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
by having the boat be a large yellow rubber duck instead of a swan.
Folklore and Legend
- 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. 
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Boats shaped like or decorated with swans have been used as a tourist attraction all over the world: Walt Disney World (ride now closed); Boston; Lake Bled, Slovenia; New Vrindavan, West Virginia; Tokyo; Asbury Park and Sea Bright, New Jersey; Lake Beira, Sri Lanka; Muenster, Germany; Willow Grove◊, Pennsylvania.
- Swan-shaped boats are really common in tunnel of love boat rides found in amusement parks.