Thursday’s Tale: The Bear Prince

Polar Prince" 2002 by David Dancey-Wood
“Polar Prince” 2002 by David Dancey-Wood

Today’s story comes from Switzerland. “The Bear Prince” starts in a similar way to other Bauty and the Beast stories. A father, in this case a wealthy merchant, goes to the market and, at his daughters’ request,  buys pearls and precious stones for his oldest daughter and a dress for his middle daughter, but can’t find a grape for the youngest, his favorite.

On his way home he meets a dwarf who directs him to a nearby vineyard and warns him about the bear who lives there. The bear will growl, but the dwarf advises the man not to be frightened. This is a little different from the other variations. Usually, the father find the flower or whatever on his own, in this case the dwarf sends him, probably knowing what the outcome will be. Definitely not a helpful little man, in my opinion.

So dad gets the grape but the bear states that the man must give him that which greets him first when he arrives home. Of course, when the merchant arrives at his house, the youngest daughter is the first to run out and greet him. A year later, the bear arrives and asks for what he was promised and threatens to eat the man if he doesn’t receive it. The bear knows that it is neither the dog or the apple tree which the man tries first to give him. Eventually the man surrenders his youngest daughter to the bear. At that point, a carriage draws up and carries the young woman and the bear to the bear’s home, a lovely castle. “This was his home, he said, and from now on she would be his wife. He gave her everything that her heart could desire, so that with time it no longer occurred to her that her husband was a bear. There were just two things that seemed strange to her: Why did the bear insist on having no lights at nighttime, and why did he always feel so cold?”

After a year, the bear tells his wife that it is time to go to visit her father. She doesn’t request it, as a matter of fact she hasn’t even noticed how much time has passed, she’s been so content. When they arrive at her father’s home, she tells him all about life at the castle. The father tries to give her some matches, presumably so she can see the bear at night, but the bear sees it and tells him to stop or he’ll eat him. They go back to the castle.

Another year passes, and once again the bear tells his wife it’s time to visit her father, and the visit is the same as the first time. On the third visit (that magical three), the father does manage to sneak the young woman some matches. Back at the castle, at night when the bear is asleep beside her, she lights one of the matches and sees that he is actually a handsome young man wearing a gold crown. How coud she not have been able to tell the difference between a man and a bear in the dark?

Anyway, the man smiles and tells her that he had been under an enchantment and she has broken it. “Now we can celebrate our wedding properly, for now I am the king of this land.” And all the castle came to life, with servants appearing to wish the couple good luck. It hadn’t been mentioned until that time that the castle was empty or asleep or whatever.

There are a lot bears in fairy tales, aren’t there? Of course, they are probably one of the biggest, scariest animals that lived in the woods of Europe, truly beasts. I like that in this version, the woman is truly happy. She doesn’t miss her family, doesn’t long for her husband to be someone else. She’s content, I think, and then for her husband to turn into a king would have been a dream come true.

I read this story on-line here. It is from Kinder- und Hausmärchen aus der Schweiz  by Otto Sutermeister (1872) translated by D. L. Ashliman.

What’s your favorite Beauty and the Beast variation?

I’m thinking next month we’ll look at some Irish tales.

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

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