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Thursday, 16 April 2009


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J J Cohen

Check out the introduction to Cultural Diversity in the British Middle Ages, where I treat just such a scene. There is also Monika Otter on Gerald of Wales in her book Inventiones (Gerald describes a utopia of tiny men that is quite entrancing). Otter connects it to Gerald's nostalgia for his lost possibility of "true" Welshness.

J J Cohen

Here is the link:


It's a western trope, and doesn't, as far as I know, show up in the Asian traditions.

Aside from the obvious Persephone reference and Garden of Eden/Pandora overtones, I'm reminded of the (modern Western) tradition of Egyptian mummy curses, where death stalks those who remove anything from a tomb..... The Egyptians did have a tradition of magical stories (I used a World History reader with a fantastic tale called "Setne Khamwas and Naneferkapta"; it was gone in the next edition, and I stopped using it), but I don't know enough to point the way.


Both to you two, and to anyone who follows, I pass along the wife's thanks.

The Little Womedievalist

J J Cohen: Excellent suggestion, and right on the money at that. Otter's reading of William of Malmesbury's Gerbert/ Pope Sylvester II tale is one of the few studies I've found to date, along with David Rollo's chapter on the same text.

Ahistoricality: Persephone! How did I manage to miss the Persephone reference? (Slapping self on forehead...)

Thanks to both and all!


Sorry I can't be of more help, and I'm sure you've already thought of this, but the story of Orpheus/Eurydice shares quite a bit with the scene from Pan's Labyrinth, and is a key example of the general trope you are discussing ("taking things from the underworld"). Ofelia, like Orpheus, is still alive and well after breaking the one rule that she was given. They both have to live knowing what they have lost.

There may be some Lot's-wife-pillar-of-salt sort of thing going on here too, but maybe that's more of a stretch.

Adam Roberts

"It's a western trope, and doesn't, as far as I know, show up in the Asian traditions."


Adam Roberts

OK, that was a rather dumb comment I just posted. How about Tannhäuser? There's a lot of stuff on the Venusberg, which provides an interesting gloss on the trope you're talking about.

Also, Bilbo in Smaug's den.


Not just Aladdin, there are tons of these in the 1001 Nights. I don't have my copy close, but I think as part of the Fisherman's tale, there's some reference to a jinn with a woman trapped in his cave, and the young adventurer keeps coming back in disguise to romance her, and finally gets caught.


I'm sorry, from the perspective of an East Asianist, Middle Eastern culture pretty firmly belongs in the Western tradition, though much of it does technically take place on the Asian continent.

Also, you'd need a good South Asianist to say definitively whether it shows up in the Indian/subcontinental traditions at all: I haven't run across anything like it, but it's not really my area. Anything which shows up in 1001 Nights is under suspicion of being Indian in origin, of course.

Bilbo gets away with it; Smaug was going to wreck destruction on someone once the dwarves got there, so you really can't lay it on the thief.

Adam Roberts

Well, yes; and Aladdin isn't Arabian anyway. It was made up by somebody in France in the eighteenth-century.

Bilbo gets scorched; and wouldn't have done if he'd have left the golden cup alone.


In The Cold Lairs, Mowgli takes the king's Ankus against the white cobra's warnings (I think). When he abandons it, men start killing each other over it. Kipling might not have been inspired by a specific south Asian story for that, though, maybe he imported the western tradition.


Bilbo gets scorched; and wouldn't have done if he'd have left the golden cup alone.

No, he could have gotten away with the cup; it's the hubris that gets him singed. Completely different mythology.

Luther Blissett

I have nothing to add except what comes to mind immediately: Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk, and, my personal favorite, Odysseus and the Cattle of Lord Helios. (Even Odysseus and the gift of Aiolus would have some similarities, along with Pandora and the Garden of Eden.)

I imagine that, while the setting of underground palaces might change, the narrative of arrival - rule - breach of rule - exile is pretty universal. There's a wonderful Coyote story in which he travels to find his dead wife, back when the living and dead were more connected. But Coyote breaks the rules and the line between life and death is from that point on rigidly defined.

So much of this ties to traditional ideas of hospitality: a guest is fed, while a thief steals; a host feeds, while a monster feeds on a guest.

None of this is helpful, but I like thinking about folklore.

Bill Benzon

Reminds me of Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines. When Alan Quartermain & co. finally make their way into the mines, they come to a large chamber where all the former kings are arrayed along the sides of the chamber. Each is covered with a film of limestone deposited by water dripping from the ceiling above. Somewhere beyond this hall they find the diamond stash itself. They barely make it out alive, though they do manage to retain a handful or two of diamonds.

What about the Indianna Jones films?

Peter Erwin

Re Bilbo and Smaug: that story was, of course, based on a passage in Beowulf, where a nameless thief (I think he's marked out as someone on the run from his lord or his community) steals a cup and wakes the dragon, who proceeds to lay waste to the countryside. There might be some discussion of this in Tolkien's essay "Beowulf: The Monster and the Critics".

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure there was no mention of human statues in the dragon's hoard.


Oh, and there's some eastern mythology stuff (Japanese myth) in the first couple of links. Take care.


My first post was maybe too long and autodeleted? I'll break it up:

First, let me point you at and which have varying examples. Tvtropes is actually a good site tracking down examples of a specific related trope once you identify it.

Besides what’s there (and the Goldilocks exemplar is one of those duh examples). I can’t think of any other really pat examples except for Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell (it’s been a while and I can’t remember the specifics, but Arabella is drawn further and further into the celebrations of Lost Hope and out of the world as she accepts gifts) and Young Sherlock Holmes (Watson, drugged, starts eating food, which comes to life to attack him). However, there are many, many sort of related things.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has a number of kids who go into a strange place and are tempted (and picked off by) giving in to lust for possession of food.

The related tropes that intersect in this trope include:

The opulent hall/mansion which is actually dilapidated with spirits that want you to join them (Jonathan Strange, Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride -999 ghosts, make it an even 1,000, etc. – even the French Plantation scene in the longer version of Apocalypse Now)


Part 2:

The innocent thrust into a corrupt but attractive setting, trying to get out without being pulled back (this is the underpinning of your tale – noir, especially Lynchian Noir like Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks/Fire Walk with Me, the Bible, especially the Passover stuff – Exodus 12, I think – and the Sodom and Gomorrah story – leaving corruption with a rule to prove you are untouched, in this case don’t look back – salt pillar thing – as opposed to don’t take anything).

The physical object you weren’t supposed to take/touch/eat deal (don’t touch it trope ). Also see garden of eden (forbidden fruit ).

Decent into underworld/down the rabbit hole aspect ( and spurs off of ), or mines of Moria thing.

Hope this helps. It was just sort of a quick brain dump. I could actually go on about this stuff, but my day is too fragmented and I type too slowly. BTW, I think you have some sort of LSU/Louisiana connection? I’m NOLA born and raised, my wife is red stick born and raised, and I spent 10 years at LSU (BS, MD, PhD), while my wife spent 4 (BA). We live in Vegas now.

Oh, and there's some eastern mythology stuff (Japanese myth) in the first couple of links. Take care.

Agent Cooper

It seems like this happens numerous times in Tristan and Isolde (I read the 18th Century French version), Tristan continues his affairs with Isolde despite being warned and continue to make it out alive. It's only a case of bad timing that ultimately brings them down. I'm also reminded of Mr. Seguin's Goat (Le Chevre de M Seguin) by Alphonse Daudet where Blanchette cheats fate at least until the morning.

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