The purpose of the women's existence also varies, depending on the combination of elements that are driving their legend and the time and place in which the story is being told. Some are looking to rescue or replace the children that have been lost to them. Some appear to herald the deaths of others. And some find themselves stuck in a recursive loop, repeating their deaths over and over again, never resting and affecting nothing.
Before we understood the nature of sleep, and how our brain and body interact while we're sleeping, it was believed that this paralysis was caused by a literal demon, or night hag, sitting on the sleeper's chest. These night hags, or night mares, would ride the sleeper, leaving them terrified and exhausted come morning.
The younger brother was surprised that the cat could talk but apparently got over that pretty fast and did what the cat asked. After the cat donned his fancy new boots, he gathered up a burlap sack of wheat and went walking away on his back feet. Using the wheat to trap some fat partridges, the cat then went off in search of a king.
A miller, who was so poor that he had nothing else but his mill and a large apple tree behind it, went into the forest to fetch wood. While there he met an old man who said: 'Why are you torturing yourself so much? I’ll make you rich if you promise to give me what’s behind your mill. In three years I’ll come and fetch what’s mine.'
The basic theme of all of these stories, however, is that little girls that stray from the path will find themselves at the mercy of a Big Bad Wolf (or another vicious beastie). And no, in the Western versions we're not talking about actual wolves. IT'S A METAPHOR, PEOPLE!
this story has been told in a number of ways and the basic gist is pretty much always the same: a varying number of older brothers get turned into birds of some kind (usually swans, geese, ducks, or ravens) by a female family member that wants them to just go away and and so the clever and devoted little sister must search them out and break their curse. There are some variations that don't include the brothers turning into birds, like the North African story "Udea and Her Seven Brothers," but even that involves assistance from ravens and pigeons.
The basic plot that is common to all of the stories is that a husband has been away from his wife for a long absence. Upon returning, he finds that she has mysteriously had a son. The length of the husband's absence makes it virtually impossible for him to be the father. When questioned, the wife gives a divine explanation for the boy, generally to the effect that she ingested frozen water in some form and thus became pregnant with a miraculous snow child. Other versions omitted the snow, had rather longer absences, and way wilder explanations for the bonus mystery child.
Ostensibly, this is a story about a little dude who overcomes great odds through his wit and cunning and manages to achieve great fame and fortune, and a princess. The character of the tailor is essentially a Jack, the one fairytale archetype for whom the story will always work for and not against. No matter how lazy and foolish he is, a Jack will always win.
The fact that the woman who willingly marries the widowed father was most likely doing so because she literally had no other options--due to poverty, age, or suspected infertility--is never considered because her feelings are of little value. The potential for being resentful at having a husband and children forced upon her for reasons out of her control is is great, but it doesn't matter, given that women are expected to be motherly, no matter the situation.
[CW: animal cruelty] Now, there was a young man from a poor family who thought to himself, “Why not risk my life? I’ve got nothing to lose, and a lot to win. What’s there to think about?”