The Wonderful Sheep: Conspiracies and Connections



As we get closer to 100 episodes, we've started to look back upon the large catalog of folktales and folklore conspiracy theories and tremble at their scope.  New theories have cropped up throughout our recordings, and old folktales have faded from our memories or have been lost in our efforts to create a fully connected folklore universe.  No more, I say!  I am taking on the task of diving into our nearly 100 hours of recordings, as well as the original sources and some of the variants, to create a written record of the weird connections and conspiracy theories between all of these tales.

God help us all.

We begin with Episode One: Lying to Sheepmen, where we first encountered the infamous Madame d'Aulnoy.  I must now address a grave disservice I did to our listeners in this first episode: I summarized too much.  I was initially focused on communicating the big picture of the story and trying to fix the major plot holes that I missed some of those juicy little details that have since become some of the most fun talking points on our shows.

Details like rains of lobsters and trees full of meat.

We'll get there.

First, I just want to clarify a few names that were actually given in the story in addition to Miranda's.  The servant girl was named Patypata, the monkey was named Grabugeon (and, side note, in at least one translation of this tale wanted to "make a name for himself in Goblin Land."), and the dog was named Tintin (yes, really).  The sheep-making ugly fairy is named Ragotte, who is not mentioned by name in any other tale I've been able to find.  We'll keep an eye out for other mentions of bitter ugly fairies who can't find love.

Okay, now for those details I irresponsibly glossed over:

  1. Sheep boy had been spying on Miranda for some time, which explains how he knew about her talking pets, but adds more creepy context to his controlling and needy relationship with her.
  2. The sheep uses a pumpkin carriage drawn by six goats
  3. The princess is nervous that he's leading her to Fairyland, which wouldn't have been noteworthy at the time we recorded, but knowing now that the fairies are on the side of darkness is a telling moment
  4.  Sheep land has a river of orange-flower water, fountains of wine, and TREES with ROASTED PARTRIDGES, PHEASANTS, RABBITS, ETC GROWING FROM THEM
  5. The weather in sheep land is RAINS of LOBSTER PATTIES, SAUSAGES, TARTS, ETC as well as money and jewels.  These plants are living off the juicy meat liquids, I guess.
  6. The palace is made of the interlacing branches of fragrant trees (not the meat trees), which actually sounds kind of nice

The saga of how the sheep became a sheep is also pretty crazy.

  1. He'd hunted a stag and was separated from his attendants (our first instance of princes being completely unsafe outside of their royalty playpens), when the stag jumped into a pool of water.  When he followed, the pond dried up and a great gulf opened in front of him, with flames shooting out, and he falls to the bottom of a precipice.
  2. This is when Ragotte appears to threaten him into loving her.  He had known her for as long as he could remember (so presumably she was at his naming ceremony, and the age difference here is upsetting).  She offers him twenty kingdoms with a hundred castles (this seemed high to me, but apparently it's actually a low castle-to-kingdom ratio, so her deal's not as good as it seems) for him to marry her.  He reasonably asks that she remove him from his current danger so he could answer her, so she turns him into a sheep instead.
  3. For some reason all the other prince-sheep took him as their king

There are also ghosts in Sheepland.  This is mentioned in passing in my version, and expanded upon in the version linked to above (leading me to believe that my edition of this book was oddly truncated- she is "no longer fearful of the shadows" at the end of the sheep's tale, but they are not mentioned beforehand).

In my version, however, she does convince the sheep to send his Master of the Horse (??) to go get the shadows of the girl and monkey and dog to amuse her, so I guess they just steal these souls from wherever to keep her entertained.  Not sure I'd want my ghost to be trapped in a land of sheep to entertain someone for eternity...

That covers most of the crazy d'Aulnoynian nonsense I missed in round one.  Now the important part: weaving the threads of this tale into the broader tapestry of the WTFolkloreniverse.  This part will be updated as we find new connections (or as I remember the old ones).

  1. "King Freud" has conflicts with his quarrelsome neighbors, which we allude to in our reading of the "Brave Little Tailor" as well as a few of our more recent tales where kings just go off to war.  For now, we're definitely placing Miranda's kingdom adjacent to the Tailor's.
  2. They enter the Sheeplands through a cave, and Miranda thinks they're going to Fairyland.  This implies that there is at least one court of Fairyland underground (which is substantiated in other stories, as well as the folklore of fairy mounds), but we see in the Andrew Lang version of "Jack and the Beanstalk" that there is a fairyland in the realm in the sky as well.  Other stories, like the Skagit tale "Legend of the Star Children" imply a sky realm inhabited by beings that bear abilities similar to many of the fairies we've encountered.  I can't find mention of the physical locations of the Seelie and Unseelie courts, so I am hereby theorizing that the Seelie Court is in the sky realm of fairyland and the Unseelie Court is underground.  So far we've also seen a lot more wickedness and overt mischief from fairies associated with underground realms (even Magotine is best friends with the queen of the Underworld), and more subtle manipulation from sky fairies.
  3. Ragotte's use of a pit that opens up and shoots fire really feels like an allusion to Hell, which is not the first time fairies have been linked to the lands of fire and brimstone.
  4. Her talking dog and monkey are casually explained in an offhand comment about a fairy bewitching them.  The story phrases it to imply that a fairy just came and gave the animals the gift of gab apropos of nothing, but we saw later in "The Green Serpent" that fairies regularly wander around punishing humans for perceived faults by turning them into animals.  Tintin the dog would most likely have been an unfaithful lover.  A "cunning woman" who was cheating on her husband was turned into a monkey, so Grabugeon (whose gender is not given) could be her or a person who was in a similar situation.  Possibly the dog and the monkey were formerly lovers, both punished for the same wrongdoing.
  5. Grabuge apparently means mayhem or trouble, and the suffix -on forms a diminuative, so this pet's name was essentially "trouble." This is potentially a hint to that goblin land comment, which is never expounded upon
  6. In the end, Miranda inherits the kingdom unwed.  We'll have to watch out for stories about an unwed queen who also doesn't have unexplained dozens of children, unless Miranda likes to get freaky on the side.

Going forward, we have a few things to watch in order to fully integrate this tale:

  1. Unmarried, unnamed queen (or a queen named Miranda but that is a stretch)
  2. Further mentions of the Goblin Lands
  3. Other quarrelsome neighbors
  4. Super lonely, bitter fairies
  5. Realms whose princes disappeared forever/an extended period of time, or who are run by a vizier or something

We'd love to hear your own theories about "The Wonderful Sheep" and its role in the larger universe of folklore!  If you happen across any tales that might link to this one, don't hesitate to email or tweet it to us.