The wood so softly singing
In a language strange to hear
And the song it sings will find you
As the twilight draws you near


The Wondrous Wood

Once there was a wild and wicked warlord who ruled his territory fiercely so that all feared him and his band of retainers and unwillingly did his will. Worse still, he was lecherous and lustful and no girl or young woman was safe from him.

Within his territory was a forest, and within that a wondrous wood that no-one ventured into for it was deemed to be a perilous place. In the forest, not far from the wood, lived an old lady with her grand daughter. She span yarn and teaching the girl to do the same. On market days the old lady would take yarn to sell or to trade for food and other goods. She went alone and left the girl in the house, especially now that she had become of an age where she might attract the attentions of the tyrant.

But one market day the old lady was too ill to go to market so the girl was sent to trade quickly for some essential food and then to return without dallying. But as she came to the edge of the forest the tyrant was out riding and he saw her. She turned back but could see no way of escape without straying into the perilous wood. So she went into it until she came to a great oak barring her way. She stopped and paid her respects, then asked leave to pass. There was a shiver of leaves and she saw a way ahead through the trees.

She walked thro’ the wood where the oaken tree stood
And she curtsied did she to the oaken tree
And he let her go down to the town, the town
From the wood, the wonderful wood.

The tyrant followed her into the wood, but when he came to the great oak tree he slashed with his whip and tried to pass. As he did so a large branch came crashing down and killed him stone dead.

He rode through the wood, where the oaken tree stood
And he cursed, did he, at the oaken tree
And he took out his blade to capture the maid
But a bough fell quick and it broke his neck
In the wood, the wonderful wood.

When he didn’t return, his men came after him. But the wood closed about them and they were never seen in the world again.

O they rode to the wood where the oaken tree stood
To cut down the tree, the oaken tree,
Then the tree gave a groan and summoned his own
For the trees closed about and they never got out
Of the wood, the wonderful wood.

As for the girl she returned safely from market. So that was alright, wasn’t it?

Collected in Warwickshire from Miss Lily Kingston Streetly in 1916.


The Wal at the Warld's End

This Scots dialect tale has more in common with 'Three Golden Heads' than others with the 'Well at the World's End' (and similar) titles.

Here the bonny king's daughter arrives at the well and it is too deep to dip the bottle in. "Three scaud men's heads" ask her to wash and dry them with her apron and she does so. They then dip the bottle in for her and also confer wealth and beauty upon her.

The ugly queen's daughter is then sent but refuses to wash and dry the men's heads. She is made even more ugly and blighted with further afflictions.

What is going on here? Is this a fertility theme? In George Peele's 16th century play which employs these folk-tale sources, the verse reference:

Fair maid white and red
You shall have some cockle bread
refers to a bawdy term at the time where "kneading cockle bread" was a term for female masturbation. The actual reference seems to be to the fact that the maid will get a husband. This is the case with both daughters here, though one gets a prince and the other a poor cobbler who beats her. Does each girl have to confront maleness in order to make the transition to marriage? If so it is simply a variant on the 'kissing the frog' theme which is linked to the other 'Well at the World's End' stories.

This is an aspect emphasised, also, by the fact that each of the girls is offered a ride on a pony "over Hecklepin Heath" on the way to the well, but only the 'bonny' daughter accepts the ride.