The Test

A new installment in my occasional and hopefully ongoing series of active heroines: lesser-known fairy tales featuring women who do more than wait around to get rescued. This one is from Lafcadio Hearn, and was told to him by his gardener Kinjuro. I give it here, verbatim. The story features the “marriage test” motif, where a hero must pass a test in order to win the fair maiden. In most cases, the fair maiden’s father imposes the test. In some cases — like this one — the fair maiden herself sets the conditions.

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A long time ago, in the days when Fox-women and goblins haunted this land, there came to the capital with her parents a samurai girl, so beautiful that all men who saw her fell enamoured of her. And hundreds of young samurai desired and hoped to marry her, and made their desire known to her parents. For it has ever been the custom in Japan that marriages should be arranged by parents. But there are exceptions to all customs, and the case of this maiden was such an exception. Her parents declared that they intended to allow their daughter to choose her own husband, and that all who wished to win her would be free to woo her.

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Imani’s Venture: A Punjabi Folktale

This is the first section of a story called “Kupti and Imani” from Andrew Lang’s Olive Fairy Book (1907). The story was collected in the Punjab by a “Major Campbell,” probably in Firozpur. There’s more to it than what I’ve retold, but the first half is the part I like best. I like to find fairy tales where the heroine is an active protagonist, and not just someone waiting to be rescued by a handsome prince.

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Once upon a time there lived a king with two beloved daughters, Kupti and Imani, whom he loved very much. He spent many hours of the day talking to them. One day he asked his older daughter Kupti:

“Are you content to leave your life and fortune in my hands?”

“Of course,” said Kupti. “Who else would I leave them to?”

But when he asked his younger daughter, Imani, she said:

“Oh no! I’d rather go out and make my own fortune!”

The king was a bit displeased to hear this, but he said, “Well, if that is what you want, that’s what you’ll get.”

And so he sent for the poorest man in his kingdom, a lame, elderly fakir, and he said,

“As you are so old, and can’t move around much, you could do with someone to help take care of you. My youngest daughter wants to earn her living, so she can do that with you.”

Personally, if I had been the fakir, I’d be a bit worried about this setup. But never fear — all goes well. You can read the story at my post on the Dholrhythms Dance Company blog at my other blog, Ephemera.

In the second half of the story, Imani even rescues a handsome king! But since the antagonist in that section is Kupti (Imani’s sister), I can’t quite love it as much.  If you want to read the whole story anyway, you can find it here.

Enjoy,