Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Love Potions And You: Grimm Grail Legends

Or, How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love Whoever The Potion Told Me To.

We are far from done picking apart Grimm for its Arthurian and Grail parallels, but we've been waiting to get more of a mytharc for this season before combing through it again. I think, at this point, you can safely expect a flurry of Arthuriana at mid-season hiatus and/or at season finale times, followed by long stretches of accumulating data. However! We have at this point two instances of love potions used in the show, and I judge it only a matter of time before we get a third for Rule of Three reasons - though I wouldn't put it past the writers to include that in backstory rather than dropping it into a season arc. At this point I'd rather prefer it, because love potions get very old, very fast. Unless you want to count Juliette's coma and Renard's pure of heart potion as two instances, which I don't, really. We saw in SotH that Adalind's was fairly surprised that Renard took the pure of heart potion, which implies a whole lot of things, up to and including that she thought he knew more about how the potion(s) worked than he did. At any rate! Two for-sure instances of love potions, which means it's time for a brief refresher on love potions in Arthurian legends.


The one everyone probably knows offhand is Uther and Igraine, so let's start there. The son of the Pendragon must be born to these specific parents only OH LOOK, Igraine's already married. This doesn't end well for Gorlois, who gets dead so that he's out of the way. Depending on the version of the myth you read (along with your preferred reinterpretation), the Uther-and-Igraine story reads many many different ways, though. Most commonly, Merlin casts a spell on Uther so he looks like Gorlois (yeah, that doesn't sound familiar) and brings him to Igraine while Gorlois is off being ambushed and killed. What Igraine thinks of all this is generally left up to reinterpretations, since the important part from early writers' point of view was the part where Igraine got pregnant with Arthur and thereby gave birth to the Golden Age of England. That said, I've seen modern retellings that have Igraine complicit in the deception, that have her and Uther whammied into love by who-knows-what (the gods, Merlin, the Christian God, the Lady of Avalon/the Lake, take your pick), and that have Igraine resigned to her fate or furious about it but taking care to shield her daughters. And let's not forget those daughters, of course, who alternately give birth to some of Arthur's greatest knights or, in the end, bring about Arthur's downfall. Though we don't have any exact parallels so far to this legend, we can see the writers cherrypicking the detail of a potion/spell which alters a lover's appearance to that of someone else. It's a common enough trope in love potions that normally I'd ignore it as an explicitly pulled detail, except they've shown indications that they're playing around in the Arthurian sandbox for awhile now.

Next most common, and one we've tossed around some in comments, is Merlin and Nimue. (Or Vivien, or whatever name you want to give her out of the multitudes she has in the legends. I think those are the two most common, though.) Morgan's protegee in most stories, Nimue comes to bring about Merlin's downfall and thence rid Arthur of his most trusted advisor. Generally she accomplishes this by playing his protegee, then weaving a spell of enchantment around him and locking him in a cave until he dies/falls into a coma. (Or a tree, or a rock, or a tower, or... well, you know how medieval legends vary.) In none of the legends do they outright state that she cast a love spell on him, merely that he became 'infatuated' with her and agreed to teach her magic because she feared he would entrap her and leave her defenseless. Little did he know, etc. And other versions have her as the Lady of the Lake, not Morgan's protegee. Just to confuse allegiances utterly. (Hey, that sounds familiar too.) Now, the problem with the infinite versions and the question of who Nimue is gives us too many options to pick just one, but there's a lot of clear parallels between what Adalind's done to Renard and what Nimue did to Merlin. Removing his power in a less direct way by removing his ability to function and placing him in a state of mental near-paralysis? Check. Probably learned some of her powers from him as well as from her mother? Check. Was infatuated with him... hey, wait a minute. So, no, not a perfect parallel, but damn close. There's also certain parallels with what happened to Hank, insofar as Hank was an even closer advisor to Nick and Adalind's potion was intended to kill him. And he damn sure was in a coma-like state for awhile, there.

Now we come to one that needs even more explication at the outset due to the number of Elaines in Arthurian legend. The one we want is Elaine of Corbenic, not Elaine of Astolat. (Bonus points: Lancelot's mother was also an Elaine. Sometimes there's an Elaine in with the daughters of Igraine and Gorlois. THEN there are the minor Elaines.) True story: I didn't realize for years that she of Astolat was the more famous, because I grew up on Pyle and Malory, and Pyle emphasizes Elaine of Corbenic so that we understand where the hell Galahad comes from. At any rate, Lancelot and Elaine comes about due to Lancelot and Guinevere falling in love. (This, too, has overtones of 'someone made them do it' in certain versions, though at least there's some long term association between the two of them before they ever act on their feelings. Hormones. Both.) He's tricked into believing that Guinevere has sent for him and yay sex! Only he's given 'wine' and a ring of Guinevere's and sleeps with Elaine instead. (Yeah, what else was in that wine.) Depending on your version, he's pissed off the next morning (sometimes enough to kill her) but she Knows She's Pregnant. How, after less than 24 hours? MAGIC. Also there may or may not be some stuff about fated parents of a Very Important Person again, echoing the Uther-Igraine cycle, because why come up with new shit when there's all this old shit conveniently waiting for you to yank it into the next generation! Frequently, she ends up raising Galahad with Lancelot after his period of insanity, and is sometimes known by the epithet of Grail Maiden (or Grail Bearer) for restoring Lancelot's sanity by showing him the Grail. She is not a simple, black-and-white good-or-evil character in the stories, being that she first coerces a man into an unwanted relationship and then proceeds to take care of him after his rejection by his Twu Wuv. She also chews Guinevere the hell out for driving Lancelot insane in the first place. While by courtly love standards Lancelot was fucking up with Guinevere, by modern standards I have to cheer that. And we can read the text any way we please, from Elaine honestly championing Lancelot to Elaine trying to get him into a dependent relationship with her. You remember how I muttered about Lancelot and Elaine and wondering if Renard had been born out of an unwanted union? Well, that does seem possible, at this point, given that nobody in the family (except maybe papa Renard) knew that Renard's mother was a Hexenbiest for a number of years. Of course, this assumes Eric was telling the truth, which is always a nebulous assumption. Adalind may yet develop some moral ambiguity, too, though I don't foresee that happening anytime soon. She's too ingrained in the learned behaviors from her mother and Renard to want anything other than the negative interpretation, the one where Renard is dependent on her for all things. We can also, of course, interpret this in light of what was done to Hank, with Renard playing the part of Adalind's nursemaid. (I know, right?) One of the joys of the way Grimm plays with the roles is that many of them end up genderswapped, but unfortunately it's often the minor ones.

I want to touch very briefly on a final story: that of Tristan and Iseult. It's this that I feel the writers are drawing most heavily from for the Renard-Juliette arc, and it's this that worries me deeply about the direction the show is going. Unlike the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triangle, or the Uther-Igraine-Gorlois one, or even Elaine-Lancelot-Guinevere, we have an honest-to-god love potion with horrible, horrible repercussions for all involved. There is swooning of grief and dying of grief and poisons and potions and trickery and scheming and, well. Next week I'll get into it in a great deal more detail! For now, just note that as with other star-crossed lovers, both of them end up dead.

And really, that's what it boils down to. Death, madness, possible drastic success of your children who themselves end in death or madness or both. Love potions always, ALWAYS end badly, and if we're keeping all the characters around for a presumed third season, I cannot for the life of me think how they're going to write their way out of this so that it doesn't feel like a cop-out. We should be seeing some long term repercussions for Hank, who was raped both mentally and physically even if he doesn't quite want to call it that (the closest we've gotten on screen is 'being roofied'), and I don't count going through the Delirium of coming to realize Wesen exist as a repercussion. (There should be repercussions from that, too, but that's neither here nor there.) Elaine often ends up committing suicide after Lancelot dies. Lancelot is usually the last to die, after Arthur at Camlann and Guinevere in the years following, with both of them dying of old age and/or regret and/or grief and/or a broken heart. Nimue kills Merlin and is often never heard from again due (or so it's implied) to her fae nature. Gorlois is killed, sometimes as part of a deliberate David-and-Bathsheba callback and sometimes accidentally. Uther dies in battle without ever seeing his kingdom united. Igraine either fades out of the stories entirely or dies shortly after him. And both Tristan and Iseult die. Granted, none of these characters die until after many, many adventures and mishaps along the way, but somehow I just don't have a great deal of faith that Renard and Juliette are both making it out of this alive. Certainly they won't make it out unscathed.

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