14 FEBRUARY 2020
THE BLUE ROSE
ST. VALENTINE’S DAY SPECIAL
King Marinus was a good man, but he was born into a corrupt and bloodthirsty family. In the rule of the kingdom his parents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles connived and conspired against each other, dividing the kingdom into factions and setting families, towns and territories against each other.
When his father the King died, Marinus tried to be a peacemaker: but in the end he had to harden his heart, and make his peace by force of arms. When the turmoil was over, all his kin had been slain by his hand...
The Blue Rose is not a traditional tale, but an original fairytale from the imagination of writer Sara Pearl. Sara invented the story as part of the mythology for her story Ink, which explores a post-apocalyptical society on a future Earth ravaged by drought, famine and ecological disaster. Instantly falling in love with the power and simplicity of the tale, I asked her if we could adapt it for Lore & Legend. Here is the story as it first appeared in Ink:
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"This one is famous. A long time ago,’"she began to recite, "there was a king who loved his queen. She died young from an illness, and he was heartbroken.
"He cried out to heaven to return her to him.
"When God didn’t grant his request, he turned to the desert instead, and summoned an evil genie to the palace.
"The genie made a flower called ‘leilani’ grow out of the mouth of the king’s wife. He told the king that the flower held the seed of her soul and instructed him to give the it to his next wife, so his first wife could be reborn in her body.
"He warned the king never to touch the flower, and never to touch his returned wife.
"The king was very grateful and showered the genie with riches.
"Here, there are two versions.
"In the first, the king searches his kingdom for a second wife, but can’t find anyone who matches up to wife number one. The flower is dying and he is running out of time. In despair, he kisses the flower that houses her soul. At that moment, he sees her in front of him, then falls into a deep sleep.
"The palace is in chaos, because his advisors think he is dying.
"Then, he wakes up, in perfect health, and says: ‘Where is my husband?'’’
Inez paused for dramatic effect.
"Because the soul of the queen possessed him," she explained, "and she ruled the kingdom from then onward, grieving for her lost husband."
"Didn’t the advisors protest?’" He was observing the main gate.
"I guess they were not too worried, so long as they had influence. In some versions, she can’t bear to see her husband’s face in the mirror every day, and takes her own life.”
She held up a finger.
"In the second version, the king gives the flower to the most beautiful of his concubines. The queen is reborn in her and he kisses her. Then, the same thing happens."
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This is a beautiful example of a concise folk-like narrative, presented in the context of a telling, complete with different versions and endings. It makes for a wonderful fairy-tale or ‘faux-tale’, as some have call stories that consciously invent and model folk narratives.
For Lore & Legend, I suggested that the flower called ‘Leilani’ - an important element in Ink’s sci-if and fantasy setting - should become a blue rose. Recently, while discussing the roses in a friend’s garden, I enquired whether there were such a things as a blue rose. She told me that a blue rose had always been something of a holy grail for rose breeders; that some had achieved colours that were almost, but not truly, a shade of blue. The idea of the elusive blue rose seemed a romantic one, and the perfect fit for the magical flower that becomes a vessel for a human soul.
Roses themselves have a rich history and folklore, with many rose fanciers obsessively hunting down, documented, transplanted, cultivated and bred different species of roses across the world. Roses were a celebrated part of religious and festival culture in the ancient world, used in the production of rose oil, rose water, food and drink, and even medicines. The rose garden was at different times a staple of regional agriculture and horticulture. Its status as a celebrated flower meant that it gathered strong symbolic, religious and spiritual associations.
Their association with love goes back to ancient Greece, where Chloris, the goddess of flowers, created the rose with the help of the other gods, including Aphrodite who named it the Queen of Flowers. She called it ‘Rose’ in honour of her son Eros, the God of Love. Another story claimed that white roses sprang up when Aphrodite herself was born from the foam of the sea. Later, her own blood dyed some of the roses red: she pricked herself on a thorn, while running to warn her human lover Adonis that the god Ares had sent a wild boar to kill him. Yet another story tells how a woman named Rodanthe fled to the temple of the virgin goddess Artemis, to escape pursuers intent on raping her. They followed her inside and raped her anyway. Offended by the defiling of her temple, Artemis changed Rodanthe into a rose, and her pursuers into thorns, so that they were forced to become her protectors.
We might see a parallel to elements of The Blue Rose in the much softer Roman myth of Zephyrus and Flora. The God Zephyrus loved Flora so much that he changed himself into a rose because the Goddess had no interest other than flowers. When Flora saw the rose, she kissed it and thus fulfilled Zephyrus’ wish.
In Christianity the rose became a symbol of the crucifixion and matyrdom, and of the Virgin Mary and the devotional practices of the rosary. In secular Europe, the allegorical poem The Romance of the Rose made the flower a metaphor for sexual love and conquest, and spawned controversy and early forms of proto-feminist critique amongst male and female scholars of the period.
In Islam, the rose was said to have sprung from the drops of sweat which fell from the body of the Prophet during his visionary night journey; different species were later said to be born from drops that fell from the different parts of his body. The rose became an important symbol in Sufi mysticism, representing the lover and the beloved in the pursuit of divine love.
LOVE, LUNACY AND UNION
The verses quoted in The Blue Rose were suggested by Sara, and come primarily from the love poetry of the sixteenth century churchman and writer John Donne, who mixed erotic and romantic themes with metaphysical musings about the soul and the souls of lovers.
The first verses, however, are taken from the traditional folk ballad, The Nut-Brown Maid:
O Lord, what is this worldis bliss,
That changeth as the moon!
The symbolism of the moon is also present through-out The Blue Rose. The moon is often evoked as a symbol of love in mythology and literature. Sometimes it is portrayed as lover and companion to the sun. Their changing places in the sky can represent love as a conflict, a pursuit or a chase, in which the object of one’s love may be unattainable or forever out of one’s reach; the sun and the moon can never be together in the sky. Similar ideas are present in tales about mortals who reach beyond their sphere when they fall in love with moon, as in the Greek tale of Selene and Endymion. Here the impossibility lies in the love of the mortal for the immortal divine.
As the verse from The Nut-Brown Maid suggests, the fickle nature of the moon - moving through the sky in phases, appearing and disappearing, sometimes leaving us in darkness - can symbolise the fickleness, instability or uncertainty inherent in love, life and human happiness.
O more than moon,
Draw not up seas to drown me in thy sphere,
Weep me not dead, in thine arms, but forbear
To teach the sea, what it may do too soon;
Let not the wind
To do me more harm, than it purposeth;
Since thou and I sigh one another’s breath,
Whoe’er sighs most, is cruelest, and hastes the other’s death.
—John Donne, A Valediction: of Weeping
Donne’s poetry invokes the moon, but takes as another theme the idea of two lovers as one soul or one being. Their life is depicted as co-dependent, as desiring to share the same breath and the same ultimate fate. Such love can seem companionable and blissful, but also circular and destructive. In his signature style, Donne depicts lovers as a series of seemingly unrelated and yet related pairs of objects that destroy each other: as two flies, then as candle wicks which burn them up, then as both eagle and dove, where the one preys upon the other:
Call her one, me another fly,
We are tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And we in us find the eagle and the dove…
—John Donne, The Canonization
While such language evokes the idea of lovers as a joint spiritual being, The Blue Rose asks what role the body plays in this dyad:
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest…
—John Donne, The Good-Morrow
This verse, touching on the relationship between love, physicality and empathic experience, points toward the philosophical dilemma that seems to dominate Marinus’ thinking as he contemplates bringing Rosalia back: will she be the same person, if she has a different face?
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Story imagined and created by Sara Pearl. Interpreted and performed by Rick Scott.
Sound editing, audio design and original illustrations by Rick Scott.
Lore & Legend Series Themes composed and performed by Robert Bentall.
Podcast hosting by Anchor. Video and audiogram creation using Headliner.
Music featured with permission from Caleb Jay Henessy. You can purchase Caleb’s music from his store on Bandcamp and hear his music on Spotify.
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Additional incidental music, background ambience and sound effects by multiple authors sourced from Freesound.org.
See below for the full list of audio files and attribution credits:
S: phlegmy remix of 160743__qubodup__tribal-battle-chants-shouts-1.flac by Timbre | License: Attribution Noncommercial