Last night I dreamed that a long-awaited companion arrived to take me to the other side of the world where we would live in comfort, without fear or want, for the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, we were running late to meet the train, and just as the doors were about to close I realized I had forgotten my passport. The train would have to leave without me.
The sense of loss on awakening drove me to check that my actual Canadian passport was safe in the drawer—it was—and to wonder about the meaning of such an object.
A passport allows one to pass through the door, to go from one place to another, or from one state of being to another. Think of portkeys in Harry Potter, or the invisibility cloak that allows a poor young man to rescue twelve dancing princesses. It turns out that fairy tale protagonists often rely on passports. (And I have a dream to thank for opening my eyes to them.)
In the Norse fairy tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” a great white bear rescues a poor family, vowing to make them rich when he marries their youngest and loveliest daughter.
The bear is as good as his word, and when his new bride declares the only thing she wants is some company, he takes her to visit her family in their luxurious new home. His only condition: “…not to talk alone with your mother, but only when the rest are by to hear; for she’ll take you by the hand and try to lead you into a room to talk; but you must mind and not do that, else you’ll bring bad luck on both of us.”1
But the young woman is aware that a man lies beside her in bed each night. The mystery eats away at her and she succumbs to her mother’s entreaties to divulge her secret. When later the bride uses her mother’s candle to light the bedroom in the dead of night, she sees the handsome husband at her side, falls in love, and loses him all at once. He is a bear by day because of a curse, and now must marry the ogre who dwells East of the Sun and West of the Moon, a place his true bride will never find.
So next morning, when she woke up, both Prince and castle were gone, and then she lay on a little green patch, in the midst of the gloomy thick wood, and by her side lay the same bundle of rags she had brought with her from her old home.2
Determined to locate East of the Sun and West of the Moon, the young woman walks until she meets up with a hag who recognizes her as the rightful bride of the bear-prince and so gives her the gift of a golden apple and lends her a horse for the next leg of her journey. Two more hags—who give her a golden carding-comb and a golden spindle-wheel, respectively—and two more horses take her to the East Wind who has never seen East of the Sun and West of the Moon but declares that his brother, the West Wind, knows of it. From the West Wind she goes to the South Wind, and then to the dreaded and powerful North Wind who takes her to the world’s end.
So they tore on and on—no one can believe how far they went—and all the while they still went over the sea, and the North Wind got more and more weary, and so out of breath he could scarce bring out a puff, and his wings drooped and drooped, till at last he sunk so low that the crests of the waves dashed over his heels.3
With the last of his strength, the North Wind lifts the young woman “on the shore under the windows of the castle which lay East of the Sun and West of the Moon.” There she remains, playing with the golden apple, until the ogre arrives and wants to know its price, which the young woman sets as one night alone with the captive prince.
As it turns out, the prince has been given a sleeping tonic, remaining unaware of the nocturnal visit. But the young woman has two more passports at the ready. She barters the golden carding-comb for a second night, then the golden spinning-wheel for a third. Fortunately, the prince has discovered the secret to his undisturbed sleep, and is ready for her on the third. They outwit the ogre and reunite as husband and wife.
A passport, in this world or in the realm of faerie, provides access to a new place or a new way of being. But beware. The Wicked Queen’s poisoned apple took Snow White into a dark domain. And Dorothy’s glittering slippers, as useful as they were, made her the target of an envious witch.
Guard your passports with care, and use them wisely.
First Image Credit: By Cathrin Hagey using Canva.com
Second Image Credit: By Kay Rasmus Nielsen (1886-1957) – http://turnbullrarebooks.tumblr.com/archive, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44767863
- East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North, Illustrated by Kay Nielsen (Calla Editions: Mineola, NY, 2008), 12.
- East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North, Illustrated by Kay Nielsen (Calla Editions: Mineola, NY, 2008), 16.
- East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Old Tales from the North, Illustrated by Kay Nielsen (Calla Editions: Mineola, NY, 2008), 22-23.