may_lily: (Damsel)
may_lily ([personal profile] may_lily) wrote2012-11-10 10:03 am

Kisa the Cat

I've been writing a few posts about interesting fairy tales I've come across on my tumblr, so I thought I'd cross-post them here. First: Kisa the Cat.

I’ve been looking into the little known Icelandic fairy tale Kisa the Cat from Andrew Lang’s Brown Fairy Book. It’s an interesting story.

In a nutshell, a magic cat, Kisa, is friends with a princess, Ingibjorg. One day, the princess meets a giant who cuts off her feet. Kisa tricks the giant into leaving his house, steals the feet, and magically reattaches them to Ingibjorg. Ingibjorg chooses a husband and Kisa asks to sleep by her bed for one night. The next day Kisa becomes a beautiful princess.

I’m always seeking fairy tales about women helping each other. They’re out there, but not a popular as they should be. Kisa the Cat reminds me of Biancabella and the Snake. In Biancabella the heroine’s magic snake-sister, Samaritana, magically restores her chopped-off hands and changes into human form, though she was not under a curse. The cat sleeping by the princess’s bed in order to get uncursed also reminds me of the Frog King, making an f/f interpretation of the story possible. Ingibjorg does have a husband (who really seems to be there becauses princesses are supposed to get married, that’s what they do) but I did like that he was Ingibjorg’s choice and he wasn’t given any quests or tests - she picked him because she liked him.

Lang’s version came from a version in the German book Neuislandischen Volksmarchen. I wasn’t able to find this book, but I did manage to find a version of the story in Icelandic. I’m only able to read it with Google Translate, but even that reveals some interesting differences to Lang’s version.

The title seems to be the Story of the Cat Princess. As far as I can tell, the cat is not given a name - kisa is the Icelandic word for kitty or female cat. The princess’s mother wants a child and is directed by a witch to two trouts. In true fairy tale fashion, she is only supposed to swallow the white one, but she accidentally swallows the black one as well. She gives birth to a human daughter and a black cat. This makes me even more convinced that the story is a version of Biancabella and the Snake.

The giant has a whole family, and after tricking them the cat drowns them all. This is also very fairy tale-esque - I was a bit surprised that the cat didn’t kill the giants in Lang’s version.

The end, when the cat explains her backstory, is the most intriguing part. Ingibjorg and the cat had once been sister princesses, but their stepmother cursed them into trout. They needed to be swallowed by a woman in order to be reincarnated. Ingibjorg forgot her past life but the cat didn’t. In the end they go back to their orginal kingdom. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read a fairy tale that features reincarnation like this before.

In my searching, I also found this lovely modern short-story adaption: One Ear Back by Tina Connolly. I think it’s a fairy tale that deserves more attention.