Friday, 27 May 2011

Friday is for Fairy-Tales: The Witch of Lok Island

This is a meme hosted by me every Friday.



My post today is about: The Witch of Lok Island (Breton fairy-tale)

The previous Friday, you enjoyed Lady Yolanda's Thimble, a Breton fairy-tale, so I decided to share another Breton story with you. It's a bit long; I tried to shorten and summarise it as best as I could. I really loved reading this story, so I wanted to keep as many of its elements as possible. Enjoy!

*****

In Lannilis in Brittany, there lived a youth called Houarn Pogam and a maiden whose name was Bella Postik. They had grown up together and loved each other with all their hearts. When their parents had died, leaving them nothing, they became servants in the same house.

But they were not happy. They complained every day until Houarn became impatient. One morning he went to the threshing-floor where Bella was winnowing grain and told her he was going to set out to seek his fortune. Bella was very sad on hearing the news and tried to persuade him not to go. But he would not listen. She led Houarn to her linen press and from it took a little bell, a knife, and a stick. The sound of this bell could warn thier friends of any danger they may be in. Whatever this knife touched would escape from the spell of a magician or of a witch. The staff would guide the bearer to wherever he may wish to go. She kept the staff, so that she could reach him if he needed her. Houarn thanked his sweetheart. They shed a few tears togetherand he started off toward the mountains. Then he decided to turn south and after several days reached the town of Pont-Aven.

One morning he was sitting at the door of the inn and saw two salt dealers pass, leading their mules. Houarn overheard their words, and discovered that they were talking about the witch of Lok Island. Houarn asked what they meant, and they answered that the witch of Lok Island was a fairy who lived in a lake in the biggest of the Glénan Islands. They told Houarn that this witch was richer than all the wealth of the kings of the world. Many youngsters had gone to the island to find her treasure, but not one of them had ever returned.

Houarn went down to the seashore and hailed a ferryman who took him over to Lok Island. He soon found the pool in the middle of the island. It was surrounded with sea-drift covered with pale pink blossoms. Houarn noticed at the far end of the lake in the shade of a clump of flowering broom a sea-green boat floating on the still water. The boat looked like a sleeping swan with its head under its wing.

As Houarn had never seen anything like this he drew near out of curiosity. Then he stepped into the boat to examine it more closely. Hardly had he put his foot in it than the swan awoke. Its head came out from under its feathers, its web feet spread out in the water, and suddenly it left the shore. Then the bird put its bill in the water and plunged, carrying Houarn into the depths. In a moment they had reached the witch's home, a grand underwater palace.

Houarn stood in the doorway of the palace, and there in the first room he saw the witch lying on a golden bed. Houarn drew back at the sight of so delightful a being. But the fairy rose up smiling and went toward him. The witch promised to grant him his wish of having a cow and a pig. Then she treated him with eight kinds of wine in eight goblets of chased gold. Houarn began by drinking the eight kinds of wine and, as he found them very nice, he drank eight times of each, and always he imagined the witch was more and still more beautiful.

The witch offered to become his wife. The young man was quite breathless at what he heard. Houarn told the fairy very politely that he could not refuseher offer, and that he was overcome with joy at the prospect of becoming her husband. The witch then said she would prepare the feast for the betrothal at once.

While the witch was cooking, Houarn began to hear strange voices and as he was beginning to be frightened, as well as feeling remorse for forgetting Bella so easily because of the witch.

Houarn sat down and taking from his pocket the knife Bella had given him, he sighed. Then he tried to eat. But hardly had the spell-destroying knife touched the golden dish than all the fishes stood up and became little men. They told him the witch put a spell on them after marrying them, turning them into fish and trying to feed them to other victims. Houarn tried to escape, but the witch turned him into a frog and threw him into the fish pond with her other enchanted husbands.

At that very moment the little bell that Houarn wore sang and Bella heard it at home. Immediately, she went to find him with her magic staff. The staff changed at once into a steed. Bella mounted and off they started. Near the island of Lok, she met a bird who was once a dwarf and he told her all about the witch and how to save everyone. She would have to introduce herself as a young lad. Then she would have to to snatch the steel net the witch carried in her belt, shut her in it and the witch would remain there till the judgment day.

The dwarf pulled out four of his red hairs, blew upon them and muttered beneath his breath. Instantly the four hairs became four tailors. The first tailor held a cabbage in his hand, the second a pair of scissors, the third a needle, and the fourth a flatiron. They sat themselves around the nest with their legs crossed and began to make a young lad's suit for Bella. With the first cabbage leaf they made a fine laced coat. Another leaf soon became the waistcoat, and it took two leaves to make the baggy knickerbockers. Finally a hat was cut out of the heart of the cabbage and the stalk was used to make the shoes. When Bella had put on these clothes she looked like a young nobleman.

Bella quickly mounted her horse that grew wings and in one flight he transported her to Lok Island. Safely there she ordered him to become again the staff of apple wood. Then getting into the swan boat she plunged downward to the witch's palace just as Houarn had done. At the sight of the velvet-clad youth the witch was delighted. They went to a table beautifully set with all manner of good things. And there before her Bella saw the magic knife that she had given Houarn and that he had left behind. Bella quickly took the knife and hid it in her pocket. Then, after having partaken of the good things, she followed the witch into the garden. The enchantress showed her the lawns set with diamonds, the fountains with their lavender-scented sprays, and last of all the fish pond where thousands of many-colored fish were swimming. Bella appeared delighted and gazed with rapture upon the gaily colored scales and tails. The witch seeing her so pleased at once asked her if she would not be glad to live always in the palace. Bella consented, but asked the witch to allow her to catch one of the beautiful fishes. The witch who suspected nothing thought the request a mere whim of boyish fancy, gave Bella the net.

Bella quickly threw the net over the witch. The witch uttered one terrifying shriek that ended in a moan, for the beautiful water pixie had become the hideous Queen of the Toadstools. Bella hastily rolled up the net and threw it into the well, over which she put a stone sealed with the sign of the cross. And this could not be lifted until the judgment Day. Then she ran back to the fish pond, but the fish had already left it and were moving toward her. Just as she was about to touch the first fish with the knife, she noticed at her feet a large green frog. It was on its knees sobbing bitterly with its forepaws crossed upon its breast, and on a cord around its neck there hung the magic bell. She recognised her beloved.

Then Bella touched him with the knife, and immediately Houarn stood before her in his own true form. They kissed each other, laughing and crying alternately. Bella then touched each of the fish in turn with the magic knife and all of them became what they had been before the witch had changed them. As Bella was touching the last fish, the dwarf who had helped her came. He was sitting in his nest which now looked like a chariot while six black beetles were pulling it. These had just been hatched out of the stone eggs he was required to lay. His spell was broken. He jumped out of his chariot, and led Bella and Houarn to the witch's treasure chest. When they opened it they found that it was full of precious stones.

Both Bella and Houarn filled their pockets, their hats, their belts, and even their wide knickerbockers. When they had as many gems as they could carry, Bella ordered her staff of apple wood to become a coach large enough to hold all the people she had set free. And thus they went to Lannilis. At last their banns were published, and Houarn and Bella were married. But instead of buying a little cow and a lean pig they bought all the fields in the parish and settled down as farmers. And all the people they had brought from Lok Island settled down there, too.

*****

I love how the story is clearly defined. It is clear the setting is a town in Brittany and the magical elements seem really natural, a part of that French Celtic world. Bella is a great heroine, brave, and sort of grounded. Houarn is a flawed hero, which makes him very human and natural, I think. He realises his mistake soon and wants to make what is wrong right, which is definitely to his credit. The fairy-tale elements are really enjoyable. I find Breton fairy-tales very appealing and much to my liking.

What do you think?

*****

2 comments:

Bookworm1858 said...

Good job summarizing-although I'm sure you had to leave out some bits, the story still came across and it sounds really good. I like that the characters are neither super selfish/vain or impossibly innocently perfect; they just seem normal.

Becky said...

I love this tale. As you say, the hero is flawed and that makes for a much more believable story. I also like that it is Bella who has to rescue him. It is a nice change to see an empowered female character.