Princess Tutu
Episode 17-18

by Rebecca Silverman,

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Princess Tutu ?

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Princess Tutu ?

In an essay in The Annotated Brothers Grimm, (specifically the bicentennial edition) British author A.S. Byatt refers to Hans Christian Andersen as “that psychological terrorist,” saying that no matter how “horrible or weird or abrupt” the tales collected by folklorists like the Grimms were, “they were never disturbing, they never twisted your spirit with sick terror as Andersen so easily did.” I've always held the same opinion; no matter how much I love The Snow Queen, most of his literary fairy tales have a distinctly sharp and bitter edge. Perhaps that's why so many of them figure in Princess Tutu – even without factoring in the ballets based on his works, there's a cruelty in Andersen that works with the narrative Herr Drosselmeyer is trying to see played out. Whether it's Rue donning red shoes or viewing Mytho's difficult transformations through the lens of The Wild Swans (among the harshest of ATU451, The Brothers who Were Turned into Birds), there's something in Andersen's works that fits with the conflict between the story being told and the one the characters are trying to tell.

That brings us to another of Andersen's works that, although not mentioned by name in these episodes, is slowly rising to the fore. 1838's The Steadfast Tin Soldier, sometimes also translated as “The Brave Tin Soldier.” In that tale, the last of twenty-five tin soldiers made from a single spoon is lacking half of his leg due to the smith running out of tin. This means that he's the least favorite of the bunch and is subject to many indignities, but despite this he feels true love for a paper ballerina also kept in the nursery. At the end of the story, the soldier, having survived all of his trials, falls victim to the last, when he's thrown into the fire. A gust of wind blows the ballerina in after him, and in the morning when the ashes are raked, all that's left is a tin heart and a burned and blackened sequin – the soldier with his true heart and the ballerina who did not love him.

This story weaves itself through episodes sixteen through eighteen (and beyond, but we're not there yet) in a variety of ways, with perhaps the most obvious being that Uzura was born of what was left of Edel – she's the soldier's tin heart, taken from the ashes – a symbol of Edel's true love for Duck. (That she's now with Fakir, who is clearly starting to feel things for Duck he's not wholly comfortable with, is also a nice piece of that symbolism.) But Uzura alone is not the only representation of that steadfast soldier. Tutu and Fakir's continued desire to save Mytho from the Raven also puts them in his position, just in this case Mytho is the paper ballerina whose love is burned and warped. That it's not his fault but instead a curse links back to The Wild Swans where the heroine's brothers are turned into swans by a curse and it is up to the heroine to save them. (In great pain, of course. Good old Andersen.)

What's interesting about that link is that it casts Duck/Tutu in the role of Mytho's sister, trying her best to save him from the curse the Raven put him under. While it's not true of all folklore where the heroine saves the hero, in ATU451 specifically that means that by saving Mytho from his evil bird transformation, she's recusing herself from the role of his true love – that princess doesn't wed any of the men she saves. And even more worth noting is that while Kraehe sees herself as Andersen's paper ballerina, in truth, she's more of the tin soldier: even though Mytho doesn't seem to love her (or to be capable of it at this point), she's never faltered in her love for him. Like the heroine of the Norwegian animal bridegroom tale East of the Sun, West of the Moon, she has lost her prince through her own foolish action – but that means that if she fights, she can get him back.

The use of Carmen would seem to undermine that possibility in these episodes, of course. In the classic tragedy based on Prosper Mérimée's 1845 novella, Carmen and José don't end up together. (He kills her, actually.) But maybe that goes more towards how Kraehe sees herself – she can't be Rue anymore because Rue is popular and loved and as her abusive dad keeps telling her, Kraehe doesn't deserve to be loved, and no one but he and corrupt Mytho could possibly love her. But we can find hope in the strangest of places – Neko-sensei's words about how Odile (the black swan in Swan Lake)'s love might be just as true as Odette's, it's just that Odette is the heroine and Odile the villain.

What if Kraehe doesn't have to be Odile? Can't she be Odette in her own story?

And doesn't that go for Fakir's doomed knight as well?

After all, the pen, as they say, is mightier than the sword.

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