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  • The Bird of Truth
  • Fernán Caballero
    Translated by Robert M. Fedorchek (bio)

Translator's Introduction

Cecilia Böhl de Faber (1819-89), novelist, short story writer, and folklorist, immersed herself in the oral tradition of southern Spain and published yarns that she collected in Cuentos y poesías populares andaluces (Popular Andalusian Tales and Poems, 1859) and Cuentos de encantamiento (Stories of Enchantment, 1877). (For biographical data and information on her work, see my introduction to "The Devil's Mother-in-Law," in Marvels & Tales 15 [2001]: 192-95.) One of the more fascinating aspects of a number of the tales to which Böhl de Faber gave written form is their similarity to other pieces in the European tradition. "The Wishes" ("Los deseos"), for example, is a variation on Charles Perrault's "The Three Wishes," while "The Three Souls in Purgatory" ("Las ánimas") is reminiscent of the Grimms' "The Three Spinners."

"The Bird of Truth" ("El Pájaro de la Verdad") appeared in Cuentos de encantamiento and is yet another tale that shares elements of a previous one, in this instance Eustache Le Noble's "L'oiseau de vérité," and to a lesser extent, the Grimms' "The Three Little Birds," both of which contain elements of Giovan Francesco Straparola's "Ancilotto, King of Provino" and Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy's "Princess Belle-Etoile and Prince Cheri" (The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, sel., ed., and trans. Jack Zipes [New York: Norton, 2001] 220, 832-33, 854).1And, to highlight the affinity between Le Noble's and Böhl de Faber's tales, Jack Zipes translates "L'Oiseau de vérité" as "The Bird of Truth," inasmuch as the original French and Spanish titles mirror each other.

The similarities—or, rather, variations on a theme—between the two "Birds of Truth" are many: a king marries the youngest of a father's daughters (no mention is [End Page 73] made of their mother); the king goes off to war while the queen is pregnant; the queen gives birth to more than one child (in Le Noble two princes and one princess; in Böhl de Faber one prince and one princess, twins); there is opposition to the king's marriage (by the queen mother in Le Noble, by ministers and courtiers in Böhl de Faber); the kingis informed that the queen has given birth to animals (two male cats and one female in Le Noble; one cat and one snake in Böhl de Faber); for her "misdeed" the kinghas the queen locked in a tower in Le Noble and walled up in Böhl de Faber; the babies are shut in a box, which is thrown into a river; a miller finds and cares for them in Le Noble, a fisherman in Böhl de Faber; there is a sorceress or witch to thwart the children; the "bird of truth" tells the truth to the king, thereby absolving the queen of any and all wrongdoing; and good deeds are rewarded by the king.

The differences are sharp. Böhl de Faber introduces no hint whatsoever of incest, and as a result there is none of the, in Lewis Seifert's words, "troublingscenario of a father pursuinghis daughter until he discovers who she is," as in Le Noble (The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales, ed. Jack Zipes [Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000] 293). Böhl de Faber also makes her tale a flight of fancy about birds. In addition to the eponymous, and generic, bird of the title, seventeen species appear, with a swallow as the principal narrator and a number of others that—like the fairy Landirette, who, in Le Noble, watches over Belle-Etoile—are lesser players who protect the prince from danger. Also, in perhaps one of the most delightful occurrences, all the vermin that soak up the clear, pure water brought to the witch by the prince are changed back into the people they were, from knights-errant to children.

And if there is an overarching, even didactic, element in this tale, it is what both the swallow and the owl emphasize: nobody can kill the...


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