Sunday, July 18, 2004

White Doe

18 July 04 White Doe

The story of the White Doe is found in Andrew Lang's, Orange Fairy Book. A slight twist on Sleeping Beauty, it presents a King and Queen who are childless, but instead of a frog there is a crab who grants the Queen's wishes.

Similar to Sleeping Beauty, a great party is ordained for the christening, but the Queen forgets to thank the Crab Fairy who made the event possible. Instead of death, she is restricted to living in an underground world where there's no sunlight—metaphoric of a living grave.

Political intrigue of marriage is apparent as the Kings jostle for an advantage in the contentious world of petty egos. The prince is little more than a spoiled three-year-old who falls in love with a portrait and ditches his engagement for a charming image, causing vengeful retribution from the offended party which is represented by fairies.

Although moralistic, the writer of the tale seems oblivious to the the concepts of self-responsibility as all events are blamed on external supernatural forces., turning the story into a oversweet pie for gullible children. Such fairytales present love and personal relationships in an artificial light where superficiality of appearance dominates reality. The princess is wonderfully beautiful, but equally brainless, raised to the sound of charming madrigals and quadrilles in a world where light never penetrates. Obviously with such a dull mind, it would be difficult to enlighten such a person.

The prince is a dull boy whom Oscar Wilde could parody endlessly, wanting only to fawn over a miniature portrait and cry. He has no education and certainly no manners.

And unlike The Goose Girl, White Doe arouse pathos. The plight of the Goose Girl offends us with the brutality to the princess and the horse, Falada, who is slaughtered and beheaded. The audience is appalled with the image of the wonderful horse's head hanging over the city gate, evoking sympathy in us for the princess. Offended by such an outrage, the reader reacts bitterly to the deception played on the prince. The story evokes a reaction from the audience. Nor is there the clumsy intervention of fairies and political scheming behind the scenes. The reader glimpses the brutality of jealousy, avarice and ambition and reacts with a healthy sense of righteousness at the fraud perpetrated.

In telling tales, Brothers Grimm are far greater storytellers, making the events flow into each other as if they were natural, removing the elements of supernatural interference. No fairies dash about catching hockey-pucks before they cross the goalie line. The characters are those met anywhere. They blunder through their lives, sometimes achieving and other times failing their goals. The Mouse gets devoured by the Cat and the Goose Girl suffers terribly. Not only the work of herding geese is a come-down in life, but she must see daily the head of her beloved horse on the city gate. The wrong is repeated constantly just as in reality. The story resolves naturally as the princess and the false waiting-maid confront each other at a banquet—The King asks for advice on a matter of dishonesty and the imposter imposes the sentence on herself. Justice is due; the audience is not offended with the awful sentence. Anyone who can slaughter a marvellous animal and hang its head on a city gate deserves being put in a barrell.

She gave the sentence herself; the audience is satisfied with the fall of the wicked woman.

White Doe employs all the tricks of fine writing, but like a faulty chord progression heavily ornamented it fails to make beautiful music. The prince and princess are cardboard figures manipulated by the hidden supernatural powers pulling strings. The switch is made in identities, but there is never the abhorrence to the false princess as found in Goose Girl. She's ugly and skinny like a toothpick—so what. The audience is not persuaded. Why? The prince is a bit cracked to start off with by falling in love with a portrait and demanding marriage before the girl is fifteen. Then there is all the rigamarole with the carriage and darkness and windowless chamber—the credibility is stretched too far.

Rather than die at fifteen, or fall into a hundred year's sleep as Sleeping Beauty, the princess bounds off in the shape of a doe. Ooopps. We've read that story before in Brother and Sister, but the sexes are reversed.

The moral coming at the end with the witless prince in pursuit is that True Love Must Suffer. She gets it in the hoof or should we say, Achilles tendon?

And everything comes out all right because the brainless prince must have his witless princess.

The opera, Freischutz by von Weber, with libretto by Johann Friedrich Kind, is also taken from the White Doe legend. However Viennese opera required an aritificial happy ending. A wreath miraculouslly saves the life of Agathe.

However, there is another version in which things do not turn out so well: the White Doe is shot and doesn't survive and the sharpshooter has sold his soul to the devil.

Altogether much more credible in this world where illusion and superficiality usually convinces the gullible public to buy just about anything, so long as the price seems cheap.

Madame d'Aulnoy, The White Doe
Andrew Lang, Orange Fairy Book full text

Grimm, Sleeping Beauty
Sur la Lune by Heidi Anne Heiner
A collection of illustrated children's classics, particularly European fairytales. Bibliographic information given. Author/illustrator can be retrieved. Well-organized it contains interpretations, historical summaries and bibliographies.

Brothers Grimm, Cat and Mouse in Partnership
Andrew Lang, Yellow Fairy Book

Grimm, The Goose Girl
Andrew Lang, Blue Fairy Book

Weber, Freischutz

2003 recording, Vienna State Opera Chorus and Philharmonic

Etext Library at the University of Virginia
A-Z index for yong readerss
Red, Blue, Violet and Yellow Faity Books
with illustrations for MS Reader and Palm