Wednesday, April 18, 2018

P is for the Pelican King (WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales)

Welcome to this year's A to Z Challenge titled WTF Hungary - Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales! You can find all other participating blogs on the A to Z Challenge main blog.

In the folktale titled The Pelican King, a princess insists that she will only marry a person who brings her the feathers... of the Pelican King. Our hero (who is incidentally called Peter) sets out to complete the impossible task. On his way he encounters various kings who have their own problems, and ask Peter to convey their questions to the all-knowing Pelican King, and beg for solutions.

When Peter finally arrives to the house of the Pelican King, he only finds the wife at home. The old woman promises to help, and hides Peter. When the King comes home, she lays him down to preen his feathers, and "accidentally" plucks three of them. The feathers shine with a brilliant diamond light. The old woman also manages to sneakily ask the questions Peter hand, and sends the hero on his way with the feathers and the answers.

I have two comments to add to this:

1. In folktales, having someone lie on your lap and "preening them" ("looking into their head", "checking them for lice", etc.) is symbolic for having sex. Yup. Re-think all those medieval illustrations.

2. The pelican in the middle ages was a symbolic bird, because people believed that it fed its young with its own blood. The church usually treated this as a symbol for Jesus, and people often referred to it as a symbol for motherhood. So, in this case, the Pelican King is some kind of a wise and radiant higher being, who knows all the answers to everything.

Basically, God is a pelican.

(I'm sure some of my SCA friends will be happy with this)


  1. I saw pelicans at the beach once, flying around, catching fish. I had no idea they were God.

  2. Zalka, I like your interpretations even more than the story about the Pelican King.
    having someone lie on your lap and "preening them" has got to be the funniest euphemism for sex!

    Would love it if you could check out my #AtoZchallenge post for P:

  3. I like how helpful the Pelican King's wife was. She could have just sent Peter away, but she didn't.

    POV by McFly

  4. As seema said, I love your interpretations Zalka. And yes, I keep noticing these euphemism for sex in fables and fairy tales. Ah well, the target audience has always been children, right?

    P is for Perfection

    1. Actually, the target audience has mostly been adults, until fairly recently (19th century). Fairy tales used to be a grown-up genre :)

  5. So what? The Pelican King and the old lady were, presumably, a couple! They can do what they want together. So, what happened to Peter? Did he get the princess or did she send him on another quest? Did he get a reward from the kings along the way for the answers?

    I am aware of the mediaeval aspects of the pelican. You probably remember in King Lear, Lear refers to Goneril and Regan as "pelican daughters" who are sucking his blood...

    Aussie Children's Writers .- P Is for Park, Phommavanh and Pryor

  6. After reading your comment no. 1 above, I'll look at 'checking for lice' very differently from now on when I'm reading folk tales:) Cheers for that.
    Wonder why the wise Pelican didn't feel anything when the feathers were being plucked? Oh! No worries--I've got it--referring back to comment no. 1;)
    P is for Paradise in Plain Sight

  7. I find this tale especially entertaining. I had an uncle who always said he wanted to reincarnate as a pelican. I don't often see them, but when I do, I always for any telltale signs my uncle got his wish. Little did I know the true significance of Pelican.

  8. Sp Peter basically gets to watch some weird Pelican sex and goes home happy!!

  9. I'm going to have to remember to use preening and checking for lice as my new code words with my husband. HA!

  10. So interesting. Pelicans aren't the most beautiful birds out there, but they do have a regal look to them. I had no idea they could be kings in folk tales.

  11. God is a pelican - that's a new one on me :)
    There was a lot of having sex in old tales that no one like to let on about wasn't there.
    Tasha's Thinkings - Movie Monsters

  12. Not to copy Natasha, but -- God is a pelican. That explains a lot. ;) Another great story! I wonder why the wife was so eager to help the wayward prince though. Bordom maybe?
    Jamie Lyn Weigt | Writing Dragons