|Yeh-Shen, the Chinese Cinderella,
also befriends a fish in the well.
Illustration by Young, E.
Once upon a time, in Portugal, "there was a widower who had three daughters. The two elder girls spent their time thinking of nothing but clothes and finery, and of entertaining themselves. All day long, they sat at the window, doing nothing. They left the youngest to take care of the house, and cook, and do all the work. Her sisters laughed, and called her Hearth Cat." One day the man went fishing, and caught a beautiful little yellow fish. When he brought it home, Hearth Cat was so taken by it that she pleaded with her father to let her keep it for a pet. He finally agreed, and she put it in a kettle of cold water. But that night, the fish cried out to be set free. His cries were so piteous that Hearth Cat granted his request, and tiptoed out to put the yellow fish in the well. The next morning she went out to visit it, and as she leaned over the well she heard a voice telling her to jump in! Of course she did not do this. The next day, and the next, and the next, however, the voice called to her, imploring her to come in. So she did, and tumbled "all the way to the bottom, where the fish appeared, swam around her in a circle, and led her to a palace made of gold and precious stones." The fish directed her into a room, telling her that she would find all kinds of fancy clothing in it, and that she should pick herself out an outfit, with shoes. It told her that her sisters were attending a festival, dressed in finery, and that she must go as well. The fish warned her that she must leave the celebration before her sisters did, and that it was very important to toss the clothes into the well as soon as she got home. If she followed these instructions, it said, then a time would very soon come "when you will be as happy as you are now unhappy." Arriving at the palace, Hearth Cat felt all eyes on her, and heard murmurs of wonder at the appearance of so beautiful a stranger. She kept an eye on her sisters, and as soon as they made ready to depart, ran ahead of them out the door. Soon she was home — but missing one of the fish's golden slippers. The fish did not scold her for this loss, but told her to come back the next day, alone, so that he could ask her an important question. She agreed to this. Unbeknownst to Hearth Cat, the king had found her shoe! He sent his heralds out with the announcement that he sought its owner, and would marry the woman who could wear it. The older sisters were a-flutter over this news, and drove Hearth Cat to distraction with their endless talk of it. They were unkind enough to laugh when she said that she'd like to try the shoe, and told her that, if she was lucky, it would fit one of them instead. Then, they might, they just might, buy her a dress to replace her rags. With that, they set off for the palace. Now alone, their little sister went out to the well to speak with the fish. Though his yellow scales glittered in the sunshine, Hearth Cat was shocked at his request. "Maiden, will you marry me?" asked the fish. "How can I possibly marry a fish?" cried Hearth Cat. The fish led her to see that she must first consent and only then would she see how it might be done. At length, she agreed. Immediately, "the fish was transformed into a handsome young man. 'Now you must know that I am a prince who was under an enchantment. ' he told her. 'I am the son of the king of this land. I know that my father has ordered all the young women of the kingdom to come to the palace and try on the golden slipper that you dropped as you left the festival. Go there, and when the king tells you that you must marry him, tell him that you are already promised to the prince, his son, whom you have released from his enchantment." So Hearth Cat set off for the palace. On the way, she crossed paths with her sisters. They were in a foul temper: the little slipper had been too small for both. They mocked her now, saying,"You should be ashamed of yourself, Hearth Cat. Go and show your dainty kitchen-maid's foot if you want. Everyone will laugh at you." But she went on anyway. The king's guards, seeing a dirty, ragged girl heading toward the gates, held her back. But the king saw her and motioned to them to let her advance. When she reached the front of the line, she slipped her foot into the slipper as easily as a fish slides into the water. He was overjoyed, and proposed that she become his queen. But "very respectfully, she told him that it could not be, for she was already promised to his majesty's son the prince, who had been spellbound long ago." So the king sent a party to the well at Hearth Cat's home, and brought the prince back home. He and the girl in the golden slipper were married, and there was jubilation in the kingdom. As for Hearth Cat's sisters, "they remained at home, filled with jealousy and bitterness."
From The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series, p. 61
Cinderella (The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series) Notes: This is a nice twist on the animal helper, as the fish actually becomes the prince. It is interesting to see the fish motif, so common in Asia, here in a Portuguese story.
Montessori Connection: Language/Vocabulary: spells, spellbound, chanting, enchantment.
1. Read the story and see if you can figure out what the words spellbound and enchantment mean.
2. Learn that the word spell has several meanings. One of them is using letters to write words, and many children have tests on this at school, called spelling tests. Another meaning of the word spell is a period of time, as when someone invites you to "Sit a spell with me, and chat." The kind of spell found in fairy tales is a magic spell. Usually this is a short rhyme which a witch says out loud, causing the person affected to transform into an animal, or something else.
3. Learn that the word chant means to speak or sing words in a pattern, kind of like a song.
4. Learn that when witches, wizards, and fairies chant, they are often casting spells, or enchanting someone!
5. Learn more about magic:The Book of English Magic, for ages 10+; Magic Tree House Boxed Set, Books 1-4: Dinosaurs Before Dark, The Knight at Dawn, Mummies in the Morning, and Pirates Past Noon; Magic by the Lake and Tales of Magic Boxed Set (Edward Eager Tales of Magic).