Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q is for Queenly Quest

No, I'm not just being cute, nor showing off that I can think of more than one Q word, nor kicking up my consonantal alliterating heels, nor suffering from the inability to choose a subject.  I actually have something in mind here: multiple relationships between queens and quests, two classic mythopoeic elements, and if one puts any stock in Jungian theories, two archetypes in and of themselves.  What are these combinations?
  1. The Quest to find a Queen.
  2. The Quest to become Queen.
  3. The Quest on behalf of the Queen.
  4. The Queen going on a Quest.

Illustration by Edmund Dulac

The Quest to find a Queen
Every king needs a queen, so goes the traditional assumption.  It seems to be generally desirable that a king be of a providential temper, and so that he exercise forethought to have a queen-to-be at the ready before his ascension to the throne.  Thus all the stories in history, legend, and literature about the prince finding a princess against the day that he takes on the crown and all that pertains thereunto.  According to the global media reporting enthusiastically on upcoming nuptials between a certain William Mountbatten-Windsor and his fiancée Kate Middleton, I am lead to believe that such fairy-tale countries as the United Kingdom still observe this nicety.  If Jane Austen had written fairy-tales, we might have had this:  "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single prince in possession of a good kingdom must be in want of a princess."  So Hans Christian Anderson gives us "The Princess and the Pea."  The concern in this story is the test to identify a real princess.  Is she the genuine article?  Does she have the potential to become the queen?  Perhaps princes are poor judges of such an important matter.  Using the principle "it takes one to know one," the queen mother is the one who can discern the young lady who's got the right stuff, and the critical test of the pea underneath a score of mattresses neatly sorts the gentle lady from the look-a-likes.  Whatever form the quest to find her takes, the queen is a figure highly desired, and finding her is something quest-worthy.

Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Ireland in the Robes of State by Franz Xavier Winterhalter, 1859

The Quest to become Queen
Your mind might first go to the all the historical stories of the strong women who set out to rule, but I have more in mind the young lady who sets out on her quest not knowing that it will end with a queenly crown.  Maybe it's the extent I've been influenced by fairy-tale thinking, maybe it is just a personal preference or something about my own worldview.  Often fairy-tale retellings end with the heart-shaped close-up of the happy couple and a Happily Ever After caption.  This seems to me a practical necessity at best, and a damn shame at worst.  Even if this the moment she becomes or is revealed to be a princess, this is just one initiation before the ultimate one.  The heroine has yet to graduate to queen!  I would like to explore the trials that the noble young woman overcomes to achieve her queenship.

Miniature of George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, the Queen's Champion, by Hilliard, c. 1590.
The Quest on behalf of the Queen
I'd be willing to bet that this what comes to most people's minds first.  My memory is dominated by scenes of favors and jousting, of Sir Lancelot du Lac riding to Guinevere's defense in trial by combat, and of Ivanhoe serving the same for Rebecca the Jewess.  But even when queens don't need saving, they are first and foremost a medieval Lady and therefore have a Knight who goes forth at her bidding (see the code of courtly love).  I'm tempted to speculate about how women could improve their life and the life of their husbands based on exalting the Honey Do list, but I think I shall steer back towards safer waters.  One cool thing about the latest Alice in Wonderland film was seeing Alice appear as the White Queen's Champion.

Queen Amidala of Naboo, property of Lucasfilm Ltd.
The Queen going on a Quest
This would seem to be the rarest of all.  I'd love to hear of examples people may have of the queen going questing, but all I can think of is Amidala in Star Wars Episode I.  First, a queen has to change into a more practical questing outfit, obviously.

As Jungian Archetypes
If the Jungian take is correct, the Queen represents the fully individuated, fully realized female self.  She is the embodiment of the ideals and virtues of female wisdom and power, of female maturity and achievement.  In other words, she is the goal of the ultimate, lifelong quest for a woman.  (Individuation or self-actualization is the quest itself.)  That she is worthy of the quest, whether to find her or become her, that she is worthy to command quests in which she takes various parts, is obvious upon accepting this view of her.  Perhaps the strong tradition of female domesticity counteracts having lots of stories of the queen going questing herself, but I expect that this will change, if it hasn't already.  I mean, who's going to stop her?