‘…Hi-ho the Carrion Crow, Fol-de-rol-de riddle…’
Although the second longest of Anderson’s Fairy Tales, The Marsh King’s Daughter is relatively little known and perhaps, even, considered to be one of his ‘lesser’ tales.
It is a huge, sprawling epic of a yarn, which like most of his stories draws liberally from the ancient sagas, legends and folk tales which Hans imbibed in his youth.
Unlike some story tellers, although Anderson approaches the traditional devices with free reign, he never loses sight of their psychological and spiritual import and consequently, whilst sometimes apparently piling device upon device in wild profusion, there is always a satisfying, not to say, profound pay off to his seemingly more fantastical meanderings.
In these posts then, rather than retell the story, we intend to focus on aspects of the tale in order to investigate and elucidate the psychological and spiritual components of the story as a whole.
The Marsh King himself, though central to the plot, plays a comparatively minor role in the story, appearing just once, initially disguised as a tree stump.
It is a cunning disguise which gives the foul fellow the opportunity to drag an unsuspecting princess to her apparent doom beneath the marshes.
But wait, how did such a delicate, pretty one find herself on the edge of a marsh in Denmark?
She was sent from Egypt by her dying father to look for the antidote to his wasting disease.
And how did she get there?
She donned a feathered cloak and flew there as a swan.
Then, why didn’t she simply re-don the cloak and fly away when the Swamp Man revealed himself to her?
Because her jealous sisters, who had flown with her, stole her cloak and destroyed it…
Spatially, the construct is no less dazzling.
Here, as in most traditional stories the horizontal polarity of Egypt and Denmark constitutes a world and its other-realm.
The Outer, wasteland, can only be re-invigorated from the Inner depths which appear to be somewhat murky.
The healing herb reputedly grows in a bog, the domain of the Marsh King.
Already, the mix of natural metaphor and deep psychological insight begins to weave its ancient magic.
But there is more…