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Literature / Molly Whuppie

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"Molly Whuppie" is a Scottish fairy tale popularized by the Anglo-Australian folklorist Joseph Jacobs with his English Fairy Tales (1890). It is practically identical with the Scottish-Gaelic "Maol a Chliobain" that was first printed in 1862 in John Francis Campbell's Popular Tales of the West Highlands.

Molly is the youngest and cleverest of three daughters, who were turned out of their home because there was nothing for them to eat. They take shelter with a Giant and his wife, who receive them with apparent kindness before attempting to murder them while they are sleeping. The quick-witted Molly arranges it so that the Giant slays his own three children instead, and the girls escape in the night to the palace of a king.


The king, impressed by the story, sends Molly back on three successive errands to steal a treasure from the Giant. On the third try she is caught, but once again she escapes death by her wits, causing the Giant to murder his hapless wife instead of her. When the Giant gives chase, he is unable to cross a narrow bridge over the river and must rage futilely from the other bank. As the reward for her efforts, Molly and both of her older sisters marry the king's three sons.


Tropes in "Molly Whuppie" and/or "Maol a Chliobain":

  • Bizarrchitecture: Molly escapes the Giant each time by crossing the "bridge of one hair," which the Giant cannot get over. Whether it is literally as wide as a single hair is never specified.
  • Catchphrase: Yet another Giant saying "Fe Fi Fo Fum".
  • Gender Flip: The folklorists classify this type as "The Small Boy Defeats the Ogre", a la Hop-o'-My-Thumb
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Everything that the Giant intends to do to Molly ends up falling on his own family instead.
  • Murder by Mistake: The Giant kills his own children by mistake. Later he kills his wife.
  • Rule of Three
  • Sacred Hospitality: Averted with the Giant, which gives a certain Laser-Guided Karma flavor to what happens next.
  • Standard Hero Reward
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Giant is stupid enough to ask Molly's advice on what to do with her, which lets her set up a situation she can exploit.
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  • Youngest Child Wins: As ever so often in fairy tales.

Alternative Title(s): Maol A Chliobain


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