“There once was a young fellow who had learnt the trade of locksmith, and told his father he would now go out into the world and seek his fortune.”
Content Warning: This tale and post contain and allude to violence directed towards animals.
This fairy tale took me on quite a journey. At first I had thoughts of Robin Hood, but those quickly dissolved and images from Maid Maleen and The Goose-Girl resurfaced in my mind. My research of this tale even led me to another book; but before I get into the excitement of that, let me summarize The Skilful Huntsman.
Our main character, once out into the world (his father agrees to let him go after that first sentence above), decides he actually does not want to be a locksmith, but a huntsman. He finds “a huntsman dressed in green” who for “some years” teaches him “the art of hunting.” Then once again the main character goes off on his own, but not before his teacher gifts him with an air-gun that always hits its mark.
One evening – I’m going to give him a name so I don’t have to keep repeating “the main character” or “the protagonist” – Charles is up in a tree to keep himself away from wild beasts, when he sees a light through the forest. He heads towards it and finds three giants sitting around a fire roasting an ox. When they go to pluck a piece of meat off, Charles shoots it out of their hand with his air-gun. After a few of these shots, the giants demand that the sharpshooter in the shadows show himself.
Charles steps forward, and rather than killing him or maiming him, the giants want to know about his obvious skills. Charles talks about his gun and the giants come up with a plan: there’s a Princess in a tower who they very much would like to get their hands on. They would do it themselves, but there is a dog who barks at the sight of any intruder, and therefore would wake up the whole palace. So Charles loses all of his points with me when he agrees to – and carries out – the killing of the dog.
Charles sneaks into the palace and finds a sword with a note next to it on a table. The note says the sword will kill anyone or anything it is used against. Charles takes it, then goes to the Princess’s room. He oddly cuts off pieces of her clothing (as she sleeps soundly) that bear her father’s initial, and takes a slipper that bears the same. He goes back outside to bring in the giants, but thankfully acknowledges that their intentions are not good, so he tells them to sneak through a hole and chops their heads off with the sword as they do. Charles then leaves the castle to continue on his aimless journey.
At the castle the next morning, however, the King notices the dead giants and goes to check on his daughter, the Princess. When they notice the missing attire, the King gathers up his whole court and asks who slayed the giants. His sketchy captain, “who was one-eyed and a hideous man” exclaimed that he was the one, and the King tells him he shall marry his daughter. But the Princess has other plans: “‘Rather than marry him, dear father, I will go away into the world as far as my legs can carry me.'” He agrees and it all ends well.
The King tells her that if she does not marry the captain, she will need to dress as a peasant and make her way in life as such. She says she will sell pottery at the local market, but the King sabotages that by having some of his people run carts into her stand so that all the pottery breaks. Then he says he will build her a hut outside of the palace and for the rest of her life she will cook for anyone who comes to her, but she will not collect any money for it.
One day Charles – remember our protagonist Charles? – happens to hear about this little hut, so he travels there to get a meal. He asks her if she’s the King’s daughter, and eventually admits he’s the one that killed the giants.
The Princess is overjoyed at this news, and tells her father (Charles has the sword and clothing pieces for proof, remember), who announces the huntsman is set to be her bridegroom. The King orders a feast, and tells his captain that Charles was just a visiting foreign lord. The King then sets forth some questions about what he should do if “someone” was to lie about killing the giants. The captain gives his answer: “‘He ought to be torn to pieces,” and thus the King announces that is his sentence. The huntsman and the Princess are wed, the huntsman brings his father and mother to live at the palace, “and after the death of the old King he received the kingdom.”
So, if you read my post about The Goose-Girl, that ending should feel very familiar, since the substitute bride (lady-in-waiting) meets her demise in the same way. Even the description of the way the new royalty live out their days is very similar. In The Goose-Girl, “both of them reigned over their kingdom in peace and happiness,” and in The Skilful Huntsman, after Charles brings his parents to the palace, it is said that “they lived with their son in happiness.” This is interesting because happiness is not a common theme in most of these fairy tales. On the contrary, even if a story ends well, happiness is not a feeling explicitly expressed.
The parallel I mentioned between this tale and Maid Maleen at the very beginning of this blog post is related to the way the fathers of Maid Maleen, and the Princess in this story, react to their defiance in the face of marriage. Maid Maleen is already in love with a Prince, and will not marry for less than love. In The Skilful Huntsman, the Princess wants to experience the world beyond the palace walls, which she knows will not happen if she is married off. If you ever need to analyze toxic masculinity and/or toxic father-daughter relationships, these are some great places to start.
Unfortunately there is no easily accessible information or analysis to further my study of The Skilful Huntsman, but I did find something else that is quite interesting. There’s a book entitled The Skillful Huntsman: Visual Development of a Grimm Tale at Art Center College of Design, in which “sketches and full-color renderings thoroughly document the creative process of concept design, revealing a host of intriguing places—from sci-fi cities to castles, and people—from giants to royalty.” It was created by “three gifted students,” Khang Le, Mike Yamada, and Felix Yoon who were guided by their instructor, Scott Robertson, in the making of the book. I [think I] understand that it’s sort of an industry guidebook – if you know anything about it, please share! I’ve linked the page below where you can see some of the artwork (and purchase it, if you like #notsponsored); I do recommend taking a look.
So that’s all for The Skilful Huntsman. As always, I’d like to know if you’ve encountered this story before, or a story like it. And I’m thinking the next tale will be a little similar as these couple that come before it; maybe it will wrap together a bunch of the themes. Who knows!
- Aarne-Thompson classification system – 304: The Trained Hunter (TALES OF MAGIC, Supernatural Adversaries)
- The Skillful Huntsman: Visual Development of a Grimm Tale at Art Center College of Design by Khang Le, Mike Yamada, Felix Yoon, and Scott Robertson.