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The Little Ant / La hormiguita

Here is the first story I translated. It is still a work in progress, I’d LOVE any suggestions you may have. I am posting my translation as well as the original which is available online from the Biblioteca Virtual Universal and although this version does not include the author’s own footnote, I have included it in my translation in both Spanish and English.

Raton_Perez_(Cuento)_pg_1 (1)The Little Ant/La hormiguita is the introduction of a famous character called Ratón Pérez, or Ratoncito Pérez, who most Spanish speakers worldwide will recognize as the Tooth Fairy. He sounds just adorable and there are statues, drawings, children’s books, and all sorts of homages to him all over (do yourself a favor and take a quick look at wikipedia or this google image search). Luis Coloma, a friend of Cecilia Böhl de Faber, wrote the children’s story which created his role as the tooth fairy. Böhl de Faber/Caballero’s story precedes it, and [SPOILER] like Grimm’s tales, it does not have quite the cute happy ending that little Ratón Pérez got with Coloma.

So, here is the first, and most well known story in Cuentos de encantamientoTales of Enchantment!

The Little Ant

Once upon a time, and time again, there was a little ant who was so exquisite, so put-together, and so hard-working that she was enchanting. One day, while sweeping the doorway to her house, she found a coin. She said to herself, “what should I do with this coin? Should I buy pine nuts? No, because I cannot crack them. Should I buy meringues? No, that is too indulgent.” She gave it more thought, and went to a shop, where she bought blush. Then, she washed, she fixed her hair, she got dressed up, she rouged her cheeks, and she set herself up in the window. Of course, as she was elegant and so fair, everyone who passed by fell in love with her. A bull came by and said, “Little ant, would you marry me?”

“And how would you woo me?” the little ant responded.

The bull began to bellow; the little ant covered her ears with both hands. “Be off with you,” she said to the bull, “for you startle me, you shock me, and you frighten me.”

The same happened with a dog who barked, a cat who meowed, a pig who grunted, and a rooster who cock-a’doodle-dooed. The little ant was disquieted by all of them; no one gained favor with her until a little mouse named Pérez[1] passed by, who knew how to win her heart, so finely and delicately that the little ant gave him her tiny black hand in marriage. They lived like two turtle doves, so happily, that the like has not been seen since the world began.img_8321

Bad luck had it that one day the little ant went alone to Mass, after putting a pot on the stove, which she left in the care of little Mouse Pérez, advising him, in her prudent way, not to stir the pot with the small spoon but instead to use the larger spoon. But little Mouse Pérez sealed his fate by doing the opposite of what his wife had told him. He grabbed the small spoon to stir the pot and so it happened just as she had forewarned. Little Mouse Pérez, in his clumsiness, fell down into the pot like a well, and there he drowned. When the little ant came home, she called at the door. Nobody responded or came to open it. So, she asked her neighbor to allow her to go in through the roof, but the neighbor did not want to let her. So, she had to call a locksmith to come unlock the door.

The little ant went straight to the kitchen, looked into the pot, and there he was. Oh, the heartache! Little Mouse Pérez, drowned, was floating around in the boiling broth. The little ant burst into bitter tears. A cacique bird flew over and asked, “Why are you crying?”

She responded, “Because little Mouse Pérez fell in the pot.”

“Well then I, little Cacique, shall cut off my beak.”

Then the Pigeon came and said, “Why have you cut off your beak, little cacique?”

“Because little Mouse Pérez fell in the pot and the little ant deeply mourns him.”

“Well, then, I, Pigeon, cut off my chin.”

The Dovecot said, “Why did you, pigeon, cut off your chin?”

“Because little Mouse Pérez fell in the pot and the little ant deeply mourns him; and the little Cacique cut off her beak and I, Pigeon, cut off my chin.”

“Then I, Dovecot, shall be upsot.”

The Clear Creek said, “why, Dovecot, have you been upsot?”

“Because little Mouse Peréz fell in the pot and the little ant deeply mourns him; and the little Cacique cut off her beak and then the Pigeon cut off his chin, and I, Dovecot, have been upsot.”

“Then I, Clear Creek, am going to weep.”

The Princess Infanta came to fill her glass decanter. “Why, clear creek, have you begun to weep?”

“Because little Mouse Pérez fell in the pot and the little ant deeply mourns him; and the little Cacique cut off her beak and then the Pigeon, cut off his chin; and then the Dovecot, it came upsot and I, Clear Creek, began to weep.”

“Then I, Infanta, shall shatter my glass decanter.”

And I, who recount this tale, finish it with a wail, as little Mouse Pérez fell in the pot and the little ant deeply mourns him!


[1] Ratonpérez or Ratón Pérez or originally ratompérez, by Fernán Caballero, who in a footnote wrote “Ratompérez es un bichito gris muy inofensivo, tímido, que no hace ruido y solo sabe huir.” [Ratompérez is a very inoffensive, timid little gray creature, who makes no sound and only know how to flee.] A few years after the printing of this story, in 1890, creditied to Luis Coloma, a friend and colleague of Cecilia Böhl de Faber, Ratón Pérez became a Spanish mythical figure similar to that of the tooth fairy.


What an ending! This translation was particularly challenging because of the rhythm and rhyme and all the characters at the end. So much violence in such a measured beat, poetic and sad. I’d be interested to hear your take on this story. Is there a moral? Was he killed off for not going to Mass? For not listening to his wife? For ignoring good advice? And why was their door locked?

Enchanted Voices: Oral Tradition and the Compilation of Spanish Tales

As my very first post, I would like to share a short translation of which I am particularly proud. It is a “fabula” by Miguel Agustín Príncipe from the 1860s, with rhyming verses and a sarcastic and playful tone. I chose to begin with it because not only was it fun, yet difficult to translate, its theme is translation.

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Over the winter of 2018 I took on the project of translating the collected stories titled Cuentos de encantamiento, or Enchanted Tales, by Fernán Caballero (aka Cecilia Böhl de Faber) in a translation course mentored and guided by the talented translation and Spanish scholar Amanda Powell (who has published many wonderful translated works, especially Golden Age religious women’s writing—from Spanish to English–along with insightful history and literary analysis exposing us to the brilliant female minds often obscured by historical and current patriarchy). As I worked with the stories, I focused on maintaining the historical voices of the 19th century. Over the 10 week term I was able to translate a short fable/poem (above) and three short stories; “The Little Ant” (“La hormiguita”), “The Foolish Wolf and the Clever Fox” (“El lobo bobo y la zora astuta”), and “Bella-Flor.” I have set myself the goal of translating all of the 23 tales, all of which have varied voices, themes, and characters.

My hope is that there are others out there like me who adore the written word and storytelling who will enjoy reading these tales of enchantment. I also hope to share some historical background, though it may take research and some educated speculation as these lovely stories have been lost to the annals of time, unlike some of their male counterparts from other parts of the western world.