Thursday, October 15, 2020

Prince Hlini (Feminist Folktales 22.)

Another Thursday, another post for Feminist Folktales! It's a series of traditional stories from around the world that display motifs that reflect feminist values. I am not changing any of the stories, merely researching and compiling them, and posting them here as food for thought. You can find the list of posts here.

Origin: Icelandic

The story

A king's only son, Prince Hlini, disappears during a hunt. The king offers a reward to anyone who can find him, but to no avail. A shepherd's clever daughter, Signy, sets out to seek the prince. She finds a cave, and inside, two beds - in one of them, there is Prince Hlini in an enchanted sleep. She hides and waits. Soon two troll women appear. They wake the prince up with the song of magic swans, and try to get him to marry one of them. Prince Hlini declines. The next day, while the troll women are away, Signy wakes the prince up, and they hatch a plan of escape.
That night Hlini pretends to be friendly with the trolls, and coaxes out of them the magic words that make the beds fly. He also learns that the trolls keep their life hidden in an egg they like to play with. The next day, after the trolls leave, Signy and Hlini take one of the beds and follow them in secret. When they start playing with the egg, Hlini breaks it, killing the trolls. The prince and the girl pile all the troll treasure on the two beds, and fly home to the palace together. They eventually get married. 

What makes it a feminist story?

I especially adore tales where male and female heroes work together to overcome challenges. This story begins with a classic Sleeping Beauty style situation, where the brave girl wakes up the enchanted prince (with patience, attention, and no kissing). However, from that point on, they both actively participate in the escape plan, and work together. On top of that, is is the prince who takes on the "sneaky" role in this plan, flattering the trolls to learn their secrets, which is often seen as a feminine role in folktales (thing women using their "wiles" to spy on people). Here, it is the prince who is trying to avoid unwanted marriage, and he finds a way out of the situation by following the girl's advice. This is another thing I love: Hlini trusts Signy, and trusts her advice.
In the second half of the story, we can see perfect cooperation between the two heroes. Signy notices the runes on the beds, Hlini finds out what they mean, Signy makes the bed fly, Hlini breaks the egg and kills the trolls. Finally, they fly home together, either one on a separate bed. I like this balance between the two roles. 
I also love the fact that a girl sets out to rescue an abducted prince.

Things to consider

Thanks to the movie franchise, many kids these days think of trolls as something cute and friendly. It is worth explaining up front that these are different kinds of (man-eating) trolls, before we traumatize the audience by killing them off. For smaller children, the fact that they turn into mushrooms can be a way of softening the description. 
Some kids I've told this story to were hung up on Hlini being a "girl name." We had some good conversations about what makes a name a "girl name", and how different languages have different naming customs. 


A. W. Hall: Icelandic Fairy Tales (Frederick Warne & Co., 1897.)

Reimund Kvideland & Henning K. Sehmsdorf: All the World's Reward: Folktales Told by Five Scandinavian Storytellers (University of Washington Press, 2011.)


This story was recommended to me by a fellow storyteller after my "gender-swapped folktales" post the other day :)

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