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Literature / The Golden Phoenix

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The Golden Phoenix is a French-Canadian fairy tale first collected by ethnographist and folklorist Marius Barbeau in The Golden Phoenix and Other French Canadian Tales.

A king finds his apples of wisdom being stolen nightly by a mysterious thief, which his youngest son, Petit Jean, discovers to be the Golden Phoenix, who lives with the Great Sultan.

Traveling below the mountains to solve his father's problem, he finds great wonders and is challenged to a high-stakes series of tests.


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This tale includes examples of the following tropes:

  • Absurdly High-Stakes Game: The game of hide-and-seek to which the Sultan challenges the young prince. If he wins the first round, he will escape with his life. If he wins a second time, he may marry the Sultan's daughter, and if he wins a third time, the Sultan must give him his choice of dowry.
  • Girls Stare at Scenery, Boys Stare at Girls: A variant; the Sultan tells his daughter to show Jean around the garden in preparation for their game of hide-and-seek. The princess wonders if Jean actually wants to win, because he isn't looking at any of the garden. Jean tells her he would rather look at her.
  • Giving Them the Strip: As the mystery thief tries to steal the apple from him, Petit Jean manages to grab the figure, but cannot hold him. The phoenix flies away, leaving Jean with a few of its feathers.
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  • Impossible Task: The hide-and-seek game that to which the Sultan challenges Jean sounds simple enough, but the princess reveals that it's actually only winnable by luck. Her father can shapeshift so completely that not even she can tell where he's hiding. Jean still wins, twice by luck and once by exploiting Morphic Resonance.
  • Left Stuck After Attack: When he approaches the underground kingdom, Petit Jean encounters a unicorn, who challenges him to combat when he won't go back. Jean steps aside, leaving the unicorn to get stuck in the wall.
  • Losing Your Head: The Sultan's kingdom has three guardians: a unicorn, a lion, and a seven-headed serpent. Petit Jean beheads the latter two when they challenge him to combat. The beheading is inconvenient, but not fatal.
  • Magic Music: The phoenix's song keeps anyone in earshot young.
  • Morphic Resonance: Played with. The first time, Petit Jean recognizes the shapeshifted Sultan because his fish form still has a large black mustache. However, this results from carelessness and does not recur.
  • Rule of Three:
    • The king has three sons, and each of the princes stands guard over the apple tree for one night before the youngest, Petit Jean, finds out what's been happening to the apples.
    • Three fearsome creatures (a unicorn, a lion, and a serpent) guard the underground kingdom.
    • Petit Jean has to win three games of hide-and-seek in order to succeed.
  • Shapeshifting:
  • Sore Loser: When the Sultan loses the hide-and-seek game three times (thus being forced to let Jean go with his daughter and the Golden Phoenix's cage), he becomes very angry. The princess explicitly tells her groom that she thinks her father will kill him in his sleep.


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