Animal Bridegrooms

The transition to becoming a bride to someone who may not be as handsome or young as the princes in fairy tales is difficult, which leads to using the Animal Groom tradition to help teach them to accept their arranged marriages. Gabrielle-Jeanne Leprince de Beaumont, the authoress to the timeless and popular French fairy tale, Beauty and the Beast, wrote this story as well as many other fairy tales aimed towards female readers. “Beaumont was especially concerned with guiding them [her female audience] through the conduct of courtship, marriage, and family relationships” (Korneeva 234).

Beauty beholds the Beast, who has returned to his human form. His beastly visage falls off like a coat.
Taken from Europa’s Fairy Book by Joseph Jacobs, 1916. Illustration is by John Batten.

A similar but older Norwegian fairy tale, East of the Moon, West of the Sun, also features a cursed prince forced to take the form of a polar bear and a human bride. Both Animal Bridegroom stories follow a similar narrative pattern that requires the human wife to go on a journey and face different trials in order to bring back her husband after she breaks the rules by the insistence of her jealous sisters. In the end, the human bride breaks the curse and happily married the prince. “Sometimes animal transformations mark a point where, in hierarchical terms, a human needs to “go down” [by being cursed in their animal forms] in order to “go up” [when they are returned to their human forms and are happily married to their brides]” (Webb & Hopcroft 318).

The bride rides on her polar bear bridegroom as he takes her to his castle.
Illustrated by Kay Nielson (1914)

And yet, it is interesting that in both cases, women figures are involved with the Animal Bridegroom’s curse, usually placed by a witch or a troll and broken by their brides. By playing a large role in the transformation, these women not only “destroy” the social order in the world of men by turning the Animal Bridegrooms into a form tied closer to nature and its world. This domain can only be entered and overcome by another woman, turning the Animal Bridegroom back to his original form permanently and recovering his original status in society.

Down below are the results of “witch” and “old woman” in Animal Bridegroom tales. Both words are connected to the “transformation” of the Animal Bridegroom in some way, though whether they are benevolent figures whose guidance unintentionally causes the transformation of the Animal Bridegroom or evil forces who actively curses them.

“Old Woman”

Other Animal Bridegroom tales like The Frog Prince, The Brown Bear of Norway, and The Enchanted Snake, make the cursed husbands dependent on the success and love of their brides, emphasizing female empowerment. However, despite their active roles that the human brides play, the purpose of these stories are to display and define the perfect women that husbands would find desirable, once again placing the priority onto the wants and needs of the husbands (Korneeva 235). There is a significant difference in how Animal Bridegrooms are treated and seen by their spouses compared to the Animal Brides.