Monday, April 11, 2016

I is for Intimacy and Independence

Welcome to the A to Z Challenge! My theme this year is Representation and Diversity in Traditional Stories. I am looking for rare and interesting motifs in folktales, fairy tales, and legends that add variety to the well-known canon.

I had some difficulty with picking a topic for I - in the end, I thought about Intimacy and Independence, two features that make a marriage strong, and yet are rarely portrayed in traditional tales.
I was specifically looking for stories about strong, admirable marriages that portray caring couples without making one solely exist to be a plot point for the other. Since many fairy tales end with marriage, I had to go looking for stories that went beyond the happily ever after...

Queen Anait
An Armenian folktale about a clever peasant girl who makes a prince learn a useful trade before she agrees to marry him. Once queen, she often rules while her husband is away to walk his kingdom in disguise. When he is captured by bandits and forced into slavery, he manages to get a message out that only his wife can read. Anait rescues her husband, and they return home together.
(You can find the story in this wonderful book)

Meat of the Tongue
A Sultan's wife is sick and unhappy, while a poor man's wife is cheerful and healthy. The Sultan asks the poor man what his secret is, and he is told his wife needs "tongue." (Yep, the audience usually snickers at this point). He tries to feed tongue meat to the sultana, but she doesn't get better - so he orders the poor man to swap wives with him. The poor man agrees, and works his magic - turns out "meat of the tongue" was a metaphor for talking to his wife every day, sharing stories, and listening to her (get your minds out of the gutter, people.)
(You can read the story in this book)

Fallen men spoil virtuous women
Much like the previous story, a king in a miserable marriage with three wives swaps them for a poor man's happy wife, claiming he can't live with the three because they are good for nothing: One steals, one sleeps around, and one lies all the time. By treating the women with trust and kindness, the poor man builds a loving relationship with two of them (he does divorce the liar...), while the king manages to turn his new wife into a shrew. Moral of the story: The king should not have expected his wives to be ideal if he himself was not a good husband to them.
(You can find the story in this collection of Syrian folktales from refugees)

Tiger's whiskers
The same story I mentioned about Adoption, where the stepmother won her stepson's trust through patience and kindness, also exists in versions where a woman is trying to win her husband's love back after he returns from war (PTSD?).
(Read the Korean version of this tale in this book)

Tale of the Yellow Princess
Okay so we don't know how "traditional" this tale is, since it is from Nizami's Seven Wise Princesses, but it is a good one (and includes a story within a story). A king purchases a slave girl who refuses to speak or look at him, and seems miserable all the time (go figure). Turns out she doesn't want to love anyone because women in her family always die in childbirth. The king tells her he loves her even if they never have any children, and marries her (also tells a story about King Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, and how they learned to talk their problems out).
(Read this tale in Seven Wise Princesses)

The origin of almond trees
In this Portuguese legend, a young king tries to make his wife happy by bringing snow into his ever-summer kingdom. We'll talk more about them later on in the Challenge.
(Read about the story here)

What are your favorite mythical/legendary/fairy tale marriages? 
Let me know!


  1. A couple of ideal marriages from the Indian epics:
    Nala-Damyanti (the original of the cohost here :) and another is Savitri-Satyavaan.

    The Origin of Almond Trees is such an evocative name!


  2. These are all lovely stories, but I really loved the first one. Mutual love and two very intersting, unconventional characters :-)

    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

  3. These are all lovely stories, but I really loved the first one. Mutual love and two very intersting, unconventional characters :-)

    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz

  4. Fallen men spoil virtuous women... Omg really.. interesting set of stories once again.. Thnx

  5. Meat of the tongue ... mind, gutter ... what makes you think that? ;) I'm not sure I can think of any mythical marriages that I think were awesome off the top of my head. So many of them favour the man too much.
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

  6. What great book quest. You're right, too many stories end with the HEA of marriage and don't look much further.

  7. All of your stories are intriguing but I especially love the Tiger's Whiskers. I have been thinking about how to incorporate it into a story of mine.

    Meet My Imaginary Friends

  8. You've really dug into the tales to find your information. This one was so interesting and I'm thinking a bit of work to research. I loved The Tiger's Whiskers.

  9. You have really done your research on this. I especially think the verbal interaction between husband and wife are so important to maintaining a good relationship.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

  10. I so love this theme that I look forward to your posts every day. You definitely have made a fan of me!

  11. Loved the Queen Anait story. So appreciate the research you put into these posts!

  12. The world needs more stories that show Intimacy & Independence in relationships. Thanks for this post!

    @HeatherJacksonW from
    WriteOnSisters - Masterplots from A to Z

  13. It's always such a delight to see what stories you'll be sharing. You are a veritable treasure chest of wonderfulness.

  14. It's so nice to encounter folktales and fairytales which portray marriage realistically, about more than just the journey to a wedding. The real work begins after the wedding!

  15. Love the marriage between the Baker and his wife.

    Joy @ The Joyous Living

  16. "Meat of the tongue" does sound like great advice. And yes, I'm thinking clean thoughts.

  17. More enjoyable stories to read. Thanks.

  18. Meat of the Tongue. Yes, my mind went there.
    But true, women do need conversation. And communication is the key to a good marriage.

  19. I haven't heard of any of these but I especially like the first one.

  20. These all sound beautiful.

    It's not really a fairytale, per se, but I love the marriage portrayed in the first few minutes of Pixar's Up. Makes me bawl.

  21. Okay, my mind didn't go to the gutter until you pointed it out. I laughed. All these wonderful tales. Wow! Your posts are at the top of my faves list!