Fairy Tale Friday: Princess of the Tower


and Other Maiden in the Tower Tales From Around the World

Since it’s May I will be focusing exclusively on Rapunzel or ATU 310 Maiden in the Tower tales.

Princess of the Tower (94-101)

ATU 310 Maiden in the Tower

Ah, this tale had an interesting problem for the princess at the beginning:

“She just sat and silently moped. She did not waste away, which puzzled the physicians; she did not grow pale, which surprised her attendants; and she did not weep, which astonished herself. But she felt as if her heart had grown heavy, as if there was no use in anything” (94).

Compared to other fairy tales, the princess’ malady is unique. And after doctors and astrologers and all sort of wise men (some characterized with racist stereotyping and description) try to figure out what’s wrong, they conclude some peculiar answers. Such as “the princess would die if the glow-worm won the race” (95).

A more sensibly magician says that the princess is tired and “‘is sick of being waited on hand and foot and bowed down and all that sort of thing'” (95). It’s a unique diagnostic since it asserts that excessive wealth means less to do and less choice. This is literally Jasmine, from Disney’s Aladdin‘s problem, and possibly some of what drove Sabo, from One Piece, to escape to Gray Terminal.

More specifically, this lack of doing anything for herself can be alleviated by “‘the exercise of imagination stimulated by prescience, conscience, patience'” (95). Basically, she needs to engage herself in the world. (There’s also a humorous tone to the tale, as the magician stops talking because he’s afraid the others will get annoyed at him for his big words.)

Either way, I like the way this is going until the president of this assemblage of wise men says “‘I diagnose the disease in simpler form. The princess is in love” (95). That’s not the same thing at all!

But it’s decided that since the princess should marry, she “should be away to go away to a new land” so as to see different people and places, and I assume figure out what and who she wants. Okay, then. That would actually address her actual problem.

(And now I’m thinking of what Aladdin would have been like if Jasmine had been allowed to travel around the deserts, getting to know people and seeing things so she’d be more prepared to choose a suitor.)

Of course she doesn’t actually leave. Instead her father the king summons a bunch of suitors who “began to file past the lady” (95). His reason for keeping her there is he “wished her to remain with him always if possible” (95). Which, um, isn’t that the problem?

(Also, where’s her mother? Does she have one? Does she have more than one parent of any gender?)

Since the princess doesn’t have much choice, she announces that she will only marry a man “‘who is not such a fool as to think himself the only person in the world of consequence'” (95-6).

She then goes on to critique the suitors who have come and how terrible they are and finally

“‘Oh, I am tired,’ burst out Princess Solima, in tears. ‘I have no desire for life if to be a ruler over men and women and children means that you must take no interest in their welfare. My father, hearken, I will not be queen in a land where the king thinks the people live only to make him great. I shall be proud and happy to reign where a king understands that it is his duty to make his people happy and make his country prosperous and peaceful'” (96).

I kind of love her.

The king is “deeply concerned” to which I can’t help asking: but isn’t that all good (96)? What are you worried about?

After consulting wise men and magicians, they decide that Solima will marry a poor man since she despises princes. When told this by her father, she simply says ” ‘How nice,'” which sends the king into a rage. Because of her answer, he “imprison[s] her in his fortress in the sea” (97).

The princess takes it in stride, going so far as to conclude that “‘I shall be free for awhile,’ she said, ‘of all the absurd flummery of the palace'” (97). I think that’s interesting. I would think she’d be more trapped in a fortress, but if she doesn’t have to put up with the pomp and circumstance, she’ll be free to act on her own and do stuff for herself.

the conclusion of the tale next week


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