So, I recently watched Snow White and the Huntsman and found it a pretty enjoyable watch. Being more of a special effects/monster/action kinda guy I definitely enjoyed it more for its visuals than its romantic plot – I’ve seen enough of Kristen Stewart’s breathless lip-biting and gently heaving décolletage to last me a life time – but I’m a sucker ( see what i did there?) for a good fairytale or folk legend and the scenes in the fairy realms of SWAH were particularly well done I thought.
One scene that really got me thinking was Snow White’s encounter with the White Stag. The first thing that went through my mind when I saw the animal standing there in the sun-dappled glade, with its massive rack of antlers aglow in the ethereal light, was, this is reminiscent of Princess Mononoke. The scene was very similar to the encounter between the wolf-girl, San, and the Forest Spirit in Hayao Miyazaki’s outstanding animation (if you’ve never seen it I would highly recommend a viewing, animation fan or not, the story is incredible).
I love the idea of a Forest Spirit, a benevolent entity who is the personification of the forest’s powerful life force, and it seems fitting that a stag, or stag-like creature, should so often represent such a being. I have encountered stags in the forest around my home and they are truly magnificent animals: powerful, confident and hard-as-nails with all those prongs.
In England, the symbol of the stag, particularly the White Stag, or White Hart, is deeply ingrained in our culture – other than the Red Lion and Royal Oak I think the White Hart is the next most popular pub name in the UK ( there is one just down the road from me!) so I thought I’d look into the legends and see what had inspired so many publicans across our green and pleasant land to bless their establishments with such a name.
In my investigations I came across this article that I thought I’d share:
“Like many legends, those surrounding the white hart come with their fair share of curses and prophecies of bad luck to anyone who crosses the creature.
For the ancient Celts, the white hart was a harbinger of doom, a living symbol that some taboo has been transgressed or a moral law broken.
To come across a white hart was to realise that some terrible evil or judgment was imminent.
The white hart’s reputation improved in Arthurian legends, where its appearance was a sign to Arthur and his knights that it was time to embark on a quest – it was considered the one animal that could never be caught so it came to symbolise humanity’s never-ending pursuit of knowledge and the unattainable.
Soon, the white hart was appearing in stories throughout Europe.
To Hungarians, it was a white hart that led their ancestors to their homeland; in a French legend, anyone who killed a white hart was cursed with the pain of unrequited love.
It was not long before Christianity managed to appropriate the white hart for its own purposes: the white stag came to symbolise Christ and his presence on earth.
Fundamental to this myth was the story of David I, King of Scotland, whose encounter with this animal led directly to the establishment of the royal palace, Holyrood House, in Edinburgh.
It is said that in 1128, a rebellious King David was warned by his priest not to go hunting on the Feast Day of the Holy Rood (Holy Cross).
Stubbornly, he set off on the hunt and came across a large white deer, which he chased.
Thrown from his horse, the deer charged him. David cried out to God to save him, and at that precise instant, the deer’s antlers miraculously turned into a cross, and the animal vanished in a puff of smoke.
The shamed King built a church to the Holy Rood on the spot where his vision occurred.
From then on, the white deer became a symbol of purity, redemption and good fortune in Scotland, and eventually took a leading position in English heraldry alongside its cousin, the mythic unicorn, whose horn was supposedly endowed with magical properties.
King Richard II adopted the white hart as his personal emblem.
Even today, white harts are seen to be lucky charms, and anyone who spots one is said to have a dose of good fortune just around the corner.”
Marcus Dunk, Mail Online-2008
A nice summary of some of the legends I think and interesting to see how the folklore and legends of our past continue to influence our popular culture. Thanks Snow White and the Huntsman for some beautiful special effects, for reminding me of how awesome Princess Mononoke is and for giving me an excuse to learn more about the wonderful and magical stories that have so shaped our cultural landscape – and our pub names!