Fearsome Fairy Tales

4. The Swan Princess

The version you know

As young children Princess Odette and Prince Derek are betrothed by their parents the widowed King William and widowed Queen Uberta in a plan to unite their two kingdoms. At the same time an evil sorcerer name Rothbart plans to take King William’s kingdom for himself, but before he can go through with his plans he is banished by the King’s men, and he vows to return.

Every summer the children are brought together with the hopes that they will fall in love, whilst this plan has limited success when they are young, as they grow up they do indeed fall in love and Prince Derek announces their wedding plans. However when he says he wished to marry Odette purely because of her beauty she rejects him and she and her father leave Queen Uberta’s castle. They are intercepted by Rothbart who transforms into a “Great Animal”, he mortally wounds King William and kidnaps Odette.

Queen Uberta, believing Odette to be dead encourages the prince to find another princess to marry, but he refuses convinced that Odette is out there somewhere and spends his days with his best friend Bromley preparing to fight the “Great Animal”.

Meanwhile Rothbart is keeping Odette prisoner in his castle where she befriends a frog named Jean Bob, a turtle named Speed and a puffin named Puffin. Rothbart has cast a spell on her which turns her into a swan by day but by night she temporarily returns to her human form if she is on the lake in the moonlight. Every night he asks for Odette’s hand in marriage so that he can fulfil his plan to rule William’s kingdom, but every night she refuses.

One day Puffin and Odette fly off to find Derek, when they find him in the woods Bromley mistakes Odette for the “Great Animal” and attempts to kill her, but after chasing her to the lake Derek sees her transform back into a human. Odette explains that the curse can only be broken by a vow of everlasting love, proven to the world and the pair plan to meet again the next night at Queen Uberta’s ball. Rothbart however hiding in the bushes has overheard the whole plan and imprisons Odette as a swan along with Bromley in his castle.

The next night Rothbart sends his assistant disguised as Odette to the ball, Odette’s friends manage to free her from the dungeon but she is too late to warm Derek and he vows everlasting love to the wrong woman. Derek’s vow causes the spell to begin killing Odette, after realising his mistake he races after her to Swan Lake just in time for her to return to her human form before dying in his arms. Derek confronts Rothbart and orders him to revive Odette, instead he transforms into the “Great Animal” and a battle between the two ensues. Bromley along with Odette’s animal friends bring Derek his long bow and a single arrow which he fires into Rothbart’s heart, killing him. Derek then confesses his love to Odette, telling her he loves her for so much more than just her beauty, the spell is then broken and Odette returns to life and the two live happily ever after.

The original version

The Swan Princess is based on the Russian ballet Swan Lake composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1875-1876, and premiered at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow in the spring of 1877. The story of Swan Lake is quite similar to the story of The Swan Princess with the main differences between the two stories being how the prince (known as Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake) and Odette meet and the ending, which has been re-written by different ballet companies many times over the years). Instead of being betrothed by their parents at a young age the first time Siegfried and Odette meet is as adults when following a day of celebrating Siegfried’s coming of age, he and his friends decide to follow a flock of swans and attempt to shoot one. He follows the swans to the lake where he witnesses Odette’s transformation back into a human. As well as being under the spell of an evil sorcerer, named Von Rothbart, whose spell turns her into a swan by day, Odette is also persecuted by her evil step mother.

The rest of the story is fairly similar to The Swan Princess wherein the following night the Queen hosts a ball in the hopes of her son finding a wife. At the ball, after Siegfried tells his mother he favours none of the women, Von Rothbart enters with his daughter Odile who is almost identical to Odette and who the prince believes to be Odette, their engagement is announced by their parents. When the prince then realises she is not Odette he rejects her and races to the lake to find Odette, who is heartbroken and being consoled by her friends (the other swans are friends of hers who are also under Von Rothbart’s spell). Prince Siegfried explains Von Rothbart and Odile’s deception and Odette forgives him. Soon after Von Rothbart arrives and demands that Siegfried honours his promise to marry Odile, after which Odette will remain a swan forever. Instead Siegfried decides to die with Odette and they leap into the lake together, this breaks Von Rothbart’s spell over the other swans and he loses his powers and then dies while two swans are seen ascending to heaven together, forever united in love.

Alternative endings range from romantic and happy to tragic, in some Siegfried and Von Rothbart fight to the death and after Von Rothbart dies the spell is broken and Siegfried and Odette live happily ever after (similar to the ending of The Swan Princess). In some Odette is left alone as a swan as Siegfried is forced to marry Odile, in other’s she commits suicide when she realises she will become a swan forever. In other’s Siegfried and Von Rothbart’s fight leads to them both drowning in the lake and Odette being alone forever, in other’s Odette and Von Rothbart both die and the prince is left alone forever.

Kat Lawson
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