Henwife and Kate

Episode 35: Kate Crackernuts

35: Kate Crackernuts
byTales of Britain and Ireland.

This episode we have a delightful Fairy Tale. With fairies, castles, witches, princesses and princes, step mothers and ugly step sisters (alignments to be revealed), lots of things done in threes, and body horror that’s positively Cronenbergesque. Musical credits, sources and more at: https://talesofbritainandireland.com/episode-35-kate-crackernuts/ #myth #mythology #folklore #legends #fairytales

“Open, open, green hill!”

This fairy should not have wings. I’m sorry

This episode we have a delightful fairy tale.

With fairies, castles, a witch, princesses and princes, step mothers and ugly step sisters (alignments to be revealed), lots of things done in threes, and body horror that’s positively Cronenbergesque.

Also taking the crown as longest episode yet, quite against all the podcast SEO advice I’ve received.

There are diversions into even more odd and unnecessary directions than usual. So I hope you like that kind of thing. If you’re listening to the podcast I assume you do?

“[The Tale] is very corrupt, both girls being called Kate”

— Joseph Jacobs in the poorly named “English Fairy Tales”
Fairies dancing – this may be relevant
Story in summary (Warning – contains spoilers!)

The stories in brief, without the detail or discussion – not a transcript.

If you’ve already listened and just want a refresh, only want the bare bones of the story, or really don’t care about spoilers then please do click below to read on…

Kate Crackernuts

Spoilerific image

(You know for an 130 odd year old tale).

This is from “The Scottish Fairy Book” and I really like it. The horrified look on that head!

Tales with similar components

Dancing princesses

In the discussion section I mention a few stories which have similar aspects to them as Kate Crackernuts while being very much different overall stories. This is far from an exhaustive list but here are the stories mentioned:

The Twelve Dancing Princesses or “The Shoes that were danced to Pieces

This is really a whole tale type – the folktale classification system ATU has it as type 306. The tales are quite different in details (e.g. number of dancers) but they all share with Kate Crackernuts the motif of dancing the night away, and an outsider discovering this.

I said in the podcast that it isn’t supernatural in these tales- and I definitely overstated the case here. There’s certainly magic in most versions of the tale, even if the princesses’ dancing isn’t caused by anything supernatural, but in some versions there are even dragons and magic carpets, so I retract that. Even so, usually this differs from Kate Crackernuts by having the princesses willing participants, while the Prince is very much not.

The Girl and the Dead Man /An Nthginn Agus An Duine Marbh. Related by Ann Daroch from Islay in 1859 and told to her by Margaret Conal.

The common features are: the pecks of gold and silver, a task of having to watch over a man at night (in this case a dead one), and cracking of nuts, though this latter is part of a series of small fidgety tasks rather than a central focus.

It also contains a similar motif of three daughters and bannock baking that crops up in the episode The black bull of Norroway

Tatterhood – A Norwegian tale collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe, with the translation here published first in 1888. In this the prettier sister of the eponymous character has her head replaced with a calf’s head and Tatterhood is the one who has to get it back for her.

Tatterhood is classified as ATU tale type 711 – “The Beautiful and the Ugly Twin“, and there are other similar stories. It shares some characteristics with Kate Crackernuts – sometimes involving an animal transformation and always a situation where an ugly sister helps a beautiful one.

But this tale type really leans into the ugliness of the sister whereas in the original Kate Crackernuts and even in my telling where I explictly call her an ugly step-sister which the original doesn’t, the Ugliness is really just comparative and quite likely only in the Queen’s mind.

I find it interesting that there is a whole tale type that subverts our narrative about ugly sisters, though it is a damn shame she has to become magically beautiful at the end of these stories, and I prefer Kate Crackernuts for not including that.

Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach’s “The Fairy Dance” – gives me Kate Crackernut vibes

Two modern versions of the tale

As mentioned in the episode there is a full length Czech film version of the story on youtube (without subtitles). Kate Crackernuts name is changed to Anička and there are other differences (as far as I can tell!) but many similarities. I actually really like the look of the sheep’s head given what I assume to be the budget.

You can Czech it out (groan) below:

Come on mainstream film companies- give us another version

Secondly I also discovered a queer version of the tale, told in verse. I am all for both of those things.

You can find it here: Corvidqueen – Kate Crackernuts

Impressions of the Hen-wife

A couple of paintings that made me think of the hen-wife. The bottom work, “A visit to the Witch” by Edward Frederick Brewtnall, is clearly not the same character but it has very similar vibes to the story

The Myrmecoleon

Nothing really to do with Kate Crackernuts but if you’ve listened to the episode I know your interest has been piqued by my mention of a myrmecoleon. This is, I will remind you – the surprising offspring of an ant and a lion.

If you want more detail including an artist’s impression (clearly copyrighted or I’d include that masterful work here), then you can find it more at this illuminating article on the subject :Ant lion pit – Myrmecoleon

Selected Sources

Musical credits for Episode 35: Kate Crackernuts

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