Wednesday, August 1, 2012

(Mostly) Obscure Fairy Tales: The Light Princess

Welcome back to the wonderful, and very often weird, world of obscure fairy tales!  This week's tale hails from Scotland.  Written by George MacDonald and published in 1964, it is a very funny take on many classic fairy tale principles. I really enjoyed this one because of its elements of anti-gravitational awesomeness and the fact that the princess loves to swim.  Those are my reasons and I am sticking with them.  I also found the premise hilarious:  case in point, the best punishment the villain could think of was to make someone "lose their gravity."  I don't know about you, but that sounds less like a punishment and more like a wish come true to me.  But I suppose it can interfere when you are trying to woo a prince.  (A quick note before I begin the commentary: I by no means claim that these fairy tales are at all obscure.  My judgement as to their level of obscurity comes from the fact that I have personally never heard of them.  If you are already quite familiar with a tale or two in this series, you get extra points.)

Once upon a time, a king and a queen have a daughter.  The king invites the entire kingdom to to the baby's christening to celebrate the birth, but he forgets to send an invitation to his ugly, spiteful, and unkind sister, Princess Makemnoit, who also happens to be a witch.

Why is it always the sister?  Can't other blood relations be just as corrupt? Not in fairy tales, it would seem.  Although, if my sister's name were Makemnoit, I wouldn't invite her to family functions either. I also love the fact that ugly people in fairy tales compensate for their looks by dabbling in dark magic. 

She shows up at the event uninvited and, as revenge on her brother, curses his baby daughter by sprinkling a potion into the baptismal water so that gravity will have no effect on her.

Okay, Makemnoit must be really new to this whole "villain" thing.  I mean, come on.  A floating baby isn't exactly appropriate revenge for familial rejection.

The princess becomes a floating princess and always at risk of being carried away by the wind.

They make child leashes for that, you know. Again, I am not seeing the problem.

She grows up with a lighthearted outlook on life and is hard pressed to see the serious side of things.  She laughs all the time and never cries.  The king and queen believe that there is something very wrong with a princess who never cries and, though they consult with all of the experts in the kingdom, they are unable to find a cure.

First she floats, now she's happy all the time . . . why are we looking for a cure?  And can Aunt Makemnoit come to my next birthday party?  I'd like to fly and be extremely happy.

The happy princess loves to swim and the king and queen discover that when she is in the water, she does not float away.  They begin to wonder that, if they could only make her cry, perhaps it could break the curse and return gravity to their child.

Ok, I see what's coming.  They are going to force a perfectly happy child to cry in order to take away her power to fly.  Awesome idea, guys.  Well-thought out.  

Meanwhile, a prince from a neighboring kingdom sets out to find himself a bride.

You've really got to love fairy tale timing.  I mean, wouldn't it be great if, at the moment someone was trying to ruin your life, a prince from a neighboring country set out to find a wife and, oh hey, conveniently met you, married you, and you lived happily ever after together?  The fact that this NEVER happens is the biggest disappointment about reality.

The prince was unhappy with every princess he encountered.  He had heard stories told of the light princess and so he decides to try and find her.


On his way to find her, he becomes lost in a forest.

Have you ever noticed that traveling by forest is a pre-requisite of any fairy tale protagonist but none of them are ever very good at it?  Someone is always getting lost, stuck in a thicket, or lured into a trap involving a not-so-innocent innocent looking old lady.  

While he is lost, he stumbles upon the princess swimming in a lake in the forest.  Believing she is drowning (she must not be a very good swimmer), he attempts to rescue her but she ends up floating away instead and gets very angry with him.  Despite all of the yelling, he falls instantly and deeply in love with her.

A great use of the "love at first sight" fairy tale tool here.  Mad props.

The prince and princess spend many days swimming together after that but the prince eventually figures out that he will not be able to marry the princess if she is on land.
Aunt Makemnoit discovers that the princess has found a way to escape her curse by swimming and so she is determined to dry up the lake where the princess swims every day.  She drains the lake and stops the rain and causes a serious drought all over the kingdom.  Babies no longer cry water.  

This woman can stop the rain and she wasn't banished after the christening incident?  Obviously very lax fairy tale law enforcement at play here.  And PS, it took this woman how long to figure out that the princess liked to swim?  It seems that all heroines must reach marrying age for something dramatic to happen in their life.

As the lake continues to drain, the kingdom discovers that the only way to stop it is to block a large hole out of which the water is flowing.  The hole is completely submerged and the only thing that will block it entirely is the body of a living man.

They can't think of ANYTHING else to block a large hole?  Seriously?  Suspension of disbelief. Repeat after me: suspension of disbelief, suspension of disbelief, suspension of dis . . . sorry, still not buying it.

The prince volunteers for the task.

This town can't even offer up someone from the dungeons or stocks for the job?  Sheesh!

The prince's only condition is that the light princess keep him company in the water as the lake fills.  The princess stays with him until the task is nearly complete and he is nearly drowned (mostly dead, not all dead.  Big difference).  The princess drags his body to Max and Valerie her old nurse-maid who is a very wise woman.  The pair nurse him back to health through the night and he revives at dawn.  The princess falls to the floor at  his bedside and weeps uncontrollably.  As soon as her tears begin to flow, her gravity is restored to her and she is no longer the light princess.

So the king and queen were right after all!  I mean, wasn't it obvious that all she had to do was cry?  I would still be a little bit angry that I couldn't float around all the time anymore and that my crazy aunt almost killed my fiance in an attempt to drain my favorite lake.  But whateves.  I am sure that in fairy tale fashion there will be some justice. 

The prince and princess eventually marry and have lots of non-floating children.  Aunt Makemnoit's house is destroyed by the rising waters of the filling lake and she falls in and drowns.

There we go.  I love ironic fairy tale justice. Now that is a happily ever after I can totally live with.    

My synopsis doesn't do this story justice.  MacDonald was a great writer of fairy tales and his style was lots of fun.  You can read the tale (originally a stand-alone book) in full here

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