Tales of Britain

By Jem Roberts

The finest, funniest stories of England, Scotland & Wales, refreshed for the 21st century. By Brother Bernard, as told to Jem Roberts.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Molly Whuppie! Shout her name!

Happy Folklore Thursday!

This week we need to talk about perhaps the most inspiring figure in the Tales of Britain collection: MOLLY WHUPPIE. 

©Errol le Cain

I for one had never heard of this crafty hero from the western isles of Scotland until I embarked on this journey 13 years ago, and the injustice of her obscurity is one of the things which has driven the whole project – and that's also partially due to this film:

Full disclosure – I really liked Brave. It wasn't a blockbuster by Pixar standards, but who wouldn't prefer a film set in Britain centuries ago, than in some kid's toybox, or an aquarium? Especially with the greatest cast ever assembled for one of these CG cartoons. But the fact remains, every single element of the story, from the clan Dunbroch to the protagonist Princess Merida, were entirely invented by a Hollywood screenwriter in America. Now, think about this – most of the recent films put out by Disney and Pixar: Frozen, Tangled, Princess & The Pea, all bar Moana, which was equally constructed from cherry-picked cultural appropriation, have been based directly on folklore from Denmark and Germany. When it comes to Celtic stories, nobody bothered to try to find an existing legend to adapt, they just made it all up in a Disney studio. Because, British folklore? What's that?

What breaks your heart is that we have so many male-gendered heroes to boast about – Arthur, Merlin, Robin, Jack, Dick: 5 boys who are all brave, or clever, or both. But Molly Whuppie is the equal of every single one of them, and while other female-gendered heroes, such as Lady Godiva, Rhiannon, Janet in Tam Lin and others, have their own traits to admire and look up to, Molly's talents are at odds with the ancient gender norms we all surely want to consign to history. Above all, the Molly figure tends to be wily, like Jack, but she also fights monsters, and kindness is another crucial arrow in her quiver. She's not a 'feisty' cliché or a pixie dream girl, she's just a hero. Like The Doctor (of either gender regeneration), Molly is a figure that both sexes can admire and have as a role model, and if Tales of Britain only achieves the aim of making her name famous again, we will have done something worthwhile here.

Our own retelling of Molly's adventures has been written and rewritten over the years, largely because she was such a general dab-hand at killing ogres and outwitting foes in her many adventures. There are so many versions of her story to choose elements from, be it the Highland story of 'Maol a Chliobain' or a more recognisable modern version. Her main story involves three sisters being sent out into the woods with a bannock (a kind of Scottish bread) each, and Molly, the youngest, proves to be the greatest of them all. She fights a giant (or ogre, or in our version, a bogle), tricks them into killing their own daughters, and escapes by passing over a bridge of a hair's breadth, serves a King and wins each of the King's three sons' hands in marriage for her and her sisters. SPOILER: We don't marry Molly off in our version, she has too many adventures to go on. We also included a trio of helpful crows.

Our retelling of Molly's first and greatest adventure is as distinct as any other, and we hope it pleases you, and gives young girls – and boys – just as much impetus to go out into the world and do brave, kind, momentous things, as any male hero ever did. For a ridiculously shortened version, as read by Brother Bernard on BBC Bristol last week, just click the mp3 icon below the title.

Have you pledged yet? Or maybe spread the word about our campaign to friends and family who love stories, and Britain? Please join our folktale movement today, and help us shout to the world about the wonderful lore that fills this land, from Molly's Isle of Islay to the fairy-filled island of Guernsey. Let's not let Hollywood ignore our thousands of years' worth of storytelling and invent their own fake folklore ever again.

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Elizabeth-Jane Baldry
 Elizabeth-Jane Baldry says:

Thanks for this post. I've loved the story of Molly Whuppie for years. I'll really look forward to reading your version. Good luck. Elizabeth-Jane xx

posted 27th July 2017

Antonia Galloway
 Antonia Galloway says:

Really enjoying your updates, Jem - are the illustrations going to be in the book? So looking forward to reading it all, and really love the idea of linking the stories to their geographical locations.

posted 27th July 2017

Heather Salerno
 Heather Salerno says:

Where are the references for the images used on this page, please? And, is the book illustrated?

posted 7th February 2019

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