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, 29 November 2018

Robin Redbreast's Snowy Mission

I hope you're all wonderfully wrapped up this cold and damp Folklore Thursday!

It's not quite feeling festive just yet, but today's snowy theme suggests perhaps the simplest tale of the 77 in our book – a yuletide tale enjoyed by Rabbie Burns as a tiny tot, THE MARRIAGE OF ROBIN REDBREAST.

This seems to be one of the very rare tales we haven't yet blogged about, but it's hardly surprising as it's so slight, sweet and simple – and of course, has no real basis in the real landscape or history of Scotland that anybody could ever pinpoint, so there's not a lot to debate. It's a very traditional fable, a 'rule of three' narrative, in which the titular birdy must fly through snow and wind across the white hills of Ayrshire to the castle of the King of Ayr in time for the Royal Wedding, where he'll be singing a special song. On the way a cat, a kite and a wee boy all try to trick and capture the chirpy robin, but he outwits them and makes it to the wedding, where he's repaid with the wing in marriage of wee Jenny Wren, and both couples enjoy a romantic snowy Christmas day together.

The tradition of Robin Redbreast and Jenny Wren getting married is an ancient trope, but it's this Burns story which defines the idea as a Christmas story, and the snowy landscape over which Robin travels is one of the most key ingredients, which prevent the story from being too trite. Our source material is this retelling, attributed to Robert Burns' sister Isabella, and though of course we've ironed out the language, we hope it still has a certain tinkling Gaelic charm in its retelling. Despite there being no real historicity to such a slight fable, as an Ayrshire nursery rhyme, we took a punt on the King in question being based at the ancient Brodick Castle, pictured here in the snow...

It's only a very short story, but we featured it in last year's Yule Tales of Britain Live show, and it's back in the brew for this year's show as well. And not just to allow Brother Bernard to do his Sean Connery impression for the King again.

The show is two weeks this Saturday in Bath, and it's a Pay What You Feel deal packed with special yuletide folktales, only a matter of weeks before our books are in your hands! So please do come along and join in the festive fun – and help spread the word if you can, because the more, the literally merrier! And if a kite, a cat and a wee boy try to stop you getting to The Bell Inn for 4pm on Saturday 15th – give a wee whistle, and keep on going!

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