There’s a familiarity about the title of this article. The tunnel of love is that dark, mysterious, floating ride you take with that special someone. This ride was either romantic or spooky; in the 19th century each of these themes gave couples a permissible, socially accepted excuse to cosy up to each other.
The Italian fairytale Verde Prato written by Giambattista Basile in his 1634 work Il Pentamerone is a tale of a tunnel of love linking two lovers in secret. However, tragedy strikes and a young girl goes on a mission to save her prince.
The young girl in the fairytale, Nella, is the youngest of three sisters. She’s lovely and talented in comparison to her two older sisters. Beloved by all, Nella has a secret affair with a charmed prince. Each night the prince runs naked to Nella through a crystal tunnel that runs underground from his home to her bedroom.
The two older sisters eventually find out about Nella’s affair and conspire to break the crystal tunnel and end their little sister’s love affair with the prince. Without knowing of this, the prince runs to Nella one evening, getting cuts all over his body and hurt in the process.
Unbeknown to Nella and her prince the glass is enchanted, meaning his wounds will never completely heal without the right elixir. His father, promises that the woman that can heal his son will become the prince’s wife and be given half the kingdom.
Hearing of this, Nella wonders how she can heal her love. She overhears two ogres talking about what will heal the prince – fat from their bodies, smeared all over the prince’s wounds.
Nella manages to trick the ogres, kills one, collects the fat and returns to the prince’s palace. She rubs the ogre fat over her beloved’s wounds and he heals. Revealing her identify to the prince, the two are swiftly married and she is free to live her life married to the man she loves. Her two sisters are burned alive as a result of their wicked behaviour and hurting the prince.
The life lessons in this fairytale aren’t all that obvious – Verde Prato may be a good reminder of how the forbidden, unacceptable or misunderstood may result in harm. What does this mean? Let’s explore.
There’s symbolism in the tunnel being underground – it’s secret, away from public view, only the people involved know about it and what happens each evening, and there’s no judgement. Whilst it’s just the two of them, they have a mutual understanding and the risks are manageable. No harm is caused and each night they can be with each other.
However, when the sisters (who are ugly and evil) find out about Nella and the tunnel, they only think about themselves. They’ve no thought about the harm that may come to their sister or the prince if they try running through the tunnel. Their motive is clear – break their sister’s heart.
The prince becomes incapacitated, leading to a desperate plea by his father for a unknown cure. Without the cure, he’ll remain wounded and one would imagine, he’d eventually die from his wounds. His father is in crisis and feeling helpless.
It’s just by chance that Nella finds out what the remedy is and can then go about finding it. Not fearing any ramifications of her affair being revealed, she thinks only of her love for the prince and aiding his recovery.
The life lessons – for RIGHT NOW
I wrote the article above over two weeks ago; I just hadn’t published it because I wasn’t entirely clear on the life lessons we needed to unpack within it. However, over the last week I’ve reflected not on the life lessons but the symbolism and what this can teach us right now.
We are in the grips of a pandemic crisis, something seemingly out of our control….yet it’s not. The breaking of the enchanted crystal tunnel in Verde Prato represents the social distancing and isolation required of the two main characters.
Whilst this isolation and distancing is occurring it means neither Nella or her love are putting themselves in harms way and causing further harm. And it gives time for Nella to find and source the treatment that will help her love recover.
The important message for us to learn is that breaking our routine habits, our social activities and need to be together, is short lived. But, if we don’t distance and continue with our current habits, we’ll never reach our happily ever after.
Image for this article: Photo #22 by Jamie Durrant.