Folk tale from Finland - Marya And The Magic Doll

Marya And The Magic Doll

Once there lived a merchant, who had a little daughter. She was known as Pretty Marya, for she was so graceful and beautiful. When Marya was quite small, her mother fell ill, and feeling that she was dying, she gave her daughter a small doll. "Guard it carefully and show it to no one," the mother said. "It will protect and help you." The merchant was very lonely when his wife died and he thought that for the sake of little Marya he should get married again. Finally, he decided to marry a widow who had two daughters of her own. The widow seemed to like little Marya, but once she was married things were quite different. It soon seemed that nothing Marya did could please the stepmother or her two daughters. They became more and more spiteful and unkind to poor little Marya and made her work hard at the household tasks. The fact is, they were jealous of her fine nature and fine looks. When Marya was very unhappy, she would go to her room and tell her troubles to the little doll. The doll looked after her and protected her, as her mother said. When the work was too hard or too heavy, the doll would tell Marya to go to sleep. When she woke up, the next morning, the work would all be done. Marya grew up more and more kind and beautiful, while her two stepsisters grew more and more bad-tempered and ugly. One day the merchant set out on a long journey. While he was away, the stepmother rented a small house for herself and the three girls. It was on the edge of a deep, dark wood, in which lived a terrible old witch. As usual, Marya had to work very hard but she did it all without complaining, only telling her little doll when she was very unhappy. One evening, the stepmother called the three girls and gave each of them a job to do. One had to make lace, the other was given some knitting and Marya had to spin flax into thread and make linen.

They worked at their tasks by the light of a candle. In the fireplace, the fire burnt lower and lower and finally went out. Then the candle began to smoke. One of the stepsisters took a pair of scissors, to trim the wick, but she trimmed it clumsily on purpose and put out the flame. "What am I to do now?" complained the girl who was making lace. "I need light to see what I am doing?" "I need light to see my knitting needles," said the other sister, spitefully. "As the fire has gone out and we have no way of lighting the candle, Marya will have to go and ask the old witch for a flame and bring it back. Marya trembled with fear, for the witch was said to be terrible. The two jealous stepsisters smiled secretly to themselves, for they were sure she would never return and they would be rid of the lovely Marya at last. In her bedroom, Marya told her troubles to the doll. "Do not be afraid," said the doll. "Only take me with you and you will come to no harm." With the doll tucked in her apron, Marya set off through the dark wood. It was night and she felt very frightened. After what seemed a long time, a man dressed all in white and riding a white horse passed her, and then the sky grew lighter as the dawn came. Soon afterward, a man dressed in red galloped past on a red horse and soon the sun began to rise behind the trees.

All through the day, Marya walked, until at last she came to the witch's cottage. As she approached, a black horseman rode swiftly by, on a black horse. Night fell as Marya entered the cottage to ask the witch for some fire. "I will let you have it if you complete some tasks for me," she replied. Then she told Marya that the paths must be swept, the rooms dusted, the breakfast prepared, the washing done and seven million grains of wheat, which were mixed with seven million grains of millet, must be separated into two piles. "If you have finished by morning, all well and good," said the witch. "If not, I shall suck your blood! Then she left Marya some thin cabbage soup and hard bread for her supper. As usual, Marya shared her poor meal with the doll. Then the doll told her to forget all and go to sleep. When Marya woke the next morning, all the tasks had been completed. The witch was very pleased. She seated herself at the table and Marya served breakfast to her in silence. "Are you dumb?" asked the witch. "No," replied Marya. "I would like to ask you something." "Ask then," said the witch, and Marya wanted to know who the three horsemen were, whom she had seen in the wood. The witch was pleased with the question, for she had expected Marya to be very inquisitive and ask about her magic or her spells, as other people always did.

She explained that the three were the clear Dawn, the red Sun, and the black Night. "In return, tell me how you managed to complete all the tasks so quickly," she asked. Marya remembered her mother's warning, to tell no one about the doll, so she replied, "My mother's blessing helped me." The witch turned pale. "Go at once," she said, shoving Marya out of the door, "Children who have been blessed are not welcome here." She thrust a burning brand into Marya's hand and sent her off home. Marya made her way back through the forest to the little cottage, guarding the burning brand carefully and the doll saw to it that the flame did not go out. The two stepsisters were surprised to see her, for they thought that the witch would surely have eaten her by now. They took the burning brand from her without any thanks and lit the candle. Marya took up her work again. When her piece of linen was finished it was so fine and so beautifully embroidered that an old woman in the nearby town bought it at once. She took it to the Royal Palace where everyone admired it so much that Marya was sent for and asked to make a coat for the king. The king was delighted with his new coat. He sent for Marya to thank her. To his surprise, she was young and beautiful. He fell in love with her at once and they were quickly married. When Marya's stepmother and stepsisters heard of her marriage, they exploded with rage and jealousy.

The merchant, returning from his long journey, found that they had all disappeared and was delighted to be rid of his bad-tempered wife. He went to live with Marya in the Royal Palace and he lived happily to a ripe old age. The little doll which had guarded Marya so carefully went with her too and she kept it until the end of her life, in a beautiful velvet box which she had made for it, but she never told anyone about the doll, for she always remembered her mother's instructions.

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