If we learn anything from tales like “Bluebeard” and “How the Devil Married Three Sisters” (ATU types 312 and 311, respectively) it’s that the real crime is not disobedience or even murder — it’s lack of caution. After all, the only reason anyone in those stories got caught — both the women and their homicidal husbands — wasn’t stellar detective work, but their own carelessness in tracking blood around or giving people access to their murder-room.
The lesson here is neatly summed up in “The Robber Bridegroom” and variants (type 955) by the phrase, “Be bold, but not too bold,” spoken by a bird the heroine encounters in her beau’s house. Though this phrase isn’t uttered outright in the other tale types, it still seems fitting.
In other words? Go ahead and break the rules — just don’t get caught.
Tell-Tales: Bloody Keys and Severed Hands
See, the characters in these stories get in predicaments because they leave so much physical evidence. In tale types 311 and 312, this evidence is blood (or, in the case of “How the Devil Married Three Sisters,” a withered bouquet) that gives away the bride’s disobedient entry into the forbidden murder-chamber.
In tales of type 955 (“The Robber Bridegroom,” etc.), the “tell-tale” (which is how I’ve been thinking of these objects) is a severed hand or finger (or in some cases, an open grave), produced as proof of the suitor’s crimes by his (now ex-) lover.
I’m not going to make a lot of this comparison — I just thought it was interesting. I do want to talk about these “tell-tales” individually, though, starting in this post with the blood and continuing on t othe severed appendages in the next post.
Tough Stain? Use a Magic Cat!
In most of these stories, the only way to avoid detection is to avoid the blood entirely — don’t drop the keys, leave the egg somewhere safe, don’t grab the ring sitting in the pool of blood. Once the blood gets on something, it’s not coming off. I’d call bullshit on that, but the keys and egg are magic. So, okay.
It’s not clear why they can’t get it off their skin or clothes, though. I’ve heard bloodstains are hard to get out, and I could’ve sworn there were some superstitions about that (though I didn’t have much luck finding a source for that). And of course with modern technology, it’s hard to remove all traces of blood from a crime scene, though that in turn can be countered by modern cleaners.
The one case where contact with blood doesn’t spell doom is in “The Widow and Her Daughters,” which mentions a unique blood-removal technique:
She opened it, and she saw her two sisters there dead, and she went down to the two knees in blood. She came out, and she was cleaning her feet, and she could not take a bit of the blood off them.
The tiny cat came where she was, and she said to her, “Give me a tiny drop of milk, and I will clean thy feet as well as they were before.”
“I will give it, thou creature; I will give thee thy desire of milk if thou will clean my feet”
The cat licked her feet as well as they were before.
Huh? Now, I liked this when I read it because it’s so weird and pretty gross.
But then I gave it some thought and … it’s not totally ridiculous. Because saliva is an effective blood remover. That’s because it contains enzymes to aid in the first stages of digestion (thanks, high-school biology class). Those same enzymes help break down blood (which is basically food after all, or at least food-adjacent) making it easier to get out.
On further searching, the effectiveness of saliva vs. other methods, or why it works, seems to be up for debate … something about saliva breaking down starches not proteins. But I also learned that an old superstition, which has persisted into modern times, states that only a person’s saliva can remove their own blood. And on various quilting/sewing sites and forums, you’ll see plenty of recommendations to use thread soaked in saliva to get blood out of fabric (often coupled with a mention of the own blood/own saliva belief).
Still, the combination of cat saliva and rough cat tongue actually make sense — at least fairy-tale sense — for blood removal. Yes, the shoes were completely submerged in blood, which seems like more than a cat should be able to lick off. But this is a talking cat, so … magic.
I would not recommend using a regular, non-magical cat for blood or other stain removal, by the way. In which case …
If You Don’t Have a Magic Cat
Besides magic cats or your own saliva, there’s always meat tenderizer (which has enzymes that break down proteins), or various other options, depending on the amount of blood, how long it’s been there, and how gone you need it to be.
For the truly interested (by which I mean, not averse to reading about scraping up brain matter), check out this How Stuff Works article on crime-scene cleanup.