Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Obscure Fairy Tale: Prince Lindworm

I love Prince Lindworm.

Not in an I-want-to-meet-him kind of way. He likes to eat people; I don't like being eaten. We wouldn't be a match. But his story is one of my favorite obscure fairy tales. It's from a collection of Norse tales originally collected by Asbjornsen and Moe and translated by Sir George Webbe Dasent.

Prince Lindworm (from Asbjornsen and Moe)

Once upon a time... a king and queen want a child. A nice witch tells the queen to place a cup upside down in her garden. By morning, a red rose and a white rose will grow.

I love how simple this fertility rite is. No magic potions. No special words. Just an upside down cup. It's so simple that you almost feel like the queen should say, "Oh, of course! An upside down cup! Why didn't I think of that? Silly me, I'll toss out my lingerie and ovulation charts and go find me a cup."

If she eats the red rose, she'll have a boy, the witch tells her. If she eats the white rose, she'll have a girl. "But whatever you do," the witch says, "don't eat both roses!"

Simple instructions. Simple warning. What could possibly go wrong?

The queen obeys. In the morning, she eats the red rose. It's so tasty that she eats the white rose too.

Really? Because it's "tasty"? Did you not take Fairy Tale 101? Don't eat the poisoned delectables, don't diss the talking animals, and never ever disobey the crazy old woman doling out unsolicited and nonsensical advice.

Nine months later, she gives birth to a boy. She also gives birth to a super-scary serpent thing, but it scuttles away quickly and she convinces herself she imagined it.

I wonder what the midwife said. I'm guessing, "AHHHHHHH!!!!"

Years pass, the prince grows up and decides to marry. He rides away from his castle to find a princess, but at the first crossroads, a giant lindworm (a.k.a. a super-scary serpent thing) blocks his path. The lindworm says, "A bride for me before a bride for you!"

I can't help but wonder: What's the lindworm's life been like up until now? Who raised him? Where does he live? Has anyone been making sure he brushes his teeth and eats his veggies? Last thing anyone wants is a serpent with bad breath and scurvy.

He tries another path. The lindworm appears again. Every road he tries, he encounters the lindworm. He finally returns to the castle.

Interesting that he doesn't try to slay the dragon/serpent/whatever. Isn't that in the fairy-tale prince manual?

The queen tells him that yes, that super-scary serpent thing really is his big brother and should be married before him.

That conversation must have been AWKWARD.

So the king sends letters to distant kingdoms asking for a bride for his son. A faraway kingdom sends a princess. She is not allowed to see her groom (the lindworm, of course) until after the wedding.

I can't help picturing a wedding reception with a giant serpent. He'd be fine at the Electric Slide or the limbo, but they'd have to skip YMCA and the macarena.

The next morning, the princess is gone, and it's obvious that the lindworm has eaten her.

Obvious how? Wait, don't answer that. I don't want to know.

The second son tries again to leave in search of a bride, but the lindworm again stops him. The king summons a second princess. The new princess marries the lindworm. By morning, she's been eaten.

I know we know nothing about the lindworm's upbringing, but perhaps someone should let him know this is not acceptable behavior. Big brother lindworm needs to go to his naughty spot.

By now, no king anywhere will send his daughter. So the king forces a poor shepherd to give up his daughter to be the lindworm's bride.

What exactly is the king's strategy here? Keep offering up girls until the lindworm no longer feels peckish? Methinks that the king's plan has a few tiny flaws.

The poor girl is distraught. She wanders around crying until she meets the nice witch. The nice witch tells her to request ten white dresses, a tub of lye, a tub of milk, and a lot of whips.


When the lindworm orders her to disrobe, the witch tells her, she must order him to slough a skin. She is to repeat this until all the skins are gone, then whip him with whips dipped in lye and wash him with milk. Lastly, she must hold him in her arms.

Let's hope that's not a euphemism.

"Ugh," the girl says, "do I really have to hold him?"

She's hoping it's not a euphemism too.

"Yes," the witch says, "you really do."

Still hoping for no euphemism.

After the wedding, the poor girl follows the witch's orders. When the lindworm tells her to disrobe, she orders him to shed a skin. He's surprised but obeys. She follows the witch's instructions perfectly, ending with dragging him to bed.

Oh, crap, I think it's a euphemism.

In the morning, when the king peeps into the bedchamber, the girl is alive and well. Moreover, there's a handsome prince lying beside her.

Sure, he ate two princesses earlier this week, but he's so pretty now, who could hold a grudge?

Everyone is so happy that they hold a second wedding reception, and the king and queen treat their new daughter-in-law with love and kindness for the rest of their long and happy lives.

Now we get a proper macarena! And loving in-laws. That's what I call a happy happily-ever-after!

For more obscure fairy tales (with commentary), check out the Obscure Fairy Tales page of my website, where I've gathered links to all my prior fairy tale posts.



At 11:35 PM, Blogger Q said...

I've missed you!

And yes, this is pretty awesome. I wonder what the prince thought of his eating-princesses thing after he became handsome. And did the second prince manage to find a wife or are all the other kings still kind of worried about the family connections here? I know I would be.

At 11:47 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Q: I bet he still has cravings for princesses (and I think the Frog Prince still has cravings for flies). Probably puts quite a damper on those royal banquets...

At 12:55 AM, Blogger Priya said...

Haha, that's a funny story.

At 1:01 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Priya: Glad you liked it!

At 1:24 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I love your retelling of this story. Your commentary is priceless.

At 7:32 AM, Blogger tanita✿davis said...

"Silly me, I'll toss out my lingerie and ovulation charts and go find me a cup."

Oh, this one is a WIN. Lingerie, whips, AND a tub of lye. Heeeee!

At 3:45 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Pema: Thanks! I had fun working on it. Oddly, the fairy tales with cannibalism are the most fun to retell... Equally oddly, there are a LOT of fairy tales with cannibalism in them...

Tanita: Whenever a story has a list of random ingredients like that, I always wonder if the wise old woman is just making up one or two because she thinks it would be hilarious.

At 6:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's too funny! What goes through the minds of the people that write these I wonder. What's the moral of the story here. If at first you don't like you knew hsuband peel him and whip him?

Soar with Fairies in a new young adult novel: Purple Butterflies

At 6:56 PM, Blogger Anne Leigh said...

She gave BIRTH to the thing and she convinced herself it was her imagination?! Am I wrong but doesn't childbirth sick in your mind?! A little?!

"Sure, he ate two princesses earlier this week, but he's so pretty now, who could hold a grudge?"

Exactly :D

At 7:02 PM, Blogger Erin said...

This whole thing just makes me go EW. EW. EW.


At 8:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are a ton of Skandinavian faerie tales on this theme. I've never heard this one, my favorite was the one where the monster Princess eats her guards. I made up a variation to start my novel... the weird "huh?" feeling that goes with them is always delightful. I love your commentary btw.

Something you might be interested in: one of my professors has been playing around with a blog-literary zine, his most recent theme is faerie tales. Not sure if he's still accepting submissions, but probably.

At 9:15 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Purple Butterflies: I'm betting that Dr. Phil never gave that advice...

SavyLeartist: Wonder what that would have looked like on an ultrasound.

Erin: I agree with your "EW"!

Meagan: Sounds like the Princess in the Chest. I'm rather fond of that one...

At 10:36 AM, Blogger Antonietta May said...

how so many fairy tales are alike- this one sounds like 'the serpent king' from italo calvino's collection.
that was really great to read.
i'm guessing i would have said 'AAAHHH!" too.

At 9:59 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Hedgi: Glad you liked it! I find it interesting which bits of fairy tales repeat across cultures and which bits don't. Even stories that are explicitly the same tale can vary in such fascinating ways, depending on their intended audience and the biases/tastes of the author/storyteller...

At 10:57 PM, Blogger Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

This is the one my novel's based on. Only, you ended it too soon.

The largest part of a reason I fell in love with this story is that it *doesn't* end with the marriage and we go through a delicious ream of fairytale elements (the step-mother, the mail-tampering, the mistaken identities, the confronting the hordes of hell with three acorns-- hey, maybe that's some euphemism too...) before the ultimate happy ending.

What gets me is that these women-centered tales are all about the wife rescuing her husband (frequently more than once), but the variants of this tale that continue after the marriage have her rescuing other men and then they all want to compete for her after that.

At 8:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All the awesomeness of the serpent-eating-his-princess-brides aside, whatever happened to the second prince, the one the story started with? Did he ever get married, get across that path the lindworm blocked? Talk about a cliff hanger.

At 8:49 PM, Blogger Amy Jane (Untangling Tales) said...

Ah! Anon, if you really want to know that's an excellent reason to read my novel ;0)

I always wondered too, since even in the long versions he's never mentioned again either.

At 5:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this! The two flowers at the beginning (only supposed to eat one, but she ate the other because the first was so tasty) reminds me of the start of Tatterhood.

And your commentary made it even better!

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Amy Jane: Cool! I didn't know there was a long version. I like the image of "confronting the hordes of hell with three acorns."

Anonymous: If he ever did get married, the poor girl gained quite the set of in-laws...

Ali: I love Tatterhood. The hugging of the serpent also reminds me of Tam Lin...

At 5:05 PM, Blogger Alessia said...

And everything ended happily ever after...

Except, the dismembered princesses.

At 10:27 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Alessia: Good point. Dismemberment can be such a downer.

At 5:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prince Lindworm is my favourite fairy tale and I enjoyed your retelling. The version I know - which I got from a Ruth Manning Sanders collection - is a little different. Instead of the upside-down cup, the witch tells the queen to bathe and then she'll find two fruits at the end of her bed. She is to peel them and eat them and then she'll give birth to twin boys. Naturally the queen forgets to peel the first fruit and when she peels the second she finds it has seven skins. This, of course, ties in the with the strip-tease contest at the end of the story.

I have, on occasion, told a variation of this story to children (I work in after-school care) but the story to me seems so erotically charged that it's quite nerve-wracking. All you need to do is grow up and fairy tales become positively filthy. ;)

At 8:50 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Boojumlol: Definitely sounds like a tricky one to retell to kids! I like the image of the many-skinned fruit (to match the many-skinned lindworm). I don't think I've read that version. I'll have to look it up. Thanks!

At 1:25 PM, Anonymous danielle said...

This is a cool story!

At 7:33 AM, Anonymous Iris said...

Gah, this is so awesome! Hmm... But what about the queen? Now that he found out the lindworm-scary-serpent-thingy was her son... Oh, gawd, I feel sorry for the queen. Giving birth to the lindworm must have been painful. And I mean REALLY painful, not the usual painful. Ouch.

At 12:07 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I think your commentary was the best part of this story! It made me laugh all the way through (and the story itself was obnoxious!). I love it :)

At 11:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of your questions are answered in this version of the story:

Consider the Prince and the Wurm story (Wurm = dragon). An old couple wants a child and consults a midwife. She tells them to go home and throw their dirty dishwater under the bed before sleeping. In the morning there is a flower with a black and white blossom. The couple are supposed to
pick only the white blossom, but they pick both. The months go by and soon the midwife is brought in for the woman's delivery. The first thing to pop out is a slimy lizard which the midwife, with
the mother's semi-conscious blessing, tosses out the window to fend for itself, forgotten and abandoned. Moments later a healthy, beautiful boy is born who grows up perfect, successful and loved by all. So admired is he that he is to marry the King's daughter.
The Wurm's life is spent sneaking about, spying on the life of his brother and family, stealing to eat and keep himself warm, and longing for what he doesn't have. The Wurm is bitter, angry and vengeful.
On the day of the wedding the Prince leaves for the castle. His coach is stopped suddenly by the huge Wurm blocking the road. The Wurm declares itself to be the Prince's long-lost brother and demands the Prince find him a bride as well or the Prince will never see his. Then begins the difficult process
of finding a woman who can spend the night with the Wurm in a special room and still be there the next morning, which is finally acheived after many long years.
The turning point of the story is when the Wurm declares himself, comes out of hiding, demands a bride who is capable of "loving" him as he is. The Wurm has to quit living as a criminal and outcast. But he is not offering to change his Wurm nature. Rather, he is himself the prima materia, placing himself in the special room, a Vas Hermeticus, to see if any alchemy takes place, any soul is made. Only by revealing himself, by demanding what he needed, could he ever be loved and have a place of honor in the world. This is what both the criminal and we as scapegoaters refuse to do--to reveal ourselves, come out, acknowledge the "strange fedina corne over us, the "insane desire." As long as we "haven't experienced this," we are undeclared, hidden: "only a troubled guest on the dark earth," as Goethe says. We are afraid of getting caught, of gettina burned (by the oil), of our Wurm-self coming out of hiding, of asking for what the ugliest part of ourselves needs. So most of us pretend to be wholly good. But being good just isn't good enough.
Most of us believe in transformation, death and rebirth, being emulsified by Hermes/Mercurius, but we still don't want to undergo the death. We want to change without being changed-sort of remodeled for that "new look" but without the muss and fuss and ego-dystonic decompensation that a
complete change brings.

At 4:08 AM, Anonymous AL TAN said...

lol its terribly funny. If it was read by someone who is not familiar with the nordic folklore of lindworm would have thought this lindworm may have a weird sexual fetish of eating up the bride. Whip with lye, wow I bet none of the dominatrix can come to this expertise in torture. Funny thing is that was the witch remedy suppose to cure the sexual dysfunction of the lindworm?

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Emma said...

whips? did i find a porno parody of this story?


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