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Appalachian Tales of Strong Women / Animal Tales

Tina L. Hanlon

"Whitebear Whittington" or "The Three Gold Nuts" or "The Man that Turned Himself into a Bear"

Appalachian "Whitebear" Tales Related Appalachian Tales

Tales from Other Regions

Hispanic Connection

"Whitebear Whittington." In Richard Chase. Grandfather Tales. Boston: Houghton, 1948. pp. 52-64. With one full-page drawing of the wife and a white bird along the road, by Berkeley William, Jr. Also referred to as "Three Gold Nuts" by storytellers such as Dicey Adams (one of Chase's sources). The wife who rescues her husband from bestial enchantment has more dignity, power, and independence than her counterpart in European tales (See "East of the Sun," below). The more active, trustworthy, and diligent wife in the Appalachian tale is portrayed developing a fulfilling relationship with a working man and earning the right to reunite her happy family. For more analysis, see Hanlon, Tina L. "Strong Women in Appalachian Folktales." The Lion & the Unicorn, vol. 24 (April 2000): pp. 225-46. Available online through library services such as Project Muse.

"Whitebear Whittington." In Eulalie Steinmetz Ross, ed. The Blue Rose: A Collection of Stories for Girls. Illus. Enrico Arno. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966. 186 pp. Thirteen fairy tales from older sources, including literary fairy tales by authors such as Eleanor Farjeon, Walter de la Mare, Laurence Housman, Ruth Sawyer, Howard Pyle, George MacDonald, Hans Christian Andersen, and others. "Whitebear Whittington" from Richard Chase's Grandfather Tales contains a full-page drawing of the heroine riding on the white bear with three children (at left). This is the oldest book in AppLit's bibliography Feminist Collections of Folktales.

A number of unpublished versions of this tale from various oral informants, titled "The Three Gold Nuts" (JTA-125, 3078, 3079), and "The Man that Turned Himself into a Bear" (JTA-112, 113) can be found in the James Taylor Adams collection in the Blue Ridge Institute. Adams' typed transcript of JTA-125 notes, "Told me on August 13, 1940, by Mrs. Dicy Adams [his wife].  She heard her mother tell it.  I heard my own father and mother tell this tale forty-four years ago."  Full text of this version in this web site. JTA 3078 and 3079 were collected by Richard Chase.

"Whitebear Whittington" collected by James Taylor Adams (from the collection listed above). In Loyal Jones, ed. Appalachian Folk Tales. Illus. Jim Marsh. Ashland, KY: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 2010.

Hooks, William H. Snowbear Whittington: An Appalachian Beauty and the Beast. Illus. Victoria Lisi. New York: Macmillan, 1994. N. pag. A verse narrative and romantic illustrations depict the strong heroine who marries a bear and rescues her husband from beastly enchantment. When Nell betrays her husband by telling her father his name, and the bear runs away, she sees "the red stains on his back, like heart's blood." On her quest to rescue her husband, Nell receives help from birds and three magic nuts from an old woman (gold, silver, and brass). Tears, roses, and love finally break the evil spell on the husband. Double-page color illustrations alternate with smaller black and white drawings. Hooks notes that the book "is based on the various oral versions that I have heard over the years of what began as Beauty and the Beast."

Kirby, Ellie. The White Bear: A Tale from the Blue Ridge Mountains. Troutdale, VA: Fox Creek Press, 2008. Kirby's Author's Note describes places she visited in the Blue Ridge Mountains and people who posed in 1910 Edwardian costumes for her watercolor illustrations. A resident of Southwestern Virginia, Kirby also used scenes in Western North Carolina in this story. The main character is a farmer's daughter who "lived way back in the mountains." The white bear is really an enchanted prince from way across the ocean. See page on Kirby's Fox Creek Press web site.

Davis, Donald. "Three Drops of Blood." Audio recording made in 1996 by William Bernard McCarthy. Transcribed in McCarthy's Cinderella in America: A Book of Folk and Fairy Tales. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2007. pp. 299-310, with notes on variations in this tale as Davis' family told it. Chapters 12 and 13 of this book focus on tales from the Southern mountains. The book demonstrates that American folktales, from Revolutionary times to the present, should not be viewed as watered-down versions of tales from older cultures. "These tales are drawn from published collections, journals, and archives, and from fieldwork by McCarthy and his colleagues." See tales listed at Folktale Collections Indexed in AppLit.

McCutcheon, John. "Story of White Bear Whettington." Audiocassette. 1978. Archived at Warren Wilson College. Storyteller "John McCutcheon tells a story for a group of high school students from Paideia school in Atlanta. The group is led by John Sundale. They are at Appalshop, home of June Appal recordings," Whitesburg, KY. Audio available in Digital Archive of Appalachia. Accessed 3/20/12.

"Three Gold Nuts." In Mountain Tales by Roadside Theater. 1 33 1/3 rpm, mono. sound disc (36 min.). Whitesburg, KY: June Appal Recordings, 1980. Other stories: "Jim Wolf ," "Fat or Lean," "Fat Man," "Cat and Rat." Also includes songs: "Cripple Creek." "Thousand Legged Worm," "Old Smokey," "Handsome Molly."

"Whiteberry Whittington." In Isabel Gordon Carter. "Mountain White Folk-Lore: Tales from the Southern Blue Ridge." Journal of American Folklore 38 (1925): pp. 340-74 (this tale on pp. 357-59). A landmark article containing tales told by Jane Hicks Gentry (1863-1925), recorded by Carter in 1923. Carter comments on the decline of storytelling among mountain families who used to know them better, although they had not been recorded as ballads had been. There is no bear transformation in this tale. Whiteberry Whittington is a hired boy who loves the hired girl, and she is able to wash blood out of his shirt while the king's girl, who loves Whiteberry, cannot. After he marries the hired girl and has three children, the king's daughter convinces him to go off with her. An old woman helps his wife find him, but she has "to climb the glassy mountain and wade the bloody seas to git to him." Three old women or witches take her three children and give her a fan, a comb, and a string of beads. The wife sells these items in exchange for a night with her husband, but the king's daughter drugs him so he can't talk to his wife, until the third night when he spits in his boot and stays awake. After his wife explains how the king's daughter has lied to him, they leave, kill the three witches, collect their children, and return home to live happy and rich. Available online through library services such as JSTOR. See tales listed at Folktale Collections Indexed in AppLit.

"Whitebear Whittington" is retold in Lee Smith's adult novel Fair and Tender Ladies  (NY: Ballantine, 1988), as one of the traditional tales that influences the heroine Ivy Rowe from childhood. At the hour of her death in old age she thinks of Whitebear Whittington as a "wild, wild" bear running at night up on Hell Mountain (p. 316). More details at Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction.

George Ella Lyon's Gina. Jamie. Father. Bear. (New York: Atheneum/Richard Jackson, 2002) is a young adult novel that links a contemporary story of divorce and family relations with the family stories in folktales like "Whitebear Whittington." More details at Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction.

Ransom, Candice. Finding Day's Bottom. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 2006. In this novel for children about a Virginia girl mourning the death of her father in a sawmill accident in the 1950s, her grandfather tells her three folktales (based on Richard Chase's versions in Grandfather Tales): "Whitebear Whittington," "Gallymanders! Gallymanders!" and "Like Meat Loves Salt." "To Jane-Eryís surprise, Grandpapís funny ways and strange stories bring her a comfort she never expected" (from publisher's book description). See more on this book in Folklore Themes in Longer Appalachian Fiction.

Three Drops of Blood is a lively Lime Kiln Theater performance of the same tale.

Creative Activities for Three Folktales includes several activities for "Whitebear Whittington."

Quilt square Related Appalachian Tales:

"The Girl That Married a Flop-Eared Hound-Dog," in Marie Campbell. Tales from the Cloud Walking Country. Indiana UP, 1958. Rpt. Athens: U of George Press, 2000. Collected by Campbell in Kentucky in the 1930s, this unusual variant of the tale features a king so addled by a talking hound-dog that he lets it marry his youngest daughter. The bewitched groom appears as "a natural man" at his wedding, since the nice girl is willing to marry him of her own free will.  After 3 visits to her family's home, the wife, who gives in to her sisters' threats and reveals that her husband's secret name is Sunshine on the Dew, must travel 3 nights to recover her husband and babies. Reprinted in Catherine Peck, ed. QPB Treasury of North American Folktales. New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1998.

"The Little Old Rusty Cook Stove in the Woods" from Marie Campbell's Tales from the Cloud Walking Country, pp. 59-62. Reprinted in Judith V. Lechner. Allyn & Bacon Anthology of Traditional Literature. New York: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon, 2004. A princess, lost in the woods, finds a bewitched king's son trapped in a rusty stove. After her father sends substitutes to do her job of releasing him and then the princess breaks her vow by speaking more than three words when she goes to say goodbye to her father, "the stove man" disappears and she must climb a glass mountain to find his castle. Some toad-frogs having a play-party give her magical objects to help on this quest, including three nuts. She works as a cook, trades beautiful dresses found in the nuts to the prince's false bride for chances to sleep with him, and on the third night, when he doesn't take his wife's sleeping potion, she gets his attention. He gets rid of the bride that fooled him and marries the heroine. The narrator reminisces about the days when cook stoves were new to her and wishing to have the stove in the tale to play with when she was a girl hearing the tale from a woman her granny knew. Campbell cites tale type 425A, The Search for the Lost Husband, and Grimms' "The Iron Stove."

"The Snake Princess" in Marie Campbell, Tales from the Cloud Walking Country, pp. 151-55. Told by Uncle Tom Dixon in E. KY. The roles are reversed in this tale of a boy who dies while helping break the evil spell on an enchanted snake. The Snake Princess then revives and marries him.  During a visit home, he breaks his promise to never wish her off the Golden Mountain. He must travel and overcome three giants before he can return to his Snake Princess in her castle on the Golden Mountain. This tale told in the 1920s and '30s seems racist to today's readers, with "little black men" in far-off lands who trick the boy's father into giving his child to him, and later torment the boy to death as he tries to rescue the enchanted princess.

"The Bewitched Princess" in Ruth Ann Musick's Green Hills of Magic.1970. Rpt. Parsons, WV: McClain, 1989. Also about a man marrying a snake that is an enchanted princess. The snake stops him from killing himself when he couldn't find a wife and he follows her instructions for organizing a wedding even though there is no woman visible at first.  

"The Boy That Had a Bear for a Daddy." In Campbell, Tales from the Cloud Walking Country, pp. 190-91. In this unfinished tale, a woman is raped by a bear, gives birth to a bear child, and dies seven days later. The bear boy gets into trouble with his superhuman strength.

"The Pretty Girl and her Lost Children." In Roberts, Leonard (collector). Old Greasybeard: Tales From the Cumberland GapIllus. Leonard Epstein. Detroit: Folklore Associates, 1969. Rpt. Pikeville, KY: Pikeville College Press, 1980. pp. 86-90. The plot has many similarities with Scandinavian tales about a woman marrying a polar bear king, King Valemon, except that the youngest girl who is destined to go off to a strange marriage is not selfless but the one who says she is always primping and watching for her boyfriend Bully Borns. The cook wanch and house cleaner are sent with Bully in her place but they say the wrong things and Bully Borns throws them down. He is never described as a beast or any kind of man (see "Bully Bornes," below), but his new wife chooses for him to be a man at night, not in the day. After he tires of his wife and leaves, an "old black dog" steals her children, and her quest is not motivated by any fault or act of her own. Women along the way give her magic objects to use "when you see more trouble than you ever saw in your whole life." One woman takes her to see Bully Borns fight a man and he gets three drops of blood on his shirt. Pretty Girl is able to wash out the spots, unlike three other women who claim him. When other women still claim him, Pretty Girl opens her magic ball of yarn, egg, and apple, which contain pictures she sells to the women in exchange for visits to sleeping Bully Borns. The third night, she is able to tell him not to drink a sleeping draught so Bully Borns "took her back as his faithful wife" and they pick up their children and return home.

"Bully Bornes." In Roberts, Leonard. South From Hell-fer-Sartin': Kentucky Mountain Folk Tales. Lexington: U Press of Kentucky, 1955. Rpt. Berea, KY: The Council of the Southern Mountains, 1964. No. 77b, pp. 60-63. This tale has a Wishing Chair that a man found and in it his youngest daughter says she wants Bully Bornes, the prize fighter, to marry her that night. Her sisters get their wishes of marrying the handsomest and ugliest men. When Bully comes it seems like there is an earthquake and since Judy is the father's favorite, he tries to keep Judy home until Bully threatens to tear the house down. Bully is mean to his wife and threatens to leave her if she cries when a bulldog steals her babies. She cries, and follows him when he leaves. He gets a drop of blood on his shirt while prize fighting and she is able to wash it out, but another woman takes her place and makes Bully marry her. The wife follows them home and gets to see him at night but he has sleeping powder in his coffee. When a neighbor tells him about the woman who comes screaming and yelling at night, Bully doesn't drink the coffee. When his real wife says that she washed the blood out of his shirt, he marries her again and they get their children and live happily.

The White Bear is described as "a unique merging of Appalachian and Norwegian variants of this great old story." Told by Vermont storytellers Tim Jennings and Leanne Ponder. In World Tales Live at Bennington College. Audiocassette and CD. Eastern Coyote Prods. No date is given at, except that it is a 1999 American Library Association Notable Children's Recording.

There is a big white bear that gives Jack a star out of the sky and a ride home, flying on its back, in Anne Shelby's original Jack tale, "Jack and the Christmas Beans." In A Kentucky Christmas. Ed. George Ella Lyon. Lexington: Univ. Press of Kentucky, 2003. Also in Shelby's The Adventures of Molly Whuppie and Other Appalachian Folktales. Illus. Paula McArdle. Chapel Hill: Univ. of NC Press, 2007, pp. 55-61. See more under Shelby's name at Appalachian Folktales in General Collections, Journals, Web Sites and Appalachian Folktale Collections K-Z.

The Frog King is another animal-groom or beast husband tale. "A Bunch of Laurel Blooms for a Present" (described on that page) begins like "Whitebear Whittington" or "Beauty and the Beast," but the heroine saves her father by going to live with a witch, who makes her stay with a frog (enchanted man). "The Louse Skin" (also on that page) contains a choice about whether the husband will be a frog by day or night, and an unusual twist when the storyteller reveals that the frog could transform himself without testing the wife's devotion by making her pitch him into hot water.

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quilt square Compare "Whitebear Whittington" with Tales from Other Regions:

"East O' the Sun and West O' the Moon" from AsbjÝrnsen's Popular Tales from the Norse, translated by G. W. Dasent and adapted in many versions. Full text reprinted online with revised translation by D. L. Ashliman. Also reprinted online from Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book at Rick Walton, Children's Author: Classic Tales and Fables.

East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Annotated text (Andrew Lang's version based on AsbjÝrrnsen and MŲe) with background, illustrations and links to many related tales and literature, at Sur La Lune Fairy Tales by Heidi Anne Heiner. Beauty and the Beast (from Madame de Villeneuve and Lang) also has a section in this excellent site. "Black Bull of Norroway" is a Scottish variant of this tale with a bull instead of a bear as the animal groom. Illustration at left by John Batton from Joseph Jacobs' More English Fairy Tales (1894).

Hague, Kathleen and Michael. East of the Sun and West of the Moon. New York: Voyager/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980. Picture book.

Lynch, P. J. East O' the Sun and West O' the Moon. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 1991. Introduction by Naomi Lewis. Dramatic watercolor illustrations by an Irish artist. The heroine has long, loose red curls (see cover at right).

Mayer, Mercer. East of the Sun & West of the Moon. New York: Aladdin/Macmillan, 1980. Picture book.

Willard, Nancy. East of the Sun & West of the Moon. Illus. Barry Moser. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1989. A poetic play adaptation with realistic paintings by Moser. The Winds are three women and their brother North Wind, who function as a chorus from the beginning.

"Beauty and the Beast"—different versions in many books and films. Reprinted online from Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book at Rick Walton, Children's Author:  Classic Tales and Fables. Other variants of tale type 425C are reprinted in D. L. Ashliman's Beauty and the Beast, including "The Bear Prince" from Switzerland.

Animal Brides and Animal Bridegrooms: Tales Told by North American Indians, edited by D. L. Ashliman, gives the texts of tales such as "The Bear Who Married a Woman."

The Girl Who Married a Bear, a Native American legend retold by a contributor to Animal Myths and Legends. Peesunt, a vain Chief's daughter, has no fear of or respect for animals in the woods. She follows a man in a bearskin, finds herself trapped in a bear village married to a kind bear, has 2 children that are half bear and half man, and eventually turns into a bear herself although her brothers find her and she returns to the human world until she and her sons become bears in the woods. Her husband instructs her in how her brothers should kill him and treat his body, teaching Peesunt's people how to respect bears they kill.

Many novels based on "Beauty and the Beast" were listed at Once Upon a Time . . . (no longer online?) and are listed at Sur La Lune Fairy Tales.

quilt square Hispanic Connection:

Hayes, Joe. Pájaro Verde = the Green Bird. Illus. Antonio Castro. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press, 2002. Bilingual picture book retelling a northern New Mexico tale with medieval Spanish roots. "Although her mother and sisters make fun of her decision to marry a green bird, to Mirabel he is a prince and so when her family's jealousy endangers him, she sets out to save his life and their love." Mirabel is the two-eyed sister and each of her eight sisters has a different number of eyes, from nine down to the youngest with one eye. The green bird appears to Mirabel at night as a man, but when one of her sisters sees him and her mother injures the bird with glass on the windowsill, Mirabel has to heal his wounds with blood from other little birds and then make him recognize her before he marries another princess. The sun, moon and wind help Mirabel find her husband (similar to "East of the Sun, West of the Moon"). Hayes, a New Mexico storyteller and author, includes notes on sources and children's responses to this tale with "dream-like" images. (See Old One-Eye - and - Characters with One, Two, and Three Eyes and for the motif of sisters with different numbers of eyes spying on the hero/ines.)

"The Greenish Bird." In Carter, Angela, ed.  Strange Things Sometimes Still Happen: Fairy Tales from Around the World. Boston: Faber and Faber, 1993. pp. 37-42. This is an interesting Mexican tale in which the heroine falls in love with a Greenish Bird, seeing that he is a man. When her jealous sisters injure him, Luisa sets out on a quest to find him. The sisters are orphans and in this tale it not through fault of the parents or the heroine that the hero must be rescued. Luisa gets help from the dangerous Sun and Moon and Wind, and their mothers. An eagle takes her to the palace where the Greenish Bird, now a leprous human, is about to marry another. Luisa gets work as a servant and the prince demands to marry her in the end, recognizing her partly through a cup of chocolate she prepares for him.

"Pájaro verde." In Coloma, Luis. Ratoncito Pérez Y Otros Cuentos Para Niños. Bilbao: Mensajero, 2003. Spanish stories for children by a 19th-century writer.

Cata, Regina. "'The Green Bird': A Fable of Mexico." As told to Maurine Grammer. Western Folklore, vol. 16, no. 3 (July 1957): pp. 184-188. A Spanish American folktale told by a woman from Juan Pueblo, New Mexico. "Her father's family came from Central America by way of Mexico" (p. 184). A green bird who turns out to be the enchanted prince helps Maria Garcia accomplish difficult tasks required by her witch stepmother, so she promises to marry him. Then she goes to the palace and seeks work (like Catskins), but the queen is jealous of her and she is assigned more impossible tasks, which ultimately help the prince return to human form and marry her. In one episode she follows his instructions to go to the house of a witch to retrieve his clothing, and when she is kind to creatures and things there, they refuse to help the witch attack Maria Garcia. The moral stated early on by her father and at the end of the tale is about finding both "sips of honey" and "tastes of bitterness" in marriage, which happens after Maria Garcia convinces her father to marry the neighbor who is her caretaker and a witch.

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