Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Prinsessan Tuvstarr aka Princess Cottongrass

My favorite story of all times is 'Sagan Om Älgtjuren Skutt och Lilla Prinsessan Tuvstarr' or as it is translated into English: 'Leap The Elk and Little Princess Cottongrass', with beautiful illustrations by the artist John Bauer.

I probably have one of the worst memories in recorded history, but this beautiful fairy tale made such an impression on me as a child that the story and its illustrations have stuck with me ever since.

The fairytale weaves the magical beauty of the deep dark Swedish forest into the main theme of the story and it begins....

"Have you ever been in a large forest and seen a strange black tarn hidden deep among the tall trees? It looks bewitched and a little frightening. All is still - fir trees and pines huddle close and silent on all sides. Sometimes the trees bend cautiously and shyly over the water as if they are wondering what may be hidden in the dark depths. There is another forest growing in the water, and it, too, is full of wonder and stillness. Strangest of all, never have the two forests been able to speak to each other...."

The tale is that of little Princess Cottongrass [Prinsessan Tuvstarr], a small, vulnerable and nymph like little girl with long wavy blond hair who quietly slips away from the Dream Castle where she lives and meets Longleg Leap the Elk, a strong, loyal, and protective animal who carries the little princess out in the world on his powerful back after the princess pleads to take her with him:

" 'How big and stately you are. You have a crown, too. Let me come with you. Let me sit behind your neck, and then carry me out into life.' The elk hesitates. 'The world is big and cold, little child, and you are so small. The world is full of evil and wickedness, and it will hurt you.' 'No, no. I am young and warm. I have warmth enough for everyone. I am small and good, and want to share the good that I have.' 'Princess, the forest is dark and the roads are dangerous.' 'But you are with me. You are great and strong, and can easily defend us both.'"

Thus, the strong and wise elk carries the innocent and vulnerable Princess on his back out into the world. At first, all is well and the princess is delighted with what she sees on her journey. But, the princess is vulnerable and dangers from the dark forest lurk everywhere and, little by little, rob the princess of her innocence. At some point in the journey, she finds herself naked, robbed of her fine white gown. The elk watches over her vulnerable naked body as she sleeps under the stars at night. He becomes anxious, worried that his strength and wisdom will not be sufficient to protect the little princess.

"He seems to want to move on, and bends down to let the princess climb on his back. Then they are gone in a rush, galloping east. He hardly hears when she calls to him, and rarely answers. As if in a fever he breaks through the tangled forest at a furious rate. 'Where are we going?' asks Princess Cottongrass. 'To the pool,' is the answer. 'Deep in the forest is a pool, and that is where I go when autumn is coming. No person has ever been there, but you shall see it.'"

The elk warns her to be careful of the danger in the water, to watch her golden heart chain around her neck. But, the princess, mesmerized by the dark shining water bends forward for a closer look and the golden heard slips over her head and drops in the pool. 'Oh, my heart, the golden heart that my mother gave me the day I was born. Oh, what shall I do?' She is inconsolable and wanders over the tussocks to look for her heart. The elk warns her 'It is dangerous for you here. Looking for one thing, you will forget everything else.'

But, the princess wants to stay to find her heart. She gently strokes the elk and kisses his bent head. 'Then, small and slim and undressed, she goes and sits down on a grassy hillock. For a long time the elk stands quite still and looks at the small girl. But when she no longer seems to notice that he is there, he turns and disappears with hesitant steps into the forest.'

"Many years have passed. Still Princess Cottongrass sits and looks wonderingly into the water for her heart. She is no longer a little girl. Instead, a slender plant, crowned with white cotton, stands leaning over the edge of the pool. Now and then the elk returns, stops, and looks at it tenderly. Only he knows that this is the princess from Dream Castle. Perhaps she nods and smiles, for he is an old friend, but she does not want to follow him back; she cannot follow any more, as long as she is under the spell. The spell lies in the pool. Far, far under the water lies a lost heart."

Still Princess Cottongrass sits and looks wonderingly into the dark depths of the water.


Pravallika said...

Hi. In April last year, I was searching for pictures of princesses to use as my wallpaper. In the process, I came across 'Princess Tuvstarr' by John Bauer and fell in love with it. That was when my marriage was going through a troubled time. On an impulse I forwarded the pic to my husband. My Birthday falls in May and he overwhelmed me with a print of the painting ordered from the Jonkoping museum. I was thrilled to bits but never really made efforts to know the full story behind the Princess, nor did I find any ready literature on Bland Tomtar Och Troll in English.

My husband died last November. We had loved each other for 8 short years. Of the few fond memories of him, the painting, is still with me. And today, just as I was searching for the story of Tuvstarr, I found your blog and....am in tears actually.

Thank you very much. Reading your blog post added meaning to the painting. Losing your heart and searching for it in the pool, spell bound and for eternity....its much like what I am feeling right now. Thank you once again.

(From India)

Charlotte said...

Dear Pravallika,

What a compelling thing for you to share with me. Thank you. Your story really touched my heart. I am sincerely sorry for your loss. What a wonderfully thoughtful man your husband must have been that he made the effort to find and order that print for you for your birthday, knowing how much it would mean to you. The thought of someone being so loving and giving is heart warming.

I am joyed that my posting was able to bring you the missing piece and tell you the story behind the beautiful picture. As I stated, it is my favorite story. It is simple, yet captures your heart the way only love can.

I had a hard time finding the story/book myself, but remembered it fondly from my childhood. The story is part of a collection found in a translated version called "Great Swedish Fairy Tales" Illustrated by John Bauer. However, I'm pretty certain that it is out of print, so may be difficult to find, I'm not sure.

If you would like to have the story in its entirety, I would be happy to copy it for you and send it to you in the mail. If that is the case, just e-mail me your mailing address at martinacharlottejonsson@gmail.com and I would be glad to put it in the mail for you.

Thank you for sharing YOUR beautiful story. My thoughts are with you, a world away.

Sean said...

I know this post is a little older but I, like Pravallika, was searching to find out about this story. My own interest in it started out with John Bauer's art, which was recommended by an artist friend, and is deeply captivating. After reading your summary, and Pravallika's own rather heartbreaking experience with the art, I am now all the more set on finding this story in print somehow, whether in Swedish or English.

Thank you very much for this gem of a post. It is very much appreciated.

Mats said...

Hello! For your information, I wrote a comment on Princess Cottongrass here.