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!

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