February 12, 2013

Stories Featuring Cursed Males

As should be no surprise by this point, “Tam Lin” is a story about a mortal man who has been cursed by fairies. From my understanding, Tam Lin must endure three different curses throughout the course of the story. First, he is cursed in this sort of limbo between the mortal and fairy realms, not truly a part of either. Second, when Janet tries to rescue him, the Fairy Queen turns Tam Lin into all sorts of creatures. Finally, the Fairy Queen eventually admits defeat and loss of her tithe, although she usually leaves cursing that she wishes she had replaced his heart (or eyes) with stone (or wood).

As part of Project: Fairy Tale, therefore, I thought it would be fun to discuss the use of the cursed male in folklore and fairy tales. Physical transformation of a human male character is common trope found among magic stories, so I wanted to list a few central ones below:

Fairy tales Featuring Cursed Male Lovers

"Beauty and the Beast"
A prince is cursed by a fairy to live as a beast until a beautiful virgin agrees to become his bride.
"The Frog Prince"
A prince is cursed by a fairy to live as a frog until a princess lets him sleep upon her bed for three nights.
"Snow White and Rose Red"
A black bear befriends sisters Snow White and Rose Red. He is actually a prince cursed by a dwarf who has stolen his treasure.
"East of the Sun and West of the Moon"
A prince is cursed by his step-mother to take the form of a white bear by day and a man by night unless a girl will sleep with him and not look upon his form by night for a year. This does not happen, and the story goes in a new direction as the girl seeks to cure the prince.

I think it would be interesting to point out that the majority of the fairy tales I mentioned above not only feature human men who have been cursed, but men who have transformed into animals. The idea of the animal bridegroom is a common trope with roots back at least as far as ancient Rome and is first attributed to Apuleius' story of "Cupid and Psyche." Although Cupid retains a human form throughout the story, this is the first story where the mortal girl questions what form her lover really has.

Other myths from antiquity also deal with the idea that of male transformation. The entirety of Ovid's Metamorphoses is tales about humans transformed into something non-human. Actaeon was a hunter transformed into a deer by the goddess Artemis. Narcissus was transformed into a flower, as was Adonis. The minor sea god Proteus can foretell the future, but for him to answer questions, the questioner must hold on to him as he shifts his form into various animals. In The Odyssey, Odysseus' crew finds themselves turned into swine by the nymph Circe. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

From many of these stories, transformations do seem to function as punishments. Interestingly, it is not only the male who seems to suffer from his transformation; many times, his female lover must suffer in some way to help him regain his true form. 

Of course, "Tam Lin" is a Scottish ballad and not truly a fairy tale; it is impossible to say whether any fairy tales or myths really had an influence on the story of "Tam Lin." I simply felt that this was an interesting basis of comparison.

I have barely brushed the surface here on fairy tales and fables dealing with animal bridegrooms, or cursed males. What are some of your favorite cursed male stories?
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Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.


  1. I'm very much familiar with the fairy tales you mentioned about the male leading characters being cursed. I think out of all those, Beauty and the Beast is my favorite (I'm biased). hahaha! Come to think of it, though, I can't think of any fairy tales with cursed females. Well, except for Swan Princess.

    1. I'm biased too and of course that one remains my favorite. :) And there are some - they're referred to as "animal bride" stories, but they are much, much more rare.

  2. Love that you decided to talk about this, Amanda! The cursed male is one of those things I'd never stopped to think about as a common theme, but now that you've made me I can see it everywhere. One of my recent favorite cursed males would have to be from The Assassin's Curse in which he is cursed by being bound to protect the woman who saves his life.

    1. Ooh I didn't even think of applying this to YA lit, Heidi! I suppose I should have, considering what a focus that is on my blog. The Assassin's Curse is a very good example. Now I'll have to go off and think of more examples.

  3. What a great article! A very interesting idea to discuss the theme of cursed males.
    I remember when I first read "Cupid and Psyche", the amazing story that can be found in Apuleius' novel "The Golden Ass". I was fascinated. It is such a beautiful, powerful story about how Psyche doubts her husband, who only visits her at night, and decides to take a single glance at him in the light of the lamp, to see if he is indeed a monster. Of course, what she discovers is the handsome face of Cupid, son of Aphrodite. Then she must pass many tests to win back his love.
    Actually, in "The Golden Ass", the main frame story, the male character, Lucius, is turned into an ass by a witch. She says it's by mistake, but, of course, she wanted to teach him a lesson and give him a unique opportunity to travel the world and see it from the position of a poorly-regarded animal (an ass is used for the most difficult and lowest jobs).

    1. Thanks, Oana!
      That's so awesome you read "The Golden Ass" as well! I didn't read all of it, but I read some of it to help put the story of "Cupid and Psyche" into context. I do love that myth - it's one of my favorites for sure. I didn't include Lucius' transformation in this post because his transformation had nothing to do with a relationship (at least as far as I could tell).


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