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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Kings and Soldiers-of-Fortune ~ from Lex!

The following comes from Lex of Once Upon a Quill, who stumbled upon Fairy Tale Fortnight a few days ago, and joined in with enthusiasm and insight.  When Lex emailed me and asked if I could maybe make room for a guest post, I said without hesitation, Absolutely. Anyone that brings that level of passion to the discussion of fairy tales is absolutely welcome.
(And if you want more of that passion, you should definitely check out Once Upon a Quill, where she uses fairy tales to help people explore their writing craft!)

Of all the characters who get short-changed in the telling of a fairy tale, men are at the top of that list. Not boys. Not princes. But real, honest-to-goodness men. The ones who know how to treat a lady, who take on a worthy adversary, who save the day so they can go home to their families.

Oh, sure, many fairy tale romances have young men in them. Who dash off to have adventures. Who make dreadful mistakes and have to face the consequences. Who fall in love with a pretty girl who is impossibly out of reach without magical intervention.

The world is full of hundreds of fairy tales. Many of them are variations on the same theme (see here for a small sampling of Cinderella tales), but there are only a handful that are commonly known. Cinderella. Red Riding Hood. Sleeping Beauty. Snow White. Rapunzel. Beauty and the Beast. Hansel and Gretel. The Little Mermaid. Alice in Wonderland. Every one of these stories centers on the plight and adventures of a girl. Sometimes she's in love, sometimes she's fixing an older woman's world. But these stories are all about the girls. With the exception of “Red Riding Hood” and “Hansel and Gretel,” the fellows in these stories are frequently foolish, secondary to the girls' needs and decisions, and readily written off as cardboard characters.

Small wonder menfolk look down their noses at fairy tales and go off to write stories where they are the heroes. Where men can be men, and women can be props, and action and adventure save the day. (We usually call these books science fiction...)

But not all fairy tales are like this. And no, I don't mean Jack and the Beanstalk or Bluebeard. King Thrushbeard is a good story about a good man who loves an obnoxious girl. (Small wonder girls didn't grow up to be mothers who tell that story to their daughters...) The White Snake is an excellent story about a good servant who outsmarts a princess. Silver Hands (in some countries known as The Armless Maiden) tells of a good king who champions his wife in sickness and in health. The Six Swans (my first love) has a good king with a deep love of honor and fidelity. Hans, My Hedgehog follows one very good man in his quest to find someone to love him whole-heartedly. Many, many fairy tales exist with real people in major roles, not just two-dimensional pictures of things we think we ought to want.

Luckily, most fairy tales come with built-in code words to help find the unique, life-changing ones. Any story with a “prince”—look out for “handsome,” foolish, and a bit slow on the uptake. The Goose Girl is a great example of this. The young prince, betrothed to the foreign princess, does nothing to save the day or seek out the truth. That job, as is common in fairy tales, is left to his father. “Kings” in fairy tales, whether young or old, are wiser, more observant, extraordinary when they are good, and dreadful when they are bad. Even better, kings are not characters who rely on their looks or their fortunes to win them friends or lovers. Any fairy tale romance with a king instead of a prince will net the reader with a much better man.

But then there are the soldiers-of-fortune. Personally, I love these guys. They are old enough and experienced enough to understand people and the world, and at the same time hungry for a home and a purpose. Some soldiers-of-fortune are young (The Devil's Three Golden Hairs, for example), and some are older (The Twelve Dancing Princesses). All of them apply the lessons they've learned elsewhere in order to make new lives for themselves. And, perhaps best of all, they tend to be without arrogance. They have a plan, they have an ambition, but they do not assume they are owed their desires. They expect to work for it, and they are grateful for help along the way, and they frequently exhibit wonderful generosity to their loyal friends.

We love our plucky young girls and persecuted heroines in fairy tales, because we identify with them so easily, but shouldn't we also keep a weather eye out for a man worth sharing those adventures? Instead of the first pretty boy we see?

What about you? What stories make you look for great things in people?

Click here to go back to the Fairy Tale Fortnight Main Page,
where you can access the schedule! Or go here to get involved!
Credit to these awesome Deviants for our button [ 12 & 3]!


  1. Worthy points made, here. For all that some like to complain fairytale girls do nothing but wait around for a prince, fairytale males do get shortchanged a lot. I prefer a story where everyone in the main cast gets to show what they're made of. :)

  2. Oh, these fairy tale girls don't "do nothing", but those of us who believe "someday, he'll come..." tend not to be realistic about the already wonderful beasts in our lives. :) One of my favorite fairy tale tellers is Clarissa Pinkola Estes, who wrote "Women Who Run With the Wolves." It's a dense psychology textbook based on the strong feminine art of the story. She opens up stories (mostly tales that are "off the beaten track") like puzzle boxes, and we get the benefit of learning how to apply that same process to any story.

    But now you've challenged me, Ever, to make good use of The Twelve Huntsmen. :)


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