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!)

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