Tuesday, March 17, 2015

An Irish Fairy Tale for St. Patrick's Day: "Jamie Freel & the Young Lady"

Jamie Freel & the Young Lady by Kentaro Kawashima
Happy St. Patrick's Day!

The Irish have so many fun stories and one of the unusual thing about their fairy tales is that they often have actual fairies (or faeries) or Fae in them too.

Another trait I love in Irish stories is of common people using their wits: farm girls become queens (and show their royal husbands how lucky they are) and ordinary boys trick faeries into giving up their secrets...

One of my favorites, which has a mix of other fairy tales I love too, is Jamie Freel & the Young Lady...

(Note: All illustrations shown through the tale are by Nilesh Mistry from The Illustrated Book of Fairy Tales Retold by Neil Philip. Also, I'm typing this up at midnight, which, although is a good time to tell fairy stories, is a little less kind to the quality of typing and writing...)

It begins on Halloween where each year in an abandoned castle lights are seen dancing about and music of "the Wee Folk" is heard - something most people try to avoid as it rarely turns out well if one invites themselves to a faeries party.

But Jamie Freel, a poor widow's son, one Halloween decided tonight was the night he was going to go seek his fortune there. His mother wasn't too happy about it but Jamie was brave and determined and approached the castle in the moonlight.

When he finally got the courage to peer in, all the Wee Folk were wee indeed, with not one of them over the size of a child of five. Before long he was spotted and hailed with welcomes: "Jamie Freel, Jamie Freel! Welcome, welcome! We go tonight to Dublin to steal a young lady - will you ride with us?" Swallowing his nerves, Jamie boldly replied, "Yes, I will," and was mounted on a fairy horse that rode with great strides through and through the air.

His hosts whooped and swooped about him on their flying steeds, and they rode and rode over thatched roofs and hills, over dales and towns until the shining, shimmering Fae hoard stopped by a fine window of a fine house, where, there, a beautiful girl lay.

Jamie's eyes grew wide, then wider still as Folk swept into the room and stole her right from her bed. In her place they left a stick, which at once took her shape yet remained still, still as death, while the party galloped home through the air with their fair prize.

Tossed was she from rider to rider as they galloped and galloped until Jamie, once again seeing his mother's roof below, gathered his courage and boldly cried, "Do I not get a turn?" Laughing they gave her to him, but at once he leapt from his faery horse, and did his best to flee, girl in his arms, to the safety of his own threshold.

Before he could reach it, the Faeries, no longer laughing but yelling in a rage, turned the poor girl into a black dog, snarling and snapping, into a bar of hot iron, glowing and burning, into a sack of wool, loose and tangled, but Jamie held on and wouldn't let go. Finally, the smallest of the Folk cried, "Let him have her - I will make her no good. I will make her deaf and I will make her dumb!" and she threw some dust at the girl before the host rushed away into the darkness of the rest of the night.

Jamie, tired, took the girl inside but there was nought they could do but watch her cry. She could not hear and she could not speak and now there was one more mouth to feed...

A year passed and Jamie determined he'd pay another visit to the Fae to see what he might do. Just as he was about to enter the castle hall he heard the familiar voice of the smallest Fae say"If only Jamie Freel knew, three drops of my cup would unstop her ears and loosen her tongue!" Thinking fast, Jamie entered and, as before, was bid, "welcome, welcome!" when quick as a blink, he snatched the fairy glass and fled. By the time he reached home, only three drops left, but it was enough. He gave them to the girl and she was restored.

You might guess what happened next. The girl took Jamie to meet her mother and father, who, once they got over the shock of having buried a stick instead of a daughter, gave the young couple their blessing and brought Jamie and his mother into their fine home, where they all celebrated a very fine wedding.

And, I would like to think, that Jamie Freel never visited that castle again...

This story has much in common with Tam Lin, including  Halloween, the amount of time passing, and the rescuer having to hold on despite their intended changing from difficult form to difficult form. It also reminds me of Hans Andersen's The Tinder Box in which a sleeping girl is carried off by magical animals in the middle of the night. The changeling aspect is very fairy-like although this changeling is put in place of a grown girl and has no life except to replicate her form completely. As in Tam Lin, again, messing with the Fair Folk is akin to risking a curse of serious illness, possibly death, so all Jamie does is not done lightly. Irish people have traditionally been so seriously superstitious about this aspect of the Fae that it was considered unlucky to even tell stories about fairies during the daytime...

And there I will leave you.

Why don't you pop a saucer of milk outside the door, just in case, and may the luck of the Irish be there with you!

Note: My version is told between memory, a storybook and a glance or three at this text HERE. I have tried to condense my telling and even so a little Irish seems to ha' crept in, as it is wont to do...
My apologies for the low quality images. I couldn't find any from this story in this book online and my scanner isn't working at the moment so pictures it is - but I do love these illustrations by Nilesh Mistry - wonderful story-flowing images..

1 comment:

  1. I've never heard of this one. Your post makes me want to read a book that I bought many years ago. It's a book of Scottish fairy tales. Fairies have been on my brain lately anyway. I just started building fairy houses and a fairy tree. It's been a blast!