Previously on Tales from the Enchanted Forest we covered the first part of ‘East of the Sun and West of the Moon:’ Our hero, dubbed by us as Thordotter, goes on a quest to save her Prince by doing laundry after tricking a troll-princess with shiny, sparkly things! We aren’t even quite sure if we are still separating laundry by colors and whites, so this is a task we would probably fail! Check out our Five Fantastic Finds at the bottom of the page and part one of the story here!
Part two: summary and notes
The next morning, the unnamed heroine woke up to find the castle and Prince missing. She was alone in a dark, unknown forest, wearing her old rags, and so she began to cry. When she grew tired of crying, she resolved to find her Prince! So, she began walking. There is no map or trail to “East of the Sun” or “West of the Moon,” so how she picked a direction is beyond us!
She walked for many days until she came across a high cliff. Underneath was an old lady playing with a golden apple (the fruit, mind you, not like a new iPhone or anything like that). Thordotter asked her if she knew the way to the Prince, the one who lived in a castle east of the sun and west of the moon and who was to marry the princess with a nose three yards long.
The Old Woman asked, “How did you come to know the man? Perhaps you are the girl he is ought to be with.”
Choice and destiny are always fascinating topics in fairy tales, and this one tackles it in a surprisingly forward way. The old lady implies that our heroine ‘ought to be’ with the prince, which was true, but not because Thordotter chose it herself. She had to due to familial obligations and pressure. Now that she has a choice, she is choosing to find him.
She is going on a quest out of love and will probably have to face outside conflicts, but she chooses to embark on it. It could be out of love since she does not seem too concerned with the castle or possessions. However, we need to ask if she would have gone after him had she not seen his beautiful, Princely face.
The girl does not hesitate when she responds “yes.”
“So, it’s you, is it?” said the Old Woman. “Well, all I know about him is that he lives in the castle east of the sun and west of the moon, and that you’ll get there too late or never; but still you may borrow my horse, and you can ride him to my next neighbour. Maybe she’ll be able to tell you; and when you get there just give the horse a switch under the left ear, and beg him to be off home. And you can take this golden apple along with you.”
In the original Cupid and Psyche tale, the only woman who can help Psyche is Venus or Aphrodite- the one who famously received the golden apple from Paris and started the Trojan War. Apples became the symbol of Aphrodite and her specific form of love. However, I also want to touch upon the fact that the golden apple has always been a dangerous symbol. Eris, the Goddess of Discord, used it to cause strife and tension among the Gods. We can never know if she meant for a war to break out, but it caused a devastating ancient war. Furthermore, we see the poison apple motif in the Snow White fairy tale and its variations.
She rode the horse for a long time before eventually finding another old lady under a cliff playing with a golden carding comb.
A carding comb separates flax and wool for spinning. According to ancient Greek writer Herodotus’ accounts, it was also a torture device. So just like our apple, our second item has a double meaning that is insidious.
Thordotter asked this Old Lady if she knew of her prince, but she knew about as much as the first old lady. This Old Lady thought her neighbour might know so she lends Thordotter her horse and gives her the golden carding comb.
The third neighbour does not know any more than the others, but she thinks the East Wind will know more. Like the previous two Old Ladies, she lends Thordotter a horse and gives her a gift. “Maybe you’ll find a use for it,” she says as she casually hands her a golden spinning wheel.
Side Tangent on Female Curiosity
The third gift is also a motif of both domesticity and danger. Spinning wheels are traditionally a sign of female productivity in the household/ domestic work, but in tales like Rumpelstiltskin and Sleeping Beauty, the spinning wheel becomes the cause of misfortune. In total, the three old ladies have given Thordotter some random but pointed gifts. They will most likely come in handy later, but at the moment, they are seemingly bulking her down with random items.
It is also interesting that she meets three old ladies. While it is no surprise to our dear travellers that the rule of threes is predominant in most fairy tales, three old ladies are often associated with the fates. In Norse mythology, the three goddesses are the Norn, and they weave the golden web of fate and destiny. Throughout the story, women play diver roles ranging from villains to helpers.
The girl’s mother is her first introduction to curiosity and gives her the tools to uncover the curse. Now, the older ladies are aiding her on her quest in a way she has to trust. The transmission of information through older women as a girl gets married and grows into her role as a wife and woman. Even in the original myth of Psyche and Cupid, the story is within a framing tale of an old woman comforting a young one, so it makes sense to have women play an integral role in the quest.
Once again, she rides for a long, long way and after many days of weary travelling arrives at the house of the East Wind.
The East Wind knew more about her Prince and his stepmother’s castle, but, alas, he didn’t know the way there, for he had never blown so far. He offered to take her to see his brother, West Wind, who was stronger and may know more. So Thordotter got on the East Winds back and they took off in a whoosh! When they arrived at the West Wind, the East Wind relayed the quest to him and told him that they were looking for the Castle east of the sun and west of the moon, and the Prince that was trapped there for she was the one who ought to have him!
Sadly, West Wind didn’t know the way to the castle. So he took her to their older brother, relayed the entire story to him, and was dismayed when the South Wind didn’t know either! The South Wind took Thordotter to the eldest and strongest brother, North Wind.
The Great North Wind told her that he had only been to the castle east of the sun and west of the moon once before when he blew an Aspen leaf there, but he was exhausted for days afterwards. If she was anxious to go and willing to ride on his back, then he would take her there. Of course, she agrees and says she has no fear!
The girl’s reckless bravery is focused on her quest to find her Prince regardless of the harm it could do to her. She travels for ages trying to get to him and gets help without taking ‘no’ for an answer.
And so the wind takes off, travelling a great distance with such speed. The North Wind asks Thordotter if she was afraid. But she was not.
This is a recurring theme of the story. People keep asking her if she is afraid and she always answers honestly that she isn’t. From the very first moment on the back of the bear to riding the back of the fiercest wind, she maintains her bravery!
Finally, they reached the castle and with the last of his energy, he hurls the girl towards land, near a castle window. The next morning, the girl starts playing with the golden apple when the window above her opens and the famous, 3 ells long-nosed princess appears! She asks Thordotter how much she wants for the apple, but the girl declines, saying her price wasn’t in gold but in time spent with the Prince that night.
“That can be arranged,” says Princess-long-nose.
Princess Long Nose is part of an archetype for the imposter bride. In these stories, the false bride gives the real bride access to the groom through tricky over material goods. This indicates that the false bride does not truly love the Prince and only wants him for specific status or wealth reasons.
So that night Thordotter gave her the apple and she was led to the Princes’ room where he was fast asleep. She called to him, shook him, cried and grieved but he just kept sawing off logs. When morning came, Long-Nose came to escort her out.
They do this again the next morning, except this time in exchange for the golden carding comb. Unsurprisingly, the second time yields the same result, and the process begins again with the golden spinning wheel. However, on the third night, the Prince was waiting, wide awake. You see, there were some Christians who were captives there when they overheard a woman crying and praying in the Prince’s room two nights in a row. They managed to tell the Prince about this situation, and he figured it was his true bride!
As Christianity spread throughout the world, there was a gradual shift in fairy tales to include religious icons or references. Fairy tales are a melting pot of different influences, and here we can see allusions to Christianity, Norse mythology and Greek mythology, all in one! It is unclear if this was part of the original story, but it does seem to be a very deliberate reference.
The Prince explained to Thordotter that his wedding day was tomorrow, but it would be alright because he had a plan to get out of it. He will tell his stepmother that his bride will need to prove herself by washing the shirt that has the three drops of tallow. In fact, he will only marry the one who can wash his shirt! For some reason, he believes they will agree to this inane requirement without realizing trolls could never wash out the shirt.
Domestic work has been a central theme in this story and Thordotter has had to prove herself in a very feminine way. She wasn’t the heroine because she fought a dragon or rescued her Prince from monsters through combat, she had to use the kindness of others, self sacrifice, and ultimately prayer to get where she was. Cleaning the shirt is another way of showing her purity and role as a wife.
Luckily for these love birds, the Prince’s plan works! He gave the bizarre challenge to the troll bride and when she tried to scrub it clean, the tallow turned black and spread throughout the shirt. The bewildered stepmother also tried but the shirt just became dark and darker. All the court trolls took a turn rubbing the shirt until it became gross and grimy. The Prince admonished them and said that he believed even the beggar girl outside could clean the shirt! So why couldn’t they? He would ask her to do it just to show them!
“I don’t know if I can,” she responded, but as soon as she dipped it into the water, the shirt became white as snow.
The Whirlpool 5000 was very hurt that she never had a chance and went running out of the room.
Jokes aside, with the previous Christian imagery, then purifying your sins with water is an obvious motif here. Although the story wants us to believe she has cleansed her sin of curiosity, it is hard to understand why she needs to. Her curiosity caused her to find the Prince and break his curse on their terms instead of the stepmothers. Her punishment was losing her husband after being ‘disobedient’ to him and his advice. However, the story seems more nuanced than simply moralizing on a wife’s duty and obedience. She creates a support network for herself and uses it to quest for her husband!
At that the Stepmother, the Princess and the rest of the trolls started raging! They got so angry, they all exploded on the spot. Then the Prince and Thordotter freed all the captured Christians and proceeded to loot the castle of all the gold and silver. After that, they flew as far away as they could from the castle that lay east of the sun and west of the moon.
1. Book references: A Court of Thorns and Roses
The story of East of the Sun and West of the Moon has risen to popularity recently with Sarah J. Mass’ work, “Court of Thorns and Roses,” where the protagonist, Feyre has to break a 7-year curse on Tamlin. When she fails, he goes to the false bride, the so-called Queen. Love-lorn Feyre has to undergo trials to free him. Unlike Thordotter, Feyre has some physical tests she must go through to prove herself worthy. The other fairy tales allusions are to Beauty and the Beast and the Scottish fairy tale of Tam Lin.
In the ballad of Tam Lin, a human girl named Janet becomes pregnant with the child of an elusive Elf named Tam Lin. He has angered the Queen of the Faeries, and Janet is the key to his survival. Janet needs to pull him off his horse during the fairy procession and hold onto him, no matter what he transforms into. Eventually, when he turns into a piece of coal, she needs to throw him into the water, after which he will appear as a man. Then they will live happily ever after.
2. Wax Cleaning and domesticity in east of the sun & west of the moon
Knowing how to clean a shirt could be the difference between a handsome prince or nothing! So to make sure I had my bases covered, I looked into how to best clean magical candle wax out of my beloved’s favourite shirt. Sadly, my research on magical candle wax was quite limited, and you’ll probably have to rely on the power of true love for that. If it’s just regular candle wax, then I got you covered!
- Let the wax harden, and once it has, scrape off as much of it as you can. You can use a dull knife for this part, but if the shirt is delicate, you may want to use a spoon instead.
- Next, you will heat the wax again to remove the remaining bits. Carefully place a piece of parchment paper on top of the remaining wax. Use an iron set to low and cover the area.
- When the wax has heated, it should stick to the parchment paper, leaving your shirt with a small stain.
- Use stain remover on any leftover stains!
3. The Winds in norse mythology
Norse mythology, in general, is rich with references to the wind and sky. To begin with, we have Njord, the God of the Wind and the Seas, who was also the father of twins Freyr and Freyja. Njord was from the Vanir, a race of Gods linked to wealth and fertility, and in opposition to the Aesir, the warlike principal pantheon of Gods including Odin and Thor. The sources for the pre-Christian Germanic beliefs on the Vanir are not complete, which has caused academic controversy on where the divide between Vanir and Aesir lay.
There are also the personification of the four winds: four dwarves called Norðri, Suðri, Austri and Vestri, literally meaning Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western. In the Prose Edda, they uphold one point of the skull of Ymir, creating the heavenly dome.
4. The Lost movie adaptation “East of the Sun and West of the Moon”
After I read this tale, I immediately went searching for a film adaptation! There were so many fun elements that I felt would make for a great movie but I was sorely disappointed to find that there were none! Now mind you that the Golden Compass movie does have many similar story beats but alas that story was based on a similar Norwegian fairy tale “White-Bear-King-Valemon” which was also collected by Asbjørnsen and Moe. While there has yet to be a major motion picture based on today’s story, we actually came very close to having one. In 1983, Don Bluth production company released their first animated movie, The Secret of Nimh.
While that movie would go on to be critically acclaimed and a cult classic, it didn’t do great at the box office. That didn’t stop Don Bluth and his team from moving forward with their second film, East of the Sun and West Moon. Sadly, funding would get pulled midway through production. Screenshots of the movie have since surfaced on the internet so you can see what it would have looked like attached above. Don Bluth would have taken a different spin on the story.
According to the 1991 book “Animation of Don Bluth” by John Crawly, the story would take place 2500 years in the future and the boy would be an ancient from outer space. I am not making this up, Don Bluth says that the original story was convoluted, and as we know, adding sci-fi elements always makes stories easier to understand. Not only that, apparently there was a sequence where they would actually go to Atlantis.
In case you were wondering, Bluth eventually teamed up with Steven Spielberg to direct An American Tale in 1986 and the Land Before Time in 1988. He also directed All Dogs go to Heaven and Anastasia. Personally, I was shocked how many old school classics this guy was involved with.
5. Psyche and Cupid
The predecessor of many tropes seen in this story come from Apuleius’ Metamorphoses, a 2nd Century AD novel. In the novel, Apuleius transforms into a donkey and listens to an old woman tell a younger one the story of Psyche and Eros. Psyche is more than a story about a hidden bridegroom and wife’s quest to free him- it is another one of Venus’ rage myths. The Goddess of Beauty is known for love, but she is equally known for the ways she spurs discord and hate, specifically out of jealousy.
Psyche was a princess known for her exceptional beauty, and people began calling her “Aphrodite,” which seriously annoyed the real Aphrodite. Not only were people bringing gifts to Psyche, but they were also neglecting Venus’ shrines, offerings and rituals. In violent retaliation, she sent Eros to shoot Psyche with an arrow of love and make her fall in love with the ugliest beast known to man. Except, when he saw her, he fell in love with her. Psyche and Cupid’s tale is well known, and to find out more about this trope along with the extent of Venus’ rage myths, check out the episode here!