Thursday, July 14, 2016

Folklore Thursday: Teaching consent through fairy tales

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There have been a lot of discussion lately about consent and fairy tales - mostly focusing on Sleeping Beauty, and whether or not it is a good message to kiss a sleeping girl (or, as in the case of Sun, Moon, and Talia, to have sex with an unconscious woman) (spoiler alert, it's not). The more I read about it the more I started to wonder about finding fairy tales that do teach consent - or have symbolic elements that can be used to do so.
Well, I have been reading Hungarian folktales from Ung county (historically northeastern Hungary, currently split between Slovakia and the Ukraine), and I found a moment in one of them that explains the concept of consent perfectly.

The story is a classic fairy tale type, about the golden apples (pears) that mysteriously disappear every night, and the youngest prince that discovers that they are being stolen by fairies-turned-birds. He falls in love with the fairy queen, but she can't stay with him; the young prince (in this case named Árgyélus) sets out to find her.
Things get interesting (and relevant) when he finally gets to the fairy palace at the end of the world:

He was almost there when the middle sister [of the fairy queen Ilona] told her:
"Árgyélus is here!"
"Are you sure?" Ilona asked.
"Sure! As sure as we are here right now. Shall we let him in?" she asked.
"No, we shall not, until he tells us where they came from and who they are looking for."
When the prince knocked, the girl said:
"Come on in, the door is open!"
But the horse [the magic horse of the prince] told him:
"Wait, don't rush in!"
He waited, and then knocked again. Ilona said:
"The door is open."
But she didn't open the door, and the horse said:
"Let's wait until they open the door themselves."
The prince said:
"Open the door for me!"
Ilona then came out and said:
"You can come in, the door is open."

The magic horse (a táltos - the same word we use for shaman) acts as the prince's guide and conscience in these tales. He is the one that warns him not to rush, not to break through the door - to wait until the princess opens it herself. The first time he knocks, someone else (the sister) tries to give consent for her, stating the door is open; the second time Ilona states the door is open, but does not invite him in. He waits until she opens the door herself, and asks him, out loud, to enter.

This is the definition of "yes means yes," people.

I wanted to share this little tidbit because it is a motif that can be inserted into most stories; it is a small moment, but it has a very clear message, without shedding the symbolism of fairy tales. All folktales are build of smaller building blocks, recurring motifs; this is a less common one, but it can be very useful, without sounding forced or didactic.

Feel free to take it and run with it!


  1. Interesting way to learn the lesson.

  2. I would have missed that, Csenge. I am wondering where else consent might be found in fairy tales. I am reminded of the ballad of the man who has his way with a young woman, and she outruns him back to the castle to inform the Lord what has happened. The young man is given a choice: marry her or be hanged. He marries her. But still, it's not a good example, is it, even though he paid the price for his crime. There must be others. Thinking about this.

    1. Yeah... not to mention by punishing him with marriage, the girl is also stuck with him. Ugh. I have been keeping an eye out too - I'm writing a Feminist Folktales series on my Hungarian blog.

  3. Oh, I love this! Thank you for sharing.