Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Transformation Through Love

I've talked before about the transforming power of love, and specifically about the transforming power of love in "Prince Lindworm." But that was a 20+ page academic essay, and who wants to read a 20+ page academic essay? (Although, if you do, it's here.) So let's talk about it again, in a more casual setting. 

We've gone over the bizarro transformation sequence before, but let's run through it again for anyone who's new here: Girl forced to marry snake monster with history of eating wives. Girl wears 10 shifts under her wedding dress. Lindworm asks girl to take off shift, girl demands lindworm take off skin first. Lindworm complies, repeat 10 times. Girl whips nasty mass of skinless lindworm with whips dipped in lye. Girl dunks nasty mass of skinless, whipped lindworm in tub of milk. Girl embraces nasty mass of sticky, skinless, whipped lindworm. Lindworm turns into hot guy.

Now, the majority of the transformation process is extremely violent. It also sort of matches up with the Catholic sacrament of penance, which is consistent with the whole story being a Christian allegory, which you can read about here. And transformation through violence is certainly an established pattern in folklore, as we see most prominently in The Frog King, but also in more minor forms in a number of stories from throughout Europe. Which I will talk about more in a future blog.

But today we're going to focus on that last step. On that embrace.

There are a few things to keep in mind here. Firstly, hugging a dragon-thing that wants to eat you? Really gross and unpleasant. Secondly, hugging any sort of creature that has, through various abuses, become a quivering mass of exposed muscle and veins, likely bleeding profusely? Really, really gross and unpleasant. Thirdly, is "embrace" a euphemism? Maybe. Let's not dwell on the logistics of that. Fourthly, this girl is the lindworm's third bride, which probably means she's the third shot at transformation. An old woman in the forest told her what to do; there's no reason to believe she didn't give the same instructions to the two brides the lindworm ate, even if the text doesn't spell this out; there's a strong tradition in folklore of three people speaking to a mysterious old woman, and the first two ignoring her and dying.

So, my theory: the first two girls may have ignored the instructions entirely, but even if they didn't, they wouldn't have been able to complete the last step. Because it's the last step that makes our heroine remarkable. The last step is a kindness. To take up in your arms a disgusting, suffering thing, which would have destroyed you given the chance, to provide comfort - that takes a special kind of person.

A lot of weird, creepy things went into making the lindworm a man. But ultimately, the thing that changed him was one moment of kindness.

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Sunday, April 4, 2021

Transformation Through Violence

There are a lot of enchanted bridegroom stories out there. And there are a lot of different ways for the spells to be broken. Although a lot of them are at least…subtly sexual in nature. Sometimes, as in the case of the original French novel “Beauty and the Beast,” it’s literally sex that breaks the spell, although this often gets sanitized in translation to an agreement to marry. In stories like “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” it’s sharing a bed for a full year without seeing the enchanted bridegroom’s face. 

In fact, this is also an element in “Prince Lindworm”—she embraces him, and when they wake in the morning he’s a man. More about that later, although we won’t get into the sex, exactly, because that’s not really my thing.

But before that part, she makes him shed more layers of skin than can possibly be healthy, then whips him. With lye. Which, just. Ouch.

(And after that there’s the part where she dips him in milk, which has clear baptismal elements, but why milk? I still don’t know. Someday I’ll figure that one out.)

So here we’re going to talk about the transformations that are about violence instead of sex or love. There are stories like “Hans My Hedgehog,” where no harm is actually inflicted on the enchanted bridegroom, only on whatever facilitates his transformation—in most of these variants, it’s an animal skin, which is burned by the bride figure in the story. Also, in most of these stories, the bridegroom has the ability to go back and forth between forms, and it’s the bride who gets fed up and puts a stop to the transformations. It’s probably no surprise that transformation-through-violence stories feature brides who are a little less friendly and sympathetic than most.

But the only fairy tale I know of that features such explicit violence as a catalyst for transformation (though I’m sure there are others out there; I can only know so many stories) is “The Frog Prince”—you can read what I’ve written about that in the past here.

This does, of course, include variants of what we’re going to call the Frogged Bridegroom, specifically. (There are a surprising number of frog-based enchanted bridegroom stories. Which, for the record, should not be confused with frog bride stories—eventually I’m going to make a post about the Russian “Frog Princess.”) So we’ve got the German “Frog King” and the Scottish “The Well of the World’s End,” among several others, but we’re going to focus on those two, as they’re the ones I have hard copies of on hand at the moment.

In “The Frog King,” the frog tries to get in bed with the princess, and she responds by picking him up and flinging him into the wall. Which, for a frog, is pretty much a death sentence. But instead of going splat, he turns into a hot dude who, inexplicably, decides to marry her. (I mean, I guess his eagerness to get in her bed while still a frog indicates a certain romantic interest, but for me, a crush would not survive attempted murder. Although, does it count as murder when the victim is a pervy amphibian?)

In “The Well of the World’s End,” a girl agrees to do whatever a frog asks for one night in exchange for a favor. This frog also gets in bed with the girl, but her subsequent violence isn’t an understandable reaction to that skeeviness—the last thing the frog asks her to do before the night is over is chop off his head. Which she does, and, bam! Handsome prince. (Gonna make a full blog about this story too—it has a lot more nuance than “The Frog King.”)

So there’s a significant difference, obviously, between these two stories—one girl is attacking her enchanted bridegroom, and one is doing something she’s been asked to do to help him. And “Prince Lindworm” exists, weirdly, in the middle.

Is our girl’s initial attack a response to unwanted sexual advances? No, because she was given instructions on what to do before she even met the lindworm. But also, sort of, maybe? I mean, she knew she was going to be marrying the lindworm, so unwanted sexual advances are likely a given. And the fact that he was willing to shed several layers of skin—certainly more than his body seems able to handle—just to get her naked is…well, that’s a little worrying.

But does the lindworm want to be attacked because he knows it’s an avenue for transformation? Maybe. We don’t know. Probably not? As far as we can tell his plan is just to spend the rest of his life marrying and eating a girl every few months. Which doesn’t seem really sustainable. The thing is, he knows his parents are the king and queen. So presumably he knows that he should be a human. Is he attempting to provoke the girls by threatening to eat them, knowing that a sufficiently violent response is going to restore his true form? Again, probably not. But maybe.

The question, I think, is why does violence trigger a transformation? Love, I get. And sex, as an indication of love, yeah, sure. But why violence?

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

So, as bizarre and nonsensical as “Prince Lindworm” seems to me at times, I think it actually makes more sense than the frog stories—it combines the violence with these other elements in a way that makes the whole thing more complex and meaningful. (And this is the second time in this post I’m going to link to my Lindworm as an Allegory post.)

(Reminder that you can preorder my book based on "Prince Lindworm" here!)

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Growing Up Beastly

As you probably know by now, I’m kind of obsessed with Beauty and the Beast. And I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the nature of the Beast, and especially on his origins and on the idea of the Beast as a victim. (Like this post in my Sexual Abuse in the Folk Tradition series, and this post and this one about why we don’t curse children.) 

Today we’re going to talk about a slightly different Beast, from a different variant of this story type. This is, of course, Prince Lindworm.

Like our usual beloved Beast, it’s not the lindworm’s fault that he’s a lindworm, although for slightly different reasons—his mom screwed up, and he was born a lindworm. This enchanted bridegroom has literally never been unenchanted; there’s no natural state for him to return to. He’s always been a beast. (Sort of like Hans My Hedgehog, actually; maybe I’ll come back to that in another post.)

Before the lindworm gets transformed into a man, he eats two princesses. Which is…not great. However. He is a lindworm. Which is a kind of dragon. Which is, you know—I mean presumably they have dietary needs that differ from a human’s?

I have so, so many questions about this story that are not addressed in the original text. But the main one is what on earth did the lindworm think was going on here? So. Several points.

Firstly. There is a distinct possibility that he’s sort of a baby lindworm. (At least in the early Danish version. In the later version incorrectly attributed to Asbjorsen and Moe, we have a clearer timeline.) The queen gives birth while the king is at war. The lindworm slithers away, and reappears as the king is coming home from war.

Is this a war that’s lasted fifteen to twenty years? Did the king come home from the first war, stay home for several years, then go fight in another war that he’s returning from when the lindworm approaches him? Did the queen give birth to a fully grown lindworm that met the king a few months later? Did the queen give birth to a baby lindworm that was an adult by the time the king got home, either because lindworms grow faster than humans or because magic? Did she give birth to a baby lindworm that’s still a baby? How old is this lindworm?

Secondly. How did the lindworm know the king was his dad? Because he clearly did. He just slithered up one day and said “Hey, I’m your son. I wanna get married.”

Who raised this lindworm? Who told him who his real parents were? The text says he burrows under the bedchamber as soon as he’s born, and doesn’t mention him having any further contact with the queen or with anyone else.

Thirdly. Did the lindworm even know he was under a spell? Dude’s been a lindworm for his entire life. He knows his parents are human, but, like, do lindworms have access to comprehensive sex education? For all he knows, all lindworms might have human parents. Is he aware that he’s not supposed to be a lindworm? Even if he is, does that necessarily mean he wants to stop being a lindworm?

Fourthly. What was his ultimate goal here? He demands brides. He eats them. He demands more. Why?

Personally, I know nothing about lindworm culture and tradition. Maybe they’re, like, reverse black widows or praying mantises, and eating their wives is just, like, what they do. Or maybe he was just really hungry—though surely there would be people other than his new wives available to eat.

Why did he want to get married? Did he ever intend for a wife to survive past the wedding night?

Fifthly. The transformation. Did he see this coming? Again, did he even realize it was a possibility? When this chick starts demanding that he molt out of season and then whips him and bathes him in milk, what does he think is happening? Does he realize it’s a transformation spell? Was he expecting it or hoping for it? Does he think it’s just a bizarre human wedding tradition? Did the other two girls try to break the spell too, and do it wrong?

Shedding ten layers of skin in a row is gonna be pretty incapacitating for any sort of reptile. Once he’s done that, there’s no defending himself from things like the whipping. If the other girls tried to break the spell too, but skipped the shedding step and went right to whipping, he might have eaten them in self-defense.

Sixthly. The aftermath. So our lindworm is now a handsome prince. Okay, now what? What does that even mean? He’s literally always been a lindworm, with, as far as we can tell, lindworm behaviors and a lindworm palate. You aren’t turning him back into a prince—you’re turning him into a prince. Even if he always knew he was under a spell and it would someday be broken, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s like, inherently, fundamentally, a lindworm. He grew up as a lindworm, doing lindworm things.

He has no idea how to be a person, much less a prince. Walking, gesturing, chewing food—all exciting new experiences.

I mean, on the bright side, the king and queen didn’t actually miss out on their only child’s babyhood, after all—they still get to have all those fun experiences, just with an adult man who’s on his third wife and ate the first two.

I just, like, I don’t get how this whole thing is going to work. I have questions. I have concerns. I have many, many concerns.

Th circumstances are wildly different, but ultimately I think he’s a victim, too. Brides for lunch and all.

It’s not his fault he’s a lindworm, and while he was a lindworm, he did, presumably, what lindworms do. And now he’s a man, whether he wants to be or not. So he’s lost everything he’s ever known and been, and now he has to learn how to be a different kind of creature, from scratch, twenty years too late. (And depending on that whole king-at-war timeline, he may have just transitioned over night from a baby dragon to an adult man, which….yikes.)

What is the learning curve going to be like here? Let’s assume he’s not going to try to eat any more people, because of the sizing issue if nothing else—lindworms are probably a lot bigger than men. (How does he feel about the bride eating, looking back? Does he feel guilty? Does he shrug it off as a lindworm thing that he did when he was a lindworm? Is it all just kind of awkward?) Is he going to eat—or try to eat—a few cats or rats or lap dogs? How many months or years will it take him to remember he has to step out of bed in the mornings, instead of trying to slither and falling in a heap on the floor? When molting season comes around, is he going to try it and sprain something? (Or will molting forever be associated with terrible, terrible trauma after that bizarro transformation sequence?)

This guy has been totally screwed over since literally the moment of his conception. And for the stupidest reason. He didn’t insult someone, didn’t turn down their advances or refuse to share or help. His mom ate too many flowers. That’s it. That’s the whole reason he’s a monster, the whole reason two innocent girls are dead.

(Also, on the subject of those flowers, he should have been a girl. The queen ate the girl flower first, then the boy flower; she should have had a girl. I think I’ve done everything I’m going to with this story, but if you want to write a retelling where the lindworm is a girl, hit me up in like five years when my publishing company has expanded a little and I’ll publish it for you.)

(I wrote a book about the crazy aftermath, and you can get it here.)

Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Second Half: Related Stories

So I’ve been thinking more about the second half of King Lindorm, though I still haven’t put together a more thorough translation. But that’s just a good reason to take a more thorough look at other, similar stories.

The second half deviates significantly from the first; it’s categorized by Aarne-Thompson as a completely different tale type—707.

Some other notable stories that fit into this type are The Girl Without Hands, Mary’s Child, Bearskin, and the entire Bird Brothers category (This includes The Six Swans, The Twelve Brothers, The Twelve Wild Ducks, etc.). You can read more about Mary’s Child here, and you can read a post I wrote about Bird Brothers for Blooming Twig in 2015 here.

Now, most of these stories are, like King Lindorm, two part stories, where the first part ends with a girl marrying a king, and in the second part we have type 707. And a lot of these stories have pretty different first parts, though obviously the entire Bird Brothers category is very similar in both parts. And for the second half we split into two variants. In the Bird Brother types and Mary’s Child, the king’s wife is accused eating her own children and can’t defend herself because something in the first half of the story has made her unable or unwilling to speak. In Bearskin, The Girl Without Hands, and King Lindorm, the king’s wife is accused of giving birth to animals, and is unable to defend herself because she has no idea what’s going on—the king is away, and they’re sending letters to each other which are being switched out by someone with a grudge.

The one thing that I find really important about all of these stories is that the king is totally on his wife’s side. Their baby is dead and in pieces, and her mouth is smeared with blood? Clearly she’s being framed, or there’s been some kind of misunderstanding. His wife gave birth to puppies? Okay, that’s a little weird, a little concerning, but we’ll sort it all out when I get home.

These are men who love, trust, and defend their wives. Which is kind of rare in folklore.

And a lot of these guys are just straight up being good husbands, but the lindworm, specifically? He had better be a good husband. He was literally a dragon and she fixed him. Dude owes her. He had better be sticking up for his wife, and he has exactly zero room to judge when it comes to giving birth to non-humans.

(I think it’s worth noting that of all the stories in this category I’ve ever read, King Lindorm is the only one that features the king’s wife, um…feeding her breast milk to two other enchanted princes to break their spells? Don’t quote me on that, because I still don’t have a totally solid translation.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Born a Monster

While animal bridegrooms are an extremely popular folktale motif, it’s fairly rare to encounter bridegrooms who were originally born non-human. (This is particularly interesting as it is much more common for brides to be born nonhuman—see “The Little Mermaid,” anything about selkies, “Undine,” “Melusine”—there’s also a distinct aquatic theme here, but I’m getting off-topic.)

There are only two other stories like this that come to mind: “The Pig King” (Italian and French) and “Hans My Hedgehog.” (German) (I am sure there are other stories out there that fit into this category, but there are hundreds of thousands of fairy tales in the world, and I can only read a small percentage of them, and can remember even less.)

“Prince Lindworm” differs from these other two born-a-monster stories in that his reason for being a monster is slightly more traditional. Monster bridegrooms are generally turned into monsters as a punishment—usually for a fairly minor offense, such as general rudeness or turning down romantic advances. The lindworm is a lindworm because of his mother’s minor offense of eating too many flowers. There’s no punishment involved in Hans’ or the Pig King’s monstrousness; their parents wanted desperately to have children, and someone magical heard their pleas and said yeah, okay, sure—but with a fun little twist. (Although Hans’ dad totally brought it on himself by saying “I want a kid so bad I wouldn’t even care if he was a hedgehog.”)

All three stories involve the beast marrying before his transformation. But while Hans and both versions of the Pig King remain beasts at least part-time for some time after their marriage (we’re talking months, here), the lindworm is transformed on their wedding night. Hans and French pig are the types of characters that can only be permanently freed from their animal forms when the animal skins are destroyed. Which their wives handle, having become extremely fed up with this whole bestiality situation. The terms of transformation for the Italian pig are just that he be married three times. (Which, by the way, no one actually knew about. The terms and conditions were totally secret in this situation. And personally, if I didn’t know about the 3 weddings deal, I probably wouldn’t have kept getting married after multiple spouses attempted to kill me, but whatever, you do you.)

Prince Lindworm just feels more like an enchanted bridegroom story than the others—partly because of the consequences-for-your-actions element of his lindworm-iness, but mostly I think because of the transformation sequence? And the role the main girl plays.

Hans’ bride comes off more like a Brave Little Tailor girl than an enchanted bridegroom girl; you don’t really get the sense that she’s saving him from enchantment. He won the right to marry her through tailor-typical feats, and their relationship is something that she endures until she figures out she can make it a little more bearable by trashing his hedgehog skin.

The pig king’s bride lying with him every night when he’s not wearing an animal skin is actually pretty common in folklore, with the best example being “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”—and of course there’s “Cupid and Psyche” there, too. But I do feel that a fundamental part of those stories is the journey that the girl goes on after seeing his face. “The Pig King” just feels—I don’t know.

I think an important part of enchanted bridegroom stories is the step where the girl does something to save the beast—whether that’s going on a journey to find him, initiating a bizarro transformation sequence, or searching frantically through the palace to find him and marry him before he dies of sorrow.

I don’t know. I just think that "Prince Lindworm" is better than the other born-enchanted stories I’ve encountered. It just feels right.

I can’t think of a good ending, here. Whatever. Remind me to come back to that whole girls-more-commonly-start-out-non-human thing sometime when I have the energy to spare for anything non-Lindworm related. (Even when bridegrooms are born monsters, they’re still distinctly enchanted, born from normal humans. Brides are more likely to be just naturally nonhuman, which is—there’s something significant in that, I’m sure, and I actually meant it to be a part of my seminar paper five years ago, but the professor made me narrow my focus, which was probably a good idea as the paper was still like 25 pages long.) 

Preorder my book, Lindworm, here!

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Prince Lindworm and Prince Marcassin

So the Italian “The Pig King” (Straparola) was, at one point, I don’t remember when or where, advertised to me as the closest equivalent to “Prince Lindworm.” And I finally got around to tracking it down, as well as the longer, more detailed “Prince Marcassin,” which is a very similar, but expanded, French story by Madame D’Aulnoy.

I have the full text of “The Pig King” from the library, and the Surlalune text of “Prince Marcassin,” as I was unable to find it in English anywhere else, and we’re just going to go through the stories, and then compare them to Prince Lindworm at the end.

Now, “The Pig King” and “Prince Marcassin” are two separate stories, but they’re so similar that for the purposes of today’s blog, we’re mostly going to treat them as one. I’ll let you know when we run into significant differences.

(Marcassin is, according to google translate, French for wild boar.)

Both of the pig stories are the type where three siblings undertake a task, and only the youngest succeeds, by virtue of being an all-around better person. I’m not a big fan of this in cases where the task is “survive a marriage.” (The only other story like this I can think of right now is the Grimms’ “The Sea Hare;” you do see this in Bluebeard variants like “Fitcher’sBird,” but that’s a lot less distressing since the groom is explicitly the bad guy. Generally I just don’t love it when the protagonist lives happily ever after with a spouse who killed their older siblings. It’s awkward.)

So. Now that that little tangent is out of the way, let’s take it from the top. Barren queen longs for a child, takes a walk, falls asleep. Three fairies come by and decide to give her one, but to make him (temporarily) a pig. In “The Pig King,” the queen sleeps through the fairies’ visit and never knows about it. In “Prince Marcassin,” she dreams of the fairies’ visit, but only hears what the first two fairies say, about how she’ll have a son, and misses the pig element added by the third.

Nine months after this little nap, she gives birth to a pig.

I do think the relationship between mother and son here is really sweet. She just loves her monster baby. I’m reminded, a little, of that ancient piece of pottery featuring Pasiphae and the young Minotaur (see here).

She gave birth to this pig. She raised him. She loves him. He rests his muddy head in her lap. He roots around for truffles and brings them home for her. He’s kind of just treated like a normal prince, and we all dance around the awkwardness of the pig situation. (In “The Pig King” the dad is pretty on board with this arrangement too; in “Prince Marcassin” he sort of humors his wife but makes it clear that he feels the correct thing to do when one births a pig is to cast it into the sea.)

When Marcassin falls in love with a girl who doesn’t feel the same, Mom tells him he can do better. Unfortunately, when she says that, he says, “No, Mom, I cannot do better. Like, seriously, come on, I am literally a pig.” So she arranges the marriage. And when that goes wrong, another marriage.

In “Prince Marcassin,” the first wife kills herself on the wedding night rather than be married to a pig. The second wife attempts to kill him, and he kills her in self-defense. In “The Pig King,” he ends up killing both of the first two brides in self-defense.

This is the point where the plot begins to differ significantly. In “The Pig King,” the third bride agrees to marry the pig. They have an extremely muddy wedding night, which they both survive. She stays apparently happily married to the pig for some time before he decides to show her that he can cast off his pig skin and become a hot guy at night. After this, they stay even more happily married until they have a (normal, human) son. Finally, the bride can’t bear to keep the secret anymore, and tells her mother-in-law about the nighttime-shapeshifting. They destroy the discarded pig skin, and he stays a hot guy from then on.

(Let’s just take a moment here to appreciate how sensible the third bride is. Like, yeah, this dude is a pig, but he’s also the king and queen’s only child, and therefore the future king. This means two absolutely critical things. 1) if you can handle being married to a pig, you get to be queen someday. 2) even if your attempt to kill your unwanted husband was successful, you would be in big, big trouble afterwards. Fate worse than pig-marriage. So bride number 3 here definitely made the right call. Although, to be fair, it does appear that the marriage was actually consummated prior to even the nighttime-only transformation, so. Well. I also would not want to have sex with a pig. But murder is not the answer.)

In “Prince Marcassin,” after being forced to kill his second wife in self-defense on their wedding night, Marcassin says, “Screw this, humans suck; I’m gonna go live like other pigs,” and takes off into the woods to befriend some more normal wild boars.

He does, however, write letters home so everyone knows he’s okay.

The mother of his first two (deceased) brides has now moved out into the countryside with her one remaining daughter. Prince Marcassin encounters this third daughter while living like a pig, and somehow convinces her to come live with him? In the woods? Where he’s just being a standard wild boar?

And they live together in the woods until she gets pregnant. Which. I have concerns. I have so many concerns.

This girl’s two older sisters died after being forced to marry this pig. While he was living like a man. Now he’s living like a pig, and she’s run away from home to have sex with him in a cave in the woods?

I do kind of love how the French fairy tale writers don’t pull their punches. A lot of stories from a lot of cultures sort of imply that maybe some sex is going on behind the scenes in enchanted bridegroom situations, but the French ones just come out and say it. This girl’s been lying with a pig and now she’s pregnant. Villeneuve’s Beast doesn’t ask “Will you marry me?” every night; he asks “Will you sleep with me?” There’s just something refreshing about that refusal to dance around the issue.

But still. Deeply, deeply concerned.

Killing yourself or your pig groom is not a good solution to the problem. But neither is running away with him and letting him knock you up! Surely there must be some sort of acceptable middle ground in this very messed-up situation.

Anyway. Eventually she finds his discarded pig skin, figures things out, and gets rid of it, and they go home to the palace and live happily ever after. (At which point Marcassin mentions that he’s been discarding the skin every night? And we’re supposed to believe that this girl just never noticed? Like, it doesn’t matter how dark it is, she’s gonna notice a difference between a pig and a dude when they’re sleeping together.)

It’s kind of a messed up story.

So, onto the Prince Lindworm comparison: literally all these stories have in common is the born-already-enchanted element and the three brides. Even the circumstances of the brides’ deaths and the success of the third bride are totally different. They were fun to read, though.

Preorder my Prince Lindworm retelling here!