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
So Princess Solima was put into a fortress by the sea by her father, the king, because she had no qualms about marrying a poor man. (Seriously, I should write a crossover with this fairy tale and Disney’s Aladdin.)
At this point, our tale transitions to the poorer people. None of them precisely know why she’s gone, and we learn that “[e]ven the laborers of the fields…heard the news” and that one shepherd was an especially thoughtful thinker. He would
“bask lazily in the sun, to listen to the birds chirruping, and to all the sounds of the air and the fields and the forests. He seemed to understand them; the murmuring of the brooks on a warm day was like a gentle cradle song lulling him to sleep; on a day the wind howled, its sulky growl as it dashed over the stones warned him that floods might come, and that he must move his flocks to safer ground” (97).
He may not be able to read or write, but he does know how to listen and understand a different kind of language, so kudos to him. He would also like to learn to write, so he can “‘write the song of the brook and the birds'” (97). I admire that goal.
He falls asleep and doesn’t wake up until much later and, upon arriving at his home, sees a massive ziz attacking the sheep and cows. He tries to fend it off by grabbing the ox by its legs, but the rescue proves unsuccessful. Instead he is lifted up into the air with the ox, with only his grip on the animal stopping him from plummeting to his death. I commend him for trying to save his ox though.
When the ziz finally lands, the shepherd finds himself “on the top of a tower in the sea” (98). Before the giant bird can, I presume, eat him, “the shepherd drew a knife which he carried in his girdle, and struck at the opening of the descending beak” (99). He’s certainly a fearless fellow, too.
The ziz flies away in pain and the shepherd sleeps until Solima’s voice wakes him up. She asks how he got here and, after letting him eat and wash, she shows interest him:
“She gazed at him so long and searchingly that he blushed in confusion.
‘Thou art fair to look upon and of manly stature,’ said the princess.
The shepherd could only stammer a reply, but after awhile he said, ‘Fair lady, who and what thou art I know not. Such beauty as thine is the right of princesses only. I am but a poor shepherd.’
‘And may not a shepherd be handsome?’ she asked. ‘Tell me: who hath laid down a law that only royal personages may be fair to behold? I have seen many princes of vile countenance'” (99).
Okay, first, I love her sensible approach to looks – attractiveness is not a special trait only royalty has. Anyone can be attractive, whatever their social station. Second, I love that Solima is the one who instigates the idea of their attraction to each other. She’s direct about it, and the shepherd is flattered and polite about it. (He isn’t too forward or pushy, as some other princes are in other fairy tales, is what I mean.)
Solima then takes him to a private room where she “waited on him herself,” despite his protests. Based on her earlier problem, I would guess she is doing so because she wants to. She is able to act and do something for someone else of her own volition.
The next morning, they go up to the roof where she informs him that she goes up every day because her husband will come to the roof some day. After a quiet moment, the shepherd points out that he was the first person to come and asks if she will marry him. Unsurprisingly to me, she agrees and “their troth was plighted” (100).
She asks him if he has any idea how they can escape since they can’t stay in the tower forever. (Is she planning to go back to being a princess? Or is she going to go live with him in the fields? I want to expand on this story so much!)
He thinks for a moment and comes up with a solution that also occurs in Sindbad the Sailor:
“That very night the ziz returned and feasted on the ox, and while it was fully occupied appeasing its hunger, the shepherd managed to attach strong ropes to its legs. To this he attached a large basket in which he and his bride made themselves comfortable with cushions. Nor did they forget to take a store of food” (100).
Gotta make sure you’re comfortable, and I really love how sensible and smart they both are. She speaks up for the plight of people and he defends animals in danger. I think they’re an actually great match for a fairy tale. But I often think couples in Rapunzel variants or retellings are good couples.
The ziz eventually notices there’s a basket tied to its legs and tries to bite it off. Luckily “the cords snapped, [and] the basket rested on the parapet of the tower” (100). Why didn’t they think to cut the ropes? (Maybe they didn’t want to risk the fall? But if they were over a tower, couldn’t they have tried to cut the ropes at a safe distance?)
It turns out they’ve landed on the king’s palace. Solima requests the guards inform her father she has returned. He is giddy with happiness at her re-appearance and asks her forgiveness for locking her up in the tower. He then asks who the shepherd is. When Solima tells the father he is her husband, the king wants to know
“‘What prince art thou?’ asked the king.
‘A prince among men,’ answered the princess quickly. ‘A man without riches, who comes from the people and will teach us their needs and how to rule them'” (100-1).
Yes! I love how clever she is. And that trait – of knowing about people outside the palace – is exactly what Solima wants to know she can count on in a king. Gah, they’re so great.
Of course, the king accepts this, and Solima and the shepherd “settled down to make everyone thoroughly happy, contented and prosperous” (101).
Overall, I really love this variant of the Maiden in the Tower, plus I’m always a sucker for clever princesses. And in Solima’s case, that fact that she wants to do good by her people is a bonus. And then there’s the shepherd, whose ear for nature and protection of animals and clever thinking too, makes me think he’s a good match for her. So, here’s to them making good rulers and having a strong relationship. Yay!