From Wildman to King: Another Look at Male Myth and Initiation Part 2

Overcome by the summer heat and thinking himself safe from observation, the gardener's boy paused to rest and take off his hat for a moment. The princess, perhaps lying on her bed in a fit of boredom such as princesses are sometimes subject to, suddenly saw a flash of golden light. Jumping up to find its source, she saw not a gardener's boy but a young man with the most radiantly beautiful golden hair she had ever beheld. The princess, like the royal personage she was, called out her window to the startled boy, ordering him to bring her some flowers.

Would-be lovers bring flowers to the women whose love they seek - was the princess telling the boy to court her? Was she so bedazzled by his hair that she failed to notice his dirty, bedraggled clothes or his humble station? What would her father have said about her inviting a male servant up to her bedroom? There may have been more than a little rebellion and the excitement of stepping beyond a boundary, as well as just plain foolishness, in the princess' interest in the mysterious boy with the golden hair.

We see in others what we find lacking in ourselves. Intrigued by a life so different from hers, a princess may fall in love with a gardener's boy, much to the bewilderment of the princes who have been so eagerly competing for her attention. Beneath the humble appearance which everyone else takes at face value, she may see (or at least think she does) a prince in disguise.

A woman may hope to save a man from the destructive effects of his personal and family history, certain that she can bring out the potential that he himself apparently cannot see or activate. This, of course, neatly dovetails with the desire of many a man for a mother-lover to perform the impossible task of making him into "a real man" while also fulfilling his every need. But no man bound to a maternal figure, whether his actual mother or her stand in, will ever sense himself to be entirely a man, no more than the unfortunate woman to whom he is attached will feel that she is her own woman.

Almost all relationships involve some degree of co-dependency in which one partner's problematic behavior finds support in that of the other. If a couple is willing and able to wrestle with this difficult dynamic, it has the potential for transforming them both. The gardener's boy can reclaim his disavowed specialness while assuming responsibility for his own life. The princess learns about the value of ordinary things like wildflowers, and gardener's boys who may never be princes in anyone's eyes but hers.

The princess was perhaps foolish in the risk she took in bringing the gardener's boy up to her room. Beyond the fact of his enchanting golden hair, she knew nothing about him or what he might do. Still, she remained firmly in charge of the situation, making him come up to her rather than going down to him. Assertive women may frighten some men, but a man relatively secure in his masculinity will find a woman's clear expression of the power that is legitimately hers attractive.

The surprised boy, who may have been completely unaware of the princess' existence until the moment of her command to him, quickly covered up his head and gathered some wildflowers. But on the way up to the princess' room, he met the gardener who was appalled to find the boy taking up a bunch of ordinary wildflowers such as any peasant might have picked from the roadside. The youth's insistence that the princess preferred such flowers probably only added to the gardener's suspicion that his young assistant was affected by something much more serious than mere simple mindedness.

But the boy knew the value of wild things. The gardener had probably never met a wild man, let alone served an apprenticeship, however brief, to one. The gardener's time was spent with carefully cultivated, intentionally planted things. In his estimation wildflowers were weeds to be eliminated when they sprang up in his garden, and of no interest whatsoever in their natural habitat.

Perhaps it was the gardener, not the boy, who was the fool. At any rate, the youth took his wildflowers on up to the princess. But once he was in her room, it quickly became apparent that she was interested in something other than flowers, cultivated or wild.

As her father had done, she ordered the boy to take off his hat in her royal presence. And, as he had done with the king, the boy refused to bare his head. But she had seen what her father had not, and knew that the boy's head was far from being the disgusting sight that he claimed it was. Before he knew what was happening, she grabbed his hat and uncovered his golden hair. He fled, but not before she forced some golden coins into his hand. Caring "nothing for gold," the youth gave the coins to the gardener as playthings for his children, no doubt furnishing further proof of his craziness in the gardener's perception.

"Iron Hans" being a folk tale and thus bound to the rule of threefold repetition, the drama between the princess and the gardener's boy was acted out two more times. But the boy, apparently a faster learner than he had been at the golden spring, managed to dodge the princess' second and third attempts to expose him. He was determined to keep the golden mark of his failure hidden; she was almost as determined to see it. She lured him up to her room in an attempt to uncover his secret, and then seemingly tried to bribe him. He refused to show her what she wanted to see, and found no value in her gold. But still he took flowers up at her bidding.

If the genders were reversed, with a prince luring a servant girl up to his room to expose her in some way after which he pressed money on her, the obvious interpretation would be that this was an attempted seduction or even rape. The prince would be condemned for taking advantage of a poor girl whose resistance would be admired. But what are we to make of a princess who tries to seduce a gardener's boy or, perhaps even more puzzling, his refusal of her? No doubt there were many young men in the kingdom who would have willingly paid almost any price to gain access to the princess. Yet here was a young man, poverty stricken with no apparent hopes for improving his lowly position, who not only rebuffed the princess but had no use for her money.

Clear and direct communication about sexual attraction and desire is exceedingly rare. Sometimes it seems as if the object of courtship is not so much to love as to defeat the other. Adding to the confusion attendant on most affairs of the heart (affairs that also involve other, even more problematic aspects of the human anatomy) is the degree to which we tend to become unconscious, losing sight of our own best interests and intentions, when struck by the arrows of Eros. Many a man, and woman, has known at first hand the truth of Shakespeare's line (Much Ado About Nothing II,iii,8-9): "Man is a fool when he dedicates his behaviors to love "

Inexperience in romance combined with sexual frustration may keep a man from availing himself of the usual ritualized subterfuges of seduction. Acting on mistaken assumptions, he may ignorantly rush in without regard for either the situation or the wishes of his intended lover. A man who rides roughshod over a woman's feelings may be in fact more naive than ill intended.

Having just left his mother, hoping to find the Court of Arthur and become a knight, Parzival or "Simplicity's Child," as Wolfram titles him, came upon a half nude woman asleep in a tent. Knowing nothing of male-female relations beyond his mother's advice of "whenever you can win a good woman's ring and greeting, take them. . . . You must haste to kiss her and clasp her tight in your embrace," Parzival tried to do just that with "this marvel of uttermost desire." After clumsily embracing and kissing her, he took a ring from the terrified woman. Then he went on his way, cheerfully ignorant of having done any wrong or of the difficult situation in which he had left the woman with her jealous husband (Von Eschenbach, pp. 73-77).

Naivete can also hold a man back from an advance that would be welcomed. Sometime after his encounter with the woman in the tent, having managed in the meanwhile to become a knight, Parzival came upon the castle of a most sad maiden queen. Having been "cured of his simplicity" by his knightly mentor who had "counseled him against questions," Parzival "sat there with that noble queen without opening his mouth to speak a word," much to the queen's discomfort and confusion.