10 September 2010


Another Fairy Tale Friday

Read about Puss in Boots
and other linked up fairy tales!

There's something about the direction this blog has taken of late . . . Not only am I thinking of books, movies and music in terms of face-offs these days, I'm also improvising mash-ups on my guitar! It's the cheddar of it all, if you take my meaning. When two things which don't seem to have much in common can be taken together, they suddenly taste fresher. Like, you know, apples and cheese.

Anyway, here are two more fairy tales to look at together, for our usual Friday fun. They're kind of a predictable pairing, so this isn't one of my better efforts, but I'm glad to link up to Irena's meme again.

King Thrushbeard vs. The Swineherd



Princesses Behaving Badly: Not all fairy tale princesses are paragons. Here we have two of the worst. In King Thrushbeard, the princess is so scornful of her suitors and so harsh in her denunciations of them that her father is willing to marry her off to a poor minstrel--to teach her a lesson or to be rid of her, or both. We have another banished princess in The Swineherd, this time because her father catches her kissing the man he has hired to care for the pigs. It wouldn't matter if she were really in love with the swineherd, but she's just trading kisses for one of his clever toys.

Winner: King Thrushbeard--because she learns her lesson in the end, and that is always good.

The Tamers of the Shrews (LOL!): Here we have two royal suitors who must deal with two very unimpressed princesses, but their own methods have little to do with "killing someone with kindness." The hero of King Thrushbeard seems disproportionately cruel in giving the princess tasks he knows she cannot perform; and at one point, I wondered whether I should have paired this story with Bluebeard! The prince in The Swineherd sets out simply to test the princess' character; and she fails not because she is untrained for difficult work, but because her character is truly shallow.

Winner: King Thrushbeard--because we can argue that since this prince marries his princess at the beginning, his ultimate intentions are loving.


Disguise: Both princes try to pass as the poorest of peasants. The prince of King Thrushbeard pretends to be a minstrel--but later also disguises himself as hussar. As for the prince of The Swineherd . . . you can guess, can't you? =P

Winner: The Swineherd--because the contrast is both more dramatic and perfect enough so that the prince doesn't need to vary it as the occasion demands.

Endings: Polar opposites! King Thrushbeard has a happy ending for both our leads; The Swineherd ends very unhappily for the princess and tells us no more of the prince. But which one is more satisfying?

Winner: King Thrushbeard--because I'm happy that when the princess learned her lesson, she was given a second chance.


Wealth/Worth: Both stories ask questions about the true value of things. In King Thrushbeard, the princess goes from rags to riches, and regrets not having settled for the wealthy king with the weird beard when she had the chance. It is a little more complex in The Swineherd. The princess scorns a rare rose and an extraordinary bird because they're "real"--meaning, I suppose, not something the prince had to pay a lot of money for--but is willing to pay for new toys with her kisses . . . which consequently depreciate in value with each transaction.

Winner: The Swineherd--because it is one of the best cautionary tales ever written.

Allegorical Animals: The titles alone seem to say that animals are important. Thrushes are songbirds which are dear to poets, so it makes some sense for the prince in King Thrushbeard to come back disguised as a minstrel. Then there are the pigs in The Swineherd, who are meant to underscore how low the princess (and her ladies) really stoop when she puts a price on her kisses and they help her cover up the act.

Winner: The Swineherd--and certainly not just because I've been won over by a certain little pig from Groningen! =P


Shakespearean Stuff: For some reason, these two stories remind me of William Shakespeare's comedies--and not just The Taming of the Shrew! I realised how redeemable the proud princess of King Thrushbeard actually is when I remembered that the wise, witty Portia of The Merchant of Venice also takes the mickey out of most of her suitors. And the testing of the princess in The Swineherd is a little like the testing of Angelo in Measure for Measure--although prince-as-swineherd is probably closer to what we see in Henry V.

Winner: King Thrushbeard--because it's the closest we'll ever get to a Petruchio-Portia pairing and I never really cared for the Duke in Measure for Measure.

Movie Adaptations: First of all, let me thank the entire faerie realm that Disney never touched either of these stories! . . . Moving on now . . . There are several movies which retell King Thrushbeard--and they come in several languages. The universal appeal makes sense: it has a princess with a real character arc, a prince who does more than just show up at the end to kiss someone awake, and a happy ending. As far as I can tell, nobody has done anything with The Swineherd--possibly because the princess is totally shallow, the prince seems motivated by revenge, and the ending is awfully harsh. It's less Fairy Tale than Cautionary Tale, and unless you're a Horror fan, you don't watch much of the latter.

Winner: King Thrushbeard--because even I like it when the romance in a fairy tale wins over the horror.

* * * * *

King Thrushbeard vs. The Swineherd

Winner: King Thrushbeard

Image Sources: a) King Thrushbeard illustration by Arthur Rackham, b) The Swineherd illustration by Henry Justice Ford


Sullivan McPig said...

"Winner: The Swineherd--and certainly not just because I've been won over by a certain little pig from Groningen! =P"

I should hope not as I think you're not stooping low when you're around pigs ;-p

As for your post:
Great choice in fairy tales. Both are among my favourites.
King Thrushbeard wins in my book too, although the Swineherd is an awesome tale as well, because of it's sad ending.
In my version King Thrushbeard doesn't show up as a minstrel though, but as a beggar.

Enbrethiliel said...


I did feel bad writing that about the little piggies in the story. =P But that seems to be an accurate reading of what Anderson intended.

Are you aware that Winston Churchill once said of pets: cats look down on you, dogs look up at you, and pigs see you as an equal? (Well, that's an approximate quote, at least!)

The Swineherd is probably in my Top 5 Fairy Tales of All Time. I've loved it since I first read it and wish it were better known--although I can see why it must unsettle a lot of readers.

CMinor said...

It's also called "King Grisly-beard"--I think he was a beggar in that version.

Sullivan McPig said...

My version is dutch and there he's called Lijsterbaard Lijster = some kind of songbird and baard = beard

Belfry Bat said...

Would you know it, I don't think I know either of these tales... are they reasonably easy to find?

BTW, I just remembered the masque scene in Much Ado About Nothing; that's not quite the same as being in disguise, because everyone knows everyone else *is* disguised, but still it's important for some plot moments.

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

I absolutely love your comparisons! They are so great to read and yet again, you made a great comparison between two tales. You made some very clever points and some that had never occurred to me before. These two fairy-tales do scream Shakespeare. It was so great that you pointed it out. I really love The Swineherd, it's one of my favourite fairy-tales, but I have to confess that after reading your post, King Thrushbeard IS better constructed and offers a better moral, as well as a happy and well-deserved ending. I completely agree with you.

I also agree with you on another point: it's great these two fairy-tales haven't been done by Disney yet. A part of me really wants to see them as Disney cartoons, but then again, I'm afraid Disney might romanticize them just a bit too much.

Wonderful post!

Enbrethiliel said...


CMinor: And now I wonder what beards mean in fairy tales. In some versions of King Thrushbeard, he disguises himself by shaving off the beard; in others, he looks even more bushy and unkempt.

Sully: You remind me that these days, whenever I think about a fairy tale, I wonder how its title is translated into other languages. (It helps to remember that most of these were not even originally written in English!)

Bat: I don't think they're very popular, so they might be a bit harder to find. I owned many collections of fairy tales as a girl, and The Swineherd was in only two of them: one a collection of Hans Christian Anderson's stories and the other a "365 Stories" collection, which had to be more exclusive than usual. King Thrushbeard was also in the second book.

But if you limit your search to Anderson's fairy tales, for The Swineherd, and to Grimms' Fairy Tales, for King Thrushbeard, then you should have an easier time finding them. =)

Irena: Thanks! I'm pleased you like this post. =)

A part of me also does want to watch a good adaptation of these stories. YouTube has one version of King Thrushbeard dubbed--very badly dubbed--in Russian; and another one in a language I was too lazy to identify. I tried watching the Russian one, because it had the romantic look of Franco Zeffirelli's Brother Sun Sister Moon, and I was able to pick up on some non-verbal cues and follow along with what I knew of the story . . . but it was still frustrating! Especially since I could occasionally make out the original English the actors spoke! =S

But I really hope Disney keeps its corporate mittens off these two stories! After what it did to The Little Mermaid, I don't think it can handle anything but a two-dimensional happy ending. =(

antiaphrodite said...

Well, Sebastian gets lots of LOL from me :-D

Enbrethiliel said...


I know what you mean, and yet the original story was one of my favourites. Disney should never touch Anderson again!

suburbanbanshee said...

Isn't King Thrushbeard one of the "beat the princess/wife with a stick until she learns better" stories? I mean, obviously the version you've got doesn't include the beatings, but all the other versions I've read are full of cudgels and sticks.

Enbrethiliel said...


Yes, it's one of those types of stories--which need to be retold more often than they are!