East of the Sun West of the Moon – resources for comparing with similar fairy tales

East of the Sun West of the Moon tale is categorised by the Aarne-Thompson index as a ‘Lost Husband’ type, which can be useful to know when approaching Session 9 in the Power of Reading sequence.  It suggests comparing different versions of the story and this great blog, fairytalez.com, has a wealth of information for teachers.

I’ve copied (and slightly edited) the list of features of the ‘Lost Husband’ type of tale, and then copied the list of similar stories (again, slightly edited) from fairytalez.com:

Characteristics of Type 425A Fairy Tales 

As you read various 425A stories, you’ll likely notice similarities throughout multiple fairy tales and folk tales.

  • The motif of three is often used in these fairy tales and folk tales, such as with three daughters, three days/nights, three questions, three objects, etc. (Read our blog post on the Power of Three: Why Fairy Tales Often Feature a Triple for more on the use of three)

  • The fairy tales typically feature an enchanted man who has become an animal

  • A daughter is required to or is asked to marry the “beast”

  • The husband may appear to be a man at night or when he gets to his home

  • Once at the castle or beast’s home, the bride is treated lavishly but is homesick

  • The bride may go home to her family, but is told to not stay beyond a certain number of days

  • The heroine goes on the quest for her husband after he disappears

  • The bride may receive magical objects to help her return home as well as assist in her quest for the husband

  • The fairy tale or folk tale may feature an appearance by the winds, sun or moon

  • The enchantment over the husband is broken when the bride finds him or performs certain tasks

     

The Enchanted Pig is a Romanian fairy tale about a king’s daughter who is fated to marry a “pig from the North.” She doesn’t want to, however, her father convinces her the pig must be under a magic spell, and she agrees, then heads to his castle to be his bride…

East of the Sun and West of the Moon is one of the more popular fairy tales of this type, and comes to us from Norway…Here the bride is a daughter of a peasant, and marries the bear in exchange for her father gaining riches. East of the Sun and West of the Moon was authored by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe

In the Italian fairy tale The Enchanted Snake, a snake is raised by a woman who longs for a child. After the snake grows up, he wishes to marry a princess. The story was authored by Giambattista Basile for his collection The Pentamerone…

A Sprig of Rosemary is … unusual compared to other stories that are type 425A, because the husband is a magician who can change his shape; his animal form isn’t the result of an enchantment.

The Brown Bear of Norway is an Irish fairy tale originally published by author Patrick Kennedy in 1866. The story was later collected by Andrew Lang, who shared it in The Lilac Fairy Book.

A bear or beast isn’t the only enchanted form that the prince may have in these types of fairy tales. In The Tale of the Hoodie by John Francis Campbell, the prince is a hoodie, also known as a hooded crow. The fairy tale … features a twist from other type 425A fairy tales, as the bride is allowed to choose whether the crow will be a man by day or by night.

Like in East of the Sun and West of the Moon, here the husband is a giant animal upon which the bride can ride…The Black Bull of Norroway features a large bull who gets separated from his bride when she is left in a valley of glass…

White-Bear-King-Valemon or King Valemon, The White Bear comes to us from the Tales of the Fjeld: A Second Series of Popular Tales from the Norse. This fairy tale has traces of East of the Sun, West of the Moon …

The Daughter of the Skies by J.F. Campbell … comes from Scotland. This folk tale features the husband as a dog, however, he goes to the skies, so the author notes he may be a “Gaelic deity.”

The other ones I’ve looked at were from the list here.

I’ve made a table comparing features of five of the fairy tales.  The criteria for comparison are quite comprehensive and it’s up to you how many you wish pupils to examine.  I’m imagining that you could give one tale to a group of six for reading and analysing (perhaps working in mixed pairs), with a version of the table for them to complete, as many boxes as you think they can manage.  You could make the first row empty, for them to fill in the information for East of the Sun West of the Moon.

Once each tale has been analysed by a group using the same format, you can collate them into a class table, for children can then use to look for patterns, similarities, differences etc.  You can of course ask children which is their favourite – which means making sure that they know all the tales.

The tales themselves vary in word count, so I’ve done abridged versions of each to make them similar in terms of length and demand: you should be able to literally print them off and distribute without making any changes, though as ever they are in Word format should you wish to edit.  You can use these abridged versions for the analysis stage, and for reading them to the class yourself.

If I was doing this session with a class, I wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to ask them to think about what the symbolism in each tale might be.  My experience with children is that they become very engaged, attentive and thoughtful when working at this sort of depth, and are more than capable of coming up with ideas that surprise and impress us.  This can be particularly the case with children whose decoding in reading is at a lower level than others, but whose understanding of human matters might be deeper.

At the same time, it might be useful to give the class some ideas as starting points – such as, ‘the sun shines during the day, the moon at night, but the wind can blow during the day and at night – what could this symbolise in the story?’  Another suggestion is that the children could highlight with highlighter pens the things in the stories that might be symbolic of something – such as the chicken bones in The Enchanted Pig – so that they can discuss some ideas with partners or in groups before a class discussion.