I don’t remember the first time I read Prince Lindworm, but I do remember the first time I understood it. It was the spring semester of my freshman year of college, and I was sitting in the left front corner of my British Literature class. As usual, I had two notebooks open—one for class notes, and one for anything actually interesting that I thought of while paying slightly less attention to class than I should have been.
On this particular day, I was neglecting Byron in favor of speculating on why, when the Lindworm’s spell was broken, we just forgot about the dead girls and everything was hunky dory. Then I thought about his mom eating the flowers, and suddenly, the whole ridiculous thing made sense. It’s a Christian allegory.
You start out with a woman eating something she was specifically told not to eat. Hello, Eve. Nice to see you—it’s been a while.
Because of the mother’s dietary choices, the child is born cursed. Fall of man.
Then along comes our girl, and she’s willing to give her life for the sake of her kingdom, because she rocks. And because of her sacrifice (see: Crucifixion), our fallen man is redeemed, i.e. returned to humanity. And when this happens, when he is purified by her sacrifice, all of his sins are forgiven. He is embraced by the father and immediately welcomed home.
The basic structure of this story is drawn directly from the basic structure of the Bible.
And of course, it’s not that simple. There’s more, much more, because this story is just a little crazy. There are definitely Prodigal Son elements in the versions where the queen gives birth to a prince as well as a monster, but I’ll let you think about that on your own time, because I’m much more interested in the spell-breaking, and I’m on a tight schedule—this needs to be ready to post in just a couple hours, and I still need to track down some old research.
What I consider the really big revelation here happened a few weeks after that day in British Literature, though it was also related to the class. I was writing an in-depth analysis of Tennyson’s “The Journey of the Magi.” The Catholic sacrament of penance ended up being a major theme. And that got me thinking more about the specifics of the transformation, which had previously struck me as baffling, creepy, and just this side of suggestive.
(And look, I can make it sound all nice and symbolic here, but when you get to actually writing the scene, I just can’t get all the suggestiveness out. Fair warning. It’s in chapter two.)
So let’s review the transformation. Step one: some seriously excessive molting. (Snakes molt, right? Or is it shed?) Step two: whips soaked in lye. Step three: dunk in a tub of milk. Step four: the embrace. However you wanna interpret that.
Okay. Step one. We cast off the old self, the sins, whatever. It’s really hard and it kind of hurts. Step two is, like, well. The lye is purifying, right? That’s soap? The whips are a little…we can call that penance or something, okay? I promised Biblical connections, but not necessarily theological soundness. Think like hair shirts and whatever. He’s paying for his sins and being made clean.
Not sure why it’s milk, exactly, but step three is obviously baptism. We’re gonna call step four acceptance into the body of Christ, and ignore any sexual undertones we might be picking up.
And then the fallen son is welcomed home with opens arms, easily and fully forgiven, and everyone lives happily ever after.
This leaves us with only two mysteries in this previously completely incomprehensible story. I already told you I’m not sure about the milk, although the google search “milk symbolism”—
Wait. I take that back. It may now be twenty-six minutes after this post was initially intended to go out, but I have an answer to the milk question. Apparently, in Corinthians and Hebrews, it’s symbolic of, like, basic doctrine. So you’ve got baptism and Bible 101. Milk actually has a lot of symbolism attached to it, including purity and, apparently, Nazism, although I vote we discard that one as irrelevant to our current line of inquiry. Let’s call the milk problem solved.
Our last mystery: the flowers. We’ve got the scene in general down as representing the fall of man, but let’s get into the specifics. Eat this one if you want a girl, that one if you want a boy. So the mom eats the girl flower, and then she eats the boy flower. She winds up with a boy lindworm, and in some versions also a boy human.
Note the lack of girl here, despite the initial intake of the girl flower. I’m completely down with the lindworm as punishment for disobedient flower-consumption, but why is it a boy? Just further punishment? Logically, if she’s going to have two kids, the first born should be a human daughter, in line with the first flower, and the second should be a male lindworm due to the forbidden flower. If there’s only one kid, why is it a boy? Did the entire request for a girl get nullified by the second flower?
Why isn't the lindworm a girl? If the lindworm is a boy, why doesn’t he have a sister? Specifically, an older sister? I don’t have an answer. It’s been years and years of intermittent research, and I don’t have an answer.
SPECIAL BONUS PROMOTIONAL TACTIC THAT I JUST THOUGHT OF NOW AND MIGHT VERY WELL COME TO REGRET BUT I’M TOO EXCITED ABOUT THE POTENTIAL OUTCOME TO CARE: Comment with a good answer to the lindworm gender question and I’ll send you a free, hand-bound copy of my chapbook thin. No limits on how many people can win; you give me an answer I like, I give you a book. Limit one per player, although I’d love to hear as many theories as you can come up with.
(P.S. Remember to sign up to read Lindworm on Patreon for $1/month, starting on October 1st!)