Saturday, March 16, 2024

The Brave Little Tailor

 I have a very clear memory of writing about this story, which is odd, because I can find no evidence that I’ve ever done so.

(I do not have the energy to put in images, but I’ll try to remember to post some another time, because I have a fantastic illustrated copy of this story.)

Tailors are weirdly frequent fairy tale protagonists, but this is probably the best-known, and for good reason; this is definitely one of the best tailor stories around.

We begin with our tailor putting some jam on a piece of bread, then forgetting all about it while he gets caught up in his sewing. This attracts flies. He grabs a piece of cloth and swats at them, killing seven flies in one blow.

The tailor feels this is a very impressive feat. He makes a sash to wear, embroidered with “Seven in one blow,” so everyone he meets will know about it.

(This is pre-sewing machine. He’s hand sewing. Can you imagine how long that would take? To make it look nice? To make it large enough to be easily read from a distance? This is some impressive work.)

The tailor decides this town is just too small for someone with his impressive fly-swatting skills. He sets off to seek adventure in the wider world, bringing with him only his sash and a piece of cheese, which he puts in his pocket.

(I killed 4 flies in one blow with a flyswatter, once. But I decided to keep my day job.)

On his way out, he finds a bird stuck in a bush, and puts that in his other pocket.

This bird is alive, but apparently content to sit motionless in a strange, small, dark place for an unspecified amount of time.

The tailor meets a giant, who will be the first of many characters to interpret “seven in one blow” as referring to men. This misunderstanding initiates multiple rounds of showing off.

The giant picks up a rock and squeezes it until water comes out. Which…isn't how rocks work, but okay.

The tailor takes out his cheese, and squeezes it until way more water comes out—apparently this is a soft cheese, which raises some concerns about his pocket storage, and apparently it also looks enough like a rock to fool the giant.

The giant picks up another stone and throws it as far as he can.

The tailor takes the bird out of his other pocket and throws it; the bird flies away, much farther than the giant’s. The giant believes the bird is a stone, too, and I am having some concerns about his eyesight.

Next, they carry a felled tree together. By which I mean, the giant carries a tree, while the tailor sits in the branches, and every time the giant glances back, the tailor jumps down and pretends to be doing his share.

Eventually, the giant takes the tailor home, where he meets several other giants. He’s invited to spend the night, but is intimidated by the size of the bed the giants offer, so he slips out in the night and sleeps on the floor in the corner.

The giant smashes the bed to pieces, confident he’s smashed the troublesome tailor along with it. And this, friends, is why we always check for a body.

In the morning, when the tailor turns up alive, all of the giants run away in terror.

He proceeds to a local palace, where his sash is again misinterpreted, and he’s invited, as a great warrior, to take a special position in the royal army.

He accepts. The other soldiers are terrified to work with a man who could kill seven of them with one blow, and tell the king, “either he goes or we do.”

The king is unwilling to lose his entire army, but he’s afraid to upset such a dangerous man by firing him. Instead, he decides to set an impossible task to get rid of him.

Two giants are wreaking havoc. If the tailor can kill them, the king will give him half the kingdom and his daughter’s hand in marriage.

(This is a very frequent offer, and I find it baffling. Generally the daughter is this situation is the king’s only child, which means that if you marry her, you’ll eventually get the entire kingdom, as the new king, when your father-in-law dies. So why are we dividing the kingdom now? That seems like a huge mess, politically. You split the kingdom in half. Does it eventually get reassembled when the old king dies? Or does his half go to someone else? If we have a king splitting his kingdom in half every time a giant needs to be killed, or a princess needs to be rescued, how many kingdoms are we going to have in a few generations? Is this why there are so many princes and princesses in fairy tales? Is the continent just littered in dozens of broken-up kingdoms each covering a couple miles? This is not sustainable.)

Of course, the king is expecting that the giants will kill the tailor—he has no intention of actually giving him his daughter or half his kingdom.

The tailor finds the giants sleeping, hides in a tree, and starts pelting them both with stones. Each giant thinks the other is attacking him, and they fight and kill each other. The tailor, of course, takes the credit.

The king sets another impossible task—to capture a unicorn.

The tailor gets the unicorn to chase him, runs almost into a tree, and darts out of the way. The unicorn gets its horn stuck in the tree.

A third impossible task—to catch a wild boar.

Again, the tailor gets it to chase him. He runs into a conveniently located chapel. The boar follows. He jumps out a window. The boar is not able to follow. He circles back around to close the door, and the boar is contained.

The king is out of impossible tasks. The promise must be kept. A wedding is planned.

The princess is not a fan.

It is after the wedding that we learn of the tailor’s only weakness—sleep-talking. His new wife learns from the sleep-talking that he used to be a tailor, and apparently she and the king feel this justifies them in getting rid of him, as if his former profession somehow cancels out the giant-slaying and unicorn-capture.

They plan to have the tailor kidnapped in the night and thrown on a ship that will take him far, far away.

But the tailor’s squire overhears, and tattles.

The next night, when the kidnappers are supposed to come, the tailor pretends to sleep, and pretends to sleep-talk, this time about all of his terrifying feats. The kidnappers run away, successfully terrified, and the tailor allegedly lives happily ever after, though I have some concerns about his relationship with his wife and father-in-law.

There is a variant where the final scene ends with something other than sleep-talking—I think a bucket of fish gets dumped on the princess? But I cannot find it right now, which is driving me absolutely insane. Just know it’s out there somewhere. Hopefully I’ll track it down eventually.

Saturday, March 9, 2024

The Laidly Worm of Spindleston Heugh

 This is one of my favorite kinds of stories—enchanted bride/groom without the bride/groom. The transforming power of non-romantic love is just so fantastic.

The Laidly Worm is an English fairy tale, collected by Joseph Jacobs. We open with a widowed king who has two children. These children are named Childe Wynd and Margaret. I’m gonna assume that each parent named one child here, because this looks like wildly different taste in names.

Childe Wynd, the oldest child, and the son, sets off to seek his fortune. Which, like, what fortune? Isn’t he the heir to the throne? That’s a built-in fortune; why is he seeking one elsewhere?

Of course, the real reason he’s off seeking his fortune is so that he’ll be safely out of the way for what happens next. Which is that his father remarries, and his new wife is, as is so often the case, a witch.

It’s all going well enough until someone comments on Margaret’s beauty, which, of course, her stepmother is deeply offended by.

She turns Margaret into a laidly worm, who can only be turned back by three kisses from her absent brother.

Which seems like a great way to guarantee your spell will be broken—I mean “get your brother to come kiss you” is a lot easier than “get someone to fall in love with you in your monstrous form” or “get someone to share a bed with you for a year without ever seeing your face” or any of the other, more traditional ways to break this kind of spell.

Margaret wakes up the next morning, in her bed, as a laidly worm. (Laidly, by the way, just means ugly. And we’re taking, like, serpent, not earthworm.)

Margaret’s maids all run away, and she slithers out of the palace, settling in at Spindleston Heugh.

At this point, Margaret begins terrorizing the countryside, devouring everything she comes across, and so the locals consult with a warlock. He figures out that the worm is really the princess—apparently this is news despite the worm being found in the princess’s bed—maybe they assumed it ate her? But how did they think it got into the palace in the first place without being seen?

Anyway, he tells them the enchanted princess is just hungry, and if they give her the milk of seven cows, she’ll be a good snake. Also, her brother can break the spell.

So. Margaret drinks a lot of milk, and just sort of hangs out, being a snake. I’m really impressed with the problem-solving here. Instead of rushing right to “kill the monster,” we took the time to figure out what was actually going on, and work out a peaceful solution. Margaret didn’t mean to hurt anyone; she was frightened and hungry and confused. And instead of fighting back, we’re feeding her.

Childe Wynd comes home. The stepmom sends some storms to sink his ships, but they can’t be sunk because they’re made of rowan wood. She sends Margaret to attack the ships when they reach shore, which is the first indication we’ve seen that she can control Margaret as Worm. Childe Wynd sails away again, and approaches from the other side. As soon as they’ve successfully landed, the stepmom loses all power over Margaret.

And this is where things get really weird.  Because Child Wynd runs and Margaret, sword drawn.

Like, dude. You’re here to rescue her? It’s common knowledge in the community now that the worm is Margaret, and I get that you’ve been away a long time, but weren’t you briefed on the situation? I find it very unlikely that someone came to get you so you could save your sister, and failed to mention that she had been turned into a worm. Decapitation is not a standard rescue method.

Margaret is like, “wait, no, kiss me.”

Wynd hesitates.

Margaret says, ‘seriously, you gotta kiss me three times.” (But, like, in rhyme.)

He doesn’t actually question this, despite not seeming to know who she is. He kisses her three times. She turns back into his sister. They go to the castle, find the stepmom, and touch her with a rowan branch. This turns her into a toad. She hops away, Wynd becomes king—no word on what happened to his dad—and he and Margaret live happily ever after.

Allegedly, the toad is still hopping around in the neighborhood. So, like, be careful if you’re inclined to frog kissing. Don’t wanna unleash a witch.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Trauma, Villainy, Therapy

 Is anyone else disturbed by the implication in pop culture that we can create evil through torture?

The orcs in Lord of the Rings. The demons in Supernatural.

These are creatures that have become monsters because they were hurt. And this is something that goes beyond, like, brainwashing. These are creatures who are inherently evil, who used to be good or at least normal, until their fundamental natures were changed by pain, and now they're irredeemable.

That is so deeply concerning. That is so very far from okay. The idea that sufficient pain cannot only take away everything you are, but take away any chance that you could ever be in any way worthwhile again?

It's not exactly wrong that having been hurt makes you more likely to cause hurt, in some cases. You're injured, you're frightened, you're traumatized, and so you lash out in preemptive self defense. You cause pain to avoid experiencing it, because you'll be punished for not punishing others, or because anyone who can get close can hurt you, and hurting them instead keeps them far away. And the fact that you've been hurt before doesn't justify hurting others, even if it sometimes explains it. But hurting others because you've hurt before doesn't make you evil. Hurting others doesn't make you evil at all—people hurt each other all the time, through accident or carelessness, in moments of selfishness that they regret later, in impossible situations where someone is inevitably going to be hurt, and you just have to decide who, or how much.

The idea that you can render someone truly evil—not careless or selfish or deeply afraid, not inclined to do bad things because the consequences are unbearable, or because they don't know better, but evil—that if you just hurt someone enough, they will come to find joy in hurting others—I'm letting this sentence run on and on because I just don't have words for how bad that is.

Sometimes, you are a Good Guy, and you are in a Bad Situation. Sometimes it's kill or be killed. Sometimes it's kill or let someone helpless and relying on you be killed. I get that. But in situations where we have villains who were tortured into evil, the good guys generally seem to be aware of the whole torture situation. And despite this knowledge, it never seems to occur to them that these characters are anything but pure evil. That they may be acting under duress, or that they may have been so hurt by the torture that they don't understand the full weight of the atrocities they're committing, beyond the fact that committing them will spare them from further pain.

Why are we not trying to spare them, in a fight where we can afford to? Why are we not taking them alive? Why are we not trying to help them?

Orcs don't need death; orcs need intensive therapy.

If you see someone working for the Bad Guy, and you know that that person was not previously evil, and that they've undergone significant torture, then your duty as a Good Guy is to knock them out and drag them to the hospital!

It just really concerns me that there are multiple fictional worlds where the second most evil creature you're likely to encounter is only evil at all because they were hurt by the most evil one.

Real life people, in the here and now, get tortured. Torture is a real thing that really happens.

How do you think it would feel? To go through something like that. To be rescued. To be safe at home again. It's over. It's over. Maybe it comes back in your dreams every night. Maybe it's never over, not really. But right now you're safe on your couch, and you turn on the TV.

And you see someone there who's been through what you've been through. But they don't get to go home. They don't get to recover. They get to be irredeemably evil. The thing that happened to you happens to them, and it turns them into a monster.

How would that feel?

I read somewhere that part of the reason the Silmarillion wasn't released in Tolkien's lifetime was that he wasn't satisfied with the origin story he'd given the orcs. I hope that's true. I mean, he's Catholic! The theological implications there...

If evil is created by pain, does that not imply that each small hurt we suffer makes us somehow worse? That those who have endured the most are worth the least?

(That absolutely does not hold up, theologically speaking—did Christ not suffer? And Job? Moses? David? Joseph? Peter? Paul?)

Anyway. No one is fundamentally, irredeemably evil, and if they are, it’s not because they’ve suffered. Get Orcs Therapy.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Frog Princesses and Bear Princes

 One of you commented that it would be nice to see comparisons between enchanted bride and enchanted bridegroom tales. And at first I thought I’d do Frog Prince versus Frog Princess. Then I thought a little more about it, and, well. There’s not much to compare.

Both stories feature frog love interests. And that’s pretty much it?

I’ve found an Italian variant (  of The Frog Princess that includes the throwing-frog-at-wall element. In The Frog Prince, the princess throws the frog at the wall meaning to kill him, because she’s annoyed. In this story, the prince is startled by the frog hopping onto him in the middle of the night, feels horrible about it after, and really begins the relationship from that point. The throwing is the catalyst for transformation in The Frog Prince, and not in The Frog Princess.

(As an aside, there’s a German story ( where the frog and the man definitely seem to be planning marriage, but after she’s transformed, she gives him her fancy estate, tells him to marry whoever he likes, and leaves. I thought that was interesting.)

So. The enchanted bridegroom story I really want to compare with The Frog Princess is East of the Sun and West of the Moon.

Specifically, we’re working with the Russian variant of The Frog Princess, which has a second half.

In East of the Sun and West of the Moon, the girl looks at her bedfellow’s face, which ruins her chances of breaking the spell, and he is whisked away to a land East of the Sun and West of the Moon to marry a troll princess. The girl goes on a quest to find him, enlisting help from three old women and the four winds. At the troll princess’ palace, she wins her prince back with her mad laundry skills. This story is far from the only one to follow this pattern; a girl often spoils a curse-breaking by doing something she was never told she shouldn’t do, usually LOOKING AT HER BOYFRIEND’S FACE, HOW DARE SHE, and then has to go on a difficult journey and complete strange tasks to win her guy back.

Before we get into the comparisons, a brief recap of the first half of the Russian version of The Frog Princess. Our man Ivan is forced by his father to marry a frog, due to an arrow landing near her in a very strange choose-your-bride-by-archery arrangement. His older brothers get to marry human women.

Ivan’s father the king sets up a competition between the three brides. Ivan tells his frog the tasks, then leaves. When he’s gone, she throws off her frog skin, becoming a beautiful young woman, and calls upon a horde of servants to complete the task. (Which, by the way, is why this isn't my favorite Frog Princess variant—other frogs complete the tasks themselves, and complete them as frogs, too.) The last task is to present herself at a ball for the king to judge her beauty, and she shows up as a beautiful human woman.

This is where the Russian story deviates from others. In other variants, we live happily ever after from here. In this version, Ivan runs home while the former frog is at the ball, finds her frog skin, and burns it.

In his defense, burning the skin is more often than not the correct move when dealing with enchanted love interests.

But in this case, if he’d let her keep the skin for a littler while longer, she’d have been freed, but now she must go to the palace of Koschei the Deathless, in a faraway land no one knows the road to.

Which makes this the only story I know of where the male protagonist screws up and has to go on a quest to rescue his animal bride.

He gets the help of an old man, an enchanted ball, and several wild animals. Instead of winning her back with laundry, Ivan has to kill Koschei the Deathless. Which, actually, is very similar to The Giant with No Heart is His Body. Koschei can only be killed by a magic needle, which is inside a hare, inside a trunk, in an oak tree that Koschei is always watching. His animal friends help Ivan get the needle, Ivan uses the needle to kill the bad guy, and he and the frog princess live happily ever after.

It's just so nice to see the male protagonist mess up and go on a quest about it. I feel like the girls have to do that pretty often, but the guys usually either do everything right, or don’t face any consequences for their actions. They go on a lot of quests, but they’re usually self-motivated, and the princess is a reward they pick up along the way. Except, I guess, for the Sweetheart Roland types—not Sweetheart Roland itself, but stories of that type, where the princess says ‘just don’t do this one thing,’ and he does—in Sweetheart Roland the consequence is amnesia, but it a lot of them the princess just vanishes, and he has to go and get her back. But I do like this version where, like, he wasn’t just being absolutely stupid about it.

If your wife says, just please don’t do this one thing, or you’ll lose me, and then you do the one thing, I don’t have a ton of sympathy for you.

If you start to get creeped out by the stranger in your bed, and try to look at his face, like, you’re in the right here! That’s a reasonable thing to do. No one ever told you not to. Granted, the bear said, ‘don’t be alone with your mom,” and she did, and the mom got into her head about the stranger in her bed, but, like. Looking was reasonable! It’s weird that she didn’t look earlier! I am on her side here.

If you discover that the frog you’ve married is actually a woman, and you’ve grown up with stories of people being freed from enchantment by the burning of an animal skin, finding her animal skin and burning it is reasonable! That is a logical solution to come up with. I like it when people mess up by just doing their best in weird situations, rather than by being stupid.

I am a little bummed that Ivan didn’t do any laundry, though. I feel like that could have added something to the story. Especially since we’ve already determined that his wife doesn’t do her own chores. Someone in this relationship should know how to do laundry.

Friday, February 16, 2024

The Giant with No Heart in His Body

 So we open this story with a king who has seven sons, which is just excessive, especially since six of them do absolutely nothing here. At least, not after the second page.

On the first page, the older six go out to seek brides, but the king makes his youngest stay home. His brothers are supposed to pick up a bride for him while they’re out.

They find six princesses, forgetting all about baby bro, and on the way home, they run into a giant, who turns all twelve of them, princes and princesses, to stone.

The king and Boots—the youngest prince is named Boots, which is an…interesting name for a prince—wait and wait, but they never come home. Eventually Boots convinces the king to let him go looking for them, and for his own bride, but he has to take a crappy horse, because the older brothers took all the nice ones.

(BTW. It may be a weird name, but like, at least he has a name! Love when they give me something to actually call them when I’m criticizing their life choices.)

(Note: on further study I have learned that Boots is just sort of the default name for a male protagonist in Asbjørnsen and Moe. There are, like, 5 stories that feature someone named Boots in the title, according to the table of contents for my less common collection.)

While he’s out, he feeds a starving raven and rescues a salmon who’s come out of the water. We’ll see them again later.

If you know fairy tales, you know the youngest son always befriends three animals. Boots’ third animal is a starving wolf, but instead of coming back later, the wolf starts helping right away. All Boots has left to feed the wolf is his crappy horse. So the wolf fills in for the horse, and Boots rides him to the giant’s house.

The wolf offers to take him there, and this is a bit of a plot hole, because Boots doesn’t know the giant took his brothers, and he didn’t tell the wolf that he was looking for his brothers, so I’m really not sure how we wound up here.

Anyway. We see the sculpture garden that used to be his brothers and their future wives. The wolf tells him there’s a princess in the giant’s house who’ll help him get rid of the giant.

The princess is there, and beautiful, and willing to help, but, like. I don’t know why she’s there? The text never explains why there’s a princess chilling in the giant’s house. It doesn’t say that she’s been kidnapped, which I guess would be my first assumption, but wouldn’t that be addressed, then? I don’t think she’s there willingly, or she wouldn’t be on board with getting rid of him.

She explains that the giant can’t be killed, because he doesn’t keep his heart in his body. She hides Boots under the bed. The giant comes home and smells Christian blood, which the princess makes an excuse for.

So the princess, presumably, isn't a Christian. Which might just mean that she’s, you know, not a Christian, but as previously discussed last week, our two people groups in this setting seem to be Christians and trolls. Giant=troll. Princess=????

The giant and the princess go to bed. Apparently in the same bed. Which would imply romantic involvement. Is this consensual romantic involvement? If so, why does she want to help kill him? If not, why aren’t we told she’s a prisoner or something?

I have so many questions about this whole situation.

We have next a full Samson and Delilah situation, where she keeps asking where the heart is, and he keeps lying, and she keeps checking, and even though he knows she’s looking for the heart, he eventually tells her the truth, like an idiot.

Far away there is a lake. In the lake there is an island. On the island there is a church. In the church there is a well. In the well there is a duck. In the duck there is an egg. In the egg there is his heart.

His heart is in a duck? How did he put it there? Will the duck not eventually lay this egg? The logistics here are baffling.

When the giant goes out for the day, Boots calls the wolf, and rides him to the lake. They swim across the lake and reach the church, where the key is hung too high to reach, and Boots calls back the raven to get it for him.

He catches the duck. The duck drops the egg. (Does that mean it’s already been laid?) The salmon fetches the egg.

And this is when the whole thing falls apart.

“Squeeze the egg,” says the wolf.

Boots does.

The giant screams and cries and begs.

“Make him fix your brothers and their girlfriends,” the wolf says.

The giant does.

Last I checked, the giant was several days ride on wolf-back away from Boots and the egg. Did the story forget to tell us they went back to his house? Did they forget to tell us that the giant came chasing after him?

“Squeeze the egg in two,” the wolf says.

Boots does. The giant bursts.

How does the wolf know what to do? This is a very knowledgeable wolf, and I feel like we could have skipped the whole princess bit, and just had him run the whole show.

Once the giant is dead they ride back to his house. So now we have their location sorted, but I’m still not sure where the giant was located, or how we were communicating with him.

The brothers and the brides are saved. Boots “goes into the hillside after his bride.” Which I assume is the same princess he was working with to defeat the giant? But I guess it doesn’t technically say. And, like. We still don’t know anything about this girl, except that she was apparently romantically involved with a giant she then conspired to murder.

Where is she the princess of? Is she a human or a troll? Does she have a family somewhere, worrying about her? Was her relationship with the giant consensual? If so, what drove her to murder?

What are we telling Boots’ dad about this situation? I’m assuming not the truth, because I feel like kings are probably sticklers for, like, if not virgin daughters-in-law, at least not-a-dead-troll’s-ex daughters-in-law.

I just. I have so many questions about the princess. And none of them will ever be answered. And that sucks.

Feel free to share any speculations you might have about our assorted unanswered questions!

Friday, February 9, 2024

The Three Snake Leaves

 I’ve decided to talk about this story today, even though it wasn’t on my very tentative schedule, because I’ve still been thinking about The Blue Belt. Specifically about how different our protagonist seemed after the lions healed his eyes in the magic stream.

I guess I can’t say he came back wrong, since technically he never went—he wasn’t dead, just blind. But it kind of feels like that, doesn’t it? The boy we set to sea was not the same boy who rode home on a raft of lions. (Still obsessed with that image, btw.)

So I was thinking about this story, because it’s about a girl who came back wrong. And as I’m reading it, she sort of reminds me of The Blue Belt’s mother, too, just in terms of her decision making just seeming absolutely insane and out of nowhere. Which, like, at least she can blame it on coming back wrong. Blue Belt Mom, why did you team up with that troll you were so scared of?

(Actually, side note. I promise I will get into the snake leaves soon. But The Blue Belt. The mom warned the boy that there were no Christians in the woods. Which in this setting means there are only monsters in the woods. Were the woods, like, inherently bad? Was there a corrupting influence that the belt protected our protagonist from? It corrupted the mom, and then she stole the belt, and it corrupted the protagonist too—they both got suddenly murderous. Idk. Gonna keep thinking about this.)

Anyway. The Three Snake Leaves. German. Grimms.

A young man distinguishes himself in battle and becomes a favorite of the king. The king has a daughter described as whimsical, who refuses to marry unless her husband promises that, should she die first, he be buried alive with her in her grave.

Not what I would call whimsy, exactly, but okay.

Obviously, our young soldier marries her. And, of course, she gets sick and dies. He regrets his promise, but the king’s not letting him out of it; into the grave he goes, with four loaves of bread and four bottles of wine, and when they’re gone he’ll starve to death.

He is not given any water. And, like, what about oxygen? I guess the grave isn't airtight? It’s not technically a grave, anyway—big enough for him to walk around in.

While he’s down there, slowly dying, a white snake approaches the princess’ body. He’s not about to let anything mess with his wife’s body, so he takes out his sword and chops it into three pieces.

A second snake arrives, sees his dead body, and brings over three green leaves. He puts the leaves in the wounds, and they heal, leaving the first snake intact and alive.

The snakes slither away, leaving the leaves behind, and the soldier uses them to bring his wife back to life. They knock on the tomb door until someone lets them out, the soldier gives the leaves to a friend for safekeeping, and everything is great.

For a while.

But the princess doesn’t love him anymore.

They go on a journey by sea to visit the soldier’s father. On the ship, the princess befriends the captain. They plot together, throw the soldier overboard, and make plans to go home to her father and be married.

The soldier’s friend takes a lifeboat, finds the body in the water, and rows away. He brings the soldier back to life, and they return to the palace, somehow beating the princess there.

Interestingly, the soldier didn’t come back wrong. The princess went from loving him to murdering him, but he still seems like the same guy, post-resurrection. Not, I guess, that we see a whole lot of him afterward. Maybe the wrongness builds with time?

The king is, understandably, reluctant to believe that his daughter murdered her husband. He has the soldier and his friend hide in the palace until he has a chance to speak with her.

The princess gets home, and tells exactly the story the soldier’s friend said she would tell—my husband tragically died, the captain was there the whole time, I don’t know what I would have done without him.

The king presents her with her living husband. She immediately confesses to everything and begs for mercy. The king says no.

Princess and captain are put out to sea in a boat full of holes, where presumably they drown and die.

And that’s it. That’s the story.

Friday, February 2, 2024

The Blue Belt Part II

 When last we saw our protagonist, he had ridden in on a raft of lions, reclaimed his belt of superstrength, murdered his mother, and blinded and set adrift the troll who started all this.

Now, I must break to you a terrible piece of news.

After he dismounts his lion raft, the eleven lions are never seen again. No lions will appear from here on out. They will be missed.

Having dealt with things at home, our dude decides he should probably track down his wife.

(Sidenote. Was he supposed to join her in Arabia after a while? Was she supposed to come home after visiting her parents? It was never really discussed. Why didn’t they just go to Arabia together?)

He loads four ships and heads to Arabia. Where did he get all these ships? Who is manning them? Why does he need four of them? Where are his lions?

They have to stop for a while on an island, where they find a giant egg. None of the soldiers can crack it, but our guy breaks it with a single blow of his giant troll sword, releasing a chicken the size of an elephant.

His response to this turn of events is “Now we have done wrong; this can cost us all our lives.”

I’m not sure why? Does he think the chicken is going to attack them? Eat them? Step on them? He just seems really freaked about the giant chicken, and it doesn’t seem that scary, compared to everything else he's faced. I mean, he beat one lion to death, and tamed eleven more.

If only he had a small army of tame lions to help him fight the chicken.

(Seriously, where are they? I will never be over this.)

They have to get off the island fast, apparently. His sailors get him to Arabia in 23 hours. Then he orders them all to bury themselves up to their eyes in a sandhill, while he climbs a big fir tree.

A giant bird comes flying in, carrying an island, which he drops onto the ships and sinks them. It flies past the sandhill and over the fir tree, and our guy chops off its head with the troll sword.

I’m gonna be honest. I have no idea what’s going on here. How did he predict this situation? Is the giant bird friends with the chicken? Is the giant bird the chicken? Why is it using islands to sink random ships?

With the bird decapitated, dude heads into town, where he learns that the king’s daughter is home, but he’s hidden her away, and is offering her hand to anyone who can find her.

Awkward, since she’s already married.

(The story does briefly mention that the king is doing this even though she was already betrothed, and it’s unclear whether it’s referring to her full-fledged marriage to our hero, or if she was engaged to some other guy before the trolls kidnapped her.)

Instead of going to the king and explaining the situation, our guy goes immediately to find a man selling white bear skins. He buys one, puts it on, and has one of his sailors take him around town on a leash. He spends some time dancing and doing tricks, somehow convincing everyone that he is a real live bear, and the king hears about it.

The sailor is ordered to bring the bear to the palace, where everyone is very scared. He tells them all that there’s no danger as long as they don’t laugh at the bear.

A maid laughs. The bear responds by ripping her to shreds.

Reminder that this is not actually a bear. This is not even a man who has been transformed into a bear. This is a human man wearing a bear pelt. A human man who has previously demonstrated such qualities as, like, self-control, and mercy.

The rest of the palace is understandably upset about this. The sailor is understandably upset about this. The king’s response is, “Whatever, she was just a maid.”

The bear continues to put on a show. By the time he’s done, it’s late, and the king says the sailor and the bear better just spend the night. The sailor gets a bedroom, and they leave the bear in the throne room with some pillows.

In the middle of the night, the king comes and carries off the bear.

Carries him?

I mean, okay, a human man in a bear skin weighs a lot less than an actual polar bear, but that’s still a lot of carrying? And again, how is he pulling off this disguise? There is a significant size and shape difference.

Anyway. They wander through a whole bunch of hallways, until they get outside, and onto a pier, where the king pulls a bunch of fancy levers, and a little house floats up.

This is where the princess is being kept.

The king shows off the bear to the princess and her maid. This maid also laughs despite a warning, and also gets torn to pieces.

The princess is understandably frightened and distressed. The king brushes it off again, and leaves the bear with the princess even though she’s terrified and doesn’t want it there.

Once the king is gone, the bear suit is removed, the couple is reunited, and our dude is instantly forgiven for brutally murdering someone—presumably someone she knew and cared about—right in front of her.

They spend the night together, and the bear suit is back on by the time the king comes back. He returns the bear to the sailor, and they leave the palace.

Our guy comes back to the palace without the bear skin to present himself as a suitor for the princess. He’s given twenty four hours to find her, or he’ll be killed.

He hangs out in the palace and parties for the next twenty three hours. Then, with an hour to go, he follows the path the king took last night, while the king follows him and tries to convince him he’s going the wrong way.

With three minutes left on the timer, the house is floating in front of us, but the door is locked, and the king is insisting that he doesn’t have the key, and can someone please come behead this kid?

He kicks down the door, is reunited with his wife, and lives happily ever after.

This story is just. It’s just. So much.

The mom’s drastic personality change. For that matter, the boy’s massive personality change. In the beginning, he carried the troll home to bed after he was injured attempting to kill him. In the middle, he dashes his mother’s brains out. In the end, he rips two women to pieces for laughing at a dancing bear. I just—what is even happening here?

Where did our lions go?

It kind of feels like the first sixteen pages and last eight pages of this are two separate stories. In the first part, we have a too-trusting young man with lion sidekicks surviving the malicious intentions of his mother and stepfather. In the second part, we have an angry, clever man outsmarting a king to win a bride. The character personalities and the overall tone of the story just aren’t consistent from the first page to the last.

All of it is so fun, but also just, like, insane. I don’t even know how to feel about this. I love it. I hate it. It’s a masterpiece. It’s a mess. I don’t know how a single story managed to do so much, and also I will never, never forgive it for abandoning the lions partway through.