Twa Magicians, The [Child 44]

DESCRIPTION: A (blacksmith) sees a girl who pleases him, and sets out to sleep with her. She tries to foil him with magic transformations, but he proves as sorcerous as she, and gains her maidenhead
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1828 (Buchan)
KEYWORDS: magic seduction rape shape-changing
FOUND IN: Britain(England,Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (13 citations):
Child 44, "The Twa Magicians" (1 text)
Bronson 44, "The Twa Magicians" (1 version plus 11 versions of "Hares on the Mountain")
BronsonSinging 44, "The Twa Magicians" (1 version: #1, plus #2 and #12, which are "Hares n the Mountain")
GreigDuncan2 334, "The Twa Magicians" (1 fragment)
BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 442-445, "The Two Magicians" (notes plus a copy of Buchan's text and a stanza of "Hares on the Mountain")
Leach, pp. 152-154, "The Twa Magicians" (1 text)
PBB 25, "The Twa Magicians" (1 text)
Sharp-100E 20, "The Two Magicians" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
WElls, pp. 168-169, "The Two Magicians" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1, but somewhat changed}
DBuchan 47, "The Twa Magicians" (1 text)
Whitelaw-Ballads, p. 159, "The Twa Magicians" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Bob Stewart, _Where Is Saint George? Pagan Imagery in English Folksong_, revised edition, Blandford, 1988, p. 40, "The Two Magicians" (1 text, 1 tune)

Roud #1350
A. L. Lloyd, "Two Magicians" (on Lloyd3, BirdBush1, BirdBush2) [tune by Lloyd]
cf. "Hares on the Mountain" (theme)
cf. "Les Metamorphoses (Metamorphoses)" (theme of transformations)
cf. "Je Caresserai La Belle Par Amitie" (theme of transformations)
NOTES [470 words]: Sharp bowdlerizes "gain my maidenhead" to "change my maiden name" (!) -PJS
Bronson believes that the ballad "Hares on the Mountain" is a very-much-worn-down version of this piece. This is, at best, currently beyond proof; personally, I don't believe it.
The idea of gaining a lover who is changing shape has ancient roots. We find it in Ovid's "Metamorphoses," where Peleus (the father of Achilles) finds Thetis in a cave and attempts to couple with her. To defeat him, she turns into a bird, a tree, and a tigress. The latter scares him off, but eventually he catches her while asleep (XI.225ff.; the story also occurs in Quintus of Smyrna's account of the War with Troy, book III, starting around line 620). And Zeus, of course, used myriad guises to gain access to women.
There is a Welsh equivalent, which some may also have encountered in partial form in Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain. It concerns the great bard Taliesin. He was born Gwion Bach. As a young man, he served the witch Ceridwen (Cerridwen, Keridwen, Keritwen; Mercantante/Dow, p. 227; according to Bromwich,pp. 312-313, the name means "Fair and Loved," even though she was a hag, and so has led to assorted emendations to the story, which I don't buy) -- and once, while brewing a wisdom potion of hers, swallowed some of it and became wise. She sought to punish him, and they engaged in a shape-shifting contest. Finally, he became a kernel of grain, and she a hen that swallowed him -- but he was reborn after she swallowed him, and became Taliesin (Alexander, p. 285).
The tale of "The Magician and His Pupil" (Thompson type 325; see Thompson, pp. 69-70) also involves this sort of competitive transformation and may involve a similar ending.
For other examples, see Lyle, p. 138.
Stewart, p. 41, proposes an alternate explanation, that the song derives from early Christian legends of saints combatting shape-changing priests. In medieval Catholic England, it is true that these stories would likely have been better-known than Ovid. But the parallels are less close. In any case, it seems to me there are plenty of shape-changing tales in folklore which might provide the root of this song!
Lyle, p. 81, suggests that this is a "levelling" ballad, with the low-status blacksmith pursuing a member of (presumably) the gentry or even the nobility. Unfortunately, with so few substantial British texts to work from, I think this has to remain speculation. She also suggests (p. 82) that the song is a "conception story"-- that is, a tale of how some significant figure came to be born. I agree that it has many of the hallmarks of such a tale (as witness the links to the Taliesin story), but of course the drawback is that there is no hint in the extant versions that the lady becomes pregnant, let alone bears a noteworthy child. - RBW
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File: C044

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