The Star Husband

by Henry Shohn

retold by Richard Dieterle

"The following version of Star Husband was collected by the editor [Alan Dundes] on June 4, 1963, near Mayetta, Kansas, from Henry Shohn, age 43, a Winnebago, who said he had learned the tale from his step-father George Rice Hill from Winnebago, Nebraska, around the year 1927. The tale is presented to show that a 'fragmentary version' can be told as a complete tale and at the same time to demonstrate to the reader the nature of a virtually unedited oral version of a folktale."1

This is the story of a star husband. There were two girls who used to hang out together. One night they were camping in the countryside, and as they lay on their backs looking at the sky, the one girl said, "I hear that stars are spirits. I would like to have that star as my husband," she said, pointing to a particularly bright star in the firmament. The other girl pointed to a star so dim that it could hardly be made out. "I'd like to have that star as my husband," she said. Then they went to sleep.

When they woke up the next morning, the first girl who had wished upon a bright star found an old man lying next to her. "I am he for whom you had wished," he declared. However, next to the other girl lay a handsome young man. He said, "So it is agreed, you two shall marry the ones that you picked from the sky. You shall live out your lives here on earth, and when your spirits ascend to the sky, you shall become our wives just as you picked us," said the young man.2

Commentary. Dundes says, "Although the tale, from an esthetic point of view, our Western esthetic point of view, is not as entertaining as one in which the girls are confronted with a taboo in the sky world, it nevertheless might be the original form of the tale."3

"dim" — this reflects modesty, a virtue lauded as part of the moral of this tale.

"an old man" — since age is more prestigious than youth, it is not surprising that the old man is the brighter star.

Comparative Material. The Comparative Material for this story is so vast that there is no way that individual stories can be presented here. See Stith Thompson's work on this tale. Dundes says, "If the fragmentary version or Type I* is the archetype, the trait formula might be A2, B1, C1, D2, E3 and F4." These are the elements of this tale with the percentage of stories exemplifying them: "[A2] Two girls (65%) [B1] sleeping out (85%) [C1] make wishes for stars as husbands (90%). [D2] They are taken to the sky in their sleep (82%) and [E3] find themselves married to stars (87%), a young man and an old, corresponding to the brilliance or size of the stars (55%)."4

Links: Celestial Spirits.

Stories: about stars and other celestial bodies: The Dipper, Įcorúšika and His Brothers, The Seven Maidens, Morning Star and His Friend, Little Human Head, Turtle and the Witches, Sky Man, Wojijé, The Raccoon Coat, Sun and the Big Eater, The Big Eater, Grandfather's Two Families, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Meteor Spirit and the Origin of Wampum, The Children of the Sun, Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Origins of the Milky Way, The Fall of the Stars.

Themes: someone is, or becomes, a star: The Seven Maidens, The Dipper, Grandfather's Two Families, Morning Star and His Friend, Heną́ga and Star Girl, Turtle and the Witches, Įcorúšika and His Brothers; a human being physically travels to Spiritland without having died: The Resurrection of the Chief's Daughter, Ghost Dance Origin Myth II, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, Sunset Point, Snowshoe Strings, The Thunderbird, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, White Wolf, Waruǧábᵉra, How the Thunders Met the Nights, The Shaggy Man, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Buffalo Dance Origin Myth, Aracgéga's Blessings, The Blessing of a Bear Clansman, The Lost Blanket, The Twins Get into Hot Water, The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy, The Petition to Earthmaker, The Boy who would be Immortal, Thunder Cloud Marries Again, Rainbow and the Stone Arch (v. 2), The Friendship Drum Origin Myth, Trickster Concludes His Mission; a human marries a spirit: The Daughter-in-Law's Jealousy (a Thunderbird, a Nightspirit, and two Waterspirits), The Thunderbird (a Thunderbird), How the Thunders Met the Nights (a Nightspirit), The Shaggy Man (a Bear Spirit), White Wolf (a Wolf Spirit), The Woman who Married a Snake (a Snake Spirit), Little Human Head (a Louse Spirit), Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle (Buffalo Spirit), The Phantom Woman (Waterspirit); a person petitions spirits for a greedy end: The Greedy Woman, Little Fox and the Ghost, The Boy who would be Immortal.


1 Alan Dundes (ed.), The Study of Folklore (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1965) 450 nt 9.

2 Stith Thompson, "The Star Husband Tale," in Dundes (ed.), The Study of Folklore, 414-474. This is a reprint of Stith Thompson, "The Star Husband Tale," Studia Septentrionalia, 4 (1953): 93-163; published in book form under the same title (Oslo: H. Aschehoug & Co., 1953).

3 Dundes (ed.), The Study of Folklore, 450 nt 9.

4 Thompson, "The Star Husband Tale," 449. The theme designations were inserted by me (Richard Dieterle).