If you’ve spent a decent amount of time with me or shared a non-small talk conversation, then it’s fair to assume that you know I love finding treasures.
Being a nostalgic creature, I love unearthing trinkets and vintage pieces with which to adorn my home. If I’m a Belle when it comes to books and beasts, then I’m definitely an Ariel regarding thingamabobs and snarfblats—on the page, I’m Queen of the Commas, but within my abode, I’m Queen of Tchotchkes. So, naturally, I enjoy a nice stroll through resale stores from time to time. And it’s rare that I don’t find something I need or don’t.
I share all that to take you back to the second quarter of this year. One weekend in April, I kept coming across polar bears (this may seem tangential and hardly treasure-worthy, but please stay with me). Artwork in restaurants and shops; commercials on TV; return address labels and calendars from nature-driven nonprofit organizations who wanted my support—each situation featured polar bears.
I love bears, polar bears included, so the repeated appearance of said bears was welcome. But, it wasn’t until I found the find of the weekend at Harbor Springs’ New Beginnings that I got beary jazzed.
Like any good millennial, I like to peruse the VHS section of resale shops for old times’ sake, never mind that my family still has a hope chest full of childhood movies and a functioning VHS player. As I trailed my finger across the bulky cases that fateful day, I stopped at one in particular—The Polar Bear King.
Many of you may not be familiar with this 1991 European release (the film made it stateside in 1994), but I was obsessed with this movie as a child. I don’t remember if I first watched it while still living in southern Michigan, but my clearest and earliest memory of this winterland fairy tale is from my visits to the Indian River Library in the late ’90s. Back then, it was a mere dollar to rent a movie from the library, and I would save my quarters to strategically rent The Polar Bear King on a Friday, which meant I didn’t have to return the movie until the following Tuesday.
As I slid the VHS case off the shelf at New Beginnings, I saw the price of 25 cents, and I knew it was my lucky day to have found a movie that most don’t know about and only have to pay a quarter of what I paid years ago—but this time, I didn’t have to return it on Tuesday.
So, to give you the 411 on The Polar Bear King, the story is about a princess of Winterland who doesn’t really fit in (Belle? Ariel?). She dreams of Summerland and all of its greenery and flowers. Now, over in Summerland, the prince has just been crowned king, and an evil witch shows up demanding he marry her or else. The new king stands his ground, refusing to marry the witch, and naturally, she turns him into a polar bear (insert title here). The only thing that can save him from the curse is true love, so he trades summer for winter in search of a bride who can see past his current predicament.
Enter the misfit princess who wants nothing more than to trade her cold circumstances for warm weather. After some bombastic protesting by her father and two sisters, the princess leaves with the bear to become his wife. Note: the film does not condone beastiality—the bear turns back into a man at night. Boo-yeah. The catch? His new wife can’t look upon his face for seven years in order to break the curse. Without giving too much away, the Winterland princess fails in keeping her promise not to look at her husband (I’d probably fail at that, too), and it falls to her to save him from the clutches of the evil witch who intends to make the king her husband (bigamy much?).
Sure, sure, some of you probably think this film is a bit problematic, and with an adult’s eyes, I can see where you’re coming from. As a child, though, it was a fairytale dream where the princess needed to save the king, and I embraced that.
Film synopsis aside, the story has many similarities to other existing tales and myths. Story elements harken to those of Beauty and the Beast (man turned into a beast—needs love to save him), Eros and Psyche (can’t look at your spouse), and East of the Sun and West of the Moon (woman going on an adventure to save her love). All three tales also deal with a female leaving her home and family to cleave to a man.
As I mentioned, something that truly resonated with me, and still does, is that the female is doing the thinking, strategizing, and rescuing in this story. The princess isn’t helpless or hapless but human and willing to do anything for those she loves—even when that means facing the forces of evil practically on her own. As much as I loved Disney’s typical princesses growing up, I related to this princess (who doesn’t even have a name). I’ve always felt like I needed to take care of things on my own—it was like maybe seeing my future self on the screen, sans polar bear and witch—not allowing difficult or sad circumstances to hold me back from achieving my goals and dreams, and fighting hard for what I loved and believed in.
So, when I found that 25-cent treasure during my weekend of the polar bear, I knew it was a sign—a sign of a good deal and a trip down memory lane to remind me that things are hard when you are fighting for what you want. It was also an excuse to open my copy of The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar for this post, which is hardly a bad thing.
And now, even though the journey of a princess might not resonate with all of you, I shall leave you with a quote from the film that will at least strike a chord with Northern Michiganders: “Snow makes people wise and strong.” I reference this because we are on the cusp of winter, and much snow, and I have to agree that the cold winters have at least made me a bit wiser and a tad stronger. Not like that of a polar bear, but enough to be the resourceful, misfit princess in my own silly life.
Coming up next:
Monday, December 5
The art of the Christmas card