Friday, 7 January 2011

Friday is for Fairytales: The Iron Ring

This is a meme hosted by me every Friday.

My post today is about: The Iron Ring

The Iron Ring is a famous Slovene fairy-tale. Slovenia is where I’m from, so I should focus on some of our own fairy-tales as well.

The Iron Ring tells the story of a poor woman’s son who decided to make his and his mother’s life easier by starting to work and earn money. When he earned three gold coins, he went to find his luck elsewhere in the world. In one village, he felt sorry for a dog being stoned by children. The children gave him the dog for one gold coin and the dog offered the boy help if he ever needed it. In the next village, someone wanted to drown a cat and he saved it by paying one gold coin for the animal. The cat, just like the dog, offered him help. The boy, the dog and the cat travelled together. They noticed a shepherd killing a snake by the road and the boy saved the snake’s life by giving the shepherd his last gold coin. In gratitude, the snake promised to give him an iron ring that had the power to make any wish come true.

The iron ring was in the castle of the king of all snakes. The king of all snakes was angry, but as the boy saved one of its kind, the king of snakes gave him the iron ring. With the power of the iron ring, the boy could feed all the animals, as well as himself, and then, he returned to his home village. During the night, the boy changed his mother’s poor cottage into a palace. He lived happily with his mother in the palace and they had everything they needed.

When the boy became a man, he decided to marry. He went to choose his bride at the palace of the king of his country. The king had heard of the young man’s good fortune, so he was willing to give him his own daughter in marriage, but on one condition: the young man must put the highest spruce into the king’s garden that ever grew in any forest. The young man completed the task with the help of his iron ring. The king gave him two more tasks: to build a glass palace next to the king’s palace and to build a wide road from the king’s palace to the young man’s home. The young man completed both tasks with the help of his iron ring.

The young man married the king’s daughter and brought her to his own palace. But his wife loved a prince from another kingdom, so she wanted to get rid of her husband. She learned about the iron ring and its powers. She stole the ring at night and ran away. In the morning, the young man woke up in his mother’s old cottage instead of the palace.

The cat and the dog convinced him to go and search for the stolen ring. They travelled through villages and cities, through a desert and finally arrived at a sea. The young man waited on the shore, while the two animals swam across the sea and arrived at an island with a beautiful castle. They found the ring in the castle, but when they swam back to the prince, they dropped the ring and lost it in the sea. Before they reached the shore, the dog caught a goldfish and she brought them the iron ring to save her life.

Finally, the young man and his two animals returned home. There, the young man made a wish to the iron ring: the prince and the princess would live in the cottage that used to belong to him and his mother, whereas he would live his mother on the other side of the sea, in that beautiful palace. This came true and the prince lived happily with his mother and loyal animals.

Believe it or not, this fairy-tale contains Christian symbolism. The snake who gives the young man the iron ring is a parallel to the snake/the devil seducing Eve in the Garden of Eden by giving her an apple from the forbidden tree. In this fairy-tale, the ring is the apple and the young man is in the role of Eve.

Even though the ring gives him everything he wants, it cannot give him love. In the end, the young man remains wifeless, but is in possession of the ring. He seems to be quite happy, which means that money has won over love. The princess, however, followed true love and was punished for it. We may still assume that, behind the scenes, the princess remained happy in the poor cottage because she lived with her true love.

The fairy-tale is actually a critique of wealth. The moral is that we all see happiness differently, but we should not settle for superficiality. The young man had everything material that he desired, but not love. He was so blinded by wealth that he did not even need love. Yet in the end, such a person becomes empty and eventually, perhaps even unhappy.

As for the animals, I did not find an official interpretation, but my own interpretation is that they represent bad friends. They are loyal to the young man and remain by his side, which is a good thing, but they tell him what he wants to hear, whereas good friends will tell you what you need to hear. They distract the young man and only care about the iron ring. It seems that the animals, as well as the prince, are not angry with the princess because she left, but because she left with the iron ring. The animals, as well as the prince, might also present the strife for wealth. The prince is a good young man. He saved the animals and parted with his money to do so. But once he came to possess the iron ring, he became "corrupt", in the sense that the ring blinded him entirely. It reminds me of the Lord of the Rings, despite the fact that the fairy-tale is older than Tolkien's masterpiece and that Tolkien never read it.

It seems that in literature - even in fairy-tales - rings have great powers and one of them is the power to corrupt human hearts.


Blodeuedd said...

Not sure if I like this story, sure he saved animals, I like that. But then he made that poor princess marry him even though he loved another.

Enbrethiliel said...


This is the first time I've read this one and I kind of like it. =P I suspect the allegorical aspect is what draws me. The animals seem to represent something very meaningful, and the young man definitely earns their life-long loyalty. The princess also represents something, as does her betrayal. I'd like to find a psychological reading of this.

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

Sorry, I forgot to add the interpretation! I corrected my mistake.

@Blodeuedd: It's a bit unfair, is it? But fairy-tales can be weird.:) This one is all about the moral.

@JMJ: It is very allegorical, you're right. I forgot to add the interpretation, but now I did and I wonder if you had the same thing in mind. Maybe the image of the forbidden apple tree from the garden of eden is etched into my brain, but it's the first thing that came to my mind when I read this fairy-tale.

The Insouciant Sophisticate said...

Very interesting-I've never heard of this tale. I'm sad the man and the princess couldn't fall in love as that's the conclusion for my favorite fairy tales but because they didn't, it makes the story a lot deeper and richer.

Unknown said...

I linked mine up and then I had to go and have dinner so now I am back to comment on your post.

Really interesting to read a fairy-tale from Slovene culture. It makes me wonder which fairy-tales are British (if indeed any originated here).

I loved your interpretation. I honestly can't think so deeply about the layers of fairy-tales. I think it is because for me they are such a joy of childhood and I don't want to dissect that. But I enjoyed realising how the Christian theology has been transformed in the story.

Great post.

Jan von Harz said...

Thanks for relating a tale that is new to me. I would have to agree with your interpretations too. Very interesting

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks for the interpretation, Irena!

I think the dog and the cat are okay and would be more obviously good friends, if it hadn't been for the snake. Aren't there other fairy tales with loyal, helpful pets? Puss in Boots comes to mind now . . . as does Billy Beg and His Bull. Oh, and The Goose Girl! I should do another Top 5, aye? ;-) Unfortunately, a snake really is folktale shorthand for bad, bad news.

I like your interpretation of the ring and the connection to The Lord of the Rings. But I'd say that it represents power more than money (if only because it is made of iron rather than gold): it was the power which went to his head and made him think he was entitled to everything.

Jo K said...

Great post. I'd never thought of connecting it to vhridtsin origins, but you interpreted it perfectly.

I like you connection to the LOTR. I think rings, usually made from expensive metals, represent wealth and power and it's a wish for power, or let's say domination over other people, which corrupt people. So, basically rings represent the corruptive effect of people's wish for power.

Jo K said...

Oh, I've just noticed my awful writing, I'm so sorry for my typos - I ment Christian origins, of course.

Kati said...

Hello Irena, I teach Slovenska Ĺ ola in Cleveland, Ohio and my students just LOVE to learn about all of the Slovenian fairy tales but it is hard for me to find the stories outside of Slovenija so we are limited to the stories my Staramama told me when I was little and a few that I have picked up over the years. Could you help me find some new ones? What are the stories you are familiar with?