Faithful Johannes, II


OK, let’s start at the beginning: the king summons Johannes, his faithful servant and asks him to watch out for his son; he asks him to be a “foster father” in fact. I take this seriously. I think that in the story Johannes really has the role of father, and the young king is his son. “Faithful servant” is a disguise, an emotionally easier way to see the parent-child interaction. And what is a father if not someone who shows his son his inheritance, all the castle and surrounds, someone who strives, “even if it costs him his life” to keep his son out of trouble, to smooth his way to adulthood?

If Faithful Johannes is really the father in this story and the young king is his his son, then we’re left with a disturbing tale, and with some questions still about who the Princess of the Golden Roof really is–and I think she’s two people (sort of).

I will admit this, though: in The Raven, Basile’s (Italian) version of the tale, the king finds a dead raven on a white stone and falls in love with the idea of a wife with hair as black as the raven, lips as red as its blood and skin as white as the stone. I’m inclined to deal with the Brothers Grimm version because it’s just easier to see my way through to the meaning of the story if the princess isn’t born from the young king’s mind. In both The Raven and Father Roquelaure, the princess is more of a cipher than in Faithful Johannes, but there is more magic associated with her in both: in The Raven she is the daughter of a magician and in Father Roquelaure she is held in a tower by a fairy.

So, looking at Faithful Johannes we first see the old king tasking Johannes with preventing his son from opening the door at the end of the long gallery and seeing the painting of the princess. The old king was evidently not so affected by the painting, nor Faithful Johannes.

There is a quirk of dreams and fairy tales that time doesn’t mean the same thing as it does in reality. Here it hides the fact that the painting hanging there is of a young woman who’s been a young woman for a long time, and will still be a young woman when the young king finally finds her.

So who is this (old) beautiful young princess upon whom the old king and Faithful Johannes can gaze with impunity, but the young king will fall in love and faint dead away? There is another hint in that the painting is at the end of a long gallery in a closed room, which seems reminiscent of a vagina and a womb. There is something going on here that is awfully “primal scene,” or at least awfully like the young king walking in on his mother naked. Certainly dad can look at mom naked, but son can’t. I don’t think that’s the end of the answer to “who is The Princess of the Golden Roof,” though. I don’t think there’s anything literal here to imply that the princess is his mother, but perhaps that sexuality and the forbidden quality of it comes from the fascination of a child with his mother, the prototype of the first love object.

In the Grimm version of the fairy tale, the princess in her magnificent castle surrounded by golden artifacts must have a king-father, but he never comes into the story. She falls in love with the young man in much the same way he falls in love with her–him from a painting and her from his protest of love and assertion of noble birth. Still, once they are together I think she does represent the young man’s love object–a real object who may share qualities with his mother, but is not his mother.

The reason the princess can’t represent the young king’s mother is the role of Johannes, our (foster-) father. Johannes facilitates his son’s desire. He plots to get to the princess and lures her to his son’s boat. He acts as a good father and saves his son from the first two traps, the horse and the wedding shirt.

But, wow! What about the third trap? The princess faints and will die, but Johannes saves her by sucking three drops of blood from her right breast. The association I have here is the feudal right of the Signore or Lord to deflower a bride before his subjects can consummate their marriage with each other.

Still, it’s this act that causes the young king and the princess to stop trusting Johannes, to imprison him and put him in the situation where he will die if he does not reveal all (another primal scene-type situation in which revealing knowledge has terrible consequences), and of course he will turn to stone if he does reveal all.

But not trusting your father has consequences, too–the young king and princess must then sacrifice their own children, the product of the sexual relationship that the father allowed and facilitated, in order to bring Johannes back. Finally, though, once the debt has been paid in all 3 versions of the fairy tale that I’ve read the children are brought back to life either by the young king’s stand-in father Johannes or by the princess’s father or protector.

I need to stop here, but there are more questions. For instance, why twins? and why the name Princess of the Golden Roof (which is unique to the Grimm version)?


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