of 50p per minute. Why must he possess such a horse? Doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that his royal stallion is looking a bit shit now.
Conveniently, one of the old mothers notices three golden hairs on the prince’s head “of which thou hast known nothing to this moment” (hah!) and plucks them out. The prince then has to climb a mountain and strike the three golden hairs with a latchstring, which is a truly ridiculous image.
“Melchior! Where the fuck is the latchstring? I can’t open the door!”
“I’ve got to take it up the mountain, mum! I need to whip my hair repeatedly.”
“Are you telling me you need to whip your hair back and forth?”
“No, just these three.”
“Because I need a horse that has sucked dragon’s milk, eaten glowing coals, and drunk the fiery flame.”
“…I’m calling doctor Anderson…”
So princey gets his new steed (behold!) who says, “Hip, hop! here am I, dear master! That there be no delay in thy affair, wilt thou not sit on my back that I may be off with thee? Shall I go like the swiftest whirlwind, or like thought, or as a bird can fly?” And instead of doing a double take and falling off his saddle at the sound of a horse talking (‘cuz that would be nonsensical), the prince shouts “andele” or something and they head off to the antechamber of the Sun to get them some portable light. “Mummy, what’s the antechamb –” “They went to Tesco to buy a torch, now hush up and listen to the story.”
I wouldn’t put it past this magestic beast to fly the both to the sun, but they can only make it to the “portals of the earth” which are guarded by two bearded wolves. These wolves demand two pounds of flesh to pay the toll so the prince cuts off his hand to feed them. That’s dedication to his future wife, I’ll give him that.
Onwards the prince and the horse fly INTO THE FUCKING SUN — no, just “the windswept isle of Bujan”, the Sun’s holiday home perhaps? Or just where the Sun God lives maybe? I don’t know. But anyway, the point is that he is well recieved. He ties his magical pony up for a bit and “then he bathed in the fire-bath, and rubbed with fire-towels; looking at himself from head to foot in the shining wall of the antechamber as in a mirror” and probably wondered cluelessly why all his skin had fucking melted. Or this could just be some Game of Thrones mindfuckery…
So prince Daenerys Targaryen finishes his preening by doing his hair with a golden comb that just happened to be in his presence. That shit was apparently the wrong thing to do because a spirit in the service of the sun gets mad at him for it (and we know that because “his eyebrows struggled with each other”) and blows him off (with wind, not — anyway…).
He gets swept away for seventy seven miles, falls down a hole filled with snakes, toads and worms. He then comes across a dragon, but instead of recognising him as the blood of the dragon and heir to the iron throne, the dragon totally wants to eat him. But prince Daenerys remembered The Dragon Song from A Very Potter Musical and lullabyed that bitch to sleep, my friend! Luckily he’s safe now as he stumbles into Zora-djevojka, the daughter of the Sun. Side note: my kiddie book version totally decided to skip everything with the fire bath and the dragon fuckery (not literal dragon fuckery, although that would totally happen in a book like this, so you were right to think it, you dirty minded minx). Don’t really know why the retellers didn’t put the time in the make that passage kiddie friendly. Probably couldn’t be arsed but didn’t want to tell the publisher so made up some bullshit reason why they left out the freaking dragon.
So prince Daenerys flies off on another flying horse with the Sun’s daughter all Aladdin-style. They have the best date ever, they sail of cloud-boats and they fly through different forests of bronze, silver and gold. I loved the imagery in this bit, but was it in my kiddie book? The hell it was, bloody Joan Aiken and Jan Pienkowski, retellers leaving out the best parts! Luckily they get their act together and chime in with the next bit, where the Dawn Maiden feeds prince Daenerys some honey and plays such sweet, sweet music to him his hand grows back. She then gives him a little piece of the sun so he can light his way through the dark to go find another woman. Come on, prince Daenerys! She’s the freaking daughter of the Sun and she was totally into you. You want the most beautiful woman in the world, yet she’s probably the most beautiful woman out of this world! Cannot believe you gave her up, man.
So he fucks off to find his reed girl and on the way the horse says to him, “Now once you have the reeds be careful not to split the reeds open until we reach water, mmmkay?” The prince agrees and they light their way through the thicket and eventually find the reeds. The prince cuts them down with a flick of his sword, but “from the three reed-stumps black blood sprang forth, and a bitter wail was heard as if a naked sword had been thrust into some one’s heart”. Oh yeah! The witch guarding the reeds! Well that was a fecking easy kill for dragonborn – didn’t even need to Fus Ro Dah her ass.
Now the prince has the reads he and horsey magnifico head on home. But the prince is filled with such dreadful curiosity, he can’t help but split one of the reeds open to see if there really is a girl inside. Poof! Out falls a fair maiden who cries, “Water! Only as much water as a little swallow takes in her beak when she gives drink to her young, or I die!” But the prince has no water and, true to her word, the maiden dies. Princey cries and digs her a grave, definitely feeling to blame over her death, which is logical because it was his bloody fault after all.
He doesn’t learn his lesson though because no sooner are they off again he gets struck with another bolt of curiosity! Is there another girl in the reed?! Not joking, he does the exact same thing again, and history repeats itself. What a wanker. He then goes to split open the third and final read because he’s also a complete nincompoop but the horse, being the brains of the operation, rotates its head (presumably Exorcist-style) and grabs the reed, not giving it back until they reach a lake. So lucky when princey opens the read, the girl can drink some water. Yay! Rejoyce! And in my book, they live happily ever after.
Do they fuck.
If you want to know, you can read the original ending here, but I’m just going to leave it with happily ever after at this point. I’d be interested to see if anyone can find some sort of moral or meaning to this story, especially if you’ve read the original ending. Go ahead and theorize in the comments – and come back for another installment of the fairy tale series!
*This reed girl shit is so obscure, I typed “the reed girl fairy tale” into Google Images and this is what it gave me: