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Literature / Kate Crackernuts

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"Kate Crackernuts" is an English Fairy Tale collected by Joseph Jacobs in English Fairy Tales. It's a Gender Flip of The Twelve Dancing Princesses.

Kate's mother, who is a queen, marries Anne's father, who is a king. Anne is prettier than Kate, so the queen consults with a henwife, who after two tries manages to replace Anne's head with a sheep's one.

Kate discovers this, wraps Anne's head with a linen cloth, and takes her by the hand to lead her as they go out to find their fortune.

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When they asked for lodging, they found a king's castle, where there were two princes, one of whom was sick, and anyone who stayed the night with him vanished. Kate took the job.

The next night, the prince got up in the darkness and rode off. Kate jumped on the horse as well, and when he announced who he was, she added herself. She found that it was The Fair Folk, who made him dance even when he was collapsing with exhaustion. The next two nights, she discovered a way to disenchant Anne, and then the prince. She married the prince, and meanwhile his brother had fallen in love with Anne at first sight, so they married too.

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Tropes included

  • Beauty to Beast: Anne is described as the prettier of the two princesses. Envious that her stepdaughter is prettier than her own daughter, the Queen conspires with a henwife to turn Anne into a sheep-woman hybrid.
  • Cinderella Circumstances: Princess Kate becomes a lowly wanderer working a dangerous job and taking care of her "sick" sister, but eventually reclaims her royal status upon marrying the prince she's saved.
  • Curse: Anne has a sheep's head on her shoulders, and every night the prince enters a trance where he travels to a fairy hall and nearly dances himself to death.
  • Dances and Balls: Singularly unpleasant ones, as you would expect from the Fair Folk.
  • Deconstruction: Comes off this way compared to The Twelve Dancing Princesses— while the princesses seem to just love dancing all night for fun, the prince in this story is left as an invalid and is unable to function during the day as a result.
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  • Distressed Dude: The sick prince.
  • Double In-Law Marriage: It ends with two (step-)sisters marrying two brothers.
  • Fairest of Them All: The queen's motive for attacking Anne.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: The henwife doesn't merely transform Anne's head into a sheep's; she uses her magic to sever Anne's head from her body and pop a sheep's head on in its place. Some illustrations show Anne's true head mid-scream upon looking at herself.
  • The Fair Folk: Rare birds for a fairy tale: actual fairies.
  • Good Princess, Evil Queen: The Queen conspires to curse Princess Anne with ugliness so as to make her own daughter, Kate, lovelier by comparison. However, unlike most stepsisters in fairy tales, Kate is horrified by what her mother has done and flees the kingdom with Anne to find a way to break the spell.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: The start of it all.
  • Guile Hero: Kate is much more active than the stereotypical fairy-tale princess, and uses her cleverness to secure her happy ending. She negotiates a job taking care of the ill prince, uses some well-placed nuts to swipe a magic wand and magic bird to save Anne and the prince, and wins the prince's hand in marriage.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: From neck down, Anne remains a human princess, but her head has been replaced with that of a sheep.
  • Involuntary Dance: The prince is not allowed to not dance. Every person that his father and brother have sent to watch him have disappeared, presumably having been danced to death by the fair folk.
  • Karma Houdini: After Anne is cursed, the Queen just goes home, and the henwife who helped her is never mentioned again.
  • Love at First Sight: Both princes and princesses.
  • Nameless Narrative: Kate and Anne are the only characters with names.
  • One Steve Limit: Added. In the source, both the princesses were named Kate. Jacobs decided it was too confusing.
  • Princess Classic: Anne is sweet, innocent, and the Fairest of Them All. This enrages her stepmother, who believes that distinction should go to her own daughter, Kate. So the queen conspires with a Wicked Witch to turn Anne into a monster. However, Kate defies the usual "wicked stepsister" trope, abandoning her mother and the throne to travel with Anne in search of a way to lift the spell.
  • Princess in Rags: Princesses Anne and Kate live as humble wanderers as they try to find some way to break the henwife's spell. They eventually find lodging in another kingdom, where Kate takes a job caring for his sick son, eventually marrying him after saving his life.
  • Princess Protagonist: Kate is our main character, and she's a great deal more active than many of her fellow royal heroines.
  • The Quest: They set out to seek their fortune.
  • Rescue Romance: Kate gets this.
  • Rule of Three: Even by fairy tale standards, the number three has a significance to nearly every major plot development:
    • It takes the Queen and the hen wife three tries to successfully replace Anne's head with a sheep's head.
    • Kate follows the prince to three different fairy balls.
    • Three waves of the fairy child's wand turn Anne back to normal.
    • Three bites of the magic bird cure the prince.
  • Standard Hero Reward: Each night she watches the prince, Kate's payments progressively get more impressive. On night one, she's paid with a peck of silver. On night two, she's paid with a peck of gold, and on night three, she negotiates permission to marry the prince.
  • Tomboy Princess: Kate takes on the role more typically associated with princes in fairy tales. She defies a wicked queen, braves a dangerous quest with nothing but her wits, saves a princess from an evil spell, and wins the prince's hand in marriage after breaking a different evil spell.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: Kate's job is to watch the prince while he sleeps, monitoring his condition as he suffers from a mysterious illness. For the first part of the night, all is normal, but at the stroke of twelve he suddenly gets up in a trance. He dresses himself, saddles his horse, and rides off to a fairy mound where he's compelled to dance the life out of himself until the cock crows.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Kate's mother.
  • Wicked Witch: The henwife who helps the queen.

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