The Leaves That Hung But Never Grew

As it’s Folklore Thursday over on twitter, I thought I’d share an odd little tale.

Earlier this year, my husband went on a conference at Gregynog in mid-Wales While he was there, he spotted this on the wall and, naturally, he snapped a photo to show me:

Naturally, I was compelled to hunt down the folktale. The original book by John Sampson is out of print, but, luckily, the story appeared in another collection of Gypsy folk tales, selected by Dora E Yates, and a copy existed in the Cardiff University library. As I no longer work there, I recruited a friend to borrow it for me. (Sorry, Cardiff University, I promise you can have your book back soon.)

I love these stories because they are so much like first drafts. Everything and anything is thrown in. The boar magically transforms into a young gentleman who tells the girl the magic leaves are under the witch’s pillow. (The girl has been making the witch’s bed for a week and never noticed them What sort of a housekeeper is she?) The girl steals them and the young couple flee, pursued by the witch’s daughter. Hold on, I didn’t know the witch had a daughter. Well, she does now.

The couple escape with the help of the usual magical tricks, courtesy of the enchanted leaves. But instead of living happily ever after, they are obliged to part. I have no idea why. I doubt the storyteller did, either. The young man promptly forgets the new love of his life and she, instead of looking for him, goes back to the rich lord with the magic leaves.

At which point we find out some unspecified person is offering a large reward for the leaves and the lord wants the money for his daughter. I didn’t know he had a daughter, either. Where do all these daughters keep coming from?

Then it’s as if last orders have been called at the pub and the storyteller needs to wrap up quickly. After a ludicriously ineffective attempt on her life, the daughter uses the magic leaves to bring her young gentleman back and the two run off to London to marry before coming back to Wales and keeping a mill by the sea. Where they presumeably live happily ever after.

And what became of the little dwarf and his wife from the first page? No one knows – they’re never mentioned again. That’s another story waiting to happen.