Saturday, November 21, 2020

StorySpotting: Rubies and royalty (The Crown)

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!

Where was the story spotted?

The Crown, season 4, episode 3 (Fairytale)

What happens?

Lady Diana is selecting an engagement ring for herself from a box of royal jewels, supervised by the Queen and the Crown Jeweller. She picks up a ring with a gorgeous ruby stone in it, and the Jeweller asks if she knows where the Mogok Valley is. She doesn't, so he launches into a legend about a time when only beasts and serpents lived in northern Burma... at which point Lady Di changes her mind, and picks as sapphire instead, interrupting the story. 

What's the story?

I don't like it when a story gets interrupted, so here is the whole thing. 
(Side note: I really like shiny things, and I recently read a whole book about rubies, it was fascinating.)

The legend of the ruby mines of the Mogok Valley was reported by G. F. Kunz in 1915. It's a short story: a female naga laid three eggs in the mountains. From one came Pyusawti, King of Pagan; from one came a Chinese emperor; and from the third came the rubies of the Mogok ruby mines.

A more elaborate version of this legend comes from the Glass Palace Chronicle, a historical record compiled in the early 19th century in Myanmar and translated to English in the 1920s. 
According to this story, a Naga princess named Zanthi came from her realm to the world of humans to practice virtue. While living near Mt. Mali she fell in love and slept with the Sun prince, and became pregnant. However, the Sun abandoned her. When she was about to give birth she sent a white crow to bring her rubies from the Sun. At the bird's insistence, the Sun bundled up some gems and handed them over. The crow, however, was distracted by the food of some human merchants on the way, and left the bundle unattended. The humans switched the rubies for dry dung. Disappointed by the bundle, Zanthi returned home, leaving her eggs on the mountain. 

A hunter, carried away by spirits, found the egg(s?) some time later. However, on the way down, he had to cross a flooding river; the eggs slipped away. A gold-colored one broke in the Mogok Valley, filling it with rubies and iron. One black egg floated downriver and hatched a beautiful girl who later became a queen. A white egg floated down the river Irrawaddy and hatched a boy, who was prophesied to become the great King Pyusawhti. 

There are countless variations in gemstone-related literature about the "dragon" egg bursting open to fill the Mogok Valley with gemstones. It is a very appealing image. 


Diana's sapphire engagement ring became famous, and now it is worn by the Duchess of Cambridge. As for royal rubies, here is a blog post about some of them. And here is a picture of the ruby engagement ring of Sarah, Duchess of York (it apparently cost a lot of money):

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