‘The girl and her calf’, told by Gusztáv Szendrei, is a widely disseminated fairy tale with a supernatural, helping animal; the basic type is known in English as ‘Little Red Ox’ (in German Der kleine rote Ochse) or ‘One-eye, Two-eyes, Three-eyes’ (Einäuglein, Zweiäuglein, Dreiäuglein) (AaTh/ATU 511).
Whereas the theme of the ‘bad stepmother’ focuses on everyday problems of living together, motifs such as the three-stage battle against more and more dangerous opponents or the riddle that has to be solved by the suitor are characteristic elements of magic tales. The transformation of a slain hero into a tree as a magic resurrection and the deliverance of the hero imprisoned in the shape of an animal (calf) through the loyalty of the girl appears frequently in many variations – in this case, with retardation, for the girl has her suitor thrown to the pigs because she finds him repulsive. Nevertheless, the hero is saved, the girl has passed the test.
The girl being fed in the ear of the calf is a motif also known from fairy tales of the Central Asian region.
The numerical components are another part of the basic structure of the magic. The hero (animal) is defeated in three steps, the assault becoming more dangerous each time – also shown by the different battle grounds: first a bridge of copper, then of silver and finally the mortal fight on the golden bridge. The last, unconquerable opponent is the smallest animal – a rabbit. A new humorous motif is introduced by the author: the animal soils the house with its faeces and the girl utters a curse, which livens up the action. A strong (vulgar) choice of words can be found especially in the oral tradition of groups of speakers from South-eastern Europe, whereby it has a different significance than in Central Europe. Swearing and strong language in oral literature are part of the community’s communicative strategies in storytelling, without the stigma of moral reprehensibility and without the connotation of hostile aggression. Fairy tales are not only told to children but are also part of the general storytelling tradition, so vulgar expressions may be used, too. This permissiveness in language use may also be understood as compensation for the strict rules marked social life within a group.
References and further reading
Aarne, Antti, Thompson, Stith. 1961. The Types of the Folktale. A Classification and Bibliography (= FF Communications LXXV), Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.
Mode, Heinz; Hübschmannová, Milena (ed.). 1983–1985. Zigeunermärchen aus aller Welt. 4 Bände, Leipzig: Insel-Verlag.
Cech, Petra; Fennesz-Juhasz, Christiane; Halwachs, Dieter; Heinschink, Mozes F. (ed.). 2001. Fern von uns im Traum, Märchen, Erzählungen und Lieder der Lovara / Te na dikhas sunende, Lovarenge paramiči, tertenetura taj gjila. Klagenfurt: Drava Verlag (Transkript und deutsche Übersetzung / transcript and German translation / transkripto taj njamcicka translacija: 118–135).
Uther, Hans-Jörg. 2004. The Types of International Folktales. A Classification and Bibliography (= FF Communications 85–87), 3 Bände. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia / Academia Scientiarum Fenica.