Once Upon a Time… – The Water Fairy


This is another one of those Hungarian folk tales that you might want to take the edges off before choosing it to be the day’s bedtime story for the kiddos. There won’t be much left without the cutoffs, mind. Bold moves, scary images, some of the gravest miseries imaginable, blood, sweat and tears, the works, proving the theory of water being the source of life absolutely obsolete. But, in the Greek sense of the word, The Water Fairy is still a comedy, and in the Hungarian sense, it’s still a fairy tale.


Mr and Mrs Miller live almost happily ever after as attendants to the water mill, the only obstacles to that truly happy state are their sudden poverty and their childlessness. Mr Miller is contemplating their ill fate on the river bank when a voice offers him the deal of a lifetime. The water fairy promises the miller all the riches in the world and asks only something the miller doesn’t own yet in return. The fairy wants the baby boy the Miller family is blessed with as soon as the miller goes back into a house after his contemplation. Call it magic, divine intervention or a hell of a bargain, when the miller realizes what the fairy wants from him, it’s too late to back out of the deal. The only option left for the Millers is protecting the boy from any possible harm and not letting him anywhere near the mill dam. And as only in tales, the boy obeys the rules and avoids the dangerous waters.


Miller Jr grows into a handsome lad, and becomes a forester’s apprentice and son-in-law. Unlike in other folk tales, this girl is no princess, and the boy doesn’t have to overcome several obstacles to win her heart. But not if the water fairy has a say in the matter. When Miller Jr kills a deer and washes the blood off his hands in the river, the fairy says it’s payback time and takes the young man in a vortex. His wife, having cried a river at home, goes to the water to beg the fairy t give her hubby back. But it doesn’t work like that; so she sees a dream advising her how to win her man back. She has to prove her beauty, her housewifey skills and her entertainment value (this is no tale for Bridget Joneses), but the water fairy is so unimpressed by her that it divides the water banishing Miller Jr to one shore and the missus on the other. And although the water fairy’s revenge is of biblical proportions, it still can’t get in the way of the two lovers. A bold career choice on both sides sees Miller Jr becoming a swineherd and the wife a cook, and by the end of the story you’ll also learn that a new profession might lead to true happiness (when you’re a character in a folk tale). Because contrary to Sándor Petőfi, it’s not always the water that rules.




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