The Iron Shoes – Storytelling for Everyone

When I was a young girl, I discovered the Andrew Lang Fairy Books at the local library, each book named and bound in a different color. Fascinated, I read and reread the Lang fairy tales. But of all the stories, one remained fixed in my memory: the story of the maid who had to rescue her prince, while wearing iron shoes.

There were a number of versions of this tale throughout the Lang books, from a variety of countries: Romania, Spain, Italy, Germany, England, as well as Slavic and Scandinavian versions. My young imagination merged many of these into one, single quest, keeping the elements I found most intriguing. In these tales, the heroine is a young woman, and her opponent is a woman. [ATU 425A]

It wasn’t until I was much older, that I discovered the Greek myth of Psyche and Eros, the grandmama and archetype of all these tales. I identified with Psyche completely, and in many ways, the myth came to define me—such is the power of archetypes.

But then there were those iron shoes! As much as I loved the Psyche myth, I could not give up my fascination with those iron shoes.

No, I was not captivated by Cinderella and her dainty, glass slippers or splendid gowns. My heroine was the woman who was cursed to wear out three pairs of iron shoes and blunt a steel staff in her search to save her husband. Her quest was fraught and difficult, as told in the Red Fairy Book, collected by Andrew Lang (1890).

Here is an excerpt from that version, “The Enchanted Pig”:

“Her husband told her she would not succeed until she had worn out three pairs of iron shoes and blunted a steel staff in her search…

“On reaching a town, the first thing she did was to order three pairs of iron sandals and a steel staff, and having made these preparations for her journey, she set out in search of her husband.

“On and on she wandered over nine seas and across nine continents; through forests with trees whose stems were as thick as beer- barrels; stumbling and knocking herself against the fallen branches, then picking herself up and going on; the boughs of the trees hit her face, and the shrubs tore her hands, but on she went, and never looked back. At last, wearied with her long journey and worn out and overcome with sorrow, but still with hope at her heart, she reached a house.”

To me, those three pair of iron shoes meant strength, commitment, down-to-earth stamina, and resilience. That is what a woman and mother must be able to do—on her own. Did I mention that she gave brith along the way?

What do the “iron shoes” mean to you?

If you’d like to read a shortened retelling of this tale click here:

The Enchanted Pig is a Romanian fairy tale about a king’s daughter who is fated to marry a “pig from the North.”

Illustration from The Red Fairy Book, Andrew Lang and Leonora Blanche “Nora” Lang, 1890.

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Author adminPosted on February 13, 2020February 13, 2020Categories Fairy Tales, Family, Folktales, MythTags iron shoes, Psyche and Eros, Romanian

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