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Literature / The Dancing Water, the Singing Apple, and the Speaking Bird

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Young princess and princes, being watched over by their foster mother

The Dancing Water, the Singing Apple, and the Speaking Bird is an Italian Fairy Tale collected by Thomas Crane.

A king wanders the streets at night. He hears three sisters talking:

The oldest said: "If I were the wife of the royal butler, I would give the whole court to drink out of one glass of water, and there would be some left." The second said: "If I were the wife of the keeper of the royal wardrobe, with one piece of cloth I would clothe all the attendants, and have some left." The youngest said: "Were I the king's wife, I would bear him three children: two sons with apples in their hands, and a daughter with a star on her brow."

He arranges the marriages and the older sisters do as they said. They hate the youngest because she is queen. They put puppies in place of the wonder children when they were born, and exposed the babies. Three fairies saw the children and gave them a deer who would raise them, a purse full of money, and a ring that changes color when one is in danger. When they were grown, the fairy told them to go into the city. As soon as they get a house, the sisters realize that these are the wonder children, who could reveal what they had done. They try to dispose of them with Impossible Tasks. The oldest brother fetches the Dancing Water and the Singing Apple, but when sent after the Speaking Bird, it reveals his past and startles him into speaking, which turns him to stone. The next brother did the same. Finally, their sister managed to do it and save all the people who had turned to stone.

The king comes to see these marvelous young men and woman. The Speaking Bird reveals the truth and then, at the king's order, describes how the sisters and the nurse who aided them were to be executed. The king, his wife, and the children were all reconciled.

Full text here.

The tale is classified in the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index as type ATU 707, "The Three Golden Children". Other tales of the same classification are French literary tale Princess Belle-Etoile (by French author Madame d'Aulnoy) and Russian verse fairy tale The Tale of Tsar Saltan.

Compare with "The One-Handed Girl" (tale type ATU 706), another tale related to the theme of the "calumniated wife".

Author Joseph Jacobs used the Italian tale as basis for a reconstruction of the story in his book European Folk and Fairy Tales.

Tropes included:

  • Big Bad Duumvirate: The Queen's sisters, who took away her children out of jealousy.
  • Cosmic Motifs: In some variants of the story, the third sister promises to bear children with cosmic birthmarks: the Sun, the Moon, and a (golden) star.
    • Solar and Lunar: In other variants, the male twins are associated with the Sun as his birthmark, and the female twin with the Moon as hers.
  • Distressed Dude: After being abandoned as infants and being raised by fairies and a deer, the two brothers are turned to stone. Their sister must follow them to restore them.
  • Exact Eavesdropping: The king overhears the sisters' conversation and their boasts, which is why he chooses the third sister as his wife.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: The queen's sisters try to murder their infant nephews and niece, and the queen herself is put into a treadmill as a slave for years.
  • Forbidden Fruit: Do not talk to the bird. Whatever it says.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: The older sisters envy the youngest because she married the king.
  • Impossible Task: The three Wonder Children are sent on a quest for three marvelous objects, and their aunts hope they fail.
  • Living MacGuffin: The last object of the wonder children's quest is the titular Speaking Bird, who can petrify those that respond to it.
  • Malicious Slander: When the queen gives birth to three Wonder Children, her sisters steal them and tell her husband that she gave birth to three puppies. He puts her in a treadmill as punishment for not having the children as she claimed she would.
  • Moses in the Bulrushes: The king's children are abandoned in an attempt to murder them, and they grow up in ignorance of their birth, until a magic bird informs the king and children of the truth.
  • Parental Substitute: The deer. Technically, Raised by Wolves, but they don't seem to have any trouble. Maybe the fairies did something.
  • Rags to Royalty: The queen rises from impoverished to rich; her children are thrown from their position but rise back to it.
  • Rule of Three: Three sisters, three children, three treasures (water, apple, bird).
  • Talking Animal: The last object of the quest is a speaking bird. After the bird is captured and brought to the siblings' palace, the bird talks to the king about the absurdity of the queen giving birth to animals.
  • Taken for Granite: When the young princes answer the Speaking Bird, despite a warning, they turn to stone.
  • Wonder Child: The youngest sister says that if the king marries her, she will bear "two sons with apples in their hands, and a daughter with a star on her brow". Earnestly desiring such children, the king marries her, and she does.
  • Youngest Child Wins: The youngest sister makes the grandest promise (to bear marvelous children) and so wins the king in marriage. Her youngest daughter also accomplishes what her brothers failed to do (find the water, the apple and the bird), and her actions eventually reunite the whole family.