Beauty and the Beast | The Fairy Serpent (A Chinese Tale)

The following is an annotated version of the fairy tale. I recommend reading the entire story before exploring the annotations, especially if you have not read the tale recently.

ONCE there was a man who had three daughters, of whom he was devotedly fond. They were skillful in embroidery, and every day on his way home from work he gathered some flowers for them to use as patterns. One day when he found no flowers along his route homeward he went into the woods to look for wild blossoms, and he unwittingly invaded the domain of a fairy serpent that coiled around him, held him tightly, and railed at him for having entered his garden. The man excused himself, saying that he came merely to get a few flowers for his daughters, who would be sorely disappointed were he to go home without his usual gift to them. The snake asked him the number, the names, and the ages of his daughters and then refused to let him go unless he promised one of them in marriage to him. The poor man tried every argument he could think of to induce the snake to release him upon easier terms, but the reptile would accept no other ransom. At last the father, dreading greater evil for his daughters should they be deprived of his protection, gave the required promise and went home. He could eat no supper, however, for he knew the power of fairies to afflict those who offend them, and he was full of anxiety concerning the misfortunes that would overwhelm his whole family should the contract be disregarded.

Some days passed; his daughters carefully prepared his meals and affectionately besought him to eat, but he would not come to the table. He was always plunged in sorrowful meditation. They conferred among themselves as to the cause of his uncommon behavior, and, having decided that one of them must have displeased him, they agreed to try to find out which one it might be by going separately to urge him to eat. The eldest went, expressed her distress at his loss of appetite, and urged him to partake of food. He replied that he would do so if she would for his sake marry the snake to whom he had promised a wife. She bluntly refused to carry out her father's contract and left him in deeper trouble than before.

The second daughter then went to beg him to take food, received the same reply, and likewise declined to fulfill the engagement he had made. The youngest daughter then went and entreated him to eat, heard his story, and at once declared that if he would care for his own health properly, she would become the bride of the serpent. The father therefore took his meals again, the days sped without bringing calamity, and the welfare of the family for a time seemed secure.

But one morning as the girls were sitting at their embroidery, a wasp flew into the room and sang:

Buzz! I buzz and come the faster;
Who will wed the snake, my master?

Whenever the wasp alighted the girls prodded him with their needles and followed him up so closely that he had to flee for his life. The next morning two wasps came, singing the same refrain; the third morning three wasps came; and the number of wasps increased day by day, until the girls could no longer put them to rout, nor endure their stings.

Then the youngest said that in order to relieve the family of the buzzing plague, she would go to her uncanny bridegroom. The wasps accompanied her on the road and guided her into the woods where the fairy serpent awaited her in a palace that he had built for her reception. There were spacious rooms with carved furniture inlaid with precious stones, chests full of silken fabrics, caskets of jade, and jewels of gold. The snake had beautiful eyes and a musical voice, but his skin was warty and the girl shuddered at the thought of daily seeing him about.

After the wedding supper, at which the two sat alone, the girl told her spouse that she appreciated the excellence of all that he had provided for her and that she should perform all her domestic duties exactly. For many days she kept the house neat, cooked the food, and made all things pleasant for her repulsive bridegroom. He doted upon her and pined whenever she was out of his sight. So heedful was he of her wishes and her welfare that she grew to like his companionship and to feel a great lonesomeness when ever he was absent.

Having no help in her household work, she was, one day, on finding the well dried up, obliged to go into the forest in search of water, which she finally discovered and toilsomely brought back from a distant spring. On returning she found the snake dying of thirst, and in her eagerness to save his life she grasped and plunged him into the water, from which he rose transformed, a strong and handsome man. He had been the subject of wicked enchantment, from which her dutiful quest and gracious pity set him free. Thereafter she often with her admirable husband visited her old home and carried gifts to those who were less happy than she.

Fielde, A. M., Chinese Fairy Stories. New York: Putnam, 1893.




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