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!

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