Fairy-Tale Files: Power to the Pepper

Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, readers, editorial assistants, or contributors.


For a fairy-tale protagonist, the ability to defend oneself through an unconventional method can often mean the difference between death and survival. In the Hmong story of “The Woman and the Tiger” also known as “Yer and the Tiger,” a tiger kills a man who is out hunting in the forest. After consuming his victim, the tiger disguises himself as the dead man by wearing his clothes and then goes to the man’s home. He eventually kills the man’s wife and the children as well by eating them. But Yer, the wife’s sister who happened to be living with the family, flees to the attic where she takes refuge from the man-eating tiger. The next day, the tiger calls her to come down and threatens to go up to the attic. Yer throws pepper in the tiger’s eyes, and he howls as he runs to the river to wash them out. In that brief moment, she runs back downstairs to get more pepper, and some salt, which she mixes together and later uses to defend herself again from the tiger. At the end of the story, Yer’s family rescues her and the tiger loses his life.

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In the 2009 comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Blart uses a bottle of hot sauce to apprehend a suspect. He pulls the bottle out from his holster, twists open the cap, shakes it, then aims it at the assailant. A few drops fly through the air and then land in the suspect’s eyes, temporarily preventing him from seeing.

The modern invention and use of pepper spray as a tool for self-defense has grown in popularity, especially among women. Its main ingredient is a chemical derived from chili peppers. The effects of the chemical causes the eyes to immediately close in order to eliminate the attacker’s ability to see, and allows the victim to flee. Immense pain, brief blindness, and non-stop tears often result as well.


This edition of Fairy-Tale Files is brought to you by Mauve Issue contributor Mai Der Vang.