Created By: sunlitgarden on June 22, 2013 Last Edited By: XFllo on February 13, 2014
Troped

Swan Boats

Boats shaped like or pulled by swans, as a symbol of romance, leisure, art

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Trope

Swans, especially the European mute swan (Cygnus olor) have appeared in literature and mythology for centuries. These birds are usually depicted as beautiful and graceful. They are also frequently used as a symbol of love (due to their tendency to mate for life in most cases) and, since usually white, innocence and purity. Black swans, native to Australia, are also popular, though more often associated with evil (though usually elegant evil) due to the prevalence of Good Colors, Evil Colors.

An easy way to associate these characteristics with a character or civilization is to create their canoes, paddleboats, or even larger vessels in the shape of swans. Smaller craft can be drawn by swans, or if the birds are large enough, they can even be the boat. These boats are usually associated with leisure, such as gliding around a pond, rather than utilitarian transport. As a further evolution of this idea, swan-shaped carriages can now be seen on roller coasters, carousels and other amusement park rides.

May overlap with Horse of a Different Color in the case of riding swans.

The roots of this trope are Older Than Feudalism, as many gods and goddesses from classical mythology are depicted as associated with or riding swans.

The trope can be subverted if the society or culture involved is actually a Town with a Dark Secret, or part of a Crapsaccharine World.

Occasionally parodied by having the boat be a large yellow rubber duck instead of a swan.

Examples:

Folklore and Legend

Literature
  • In the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale Ole-Luk-Oie, Hjalmar dreams that he rides in a boat pulled by swans.
  • Middle Earth:
    • In The Silmarillion, when the Teleri (Sea Elves) of the Lonely Isle Eressëa wanted to emigrate to Valinor, they travelled in ships pulled by large swans. They named their new city Alqualondë (Swanhaven) and built their later ships in the shape of swans, with feathers made of pearls.
    • The Elves of Lóthlorien in The Lord of the Rings have swan-shaped boats.
  • In The Trumpet of the Swan Louis the trumpet-playing swan at one point gets a job on the Real Life Swan Boats in Boston. [1]
  • Subverted in The Amber Spyglass. At one point while on an alternate Earth, Mary sees some very large, white, swan-shaped boats coming down the river with sails like wings spread out. Except they turn out to be giant bird-like creatures instead, and nobody is aboard.

Music
  • Marc Bolan started out in a folky, hippie, band called Tyrannosaurus Rex, setting their songs in a hauntingly strange Elf-flavoured Otherland. Indeed, his best mate started out as Stephen Took, but soon renamed himself Peregrine Took in homage to a certain Hobbit. It was that sort of musical influence. Having critical success but little in the way of record sales, bolan relaunched the band as T.Rex and went electric. The "bridging number" between the two incarnations of the band, and the one that madfe their name as a glam-rock group, was called Ride A White Swan and evoked this trope. Indeed, given a TV pop music programme of his very own to host, Bolan shamelessly relaunched this song by appearing on stage and singing it from... a white boat shaped like a swan.
  • In the "Gangam Style" Music Video Psy dances his little dance on a boat in the harbor. His boat isn't shaped like a swan but many others around him are.

Mythology
  • In Classical Mythology and ancient visual art, both the god Apollo and the goddess Aphrodite are sometimes depicted in chariots pulled by swans, or riding large swans. The Erotes (Aphrodite's son Cupid and siblings) also rode swans. Apollo gave a giant swan or swan-chariot to his lover Hyacinthus.

Tabletop Games
  • Dungeons & Dragons.
    • In early editions, one type of Quaal's Feather Token was the Swan Boat. On command it turned into a huge swan-like boat capable of swimming on water and carrying 8 horses and gear or 32 men or any combination thereof. It was almost certainly inspired by The Lord of the Rings example.
    • The Spelljammer setting for features the Swan Ship, a spacegoing ship shaped like a swan and designed by halflings.

Toys

Video Games

Western Animation
  • Adventures of the Gummi Bears had a roller coaster-like transportation system with cars that normally were shaped like birds of prey. However, when they journey to a lost city, the cars there are shaped like swans.
  • Spoofed on Futurama when Fry mentions having finally mastered the swan boats, only to be told that they were real swans. "That would explain these boat eggs."
  • One episode of Rugrats has the Pickles family going to a carnival where Stu and Deedee wind up going on the Tunnel of Love, which has boats like these.

Real Life
  • Boats shaped like or decorated with swans have been used as a tourist attraction all over the world: Walt Disney World[2] (ride now closed); Boston[3]; Lake Bled, Slovenia[4]; New Vrindavan[5], West Virginia; Tokyo[6]; Asbury Park[7] and Sea Bright[8], New Jersey; Lake Beira[9], Sri Lanka; Muenster[10], Germany; Willow Grove[11], Pennsylvania.
  • Swan-shaped boats are really common in tunnel of love boat rides found in amusement parks.
Rolling Updates
Community Feedback Replies: 31
  • June 22, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In the "Gangam Style" Music Video Psy dances his little dance on a boat in the harbor; his boat isn't shaped like a swan but many others around him are. (I guess this would be the tourist attraction version.)
  • June 22, 2013
    spacemarine50
    I've seen these boats, but either as the last one available or as embarrassing as an Alleged Car.
  • June 23, 2013
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • Dungeons And Dragons. In early editions, one type of Quaal's Feather Token was the Swan Boat. On command it turned into a huge swan-like boat capable of swimming on water and carrying 8 horses and gear or 32 men or any combination thereof. It was almost certainly inspired by The Lord Of The Rings example.
  • June 23, 2013
    TonyG
    Spoofed on Futurama when Fry mentions having finally mastered the swan boats, only to be told that they were real swans. "That would explain these boat eggs."
  • June 23, 2013
    Duncan
    In The Trumpet Of The Swan Louis the trumpet-playing swan at one point gets a job on the Real Life Swan Boats in Boston. [1]
  • June 23, 2013
    Prfnoff
    The roots of this trope lie in the medieval legend of the Knight of the Swan, which Richard Wagner's Lohengrin is based on.
  • June 23, 2013
    littlemissmuffet
  • June 23, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    This should be expanded to include boats shaped like swans, boats decorated with large swans (like the Boston one), people riding swans (tiny people or giant swans), and vehicles pulled by live swans (the mythology and Knight of the Swan examples are actually this fourth kind).

    That will get you more examples. I could think of some more that would fit the expanded form. (from Greek Mythology, The Silmarillion, and His Dark Materials).
  • June 23, 2013
    GuyIncog
    If we're expanding this beyond boats:
    • Adventures Of The Gummi Bears had a roller coaster-like transportation system with cars that normally were shaped like birds of prey. However, when they journey to a lost city, the cars there are shaped like swans.
  • June 23, 2013
    MissKitten
    Once launched, this goes under the Symbolism index.
  • June 23, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    I'm not sure that the mentions of elves belongs in the description. So far Lord of the Rings is the only example that involves elves.
  • June 23, 2013
    littlemissmuffet
  • June 23, 2013
    KTera
  • June 23, 2013
    sunlitgarden
    ^^^ The World Of Warcraft example also includes elves (night elves). I can definitely take that part out though.

    I'll add in these examples soon - I had originally thought about making it all types of swan-based transportation, but didn't want to overlap too much with Horse Of A Different Color. It might be specific enough to get its own page though.
  • June 24, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    Oh yeah, I didn't see the Warcraft one. Still, that's just 2.

    I think this is distinct enough from Horse Of A Different Color because usually it's vehicles shaped like or pulled by swans. Riding swans is probably the minority of examples, and can be excluded if it turns out to be the majority.
  • June 24, 2013
    AgProv
    Music: Marc Bolan started out in a folky, hippie, band called Tyrannosaurus Rex, setting their songs in a hauntingly strange Elf-flavoured Otherland. Indeed, his best mate in the band started out as Stephen Took, but soon renamed himself Peregrine Took in homage to a certain Hobbit. It was that sort of musical influence. Having critical success but little in the way of record sales, Bolan relaunched the band as T.Rex and went electric. The "bridging number" between the two incarnations of the band, and the one that made their name as a glam-rock group, was called Ride A White Swan and evoked this trope. Indeed, given a TV pop music programme of his very own to host, Bolan shamelessly relaunched this song by appearing on stage and singing it from... a white boat shaped like a swan. It's probably on You-Tube somewhere.
  • June 24, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    I like the new description. I think the link to the Boston swan boats can be potholed under Boston in the Real Life section.

    Re-worded and re-sorted the Knight of the Swan example.

    So, examples!

    • Middle Earth
      • In The Silmarillion, when the Teleri (Sea Elves) of the Lonely Isle Eressea wanted to emigrate to Aman, they travelled in ships pulled by large swans. They named their new city Alqualonde (Swanhaven) and built their later ships in the shape of swans, with feathers made of pearls.

    • In Classical Mythology and ancient visual art, both the god Apollo and the goddess Aphrodite are sometimes depicted in chariots pulled by swans, or riding large swans. The Erotes (Aphrodite's son Cupid and siblings) also rode swans. Apollo gave a giant swan or swan-chariot to his lover Hyacinthus.

    • Subverted in The Amber Spyglass. At one point while on an alternate Earth, Mary sees some very large, swan-shaped boats coming down the river with sails like wings spread out. Except they turn out to be giant bird-like creatures instead, and nobody is aboard.

    Stupid crappy software that doesn't allow special letters! ëëë!!

    By the way, could this just be called Swan Boat? It's more concise.
  • June 24, 2013
    sunlitgarden
    Fear not, my partner is a Tolkien nerd (we got to see original manuscripts on display yesterday!) and I asked her what it was supposed to be. :)

    I changed the title and am working on adding these examples. I don't know if the image is the best one. I haven't been able to track down the photographer, as the source was just "Tumblr" and it's often impossible to trace once there, and there are many similar images floating around online.

    Also, while reading about Lake Bled I now have yet another place for the travel bucket list. O_o
  • June 24, 2013
    ArcadesSabboth
    I would have liked to be able to go to that museum event.

    Here are more examples with pictures for the Real Life example: New Vrindavan, West Virginia;

    Attempting to remember some of it: I found more locations to add to the Real Life example: New Vrindavan
    [1], West Virginia; Tokyo[2]; Asbury Park[3] and Sea Bright[4], New Jersey; Lake Beira[5], Sri Lanka; Muenster[6], Germany; Willow Grove[7], Pennsylvania.

    I've also seen indications that a Tunnel of Love with swan boats appeared in Silent Hill. Does anybody know specifics?

    I recommend having the Laconic start with "Boats shaped like or pulled by swans, as symbols ..."
  • June 25, 2013
    SharleeD
    • The Man In The Moone; or, a Discourse on a Voyage thither, by Bishop Frances Godwin, is a 17th-century Interplanetary Voyage tale, in which a Spanish castaway attaches his beached boat to a flock of swans. Rather than the mainland, they fly him to the moon.
  • June 25, 2013
    CaptainPeregrin
    The description is pretty good so far, but it never outright states what the trope is, outside of the laconic. What exactly are swan boats supposed to indicate?

    • In Princess Tutu, the Prince uses a flying chariot pulled by swans to return to his story with his Princess.
  • June 25, 2013
    AgProv
    Got it! That Marc Bolan Ride A White Swan clip. A still could be the trope picture? taken from the short-lived 1970's ITV pop music show Supersonic - its run was curtailed by Bolan's untimely death.
  • June 25, 2013
    AgProv

    Mythology And Folklore - also classical music. In the Finnish mythology the Kalevella, the lonely lake of Tuonela is guarded by a black swan, representing Death. Sibelius set this myth to music - a sort of Finnish "Swan Lake" with attitude. If a black swan on a black lake represents death and passage to Hades, the white swan - and swan boat - represents passage to a far brighter Otherworld, rebirth into the "land of the Blessed" in the Far West? Again a trope from European folklore used by Tolkein? -

  • June 25, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    You could add that these are really common in tunnel of love boat rides found in amusement parks.
  • November 27, 2013
    XFllo
    YKTTW Bump. I love the picture!
  • January 26, 2014
    XFllo
    Bumping... It's launcheable and wasn't touched for a long time.

    (I might lauch it myself later once I have the time. To do: some examples from the discussion were not copied.)
  • February 7, 2014
    Tallens
    • One episode of Rugrats has the Pickles family going to a carnival where Stu and Deedee wind up going on the Tunnel of Love, which has boats like these, and getting really, really sappy.
  • February 7, 2014
    Dalillama
    • The Spelljammer setting for Dungeons And Dragons features the Swan Ship, a spacegoing ship shaped like a swan and designed by halflings.
  • February 8, 2014
    Catbert
    I agree. This is ready to launch.
  • February 8, 2014
    Lumpenprole
    Occasionally parodied by having the boat be a large yellow rubber duck instead of a swan.
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