Monday, August 10, 2020

Help a SurLaLuner: Finding a Fairy Tale: Husband Forgets Underwater Wife

Hello to the collective memories of SurLaLuners!

I've received this request for help in identifying a fairy tale. While the theme of heros/heroines forgetting their spouses/lovers is a fairly common theme in folklore, this one is not specifically coming to mind. Do the details for this tale bring a particular tale to mind for anyone, especially the underwater kingdom element to it?

It involves a man who travels to an underwater kingdom and marries a princess he meets there. He then wants to return to his home to see his parents, and when he does, he forgets all about his wife and his life in the magical land. Does that ring a bell?

Despite my inability to find the story, I suspect it's a common theme. Any fairy tale at all about spending time in a magical kingdom, then losing all memory of it when the hero returns home would work for the book. Do you know of any stories like this?

I have read many tales where forgotten spouses are a theme. But since they are forgotten, usually the spouse who has been forgotten is the hero of the tale since he/she seeks out the spouse with the forgotten memory--after all, the faulty memory has no reason to go searching since he/she doesn't remember there is something to remember! But I can't think of forgotten kingdoms so much myself.

Just leave your suggestions in the comments if the tale sounds familiar. Or feel free to share tales with similar themes--the requestor is looking for tales with the lost memory theme from what I understand although this is the particular one that stands out in his memory.


  1. Except towards the ending, it sounds like Urashima Taro. Usually he dies or turns into a crane or an old man, but there's bound to be a version where he simply forgets his princess.

    It also resembles the story of Blancaflor, and its variants, especially with the hero venturing into another world forgetting his princess. That said, there is usually a happy ending with the heroine going back to find her husband and cures his memory.

  2. This is a lot like the story of Osian, the son of Irish hero Finn McCool.

  3. The princess is of course a mermaid and this tale appears in fairy tales all over the world. I am most familiar w/ the one from Japan where the princess mermaid is in reality an underwater yokai demon and tries to kill the fisherman's wife and then assume her identity and form. However, a local bruja or witch woman divines what's going on and gives the wife a charm which when touched to the demon girl forces her to assume her true form w/ a tail instead of legs and feet. When this happens, to remain alive the mermaid must return to the sea or die. In other versions, the princess maermaid falls in love w/ an unmarried man and marries him and bears him children. At the end of a year, she must make a hard choice. Remain forever on land losing her immortality or return to the sea and never again be able to walk on land. Mermaids can be playful critters as well. Take the sea king's underwater daughter mermaids encountered by Fafrd and the Grey Mouser from the tales of L Sprague de Camp whose inspirations are drawn from the famous Robert E Howard (Conan, Krull, etc.) who allow the guys to bed them underwater because Father is away from home but then they try to keep them underwater forever bt taking away their souls and their memories. The mermaid tales are ancient legends dating back to the Sirens/Rhine maidens whose lilting songs lure sailors onto rocks and their deaths. Odysseus encountered them in The Odyssey of Homer while on his way home following the Trojan War. Some believe that the reason for lighthouses was in case the lure of the Sirens' voices is too strong for them to handle, the light will snap them back into focus and thus save them and their ship from disaster. Forgot re the tale of Osian the son Irish hero Fionne MacChumaila aka Finn McCool who also dallied w/ an underwater princess mermaid. Maybe I can somehow use an underwater mermaid in my next fanfiction which will be set on a world of water. Hope this helps that SurLaLunian asking the question.

  4. Thank you for these wonderful insights and thank you especially to Heidi Heiner for allowing me to tap into the experience and wisdom of the SurLaLuners.

    I'm working on a book about the ways in which fairy tales dramatize the workings of the unconscious mind, a part of the brain that can give us untold treasures in the form of insight, inspiration, and joy, but also holds great danger. I hadn't thought of the Sirens, but it's a great example of how the temptations of sinking into the unconscious can sometimes lead to destruction.

    Sometimes people enter unconscious states in which they discover wonderful things, but then can't remember them when they return to an ordinary state of consciousness. For example, sometimes we wake up from a dream that we feel was full of important meaning, but we can't remember anything about it. It triggered a vague memory of a fairy tale character who entered a magical kingdom, then lost all memory of it after returning home. I'm going to take a closer look at the story of Osian. By the way, my wife also thought of Urashima Taro, but the versions of it I found didn't seem to be quite right. I'll go back and see if I can find other versions.

  5. The only story that comes to mind that is similar to one you describe is a published picture book called The Sea Kings Daughter: A Russian Legend. Its written by Aaron Shepard and illustrated by Gennady Spirin. Its been many years since I have read it, but I remember it is about a man who weds the sea king’s daughter but wants to return to land. Through the sea queen’s advice, he is able to do so although it grieves his wife. I do not remember if he lost his memory though when he returned. I think he then marries someone else and stays on land, but I am not entirely sure.