“Once upon a time...” there lived a fair maid. Or a pampered princess. Or an out-of-step girl. To date, every story we’ve discussed all have one thing in common: female protagonists. According to the world population—and the most likely candidate to tell a nursery story—we should not be surprised. If more than half the world’s population is female, and the author of a story MUST choose a central character, then it follows that the majority of fairy tales should star females.
Happily, they don’t always.
Some of the most interesting fairy tales are “soldier of fortune” stories. The main character is generally male, often poor or footloose, and looking for adventure. Or whatever comes his way, to quote an old 70’s song. “The White Snake” is one such tale.
Some stories, when read in their entirety (instead of the chopped-off summaries I provide), are meant to be told aloud. Again, this should make sense. Many old stories were passed down orally, by people who had neither time nor education to learn to read. To help the teller’s memory and the audience’s participation, these stories frequently have a trademark rhythm. Events, or speeches, happen repeatedly in cycles that are easy to remember and mimic.
Now, The White Snake would be memorable even without the rhythm of questions and offers. Even without any names in the story, this is a tale you could pick out of any line-up in any suspicious editor’s office. The frame of the story is not so amazingly unique that it could never be mistaken for anything else. Why, then, could the reader always identify it?
There are specific elements of the story that make it unique—if only for the order in which they happen—but more on that next time. Ponder some stories you know that feature boys (or men) who are strong, smart, and in search of a home. Can you think of a lot, or only a few? Especially in certain genres, these male characters may not be the central protagonist, though they often appear as heroes in certain female fantasy genres.
If we don’t read a lot of this kind of fairy tale, then why do we find so many soldiers of fortune in our modern stories?