An old folktale from Mexico, “Love Like Salt” begins in the style of King Lear, very much like the beginning of the English Cinderella story “Cap O’Rushes”. The King questions his three daughters and finds out the youngest princess loves him…as dearly as she loves salt!
The story has a riches-to-rags-to-riches plot line. These stories, akin to tales such as “Princess Furball”, lose some of the popular Cinderella elements of slippers and fairy godmothers. The youngest princess’s answer in “Love Like Salt” highlights the importance of salt as a seasoning and preservative before there were modern conveniences such as refrigeration. It’s said that the English word “salary” actually comes from the Latin word for salt, sal, because of a salt allowance in ancient Rome. The preciousness of salt is also the basis of the saying “worth your salt”.
The King however, is not impressed with his daughter’s answer. He retaliates with execution. Similar to Snow White’s evil stepmother, the King requires grisly proof of her death, in the form of three items:
- Her heart
- Her eyes
- Her little finger
Here he shows himself more thorough than the evil queen in “Snow White”, but nothing is said about why she was sent into the forest to be killed out of sight in the first place, except it turns out to be something of a secret that he disposed of her. His daughter pays a price for his extra requirements, but not quite as he hopes.
As part of convincing the King’s servant to spare her, the princess solves these three problems all by herself. She saves her life by suggesting the heart and eyes of a wild dog, and by agreeing to lose her little finger! That poor dog was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The nine-fingered princess lives with a hermit until the requisite prince comes along and offers her marriage. The princess doesn’t need to be asked twice. “She accepted him at once” and calls out her father’s actions at her wedding feast, after withholding salt from his plate. In a twist on the story we know, it is her missing finger that identifies her to her father, instead of the usual shoe.
“Love Like Salt” features a strong main character and lacks the clear moral messages seen in some versions of Cinderella. I found it especially ironic that the princess almost loses her eyes, since that is the punishment for the stepsisters in the Grimm’s Aschenputtel.
Above, I focused on the “Love Like Salt” version of the story (referenced at bottom), but there are several variations of this tale from different cultures, such as this Jewish Cinderella:
John Bierhorst (18 December 2007). “Love Like Salt”. Latin American Folktales: Stories from Hispanic and Indian Traditions. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. pp. 141–143. ISBN 978-0-307-42658-1.