Let’s Talk About Fairy Tales #7: The White Deer

Hello, everyone! I hope you’re having a peaceful wintry afternoon. The past few months I’ve written almost exclusively book reviews, and I realized that I’ve neglected my favorite pastime: dissecting incredibly bizarre fairytales. Today we’re going to discuss “The White Deer,” another strange tale from our favorite storyteller Madame D’ Aulnoy, who also wrote “The Green Snake,” which I wrote about in my first entry in this series. Like many tales, it features animal transformation, evil fairies, and dashing princes, but also a weird emphasis on shrimp? Let’s dig in.

skeleton GIF by Kiszkiloszki

We begin with the typical story of a king and queen who are incredibly happy, except for the fact that they are childless, because, as we know very well, marriage is worthless without a child.

One day, the queen went walking alone. She sat by a forest well to rest. “I wish I had a child,” she cried for the hundreth time. The waters of the well foamed and bubbled, and up came a large shrimp.

Can you imagine you’re sitting by a well, minding your own business and screaming into the void about your barren womb, and out of the well comes a shrimp? How did the shrimp get there? Don’t shrimp live in saltwater? Is this water brackish, and if so, shouldn’t the king and queen be focusing on distributing potable water to their subjects instead of worrying about children?

Madame D’Aulnoy refuses to answer these pressing questions. Instead we learn that the shrimp can talk (naturally) and offers to lead the queen to a magic fairy palace where her wish will come true.

The queen said, “I’ll gladly go. But I can’t swim backwards underwater as shrimp do.”

I feel like something was lost in translation with this phrase because…what?! Is the queen a marine biologist? I feel like 99% of people in the world have no idea that a shrimp swims backwards, and it’s not even pertinent to her going to this fairy castle. I feel like this queen has a rich backstory where she went to college and got her degree in marine biology and studied shrimp swimming patterns, but like all stories about women, all we learn about her is that she wants a child. Typical!

Her fears soon prove to be unfounded, as the shrimp laughs and transforms into a “handsome old lady.” Without even blinking, the queen follows the shrimp-woman to a palace made entirely of diamonds (gaudy!) where she meets six fairies who each gift her a unique jeweled flower.

“Majesty,” they said…”your faithful wish for a child has won our hearts. You’ll have a child, named Faith. When she is born, take the jeweled bouquet…call the name of each flower…we’ll appear and give Faith the best of our gifts.”

I firmly believe that fairies are bitches. They’re all gushing and generous now, but hasn’t this queen been lamenting her lack of a child for years and years, so often that she’s lost all sense of normalcy and proclaims her sadness to random shrimp? They even have the presumption to name the queen’s baby Faith. What if the king doesn’t like that name? Is the name part of the flower-bouquet cult ritual? If I’ve learned anything from fairy tales, it’s that you don’t take gifts from fairies, because they always bite you in the ass.

Ignoring these red flags, the queen takes the bouquet and thanks all the fairies, especially the Well Fairy, alias Shrimp Woman. Soon after the queen gives birth to a baby that she’s forced to name Faith and calls on the fairies to give her gifts. Imagine that baby shower. You show up with some knitted booties and a bunch of fairies give her beauty and kindness. After the fairies bestow on Faith “goodness, intelligence, perfect beauty, good luck, and good health,” the door slams open and, I kid you not, “a great shrimp came in.”

shrimp dancing GIF
Kinda like this

“Forget me, didn’t you?” she cried. “You owe this happy day to me. I accuse you of ingratitude. I’m disguised as a shrimp, for your thanks to me goes backwards, like a shrimp does!”

I’m glad she explained this to us, even though I’m sure that the marine biologist queen already knew this. This is what I’m talking about when I say that fairies are bitches. The queen explains that she was confused by the jeweled bouquet because she thought that she only needed to thank the fairies included within it, which is a reasonable explanation in my opinion. Also, she just had a baby and had to plan a baby shower for fairies, so I think she deserves some slack here. After the other fairies do some damage control, the Well Fairy agrees not to kill the baby, but promises that if she sees daylight before she turns 15, she’ll regret it!

So, now they’re in a bad way. That’s why you never take anything from a fairy. I also think it’s a hell of an overreaction for a fairy to threaten to murder a baby just because the baby’s mother forgot to thank her. Maybe she was going to send a card in the mail! I don’t understand why the other fairies have to bow to the Well Fairy’s crazy temper, but apparently instead of trying to make her see reason, or throwing her in fairy jail, all the other fairies can come up with is building the queen a “windowless, doorless palace with an underground entry.” Where is the king in all this, you might ask? Playing cards probably. This is not his problem. And you can bet he won’t be living as a prisoner in this underground mole people palace either!

The imprisoned princess lives as happily as anyone could in her bizarre circumstances, spending her days with tutors and lollipops and jams and such, until the day of her 14th birthday arrives, and bam, it’s time to be married! Her portrait is painted and sent to all the eligible princes of the land, none of whom seem concerned about marrying a girl who has spent her whole life underground. At least they know she’s a virgin!

One prince in particular falls head over heels for Faith. His name is Warlock (such a bad boy) because he had won three great battles before he was eighteen. So does that mean…he’s older than 18? How old is this guy? Not that marriages between barely pubescent girls and full grown men was out of the norm for the 16th century, but still…

Warlock sends his bff Converse to woo Faith. According to the story, Converse’s main attributes are being a billionaire, and being good at persuading people, both things I’m sure he wrote on his Tinder bio. He’s basically this guy:

wrong trump GIF

So with that lovely description in mind, this story becomes even funnier. Warlock gives Converse “a thousand fine gifts for Faith, including his portrait” and begs Converse to win her over, lest he perish!

The king and queen squabble over how to present Faith to Converse because of the whole “not allowed to see sunlight” issue.  When Converse arrives with his retinue of “fifty diamonded gold carriages and 2400 hundred men on horseback,” the king refuses to let him see Faith and explains the whole “if she sees sunlight she will literally die” thing to Converse. But as per usual, all Converse cares about is the sexual needs of Warlock.

“But Sire,” Converse protested, “Warlock is deeply in love. He can’t eat. He can’t sleep. He sits sadly in corners. He is becoming very ill.”

sad kurt cobain GIF by Animation Domination High-Def

Literally none of that matters! This clearly shows that Warlock is in lust with Faith, not love, because if he loved her at all, he would be able to wait half a year to see her to prevent her death. But the king and queen are tempted, and broach the subject to Faith, who being an isolated 14 year old girl, immediately jumps at the suggestion of leaving her underground prison and marrying a hot prince. Even Faith’s lady maids, Prickly (yes, that’s her real name) who is jealous of Faith, and Daisy, who loves Faith, want her to marry him.

As fate would have it, Prickly’s fairy godmother is the Well Fairy.

i think not coincidence GIF

She tells the Well Fairy that she, not Faith, should be the one to marry Warlock. And Well Fairy still holds a grudge against a literal baby and agrees to help her.

“That wretched girl again!” she cried. “It will be a pleasure to run her hopes.”

Say it after me. Fairies. Are. Bitches. Let’s rewind, shall we? Well Fairy created Faith miraculous conception style, completely of her own volition, got mad at the miracle baby’s mother for not properly thanking her, cursed the baby to be a new member of the Hills Have Eyes tribe, and still wants to ruin her life! I wish we knew more about Well Fairy’s motivation in this story, if she was wronged by a Warlock-esque prince in her younger years, or perhaps a beautiful princess who loves lollipops? Sadly, all we know is that Well Fairy has an illogical hatred of Faith and is determined to ruin her life.

Meanwhile, beautiful, naïve tween Faith is restless and tired of waiting three months for her fifteenth birthday, so she proposes an idea: they’ll trick the fairy by traveling to Warlock in a “windowless, covered carriage” and only leave the carriage at night.” Seems like a brilliant plan. I just hope the journey takes 3 months because they don’t seem to have thought about what happens when she actually gets to the castle. Wedding in a covered carriage, perhaps? Also, why can’t Warlock come to Faith’s castle? According to the story, he’s still the prince, while the healthy king still reigns, and if I know anything about princes, that means he has a lot of leisure time, surely enough to take a 3 month vacation. But alas, that’s too logical!

Now that his wooing is complete, Converse leaves to tell Warlock the good news, even though he still has not set eyes on Faith. And if you know where this is going, well, you’ve probably read too many fairy tales.

The bizarre entourage sets off. We have Faith (the hot one), Daisy (the nice one), Lady Weed (the old one) and Prickly (the uggo), and of course, no mom or dad present, because who needs ’em? The queen trusts Lady Weed so much that she gives her many rich presents. This seems premature, especially since Lady Weed is also Prickly’s mother. Conspiracy!

The trip goes smoothly until Prickly has had enough of darkness and begs her mother to act.

Next day, at high noon, Lady Weed took out a long knife that she had hidden. With it, she slashed the carriage’s velvet roof. Daylight poured in. For the first time, Faith saw the sun. She gasped with shock, and then immediately turned into a white deer.

Uhhh….what?!!! All this time, for the past 14.75 years, they’ve kept Faith locked away underground because they thought that any exposure to the sunlight would kill her, but in reality, it would transform her into a deer! She could’ve been a happy frolicking deer this whole time! Also, why is Well Fairy so obsessed with animal transformation, and if she hated Faith so much, why didn’t she turn her into a shrimp?

The Well Fairy’s plot was working well. The lords and guards rode off in all directions to look for the white deer. To stop them, Well Fairy stirred up a storm. Then the Fairy transported them all, helpless, to a magical land.

Again, what? This plot seems haphazard at best. I don’t think fairies have good foresight because they’re so focused on transformations and in-the-moment solutions like lightning storms.

Because she’s the Nice One, Daisy runs into the forest to find Faith. Meanwhile, Lady Weed and Daisy continue with their evil plot. They dress up Prickly in Faith’s rich clothing and head to meet the prince, telling him that a “jealous fairy stole their attendants.” Not a lie! And they would have gotten away with it too, except that Prickly is UGLY!

Warlock was gaping at the sight of the great galumping girl. Her bony knees stuck out under the dress. Her parroty nose pointed down, her chin pointed up to meet it, and her crookedy teeth grinned.

This description makes me feel kinda bad for Prickly because she looks like this:

groovie ghoulies witch GIF

Anyway, like King Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves, Warlock declares that the portrait has cheated him and he refuses to marry Prickly. He’s so upset by this turn of events that he retires from the “gay life of court” to a quiet spot in the woods. But before he leaves, he orders that the ugly Faith and her lady be kept prisoner. Can you imagine if this was actually Faith?!!! He’s imprisoning a foreign princess for the crime of being ugly! Such diplomacy!

Far away from the gay life of court, Faith is having a wonderful time being a deer.

She found she liked to eat grass. She liked to lie on mossy banks. But most of all she loved the sunlight she had never seen till now. The world shone gay and clear before her.

I’m glad poor Faith has found contentment and I wish the story could end here. But no, it’s a fairy tale and she has to get married to a stupid prince who is actually a colossal jerk.

stupid adventure time GIF

It’s turn out that Tulip Fairy has been watching over Faith all this time. Not enough to like, you know, stop Lady Weed from slashing the carriage open or save those poor transported guards, but enough to lead Daisy to Faith’s new home in the forest. Once they’re reunited, Tulip Fairy appears and tells them that she can make their enchantment easier to bear by allowing Faith to transform back into her human form at night. She also leads them to an AirBnB in the woods. So it’s a bit of a Shrek situation here, but it could be worse.

As luck would have it, Converse and Warlock show up at the same magical woodland AirBnB. IsN’t tHaT fUnNy? There is definitely no conspiracy here! Except it’s not so good, because Warlock is a hunter who loves to kill innocent creatures  and the minute he sees Faith gamboling about in the forest, he’s determined to murder her.

The deer ran her best, with Warlock following close. Now and then, his arrows almost hit her, for he was a good shot. More than once Tulip Fairy had to turn aside his arrows or he would have killed the deer.

Here’s a thought: what if she just TOLD WARLOCK THAT THE DEER WAS FAITH? Why is mature communication so difficult for these people? They all need to go to therapy. I also think it would be really funny if after this hunt, both Deer-Faith and Warlock show up to their cabin at the same time and they’re both like “wait, do you live here, too?”

Worried about dying, Faith decides to remain inside with Daisy. But soon her deer nature overcomes her and she’s forced to go outside and leap about in the sunlight. During her leaping escapades, she comes across Warlock sleeping in a glade.

Faith realized it was her own beloved Warlock. She knelt beside him. “He’s much handsomer than his portrait,” she thought. She lay down beside him, forgetting her own danger.

These people! This guy is literally trying to kill you so he can mount you on his wall, and all you care about is that he’s hot! I don’t know how you ever get past the whole “he tried to kill me” phase of your relationship.

Of course Warlock wakes up and immediately starts firing arrows at Faith. She escapes unharmed until a stray arrow pierces her leg. Where is Tulip Fairy?! Seeing beautiful Deer-Faith wounded on the ground awakens some deeply buried humanity in Warlock, so he decides not to kill her, binds her wounds, and brings her back to the cabin. And here’s where the awkward AirBnB conversations ensue!

Daisy saw them coming and ran out, horrified. “Beg your pardon sir,” she said, “but that’s my deer.”

“It’s my deer, said Warlock, as graciously as he could. “I caught her in the woods.”

“I’d sooner lose my life than lose my deer,” said Daisy. “See how she knows me.”

Deer-Faith performs the necessary acts of handshaking and an eerily human comprehension of the English language until Warlock is convinced that she belongs to Daisy. Then they all go back into the cabin, confused that there appear to be other people rooming there. How big is this magical woodland cabin, anyway?

Anyway, Converse, persuasive billionaire, think something is fishy. That night, he looks through the peephole and sees Faith in her human form. Overjoyed, he and the prince finally go communicate like adults with Faith and Daisy and everything is explained! Yay for talking! They all head back to Warlock’s kingdom, where Faith, who is a really Good Person™ asks the king to pardon Lady Weed and Prickly, even though they tried to kill her. But since she’s also marrying her would-be murderer, that seems in character for her.

A final touch of joy came when Daisy agreed to marry Converse. She new his good heart, and his high rank in a country strange to her. Tulip Fairy gave Daisy a dowry of four gold mines in the Indies, so that she would be at least as rich as her husband.

Um, yay I guess? When did this story turn into a realistic portrayal of 16th century marriage contracts? Also 4 gold mines in the Indies…not a good look, Daisy.

And so, they all live happily ever after, Faith with her murdery warmongering husband, and Daisy with her persuasive billionaire with a “good heart” and her billions of dollars of blood gold.

The dubious moral: Say thank you! Manners are everything! Forgive those who wronged you, especially if they tried to kill you. And above all, marry rich.

Robert E Blackmon reaction nope bye go GIF

 

 

4 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Fairy Tales #7: The White Deer

  1. Aaahh I last checked in here in 2018 (while googling around for some version of Green Snake online!) and MY GOD THERE ARE MORE. I cannot wait for you to do every story in this whole book. I read this book over so many times throughout my childhood, and for some reason, White Deer was the story I loved the absolute most and I probably read it 10x more than the others. I thought it was so ROMANTIC and SWOONY and now all I can remember is the dude literally drilled a hole in the wall between their rooms to peep on the girls. Like !!!!

    The glorious hardback version I had as a child got thrown out by my dad (who thought because it had fallen apart, it meant nobody wanted it XD XD) but at least I managed to replace it – I can deal with inferior quality if it means I get to still actually have the things with all its illustrations!

    There’s another book I used to read, which I feel you could enjoy: The Magic Ring, by Robert Chandler. It’s a collection of retold Russian folktales, and a delicious lot of room for your spectacular analyses. Here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/513084.The_Magic_Ring_and_Other_Russian_Folktales/

    Which story from this collection will you be doing next?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you like them and that they live up to your memories! I will definitely check out The Magic Ring! And as to your last question: what do you think I should do next? Maybe Bluecrest? That one’s a deep cut and checks off all of the “wtf is happening in this fairytale” boxes.

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      1. oh god yes please, I am ready. Bluecrest was maybe the one I read second-most after White Deer!

        Also I’m so glad you did Donkey Skin. That was one that even as a kid without any understanding of bigger issues I honestly just always thought “wtaf?” I mean, the incest-as-an-inevitability angle was just…the entire time, I was like, hello are we going to talk about this? I can’t even start to detangle the wtf-ery of this. But your write-up was magnificent, and also now that I think back on the specifics of the story, there’s a certain deliciously knowing take of human nature packed in there, wrapped in the stinking pelt of a murdered ass.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Your responses crack me up! I’m so glad to know there is someone out there who was as deeply affected by these weird-ass fairytales as I am. I love them deeply, but wtf were these people thinking? Still trying to find the hidden metaphors all these years later…

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