Monday, October 24, 2011

In the Hall of the Mountain King

The Woman in Green: Besides those rags you have other clothing?
Peer Gynt: Ah, you should see my Sunday garments!
WIG: My week-day garments are gold and silver.
PG: It looks to me more like tow and grasses.
WIM: Yes. There's just one thing to remember:
We mountain folk have an ancient custom;
All that we have has a double shape.
So when you come to my father's palace
It would not be in the least surprising
If you were inclined to think it merely
A heap of ugly stones and rubbish.
PG: That's just the same as it is with us!
You may think our gold all rust and mildew,
And mistake each glittering window-pane
For a bundle of worn-out clouts and stockings.
WIG: Black looks like white, and ugly like fair.
PG: Big looks like little, and filthy like clean.
WIG: Oh, Peer, I see we are splendidly suited!

This passage is from Ibsen's play "Peer Gynt," which is (loosely) based on Norwegian folklore. It strikes me for multiple reasons-the characters here are lying but it's a common aspect of Faerie lore that the enchanted person may see a beautiful palace full of riches, which in reality is a shack full of rags and broken utensils, or something to that affect. Yet, if there are two possible ways of perceiving, who's to say which version of the Faerie world is real? Even when the literal facts don't change, sometimes all it takes is a little imagination and contentment to make a situation enchanting for one person but miserable for another. The aspect of not judging by initial appearances of course brings to mind Beauty and the Beast, but the element of deception also has similarities to the Emperor's New Clothes.

After this part of the play, Peer goes to the Hall of the Mountain King to marry his new bride (the Woman in Green is really the Troll King's daughter), but is turned upon by the Trolls when he isn't willing to have his eyes gauged out so that she will seem beautiful to him. Don't feel too sorry for Peer though-he only wanted to marry her because he heard she was rich. Hence this very famous classical piece, which I bet you've heard even if you're not into classical music. Below is a metal version by Apocalyptica.

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