Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Nix Nought Nothing: A Male Sleeping Beauty?

Having just finished reading Joseph Jacobs' English Fairy Tales I was particularly struck by one story: 'Nix Nought Nothing'. If you haven't read it, then you really must! It has everything a fairy tale needs!

The beginning resembles 'Beauty and the Beast', with a father unwittingly giving up his child to a giant:
At length the king was on his way back; but he had a big river to cross, and there was a whirlpool, and he could not get over the water. But a giant came up to him, and said "I'll carry you over." But the king said: "What's your pay?" "O give me Nix, Nought, Nothing, and I will carry you over the water on my back." The king had never heard that his son was called Nix Nought Nothing, and so he said: "O, I'll give you that and my thanks into the bargain."
Nix Nought Nothing lives with the giant for many years, and has adventures that will probably be familiar to most fairy tale enthusiasts: he is given three impossible tasks to complete and is helped by his captor's daughter, who he then runs away with. As they are pursued they throw ordinary objects behind them that turn into treacherous terrain for their father-captor-pursuer to cross. 

by Arthur Rackham. Source: SurLaLune
But it is the end of the story that surprised me, because beyond Sleeping Beauty/Snow White stories and their obvious variants, I have never before come across a scenario where a male hero must be rescued from an enchanted sleep.

So when [Nix Nought Nothing] asked his way to the castle [the hen wife] put a spell upon him, and when he got to the castle, no sooner was he let in than he fell down dead asleep upon a bench in the hall. The king and queen tried all they could do to wake him up, but all in vain. So the king promised that if any lady could wake him up she should marry him

In the end, he is woken by a gardener's daughter who the wicked hen-wfie taught the words to break the spell. But when the giant's daughter finds out what has happened she goes into the castle, tells the story of their adventures together and love for one another, and Nix Nought Nothing is able to remember her and confirm the story. The king and queen are sensible enough not to make good on a promise that would result in unhappiness (which in itself is a surprising turn on a familiar plot device) and allow their son and the giant's daughter to marry and 'live happy all their days'.

'Nix Nought Nothing' is such a varied story with so many interesting characters and twists on usual plot conventions, that it has instantly become one of my favourite fairy tales. But I would love to find out more about male characters being put into an enchanted sleep, if anybody can inform me, because this has really intrigued me!

*all quotes from SurLaLune

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