Why the Sea Moans

Painting by Lisa Hunt from The Fairy Tale Tarot

“Why the Sea Moans” is a Brazilian tale, similar to Cinderella, but with a rather depressing ending. The title is actually what grabbed me first, beautiful, sad, I had to know the story behind it.

A lonely little princess lived in a palace and had no other children to play with. One thing she loved was to sit in the corner of the garden and watch the sea, which seemed to say her name as it hit the shore, “Di-o-ny-si-a.” One day the little princess, sitting all alone as usual, wished she had a living thing to play with her, even if it couldn’t be another child. And of course, this being a fairy tale, her wish was granted. Out of the waves came a sea serpent, but it didn’t’ look like a monster, it seemed kind and gentle. It told the little girl its name was Labismena and it had come to play with her. The two played together and the years passed until, when Dionysia was 16, the serpent told her that it had grown older too and could no longer come and play, but that if Dionysia ever needed her help she just needed to call her name and she would come.

Soon a neighboring king, whose queen had died, wanted to marry Dionysia, but Dionysia was against the idea. Her father gave her no choice, though, and she went to the sea shore and called for Labismena. Three times Labismena told the princess to request a gift from the king, each time a dress of a different color, the color of the fields, the color of the sea, and the color of the sky and all its stars. The king gave each dress to the Princess, and finally the Princess took all three dresses down to the shore, where Labismena had built a little boat for her. The serpent told Dionysia that the boat would take her across the water to the kingdom of the most charming prince in the world. When the princess asks how she can thank her, Labismena replies. “”You can do the greatest thing in the world for me…though I have never told you and I do not believe that you have ever suspected it, I am really an enchanted princess. I shall have to remain in the form of a sea serpent until the happiest maiden in all the world, at the hour of her greatest happiness, calls my name three times. You will be the very happiest girl in all the world on the day of your marriage, and if you will remember to call my name three times then you will break my enchantment and I shall once more be a lovely princess instead of a sea serpent.”

Dionysia arrived on the island and takes a job taking care of the hens at the royal palace. However, there’s a great celebration and three nights in a row Dionysia goes to the festa, wearing each of her three dresses. She catches the prince’s eye and eventually the prince discovers her identity and they marry. Dionysia is happy beyond her dreams, but she forgot her promise to Labismena.

“There was no escape for Labismena. She had to remain in the form of a sea serpent because of Dionysia’s neglect. She had lost her chance to come out of the sea and become a lovely princess herself and find a charming prince of her own. For this reason her sad moan is heard in the sea until this very day. Perhaps you have noticed it.

You will often hear the call come from the sea as it breaks against the shore, “Dionysia, Di-o-ny-si-a.” No wonder that the sea moans. It is enough to make a sea serpent sad to be forgotten by the very person one has done most to help.”

First a couple of things to note, the standard fairy tale bits. The number three comes up several times, fairy tales do love threes. And even though the story comes from a different culture, it does have a lot of similarity to Cinderella. Dionysia goes to the ball, with help, in this case from the sea serpent, but doesn’t let anyone know she is the lowly hen maiden. The prince falls in love, knowing little about her, but of course they marry and are happy.

Labismena’s story is so sad though. Trapped in the form of a sea serpent, she finally finds another princess to play with, but eventually the princess grows too old to visit anymore. Children are so much more likely to believe in magic, to believe monsters can really be friends. And then, when her friend is desperate she helps her in every way she can, freely. She doesn’t tell Dionysia about the spell until after all her help has been provided, until the events that will make Dionysia happy have been set into motion. And then her dearest friend, her only hope, forgets about her. Sure, Dionysia remembered her when she needed her, but not when she was totally happy. It was such a small thing to do, but she forgot. Honestly, it’s a story I’ll remember next time I’m at the shore, when I hear the water hitting the beach or the rocks.

You can read the story several places on-line. I read the version from Fairy Tales from Brazil by Elsie Spicer Eells, published 1917, found here.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.