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.)

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