Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q is for Queens without kings

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.

Since Q is a notoriously hard letter to do, and I am not done talking about feminist stories yet, I wanted to spend today's post on Queens that don't have a King at their side. I already discussed marital bliss and equality and partnership, which is obviously the ideal case, but when it comes to traditional tales, stand-alone kings are a lot more common than independent queens. I wanted to find some stories that represent strong, capable, independent queens by their own right. With no king attached.

There is an Algerian folktale about a girl called Aisha (or Aicha) who kicks major demon ass. After being injured by a ghoul she kills, she is destined to wonder the world, killing monsters. Multiple cities she saves invite her to become their queen - when she finally gets rid of the ghoul's curse, she becomes a queen in her own right.
(I included the first part of Aicha's adventures in my book)

Better known world-wide as the Queen of Sheba. While she is most commonly known for visiting King Solomon, and having a son with him, she is a queen with her own sovereign kingdom, who interacts with the legendary king as an equal, and goes back home to her people instead of giving up sovereignty for marriage.
(I especially liked Bilquis' story as it is told in Fabled Cities, Princes and Jinn)

Tündér Ilona
While she is often the love interest of heroes in Hungarian folk tales, Tündér Ilona is the ruling Queen of the fairies. She is said to live in a palace under water or on an island, and have long golden hair. In some stories she moves her people out of the world of mortals, and up to the Milky Way; she only comes back once a year to see if she can find one decent person to give them hope for return.
(Read in detail about Hungarian fairies here)

Queen of Tír na nÓg, the Land of Eternal Youth in Irish legend. She shows up one day out of the blue, picks up the hottest guy on the block (Oisín, the bard of the Fianna), and takes him home as a lover. While Oisín eventually leaves Niamh and goes home, we get a glimpse of her, and what life is like in a land ruled by an immortal queen.
(Read the story in Gods and Fighting Men here)

The Queen of Many Colors
This Hungarian folktale features a widow queen who has a special power - her face changes color every hour of the day - and who gives very stern, specific directions to her son: He can only marry a girl who has the same color-changing ability. While she is not the protagonist of the story, she is clearly an exceptional lady.
(I included this tale in my book as well)

A prince in search of immortality
While there are many versions of this folktale, about a prince who seeks a land where he'd never have to die, the Hungarian variant in particular features not one, but two queens. The first one is the sole and wise ruler of the Blue Kingdom, destined to live as long as she has needles to work with. The second one is the Queen of Life and Death who admits the prince into her kingdom, and saves him from death in the end.
(Read the story in English here)

The City of Brass
In this, my very favorite story from the 1001 Nights, an expedition of wise men and adventurers sets out to find the fabled City of Brass in the middle of the desert. When they get there, and manage to get the gates open through positively D&D-style adventures, they find that everyone in the city has been dead a long time... including their queen (protected by Indiana Jones-style traps), who left a written note telling the story of her city.
(Read the story here)

What other queens should I add to the list? Which one of them would you like to see on a throne?


  1. the stories sound so mystical... and the names are so beautiful!! specially Niamh ... you have read so much :)

    Whimsical Medley
    Twinkle Eyed Traveller

  2. Yay for the queens :) Go ladies! Aisha sounds like a very formidably woman, definitely worth a throne.
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

  3. I do like the fact that these women have many different aspects and their positions just 'are', no question that they should be there.

    The Queen of Life and Death made me think of Death herself from the Neil Gaiman Sandman graphic novels, she is a modern queen, a powerful woman and the best, or maybe I should say, most poignant story about her is when she is made human for one day (once a century) to ground herself and experience humanity, as Didi, this young enthusiastic goth girl who is destined to die at the end of the day and become Death once more.
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles | Wittegen Press | FB3X

  4. Go queens that don't NEED men, but may want them beside them. Or not. It's all good.

  5. Great post and great #storyidea fodder. Sharing. I changed my A-Z blog post reading strategy today, and I'm glad I did - that's how I found you. Will go back and read some of your previous posts.

    1. Hi! Welcome to the blog! Thank you for stopping by :)

  6. I wonder if there are some good tales based on Eleanor of Aquitaine? While she had a king early on, I believe she was pretty much on her own later in her life. I should brush up on my early European Civ!

    1. Yes, I considered including some historical queens, but decided against it, because there are so many cool ones :)

  7. Tir na nOg must be a fascinating place. I'd like to go there sometime. Heh. (I've encountered it before in Irish legend.)

  8. Well, of course there is The Virgin Queen--Queen Elizabeth I. Throughout the course of history it seems some countries prospered most under the reign of solitary queens.

    Meet My Imaginary Friends

  9. Queen Tomyris of the Massagetae (who seems part legendary, part historical) ruled without a king, and Queen Semiramis of Assyria (the mythological version of the real Queen Shamiram) also reigned by herself for 42 years.

  10. i've read a bit about Niamh and i know about sheba, but the others are new to me (except for you blog).

    the city of brass sounds fascinating. my first thought that popped in was the mythical Eldorado and how people have tried to find it.

  11. I'm so loving this series - besides learning something new each day, it just feels so good to be celebrating the under-recognized.

  12. Love all those beautiful names! Man, loving your series and all these stories I now have to read.

    Joy @ The Joyous Living

  13. I'm sorry I know so few myths and folk tales, but may I mention that Queen Elizabeth I of England really kicked ass?

  14. Didn't know any of them. Aisha is my favourite :-)

    The Old Shelter - Jazz Age Jazz