Saturday, November 2, 2019

StorySpotting: Princesses ditching their own weddings (Disenchantment)

StorySpotting is a weekly or kinda-weekly series about folktales, tropes, references, and story motifs that pop up in popular media, from TV shows to video games. Topics are random, depending on what I have watched/played/read recently. Also, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. Be warned!

Disenchantment is a Netflix show created by Matt Groening, with the usual humor and style. While this kind of humor makes my brain hurt after a few minutes, I did watch a couple of episodes, and it was definitely entertaining.

Where was the story spotted?

Disenchantment, season 1, episodes 1-2 (A Princess, an Elf and a Demon Walk into a Bar / For Whom the Pig Oinks)

What happens?

Princess Bean of Dreamland is supposed to marry a prince in a political match, but she ends up running away from her own wedding (after accidentally killing her first fiance, and being chased by the second in line). She is eventually captured and dragged back home, only to get away from her own wedding a second time.

What's the story?

Princesses running away from fairy tale weddings seems like a modern day feminist subversion of old story tropes - except, it already exists in old stories. Surprise! When you look into less well-known stories, it turns out ditching an unwanted suitor is totally in line with how some fairy tale princesses behave. And some non-princesses as well.

The most famous example would be, no doubt, Princess Gráinne, who ditched her wedding to legendary Irish hero Fionn Mac Cool to run away with a much younger warrior, Diarmuid ua Duibhne (some say she fell in love with him because he had a mark on his forehead that made him irresistible to all women, and he accidentally uncovered it during the wedding). Diarmuid doesn't want to run away with her at first, but Gráinne places him under geasa, an unbreakable bond, and essentially forces him to elope with her. Theirs is the most adventurous love-hate love story of ancient Ireland. Spoilers, though: It doesn't end well.
In the Italian folktale of The Dragon and the Enchanted Filly, a king and queen have a baby boy with a curse: if he doesn't kill his wife the same moment he gets married, he will turn into a dragon. Keeping this a secret, when he grows up they arrange for a marriage between him and the Queen of England. Luckily, the queen has an enchanted filly, her best friend, who warns her of the danger, and rides away with her from the wedding procession. The queen, just like Princess Bean, exchanges her wedding gown for a shirt and breeches, and works disguised as a stable boy until she finds love with another, non-cursed prince. The dragon is eventually killed by her and the filly (who turns out to be a girl cursed into being a horse until she kills a dragon, because this tale is epic).
In a folktale from Kashmir titled How the princess found her husband, a princess is promised to a prince, but when his father dies the engagement is broken, and her father finds a better suitor. The princess decides to run away with her original fiance, but while she is waiting for him in the darkness outside the palace, a robber comes along and she thinks it's the prince. Once she notices the mistake, she goes through a series of adventures until they are reunited.

By the way, the motif number for a princess accidentally running away with the wrong person is T92.4. You can find other tales like this here and here.

The Jewish tale of The Pirate Princess has a similar plot: A princess is engaged to someone she loves, but they are separated on a deserted island, and she is picked up by a rich merchant and forced to promise her hand in marriage. She manages to get away from him by getting everyone drunk, and then repeats the trick with a bunch of pirates, until she eventually becomes king (in disguise) over a kingdom, and manages to find her original fiance.
The Algerian tale of Aicha the Demon-killer features a clever, brave, and strong heroine, the daughter of a merchant, who kills monsters in her spare time. When a prince proposes to her, she says she will only marry him if he hunts down all the monsters in a forest. He is too much of a coward to do so, but spends a few days camping in the woods and returns, telling a lie about a job well done. Aicha, however, had been in the forest herself, and she calls the prince out on his lies in front of the whole court, rejecting his marriage proposal.

Last but not least: The Faun and the Woodcutter's Daughter is not a folktale, but it is one of my favorite love stories. It's a literary fairy tale by Barbara Laonie Picard, about the friendship and then love of a human girl and a forest faun. At the end of the story she runs away from her own wedding to a rich merchant to live in the woods with her faun.


Ladies, if the prince is not right for you: Remember, ditching him can also be a fairy tale ending!

1 comment:

  1. Love your conclusion. I had no idea there were all those princesses running away.