One comment on “Episode 139 — Elric of Melnibone

  1. The damsel in distress trope is part of an incredibly ancient cluster of themes that go back to the Paleolithic. The oldest version may be stories in which a woman marries a spirit-animal — most often a bear. Sometimes everything works out well. Sometimes she has to tame him in some way and bring him into the human world (Tamlin, Beauty and the Beast). Sometimes there is a taboo and when it is violated the animal/spirit spouse vanishes (Cupid and Psyche — but also variants where the animal spouse is female, generally a selkie or a goose.) Sometimes the spouse turns out to be a monster or ogre from whom the woman has to escape (the demon lover theme, particularly common in Africa but also in traditional Appalachian murder ballads.) Sometimes the woman has to be rescued from her perilous situation — in the oldest versions generally by her brothers, but eventually in more heroic cultures by her husband or betrothed. And it’s only then that it turns into damseling, where the woman has no agency and no ability to fend for herself.

    There are also other offshoots. Sometimes the woman is the ogre’s daughter and she and the hero run off with the ogre’s treasure, using her magical powers to evade pursuit. That one leads to the trope of the mad scientist’s beautiful daughter who falls in love with the hero and helps him fight her father. And then there’s the Little Mermaid, which is kind of the selkie story told from the point of view of the magical spouse. Probably even Romeo and Juliet fits in somewhere on the extended family tree.

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