Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Obscure Fairy Tale: The Three Princesses of Whiteland

You guys ROCK.

Seriously, I love all the comments on my last post. Keep 'em coming! It's so much fun chatting with you all. Thanks for entering the giveaway contest, and thanks for all the reading suggestions! My TBR pile has grown by leaps and bounds.

The winner of the ARC of ICE is... *drum roll*... Kristen!!! (Please email me your mailing address, and I'll trot off to the post office with your book.)

As a thank you to everyone for entering, I thought I'd tell you about one of my favorite obscure fairy tales, The Three Princesses of Whiteland. It's from the same collection of folktales as East of the Sun, West of the Moon (the tale that inspired ICE). My thoughts on the story are in italics...

The Three Princesses of Whiteland (from Asbjornsen and Moe)

Once upon a time... A fisherman fails to catch any fish. A head pops up between the waves and says, "You'll catch lots of fish if you give me what your wife carries under her girdle." And he says...

"Ahhh! A head! Holy crap, it's a disembodied head in the middle of the ocean and it's talking to me! This is NOT GOOD! Call the police! Call a psychiatrist! Call the tabloids!" No, that's not what he says because he knows this is a fairy tale and one of the rules of the Fairy Tale is that you must accept every freaky talking thing with more grace and aplomb than Julie Andrews at a tea party. So what he actually says is...

"Sure." He doesn't know that his wife is carrying a baby under her girdle.

Out of curiosity, what did he actually think he was bargaining away? Her belly button? Her pancreas?

His wife is upset. When the child is born, the king offers to protect him. So the king raises the boy.

And the parents join the support group started by Rapunzel's parents, PARFTB (Parents Against Ridiculous Fairy Tale Bargains).

One day, the king and the boy go out fishing...

Really? Because that seems a little reckless, given the whole freaky head thing. Can't he take up a safer hobby? Like juggling knives?

After their day at sea, the boy forgets his handkerchief on the boat and returns to fetch it. The boat, moving on its own, carries him across the sea to a beach.

Told you it was reckless. But where's the head?

He meets an old man who says, "Welcome to Whiteland. If you walk down the beach, you'll find three princesses buried up to their necks in sand. Ignore the first two and follow the orders of the third."

Heroes should ask more questions. Such as, are you (A) a wise Gandolf-figure here to point me to my glorious destiny, (B) the evil mastermind who kidnapped me and buried three girls in some weird homage to a teen angst beach movie, or (C) just a random crazy guy?

The first two princesses cry for help, but he ignores them. The third princess tells him that he must enter the nearby castle without greeting the lions that stand guard.

Why is the ability-to-ignore-minor-characters a virtue? Incidentally, the lions don't do anything in this tale. And not to give away spoilers, but you know that disembodied head? Never appears again.

He must allow a troll to beat him with whips, use a special salve to heal himself, and then slay the troll with a sword. If he does this three times with three trolls, the princesses will be freed.

Or he could just fetch a shovel and dig them out right now.

The boy agrees. Inside the castle, a three-headed troll whips him. The boy heals himself and kills the troll. When he returns to the princesses, they are now only buried to their waists in sand.

Dude, seriously, sand isn't that hard to dig. Get a shovel.

The boy returns to the castle a second time, and a six-headed trolls whips him. The boy heals himself again and kills the second troll. Now the princesses are buried only to their knees.

Oooh, scary, knee-deep sand. Can't they just, you know, step out of the sand and walk away?

Lastly, a nine-headed troll whips him until he faints. When he regains consciousness, the boy kills the troll. The princesses are free. He marries the third princess and lives happily for a while.

Because getting beat up by a monster makes for such a good first date.

After a while, the boy misses his parents. His wife warns him to listen to his father, not his mother, and she gives him a ring that grants two wishes. He uses one to return home.

Why not use a boat? It's a magic ring. Go for something cool. If you need transportation, then how about wish for the means of transport? Like a magic carpet or a pegasus or a VW bug with a cute fake daisy on the dash...?

At home, his mother tells him to visit the king to show him what a fine young man he's become, and his father tells him to stay home. The boy visits the king.

The king raised him. He should visit. Perhaps a better warning would have been the standard "Don't be an idiot."

The king is jealous of him and says, "I bet your wife isn't as pretty as mine." And the boy says, "I wish she were here right now so I could show you." Instantly, his wife appears. She tells him he's had his two wishes now, gives him a ring made of her hair, and leaves him.

Chief lessons I've learned from fairy tales: be careful of the word "wish," don't eat unwashed fruit, and if your daughter is cursed to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die, then show her what a spinning wheel looks like.

He begins to search for Whiteland. He meets the lord of the beasts, the lord of the birds, and the lord of the fish. No one knows where Whiteland is until they ask an old pike who says he's been a cook there for ten years.

I love that the fish is a chef. How awesomely random.

The pike says that the queen (who was the third princess) is going to marry a new man since her king is missing.

Can he really be missing if she knows exactly where he is?

The lord of the fish tells the boy that on the moor, he'll find three men who have been arguing for one hundred years about who should possess a hat, cloak, and boots. If anyone has all three, he can turn invisible and wish himself anywhere.

Well, that's convenient.

The boy tells the three men that he'll choose who should possess the items if he can borrow them. They agree, and he whisks himself to Whiteland.

What do you want to bet that he doesn't return the items?

The North Wind offers to blow the new fiance away if the boy can get the man outside. So the boy tosses the man outside, and the wind blows him away.

When did a talking weather system join the story?

The boy shows the queen her hair ring. She welcomes him home happily, and the rightful wedding is held.

Um, weren't they married before? And hey look, he didn't return the magic items. There's a shocker. It's not like this story has any other unresolved plot points... I'm sure he'll use that invisibility power any second now...

And they all lived happily ever after.

Including the disembodied head, silent lions, extraneous princesses, random ancient men, and the cooking (not cooked) fish...

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.

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At 11:12 AM, Blogger Kristen said...

That was a hilarious fairy tale! I just shot you an email about winning Ice! I'm so excited! :) *tries very hard not to squeal in delight*

At 11:25 AM, Blogger Enna Isilee said...

Congrats Kristen! So jealous!

Great tale, Sarah! You always find the best.

Oh, and I had another dream that you came to Utah. ...please?

At 11:25 AM, Blogger Q said...

Goodness gracious. Don't the people who write these fairy tales know anything about plot holes and loose ends?

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Anne Leigh said...

Whoa...this fairy tale is like an acid trip. I mean, some fairy tales are random but...wow :-P

At 4:18 PM, Anonymous Hester said...

That was somewhat hilarious. My favourite fairytale is probably still 'East of The Sun West of The Moon' it has been since I was five. Second up is either 'Snow White and Rose Red' or 'Catkin'. I don't think its a coincidence that my three favourite fairy tales were all from books illustrated by the same person (P.J.Lynch).

Congrats to Kirsten by the way (I'm jealous)

At 4:45 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Kristen: Congrats! Your ICE ARC will soon be in the mail. Hope you like it!

Enna Isilee: Hopefully I'll make it to Utah someday! When I do, you'll be the first I tell.

Q: Seriously. I think this tale has more random minor characters popping up and then disappearing than most.

SavyLeartist: I love the random ones. My favorite part in this one is the fish chef because his occupation has nothing to do with the story and, y'know, he's a fish.

Hester: I love-love-love P. J. Lynch's illustrations! Have you read Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede? I love that retelling.

At 5:20 PM, Blogger christine M said...

Thank you for another wonderful obscure fairy tale! My kids are always asking me if there's a new one yet. They were very excited to see this one!

At 6:47 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

I'm guessing the father of the girl with silver hands is also a charter member of PARFTA.

Fabulously weird story, as always!

At 6:59 PM, Blogger Joshua said...

I can't help wondering if the cook in The Bell at Sealey Head is a nod to this tale. I don't remember his name but it's something fishy.

At 8:22 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Christine: Glad you all enjoyed it!

Sarah: Definitely. It's a large support group (though it would be larger if more fairy tale parents actually survived...)

Tap: I love that book! Patricia McKillip's writing is so gorgeous that it's practically musical.

At 11:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow... it's like someone took a whole lot of elements from different tales and mixed them up. I find the the tales full of loose ends and plots that go nowhere frustrating. A few loose ends or unexplored characters? That's interesting.

My favourite fairy tales are 'Prince Lindworm', 'The Six Swans' (though I prefer a blend of the traditional and Hans Christian Anderson's version) and 'Lassie my Boy'. 'Lassie my Boy' is at least safe to tell to other people's children, as it only includes an attempted hanging, which the kids seem pretty zen about. I must look up some more Swedish fairy tales, seeing as 'Prince Lindworm' and 'Lassie my Boy' are so awesome.

I found and read a copy of Into the Wild, btw. It made me very gleeful. Now I can be a legitimate fan instead of someone who randomly found your blog by googling an obscure fairy tale. ;)

At 7:27 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Boojumlol: Yay! That's so cool to hear! I'm so glad you liked Into the Wild!

Which version of Six Swans is your favorite?

I'm blanking on Lassie My Boy. Must go reread...

At 8:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a fondness for Hans Christian Anderson's version, as it is the one I most remember from childhood. I like the grisly replacement of starflowers with nettles, so the task is even more horrendous. The reason they try to burn her at the stake seems a bit less mad in HCA's than in the version where they think she's eaten her babies. I reread it recently, however, and was appalled at how much religion he brings into it. I resent the implication that she manages to succeed in her task because she's a pious little Christian girl. I know he was just adapting it to suit his era, as we all do, but that doesn't make it less boring.

So... I don't really have an answer for you, I suppose. I tend to take the bits I like from different versions of a story and recreate it in my head. It's traditional to do so, after all. ;)

I found Lassy my Boy (according to wikipedia I have the spelling wrong) in The Three Witch Maidens, a Ruth Manning Sanders collection. Unfortunately she's out of print now.

At 3:32 PM, Blogger tumbling0after said...

I really do think that the random disembodied head deserves a tale all his own. He was probably dismembered by the silent lions and doomed to roam the ocean bodiless for all eternity because he lost his own hair-ring from his lady love. (who was, ironically, princess number two.)

lovely commentary :)

At 6:36 PM, Blogger Priya said...

These fairytales keep getting funnier and funnier.

At 8:42 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Boojumlol: I do the same thing, and I agree that it is absolutely traditional. These stories are MEANT to be retold and torn apart and pieced together.

Tumbling0after: That's an awesome backstory! I particularly like the link to the second princess.

Priya: Thanks so much!!

At 1:17 PM, Anonymous Hannah said...

That is a particularly random fairy tale. They are all random, but that one really takes the biscuit...I had to read it twice to understand what on earth was going on. But it was entertaining, and thank you for it! I had not heard it before, which surprised me as I spent far too much of my childhood reading giant tomes of fairy tales. (My favourites that I can remember right now were 'The Invisible Prince' and 'Little One Eye'. And also 'The Light Princess', although I was never sure if that counted as a fairy tale or not...)

At 1:38 PM, Blogger Christie said...

Maybe the boy had to wish himself to his parents because he didn't know where they were? :)

At 8:33 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Hannah: Glad you liked it! I love the super-random ones. I think Light Princess could count as a fairy tale. Just not a folktale, since it's roots are written not oral. It's been ages since I've read it. I've totally forgotten it. I should reread...

Christie: I like that theory! Makes sense.

At 8:17 PM, Blogger Kirthi said...

oh my gawsh, this is so funnny. Now that i read this, i see how silly fairy tales are.

At 7:35 AM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Kiki: Some of them really feel held together just by shoelaces and bubblegum.

At 4:22 PM, Blogger Erin said...

Hahahaha! This was seriously the BEST. I laughed so hard. You rock, Sarah.

At 11:52 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Erin: Glad you liked it. :)

At 12:47 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Oh my goodness. I am so glad that I stumbled onto your blog. I love obscure fairy tales.

At 5:03 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Chonny: Welcome! Glad you found me!

At 2:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hahaha that was so funny. i need some like you to do the voice overs when i read ridiculous fairytale plots. But serious, that fairytale was like a really bad acid trip cause it made no sense...at all.

At 2:02 AM, Anonymous AL Tan said...

Don't you notice most of the writer of fairy tale have a pent up frustration that is expressed with a desire to be with monstrous dominatrix? This is the second fairy tale I read with the whip, see the lindworm got whipped and then the 3 princess of whiteland also got a whip.Beside's almost all fairytale got problem with birthcontrol especially after they lived happily ever after.

At 3:50 PM, Blogger Christiana Binutu said...

So just found these blog posts and I have laughed so hard at the commentary. Of course his wife does not need a pancreas and what do belly button's even do? It makes no sense and I love it


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