The Enchanted Pig (Porcul cel fermecat)
Written by Petre Ispirescu
The Enchanted Pig, originally published as Porcul cel fermecat in Legende sau basmele românilor in Bucharest, Romania in 1882. It was written by Petre Ispirescu, a Romanian folklorist, who wrote several tales that were published throughout his lifetime and after.
The tale began to gain notoriety as it was translated into different languages. Most notable, was when it was translated into English (from German) and published in The Red Fairy Book by Andrew Lang. Through this translation process, however, the original story has been altered somewhat, to better adhere to the language which it was translated to.
This fairy tale has been compared to other fairy tales such as Blue-Beard and East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon, which were also published in another of Lang’s works, The Blue Fairy Book.
An opera based on the story was composed by Jonathan Dove and premiered in 2006 under the name of “The Enchanted Pig.”
This tale has been paraphrased in my own words from Andrew Lang’s version, as I cannot read fluent Romanian.
Once there was a king who had three daughters. He was called off to war and instructed his daughters that he would be back as soon as he could. They were free to explore all of the castle and grounds expect for one specific room, which he forbade them to enter.
Upon leaving, the king gave his eldest daughter all of the keys to the castle, and again, reminded them not to enter the forbidden room. The three sisters did their best to entertain themselves while he was away, but eventually boredom and curiosity wooed the eldest sister to disobey her father’s orders.
She, along with the other two, entered the room and found it rather empty. In the middle stood a table with a book resting upon it. Her curiosity being too much, the eldest sister went up to the book to read it. It said that she was destined to marry a prince from the East. The middle sister, also enraptured with curiosity, read that she was to marry a prince from the West. The youngest daughter, desiring to heed her father’s warning, tried to leave so she wouldn’t read the book. But, her older sisters coerced her into doing so. She read that she was to be taken into marriage by a pig.
Her elder sisters laughed and assured her that the book was probably false. Besides, wouldn’t the king protect her with his army from a pig? Despite their reassurance, the youngest daughter grew ill with distraught with the prophecy and disobeying her father. By the time their father returned from a victorious battle, he noticed his youngest daughter’s state. He quickly discovered that his daughters had disobeyed him, and nearly overcome by grief himself, he tried to comfort his daughters.
Shortly after, a prince from the East came into the kingdom, seeking the hand of the eldest daughter. The king agreed and the two were happily after. Likewise, a prince from the West arrived asking for the hand of the second daughter. When the youngest daughter saw that the book’s revelations were coming true, she became distraught and refused to eat–wanting to die instead of becoming the wife to a pig.
As the book said, a large Pig from the North arrived, asking for the hand of the youngest daughter. The Pig insisted that he would not leave without the king’s youngest daughter as his wife. The king, after speaking with the Pig, formed the idea that the pig had not always been a pig. The king encouraged his daughter to obey the Pig and do as he wishes, and he felt heaven would release her from this fate.
After the wedding, the couple headed back to the Pig’s dwelling. During the night, she noticed that he had turned into a man. Remembering what her father had said, she took heart, and would wait to see what would happen. Each night, he turned into a man, then back into a Pig before she woke, bringing her to the conclusion that her husband was enchanted.
As time passed, she began to love her husband more and more. She realized that she was with child, but wasn’t sure what sort of child she’d have. One day, she saw an old woman go by. Not having seen another human for a while, she spoke with her. The woman turned out to be a witch, and told her after hearing her how her husband was enchanted, to tie a string around her husband’s left foot while he was sleeping, and he would remain a man.
That night, she tied the string around his foot, but the string being rotten, broke. Her husband woke and asked what she had done? For in three days, the spell upon him would have been over. He sent her away from him, saying that they would not meet again until she wore through three pairs of iron sandals and blunted a staff made of steel. With that, he disappeared.
Distressed, she went out into the next town to purchase three pairs of iron sandals and a steel staff. She traveled a long ways before reaching a house. She knocked on the door to find that the Moon lived there. The mother of the Moon let her in and seeing she was with child, let her stay to give birth. After the child was delivered, the mother asked how a mortal was able to travel to her home. The Princess wasn’t sure, but was grateful that she was able to. She asked the mother if she knew where her husband was, but she didn’t. She told her to travel East towards where the Sun lived, as he may know.
She gave the Princess a chicken to eat and instructed her to keep the bones as they would come to use. The Princess changed her sandals after wearing out one pair, and left to head East. She traveled far before reaching the next dwelling. She knocked and the mother of the Sun let her in. She hid the Princess and her child in the cellar so the Sun wouldn’t see that a human was in his dwelling, as he had a bad temper when he came at home at night after seeing the evil of man each day.
The mother asked the Sun if he knew the whereabouts of her husband, but he didn’t know. She gave the Princess a chicken to eat, and instructed her to keep the bones and instructed her to seek out the Wind. She changed her worn out sandals and then left.
When she reached where the Wind lived, the mother of the Wind took pity on her and let her in. She too, hid her away so the Wind wouldn’t see her. The Wind told the mother that the Princess’ husband was living in a dense forest. The mother gave her another chicken to eat, and told her to save the bones and travel by the Milky Way. She changed into her last sandals and left.
When she reached where her husband resided, her sandals and staff were worn out. She struggled forward out of weariness for the sake of her child. She came across the house that the mother of the Wind described, but noticed it didn’t have windows or a door near the ground. She took the chicken bones she had saved and made a ladder out of it. Not having enough for the last rung, she cut off her little finger and placed it on the ladder as the second rung. Entering the house, she ate and laid the baby down for sleep.
When the Pig returned, he was afraid seeing the ladder because strange magic was afoot. He changed himself into a dove as he knew no witchcraft could touch him. When he went inside, he found his wife and child. Seeing how much she had suffered, he suddenly changed into a man. The handsome man told his wife that he was a King’s son, who had slayed some dragons. The dragon’s mother, a witch, cast a spell on him to change him into a Pig. The old woman who had told her to tie the string around his left foot was the witch in disguise. Knowing how much they had each suffered, they forgot the past and loved one another from that point forward.
The couple traveled to see her father the King. Elated that she had returned, he put her and her husband on the throne in his place.
What a strange little tale. It’s hard to say how much of this tale was changed during translation from the original version written in Romanian (titled Porcul cel fermecat). While there were definitely some great traits, a majority of this tale is bizarre and rather upsetting.
The youngest of three princesses discovers that her fate has set her to wed a pig. Distraught by her fate, she is instructed by her father to do as her husband says, and hopefully, heaven would release her from her misfortune. After some time, however, she grew to love her husband. Noticing that he turned into a man at night, she realized that some strange enchantment had befallen him. Eager to help him out, she seeks out the help of a witch, who ends up giving her bad advice and sending her on a long, tiresome journey to find and free her husband.
While I appreciated the resilience of the main character, the overall moral of the story is unclear. Again, perhaps this is due to the fact that this tale was changed during translation. My guess is something along the lines of loving someone for who they are and where they are at can have great rewards? While there are some weird, little tidbits throughout, (like the part where she cut off her own finger to complete a ladder) I appreciated the broad world this was sent in.
Another part I don’t understand is how did her older sisters get away with their disobedience? They were rewarded with their disobedience by being married off to princes from different provinces…and that’s the last we hear of them. The tale felt a bit incomplete to me but was an interesting read overall.
My Rating: ★★★