Fairy Tale Facts: The Wild Swans

The Wild Swans is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson, first published in 1838.  I’ve recently discovered this story and I love it!


What’s it About?

The story follows a young princess with eleven older brothers. (Has anyone else noticed that in fairy tales, 12 seems to be a common number of children to have? I can’t imagine having that many siblings.) The king is sadly widowed and decides to remarry. He unfortunately chooses a witch as his second wife. The new queen dislikes the king’s children and casts a spell over his sons, turning them into swans. They become human again at night, but are driven out of the castle. When the wicked queen tries and fails to curse the princess, Elisa, she instead banishes her. Elisa finds the fairy queen, who tells her that she can break the spell on her brothers by knitting each of them a shirt of nettles. She must not say a word during her task, no matter what. Some time passes by and a king finds Elisa. As usually happens in fairy tales, he falls in love with her because she’s pretty. He invites her back to his castle, where she lives and continues to knit. The king wants to marry her, but the Archbishop is convinced she is a witch. She is put on trial and because she can’t speak to defend herself, she is found guilty of witchcraft. As they are preparing to burn her at the stake, her brothers arrive in bird form. Elisa, who has never stopped knitting, hurriedly throws the shirts over the birds and breaks the curse. She can speak again, the king apologizes and proposes again, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Fun Fact #1

Nettles are not happy plants. They are covered with tiny hairs that break off when touched, getting buried into skin. They also contain a chemical mix, which is not pleasant. So knitting eleven shirts out of nettles was no easy task. It was a true sacrifice on Elisa’s part.

Fun Fact #2

In some versions I’ve heard, the last shirt was incomplete, causing one prince to have a permanent wing. Rotten luck on his part.

Fun Fact #3

I’ve heard a rumor (and please don’t quote me on this, because it’s a RUMOR, not a FACT) that Disney might be planning on making Elisa the newest Disney Princess with a movie of her own.

If You’re Interested…

I’d highly recommend The Wild Swans by K.M. Shea. It’s wonderfully written.

Now, I have to ask. What would you find more difficult: a seemingly-impossible task (painful, yes, but I’d imagine you’d soon get used to the pain), or staying silent, even in the face of death? I personally think the silence bit would be harder for me.

Until next time, fellow wonderers!

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