Wednesday, April 3, 2024

C is for Chic and Awe (Romance Tropes in Folklore)

This year, my A to Z Blogging Challenge theme is Romance Tropes in Folklore! For each letter, I will pick a popular trope from romcom movies and romance novels, and see if I can find the same trope in folktales and legends. Because it's fun. Here we go.


"Chic and Awe" is the name for this motif used on the TV Tropes website, and it was too fun to pass up. It is the kind of trope where someone assumes that someone else is horrible / unattractive, and then the person walks in and turns out to be amazing. And obviously it results in a love story.

(Image is a reference to this scene)


Folklore is often criticized for emphasizing physical beauty. Whether or not a character is beautiful or not is a cardinal point in a lot of stories. And there are some, indeed, where someone is assumed to be unattractive, and turns out to be... not that.


The farmer and the barber (Folktale from India)

Two friends, a farmer and a barber, are about to be married. The barber visits his own bride who turns out to be unattractive, and only offers him spinach for lunch. He then visits his friend's bride out of curiosity, and finds that she is pretty, and also offers great food. Out of jealousy, the barber runs to his friend and tells him "your bride is awful and only cooks spinach". Out of disappointment, the farmer then decides to blindfold himself for the wedding, and refuses to take a look at his wife or eat her food.

Soon after, the farmer and the barber are playing a gambling game in their garden, when the farmer's spurned wife decides to pay a visit. She pretends to be a guest, and immediately enchants her unwitting husband. He keeps inviting her back to play gambling games, and she keeps winning. After the games, he always goes home and puts on the blindfold again, none the wiser. The wife eventually hides all the things she had won from her husband inside pastries. When he opens them, he realizes that the mysterious beauty had been his own wife all along, and runs home to her. Thus discovering the barber's deception, they can now live happily.

Quamar Al-Zamaan and Shams Al-Dunya (Lebanese folktale)

Two kings engage their children when they are born. The boy and the girl are raised together until age then, when they are spearated according to custom. Even though the girl grows up to be perfect, her thirteen jealous cousins plot to destroy her impending marriage to the handsome prince. When the prince is on his way to the wedding, they orchestrate a situation where he can "overhear" them chatting, lamenting how the bride grew up to be disgusting and awful. The prince, shocked, flees from his wedding, and hides in the gardens of the summer palace.

The bride, suspecting what happends, decides to get her groom back. She visits the garden disguised as a guest, and manages to enchant the reclusive prince. He falls in love with her, and wants to marry her instead of is "ugly bride". Eventually his mother arranges a meeting with said bride - and the prince realizes the two are the same person.

(Sadly, there is no happy ending for this story; after years of happy marriage, the prince loses his wife, and goes through a long story of grief.)

Soqak Boqak! (Palestinian folktale)

A very smiliar story to the two above: a prince is to marry a peasant girl, and his spurned royal brides conspire to give him a false account of her looks. The groom hides in an orchard, and the bride decides (with the in-laws' help) to get him back. She digs a tunnel to the orchard and appears there, enchants the gardener, and tears up plants. The prince wants to know who the mysterious visitor is, and obviously they fall in love. Eventually, she reveals that she has been his bride all along.

Kinan Kinan (Haitian folktale)

A bit of a twist on the story: a prince doesn't want to marry, but his father orders him to. He rejects every girl that shows up to visit him, solely based on his servant calling out how pretty they are. When a dirty peasant girl wanders that way, he servant calls out how disgusting she is - and the prince decides to marry her. Once she is cleaned up, she surprises everyone by actually being very pretty, and the prince happily marries her. (This is also a Makeover, obviously, which is a whole other related trope.)

The marriage of Kudim-Os (Permyak legend)

The young chief Kudim-Os wants to build a fortress on top of a sacred hill. The shaman of the hill tries to distract him from his plan, and spreads a rumor that a Votyak chief has the most beautiful daughter in the world. In fact, the daughter is said to be so horrendous that her father keeps her locked away, killing all suitors - but the rumor mill works, and Kudim-Os sets out to win her as a wife. When he arrives, his companion visits the girl's tent first, but her horrible monster face scares him. Next, Kudim-Os enters... and despite the face, he sees something in her eyes. When she sees that he is not retreating, the girl reveals that the monster face is only a mask - her mother's idea to discover which suitor would see past appearances.

Do you have favorite romance stories that feature this trope?

Do you like the folktale versions?

Don't forget to leave a link in the comments so I can visit you back!


  1. This kind of reminds me of the song "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)" by Rupert Holmes. He's getting bored with his "lady" (doesn't say whether it's his girlfriend or his wife) and replies to an ad in the personal column that describes what he considers the perfect woman. They agree to meet at a bar, and when she shows up, it's his "lady."

  2. I’m not sure if this follows the same trope. One of my favorite stories is Prince Amilec by Tannith Lee.
    It can be found in Jack Zipes book ‘Don’t Bet on the Prince’. In that story the Prince is besotted by a beautiful very picky Princess who makes him get for her impossible things. The Prince seeks the help of a witch who he assumes will be ugly. The witch helps him 3 times and ends up being the one he marries. It’s got a great twisted ending.

  3. We might be able to hear an echo of this trope in old movies where the librarian takes off her glasses and is suddenly gorgeous. That trope annoys me because of all the times I’ve had to help my wife figure out where she left her glasses.

  4. I love this. I tend to have the bad habit of pointing out tropes in movies and television (must to the annoyance of my adult children)

  5. There's a similar trope in the films In the Good Old Summertime and The Shop Around the Corner, where co-workers who hate one another have no idea they're also romantic penpals.
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  6. I didn't know this type had a name. I mean, I am not surprised it does, but always great to know!
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  7. I like your story , kinan kinan.
    The first thing that comes to mind is Talledaga Nights with Will pharell. theres a scene where his nerdy assistant takes her hair down and gets on the table and dances like the girl from the whitesnake video and suddenly she's hot. Idea-ist@GetLostInLit

  8. First, I am in awe of your organization. How do you categorize and keep track of all these folktales? Have you devised your own system or do you use an already established one?

    Second, "Chic and Awe": weirdly reminiscent of the U.S. military's "Shock and Awe" campaign at the beginning of their invasion of Iraq.

    Third, these stories remind me of the Bob Marley song, "Cornerstone," whose lyrics are taken from the Old Testament: "The stone that the builder refuse/will always be the head cornerstone."

    I'm belatedly realizing what you told us at the outset, that these are all common tropes in romance novels and films. What fun!

  9. I am sure the trope of the second story in particular is one I have seen in several dramas but i just can't quite put my finger on them...

  10. It's kind of the reverse of the Beauty and the Beast, isn't it?

  11. I liked "Kinan Kinan". One of my favourite tropes.

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