Follow TV Tropes


Engagement Challenge

Go To

The Fairy Godmother: Ah, but this is no ordinary Science Fair! The winner will marry the prince!
Cinderella: Are they insane? Marriage amongst royalty involves any number of political and trade factors that directly impact their countries' place within the geopolitical framework!
The Fairy Godmother: It gets worse. Both princes are inordinately fond of miniature volcanoes.

"You want to marry my daughter? Prove yourself worthy; go and kill yon dragon," the King proclaims, and the heroes gather to win the fair damsel's hand — a Fairy Tale scenario still used today.

Historically, used straight, as a way to get the story going.

The reason for the challenge varies.

  • The king wants to find someone worthy of his daughter (and in many cases, a fitting son-in-law and future heir to the throne). This can be gender flipped, but the heroine will have her domestic skills tested; remove an impossible stain from a shirt, for example. Can overlap with Secret Test of Character, where the king is more interested in seeing how the candidate deals with the dragon.
  • It is an emergency. The prince or princess needs to be rescued, and whoever saves them will get the Standard Hero Reward. The nature of the rescue tends to differ according to whether it is a hero or a heroine challenged, as the princess is more often Chained to a Rock, while the prince is deathly ill and in need of magical healing.
  • It is a Hidden Purpose Test. The king uses it to lure brave heroes or charming maidens to the kingdom. The challenge may be targeted at a particular suitor that the king wants to be rid of, or as a way of dealing with the kingdom's undesirables (say, a surplus of unmarried young men who are going to cause trouble unless they're distracted).
  • It is a form of Parental Marriage Veto. The king does not want his son or daughter to marry, and the challenge is either impossible or deadly. Alternatively, the prince or princess does not particularly want to get married but has agreed to the arrangement as a compromise.

Sometimes the princess (or prince) lays down the challenge themselves. This tends to get treated with less sympathy.

A common twist is that the hero will fulfill the challenge but be denied the reward... at least, until they do a few other tasks too. This is particularly common when the winner is a peasant, but it can also happen when the Impossible Task truly was impossible and meant to eliminate anyone who would even try. Any monarch pulling this usually winds up dead by the end of the story, either through the hero's direct action or a little Laser-Guided Karma.

Another twist is where the hero is shoved aside — or even killed — by a pretender who claims to have done the deed. They will usually be foiled because the hero is able to prove his or her claim; when the imposter presents the severed heads of the monster, for example, the true hero can show up with their tongues. The princess is usually bullied into silence by the imposter, but will tell the truth when the hero is there to protect her.

These days there are usually complications. Sometimes, the Evil Chancellor set up the challenge, tricking the king into getting some naïve hero to collect his MacGuffins or kill his enemies. Sometimes the hero befriends the dragon instead of killing him and still gets the girl — amazing how easy nuptial negotiations are when you have Fawr the Firebreather at your side. Sometimes the hero completes the challenge without realizing there is a reward; a case of Accidental Marriage which can lead to serious (or hilarious) complications. The hero might already be engaged or married to someone else. The hero might be a heroine. The princess might be in position to say that dragon-slaying doesn't qualify anyone to marry her, tradition be damned. And sometimes multiple heroes win and the candidate simply marries them all!

With the cleverer heroes and No Man of Woman Born level conditions, Prophecy Twist-style wrangling may occur.

The Fractured Fairy Tale often plays with this. The Scheherezade Gambit enters into some variants where it is a test of wits rather than a test of courage.

Sister trope to Compete for the Maiden's Hand, where the challenge is imposed by one or more of the suitors against his rivals instead of by either the maiden or her guardian(s).


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Subverted in Bakuman。. After Akito Takagi, while meeting with his girlfriend Kaya Miyoshi's parents, mentions the name of his partner Moritaka Mashiro, Kaya's father challenges him to a sparring match to test his determination, but it turns out that it was a ruse to get the two of them away from his wife and daughter to talk about the relationship between Mashiro's uncle and Miho Azuki's mother.
  • In Beelzebub, Aoi's grandfather refuses to let her date anyone he doesn't consider worthy—generally, by fighting them and evaluating their skills. Oga is the only one he has ever acknowledged. Later, during the school trip, Oga wins a fight with the right to date Aoi as the prize. Oga seems completely unaware of the consequences of either of these events, and Aoi is too embarrassed to explain it.
  • In The Circumstances Leading to Waltraute's Marriage, the Valkyrie Waltraute says she will only marry Jack if he can climb Yggdrasil all the way up to Asgard. She wasn't expecting him to actually try it, but he does. In a subversion, he ends up falling off halfway, but she catches him and declares him the winner because his determination moved her. They marry.
  • An unusual version occurs in volumes 4-5 of Dance in the Vampire Bund. The only three vampires of sufficient rank to be a socially acceptable match for Mina decide that they're tired of waiting for her to decide which of them she's going to marry (Despite being prepubescent and thus being ineligible for marriage to anyone at this time) and so they come up with and execute an Engagement Challenge without her knowledge or consent. Made worse by the fact that the challenge in question is to see which of them (Or rather, whose champion) is able to murder her closest friend. Fortunately, Akira kills two of them and subdues the third, winning Mina the right to order them back to their estates until she's ready to decide who she wishes to marry (Which, if she gets her way, won't be any of the Grand Dukes — she's despised them for centuries).
  • Similarly to the Real Life example, Chi-Chi does this to Goku in Dragon Ball after the two had grown up — granted, the contest was instead "Beat me and I'll tell you my name", but the engagement followed right on the heels of it.
    • Mr. Satan also freaks out when he realizes that Videl is in love with someone, saying that any boy who wants to date her would have to be capable of defeating him in combat (he's a long-running Martial Arts World Champion). Hilariously enough, Videl's boyfriend happens to be Gohan, who is one of the only teenage guys on the planet who could easily defeat Mr. Satan.
  • In Fly Me to the Moon it turns out this is the real reason Tsukasa married Nasa. After he said yes to her proposal, she revealed that it was only a test, because she's really 1400 years old note  and her goal is getting to the moon to get Princess Kaguya to reverse her immortality. Nasa actually accepted her challenge but, due to his injuries, completely forgot everything she said about her past.
  • High School D×D:
    • Issei crashes Rias and Raiser's marriage to take Rias back. Sirzechs then appears and tells him that if he wants his sister, he'll have to defeat Raiser. Naturally, Issei complies. And he brought some stuff with him too. The twist is that Rias wants nothing to do with the marriage and her family are sympathetic but have their hands tied. Sirzechs backhandedly invited Issei to crash the party, and issued the challenge to give Rias a way out.
    • Rias' friend, Sona, has a standing challenge that she'll be willing to marry anyone that defeats her in a chess game. Since she happens to be a very good chess player, she's managed to fend off all would-be suitors so far.
  • In Honey Honey, the princess herself sets up the quest. She has rich suitors from around the world after her fabulous fortune, and frustrated at her options, she sticks her enormous diamond ring into a cooked fish and throws it outside. The main character's cat eats the fish, swallowing the ring, and runs off. The princess says whoever can retrieve the ring will marry her, setting off the events of the series, which is a wacky chase across Europe for a poor young waitress and her cat.
  • In Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, Elder tells Kenichi that he would only allow him to propose to Miu (Elder's granddaughter) if Kenichi beats him in a fight. Elder is known as "the man without enemies". It's even better in Japanese: "man without enemies" is the literal definition of the word "invincible". Though since in the epilogue he's married and had a daughter who looks like Miu, he's either beaten the elder or the older man has allowed the marriage anyway.
  • In Kimagure Orange Road, a flashback reveals that Kyosuke's grandfather set up something like this for his father. The challenge was to bring snow down from the top of a mountain. As a normal human, Kyosuke's father was unable to complete the challenge... without help from the Esper he was seeking to marry.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury: Miorine is at the center of one. Her father, who founded the academy, set the rule that the top pilot would marry his daughter. Since he is the head of the largest corporation and Miorine is his heir, this also means vast amounts of wealth and power. Miorine hates everything about this, not least because the top pilot is the insufferable lout Guel. Suletta only finds all this out after she beats Guel in a duel (she just wanted him to apologize to Miorine), meaning she is now Miorine's fiance. Despite minimal actual romance between the two (at least, at first), Miorine clearly prefers Suletta to any of the other challengers.
  • Played with in the final bonus chapter of Ojojojo where Haru has to beat her father in a game of golf to be able to have his blessing to marry Tsurezure. Her father secretly admits to Gramps that he's planning on giving permission even after he beats them since he knows that they would just elope otherwise.
  • A variant in Shakugan no Shana. Crimson Lord Merihim was in love with Mathilde Saint-Omer, the Flame-Haired, Blazing-Eyed Hunter, who had no interest in him — she was in love with Alastor, and they were on opposite sides in the Great War. Mathilde agreed to a duel where the loser would have to do whatever the winner wanted, knowing that Merihim would ask for her love if he won. He lost, and instead was recruited to protect and train the next-generation Flame-Haired, Blazing-Eyed Hunter after Mathilde's death.
  • In the Speed Racer episode "The Race Around the World" the wealthy Karat Goldminter holds the race around the world with the intention of marrying his daughter, Lovelace, to the winner. Lovelace enters the race herself, hoping to win and not be forced to marry.
  • In Tokyo Mew Mew, Ichigo's father challenges Aoyama to a kendo duel in order to let him continue seeing her. After Ichigo learns that he had been subjected to a similar challenge to continue seeing her mother, she, like her mother before her, runs in and offers to continue the duel on Aoyama's behalf, convincing her father to accept him.
  • Invoked and played for laughs in Urusei Yatsura, where Tsubame Ozono is frequently challenged by his fiancee Sakura's disapproving uncle, Sakuranbo ("Cherry"), to prove his worth. At least once this results in the two actually holding a summoning-based Wizard Duel. The source of Tsubame's struggles is that Sakuranbo disapproves of him for going to America and Europe to study Western Black Magic instead of traditional Japanese magic like Sakuranbo and Sakura.
  • The World is Still Beautiful does this twice in regards to Nike and Livius, interestingly enough since it's actually an Arranged Marriage that was initially approved by at least Nike's dad who is the leader of the Rain Dukedom:
    • To prove herself to the priest of Livi's kingdom, she must retrieve a ring from a deep crypt to prove herself. It was a trap as there was no ring and the priest had men there ready to detain and kill Nike. Livi saved her and they got around the lack of formal ring with Everythings Better With Rainbows.
    • What gets foisted on Livius by Nike's grandmother after the plan to hypnotize him into forgetting Nike fails. Overlaps with Impossible Task, given the ridiculous conditions he has to face — finding the key to the tower where Nike is held from a muddy swamp, in the middle of a massive thunderstorm summoned by said grandmother. This means that, if he takes too long looking for the key, there's a chance he might drown due to the rising waters. When he is finally pulled out, he had found the key and put it in his vest so he did not drop it.
  • It's common in Yu-Gi-Oh! and its Sequel Series for villains to challenge someone to a duel with marriage, a date, or anything in-between (or more explicit) as the stakes:
    • Jean Claude finds Mai (who at first doesn't even remember him) in Battle City and reminds her that they met on a cruise years ago, and when he proposed to her, she told him to ask her when he could beat her in Duel Monsters. She was absolutely joking, though, and is shocked that he took her seriously and is trying to hold her to it. She agrees to duels him anyway and marry him he she loses. She wins, which just makes him move on to attempted kidnapping.
    • During the Kaiba Corp Grand Prix, psychotic fangirl Vivian Wong injures Yugi's grandfather and refuses to help him unless Yugi duels her and if he loses: in the dub, he has to go on a date with her; in the original, he has to become her "love slave." The audience is only shown the last two turns, where Yugi wins, of course.
    • Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Both Camyula and Tanya have the hots for two of the boys chosen to guard the keys, but only Tanya makes her duel into one of these. She wins, but considering she's an adult and Bastion's a teenager, the whole plot and its results make some fans uncomfortable.
    • Later in GX, after Chazz develops a crush on Alexis, he makes the mistake of turning to her love-crazed brother for help and takes his advice to challenge her to a duel where she has to: in the original, go on a date with him; and in the dub, become his girlfriend. To make sure she can't refuse, Atticus has him steal the 7 keys they've been trying to protect all season and put those on the line as well. Thoroughly annoyed by the whole Zany Scheme, Alexis wins.
    • Yu Gi Oh 5Ds: During their duel, Jack's Brainwashed and Crazy love interest Carly shows him a vision of what will happen if she defeats him — instead of him losing his soul like all other losers of Shadow Games in this arc, she'll get to keep him by her side as the Ruling Couple over a conquered world. Jack accepts the terms but fights off the illusion and refuses to surrender. Ultimately, the real Carly is able to take control long enough to make a move that causes her to lose because she knew Jack was planning a Together in Death ending.

  • The ballad "Scarborough Fair" is about a scorned man offering his former lover a series of impossible challenges to complete before he'll take her back (like weaving a seamless shirt in a sycamore wood lane, gathering it in a basket made of flowers, and washing it in a dry well).
    • An older version of the song has the initial impossible request come from the guy, and everything else is the girl's response — demanding him plough land between "salt water and sea strand", reap the crop with a leather sickle, etc. So, it's either a "Hell no, take that" response, or a Beatrice and Benedick situation...
    • The oldest version (Child Ballad #2) has an elf or a Dirty Old Man demanding the woman become his lover unless she can make the shirt, and she escapes the implied rape by demanding impossible tasks of him in return.
  • In Child Ballad #47 "Proud Lady Margaret", the title character sets riddles and executes those who do not answer. A knight comes and answers them; then he explains he is her brother, come to humble her pride. She says she will go with him anyway, and he reveals that he is already dead.

    Comic Books 
  • Erstwhile poses one to a young girl in "The Farmer's Clever Daughter".
    King: Since you think yourself so clever, I want to give you a riddle to solve. If you solve it, not only will I return your father to his land...but I will also marry you.
  • Although he's only dating Ramona, this is still the situation Scott Pilgrim finds himself in, courtesy of her last boyfriend, Gideon Graves. The challenge? Defeat every person Ramona's ever dated in a duel, made extra difficult by most of them having superpowers.
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: Kenyah imposes a challenge for Nubia that is encouraged by her guardian expecting to fight other men for ownership of her more than anything resembling marriage, instead she furiously answers him with:
    "I claim the right to name my champion, Kenyah! One who will meet you on equal ground to battle for possession of me! I name myself!"

    Fairy Tales 
  • Jewish folktale. Everyone had to do some task and if they succeeded they could marry the princess and if they failed, they would be beheaded. So, when the hero succeeds after his brothers have failed, the first thing he does is behead the princess and send her head in the mail back to her father.
  • The man who discovered what happened to the Grimms' "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" was entitled to marry one of them.
  • "Jesper Who Herded the Hares" brings the pearls the king demanded. The king doesn't approve of Jesper and starts piling up the tasks.
  • "Kate Crackernuts" demands to marry the ill prince before she stays by his bed for a third night.
  • "Molly Whuppie" having two older sisters, and the king three sons, she carries out three challenges, marrying off each pair.
  • The "The Princess on the Glass Hill" could be won only by a man who climbed the hill.
  • In "The Three Sisters," the king pledges that any woman who cures his son may marry him; his secret wife cures him. (The prince refuses to marry because he's already married, but the princess reveals herself.)
  • In "The Serpent," a snake wants to marry a princess; her father demands three Impossible Tasks, but the snake succeeds, and the king reluctantly gives him the princess's hand. The snake is revealed to actually be a prince under a curse, but when the King burns his shed snakeskin, he is transformed into a dove and forced to flee the kingdom. The king pledges that any woman who cures his son may marry him; the princess reaches the kingdom and cures him.
  • The king promised the kingdom and his daughter's hand in marriage to whoever watched over his "Seven Foals" all day.
  • In Grimms' "The Two Brothers", the king has promised his daughter to anyone who rescues her from the dragon; after the huntsman kills the dragon, the marshal cuts his head off while he sleeps, but his Talking Animals restore him, and when he goes to the city with the animals, the princess identifies him, and since he has the tongues of the dragon, he can prove the marshal a liar.
  • In "The Three Dogs," the king made the same promise; the hero killed the dragon and promised to return within a year to marry her, but a coachman made her promise to say that he had killed the dragon. The hero proved himself with his dogs and the teeth of the dragon.
  • In "The Merchant," the hero had killed the dragon on this promise. He had to throw the heads far apart to keep them from rejoining the body, but a peasant collected them and claimed to have killed the dragon. The princess recognizes his dog, and he can produce the tongues to prove his claim.
  • Native American myth: Gender Flipped, as the women had to describe an invisible hunter's appearance in order to marry him. The Naďve Everygirl correctly described him, while her stepsisters lied about his appearance.
    • In another version, the moral here is about honesty — the guy wants an honest bride, so he has his sister (the only one who can see him) vet the candidates by telling them that the right girl should be able to see and describe him while he's invisible. They all lie, making wild (and wrong) guesses at his appearance, until the heroine, who admits that she can't see him. He makes himself visible for her (or involuntarily becomes visible, due to the mystical power of truth-telling), so she's able to tell his sister what he looks like and passes the test.
  • "Donkeyskin" is an odd instance in which the reader is supposed to side with the one setting the challenges, rather than the one trying to complete them. Most readers will.
  • Hans Christian Andersen:
    • "The Princess and the Pea" has the princess' prospective parents-in-law testing her claim to be a princess by seeing whether she's so sensitive that a pea-sized lump would irritate her through multiple mattresses to the point of being unable to sleep.
    • In "The Travelling Companion," the princess, egged on by an evil sorcerer, challenges her suitors to answer three questions. The penalty for failing to answer is death, but she's so beautiful that men keep trying. The titular companion helps the protagonist win by following her to the sorcerer at night and eavesdropping to learn the answers for him.
    • In "How to Cook Soup on a Sausage Pin," the king of the mice declares that he'll marry whichever mouse finds the best recipe for making soup on a sausage pin. Danish readers of the 1800s would've understood that the king is being Literal-Minded about a human expression which actually means "to make a lot out of nothing."
    • In "Blockhead Hans," a princess decides to marry the man who can speak best for himself. Many of the suitors so are nervous when it's their turn that they can barely get a sentence out.
    • "The Ice Maiden": The protagonist, a poor but skilled mountain hunter, wants to marry a rich miller's daughter; the girl's father says he'll only allow the marriage if the hunter can bring back an eaglet from a high mountain nest that he'd previously said was unreachable.
    • "The Most Incredible": A princess is set to marry whoever can do the most incredible thing, without any parameters about what kinds of things count: feats of strength and intellect are all on the table, some attempt to spit onto their own backs, and one man drinks himself to death.
  • Grimms' "The Six Servants" features an additional twist: Failure to perform the task set by the princess' evil mother would have their head cut off. The hero of the story prevails with the help of his six servants, mentioned in the title.
  • Grimm again, with "How Six Men Went Out Into the World"/"The Six Who Went Far In the World," where the suitor must beat the princess herself in a race or be beheaded. Unfortunately, the princess is a dirty cheater.
  • In "Paperarello," the king offers his daughter's hand to his goose-boy Paperarello if he can bake enough bread for his army (if not, his head will be cut off). Paperarello manages to complete the task, but the princess refuses to marry a goose-boy. It is not until after Paperarello wins three battles for the king while in disguise and later reveals that he is a king himself that the princess falls in love with him. Unfortunately for her, Paperarello is already married to a fairy, and he politely refuses the princess.
  • "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter" has five of them, each given to a potential suitor in the hopes they’d just give up and leave Princess Kaguya alone. Only one of the suitors actually quits his challenge. One dies trying to complete his and the first three try to trick her with fakes.
  • In "Hans, Who Made The Princess Laugh," (also known as "The Princess Who Couldn't Laugh") the king promises his daughter's hand in marriage to anyone who can make the princess laugh. Hans manages to make her laugh when he gets enough people stuck to him, forming a human chain.
  • In Boots Who Made the Princess Say 'That's a Story!', anyone who tells the princess a tall tale so outrageous she calls them out on it can marry her and get half the kingdom as well. Boots succeeds.
  • In The Brothers Grimm's The Golden Goose, whoever gets the princess to laugh wins her.
  • In The Farmer's Clever Daughter, another one from the Grimms' collection, the king sets impossible tasks to the heroine and marries her when she succeeds.
  • In East of the Sun and West of the Moon, the heroine wins the hero from the troll bride by washing his shirt clean.
  • In The Black Bull of Norroway, the heroine washes out the hero's shirt, which is the test for the bride.
  • In Andrew Lang's The Violet Fairy Book, in "The Frog," the old woman tells her sons to test their brides with flax.
    Do as you like, but see that you choose good housewives, who will look carefully after your affairs; and, to make certain of this, take with you these three skeins of flax, and give it to them to spin. Whoever spins the best will be my favourite daughter-in-law.'
  • In "The Three Aunts", the queen mother retroactively declares that the tasks were proof enough of her domestic skills, and lets her marry the king. Whereupon the three aunts show up again to scuttle the need for her to try the work again.
  • The Blue Rose does this with a twist: the princess designs the "blue rose" test to look impossible on the surface but be ambiguous enough in its wording that she can decide for herself which suitor she wants to "pass" the test. When greedy suitors give her roses dyed blue or made of sapphire, she turns them away, but when a man she knows to be kind and true presents her with an ordinary white rose lit blue by stained glass, she deems his rose worthy.
  • The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter: Kaguya-hime imposes several of those to her own suitors (one of them being the Emperor of Japan), giving each one completely impossible tasks to follow and fulfill if they wanted to marry her. She does it as a plan to discourage them from courting her since she's supposed to return to the Moon.
  • "The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs": Subverted at what it happens after the wedding. The main character must fetch three hairs from the head of the Devil so that his royal father-in-law approves of his marriage to the princess.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Emergency! fic ""The Right of Combat", there's a variation on this, not a challenge of the suitor per se, but of the engagement itself. Dr.Brackett, Johnny, and Chet are cat shifters, and after Chet is infected, he is told he must take a mate because of the People's dangerously intense sex drive. Chet had already been flirting with Brackett's sister and they pledge themselves. But, Brackett doesn't like the idea of Chet, a 'brought in', marrying her because they are members of an old, well-respected family. Brackett demands the Right of Combat and ends up battling her champion, Johnny, to first pin. Johnny wins and Kel must accept the pairing.
  • In the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story "Empath's Honeymoon", Papi Utopi challenges Empath to fight the Utopi Champion so that he could win his right to "marry" Smurfette (despite the fact that Empath and Smurfette were already married before meeting the Utopii), and if he loses, Smurfette will remain with the Utopii forever. Empath is easily defeated by the Champion in the first match, but on the rematch, Empath resorts to ground-pounding the Champion's head repeatedly in order to wear him down so that he could defeat him and win Smurfette.
  • A Growing Affection: Hinata's grandfather (named Hyouta in this story) decides if Hinata is going to keep dating Naruto, she will have to prove she is a worthy successor to Hiashi by defeating Neji and Naruto will have to prove he is a better suitor than the man Hyouta has chosen a Jonin and a noble who is older than Hiashi. And when it looks like Naruto and Hinata have succeeded, he does some rules lawyering, resulting in a third challenge Naruto vs. Hyouta which is definitely not what the old man was looking for.
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness Act VI: Arial, who has been acknowledged as Dark's mother in a sense, outright disapproves of Mizore's relationship with Dark and tells her that she will have to prove herself worthy of Dark's hand in marriage. Just a few chapters later, however, she decides that Felucia would make a better wife to Dark than Mizore, and is actively resisting Mizore's attempts to bond with her and prove herself.
  • In A Thing of Vikings, Hiccup annoyingly self-imposes a Challenge on himself before he proposes to his girlfriend, Astrid; he does this because feels that he needs to have a bride price that is not only sufficiently proportionate for what he feels Astrid's value is to him, but what the tribe's (and the rest of the world's) expectations are going to be for "The Hero Of Berk." He succeeds by giving a literal King's Ransom as the bride price, flooring Astrid's family, and everyone who hears about it second-hand. It went down in the history record as indisputably famous and incredible.

    Films — Animated 
  • There's a longstanding tradition in Brave where the first-born children of the local clans compete for the princess in a challenge of her choosing. But since Merida has no interest in marrying anyone and happens to be her own clan's first-born, she chooses archery (which she's very good at) and shows up to compete for her freedom. After quite a bit of arguing, it turns out that none of her would-be suitors are interested in marriage either, so the clans decide to break tradition and let them marry in their own time.
  • The title character in Shrek saved princess Fiona from a castle situated over a smoldering volcano. She was O.K. with marrying him until finding out he was an Ogre, and he was just working as a champion for Lord Farquaad. In keeping with the whole theme of subverting fairy tales in the movies, she turns into an ogre as well and marries Shrek anyway. On top of that, the (female) dragon who was guarding the princess ends up with Shrek's sidekick Donkey.
  • Strange Magic: Marianne gives a very low bar one to her father, that she'll get married to whichever boy she can look in the eyes, hold hands with, and not want to punch. The irony of her falling in love with the Bog King, whose first meeting with her involved her punching him in the face, is staggering.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Clash of the Titans, part of the curse placed on Joppa by Calibos required any potential suitor to Andromeda solve a riddle; failing to answer correctly meant death by fire. Unfortunately, the incredibly hard-to-answer riddle was chosen by Calibos himself and changed each time. Perseus not only answered correctly after learning the current one, he fought and grievously wounded the villain, sparing him only when he lifted the curse.
  • The Daughter of Dawn: The chief decides to test the worthiness of Black Wolf and White Eagle by taking them to a bluff and challenging both of them to jump off to prove their worthiness. White Eagle does and wins Daughter of the Dawn's hand. Black Wolf doesn't and is expelled from the tribe.
  • The Field Guide to Evil: In "The Cobbler's Lot", Tivald goes to the king to ask him for Princess Boglarka's hand. The king initially attempts to dismiss him, but, on seeing that he is serious, he assigns him a task. Tivald must trek through the forest to the loosestrife pool, and return with a single strand of loosestrife. If he succeeds, he will be permitted to marry the princess.
  • A variant in Love & Basketball in which the heroine asks this test of the hero. She assumes that if he wants her he will let her win. As it happens the hero wins but marries her anyway.
  • In Swing Time (1936), after Lucky fails to show up on time for his wedding, his fiancee's father tells him he'll have to earn $25,000 as proof of his good intentions if he wants another chance.

  • A story often told around the fire at Cub Scout camp-outs tells of a Native American chief who challenges three rival suitors named Big Rocknote , Little Rocknote , and Falling Rocknote  to partake in a hunting contest, with the one who returned with the most game claiming his daughter in marriage. Big Rock returned first with an impressive catch. Little Rock returned next with a veritable bonanza of game, enough to feed the tribe for weeks. Unfortunately, Falling Rock never returned. Weeks turned into months, months turned into years, eventually the Chief's daughter died unmarried, and still there was no sign of him. And that's why, to this day, you still sometimes see signs on the highway that read, "Look out for Falling Rock".

  • In Susan Dexter's The Prince of Ill-Luck, the hapless protagonist stumbles into one of these; he only rode his horse up a hill of glass to claim a golden ring because, well, golden ring! Only afterward does he realize that victory is attached to a princess who doesn't want to marry anyone, thanks.
  • In Anthony Armstrong's short story The Warlock's Daughter, a king assigns his daughter's suitors the task of finding water in a desert. The protagonist, having encountered the title character, uses a charm she gave him to summon her and asks her to create a river. She does, but having seen her, the hero decides he'd rather marry her. She's a little surprised but agrees. The princess, who didn't like the whole "Do X and marry my daughter" thing the king came up, orders her suitors to find the hero and capture him in exchange for her hand, then marries a knight she'd had her eye on once they're all out of the kingdom.
  • Some examples from Post Modern Fairy Tales:
    • "The Wrestling Princess" features a rather butch princess whose parents put on an engagement challenge for her: the competing princes had to be stronger, smarter, and taller than her (she's kind of a Huge School Girl), and the only guy who qualified was a Noodle Person she let win their wrestling match (well, how else could they prove they're stronger?) because she was afraid of hurting him. Later that night, the princess meets cute with one of the visiting princes' helicopter pilots (she's a big helicopter buff), and while he is her intellectual equal he's neither as tall nor as strong as she is (she doesn't care, but her parents might, considering their criteria). It turns out that not only is he Noodle Guy's pilot but he's actually the prince — he and Noodle Guy switched places because he (the prince) thought the challenge was silly. Naturally, the prince and princess get a Happily Ever After.
    • Another story, "Georgiana and the Dragon" features the titular princess rescuing a prince from a dragon.
  • In another Fractured Fairy Tale, the princess is the one who set the challenges — which include such things as keeping up with her in an all-night roller-disco, and other feats of endurance and proofs that they share her interests (or are at least willing to tolerate them for her sake). Finally, one prince manages to succeed at all the tasks she sets (while other, lesser princes drop like flies around him) and she rewards him with one last task: kiss her. He does and he turns into a frog. Her reaction: "Darnit, that's the hundredth time that's happened!" She's been trying to weed through the suitors to try and find one who won't turn into a frog when she kisses him!
  • Played with in the children's book Most Timid in the Land: a bunny king promises his daughter to the bunny who proves himself most shy and timid (a good defense mechanism, after all). Most of the book is taken up with bunnies striving to become more timid or showing off their timidity. At the end, when the king declares the contest started, all the suitors run off — and the princess is still waiting to this day...
  • In Nikolai Teleshov's story "Zoren'ka" ("Little Dawn" in Russian), a king is foretold that the man who will marry his titular daughter will take over his entire kingdom within a year. So at first, when three suitors come, he tells them to fight until only one remains (the survivor is left too badly disfigured to be worthy of a king's daughter). The next group is smarter, so the king's challenge is to make them draw one of two rocks from a jar — one is white, one is red, with the first one meaning the princess' hand, and the other being drowned in a river on the spot. Of course, the king puts two red stones in. The princess finally tells the secret to the man she loves, so he uses the ancient trick of discarding one lot; that is, he takes out a rock and throws it into the river. A red is left in the jar, so naturally, the guy pulled out the white one.
  • The Practical Princess and Other Liberated Fairy Tales: The princess sets impossible tasks to her Abhorrent Admirer, he returns claiming to have done them, her practicality tells her that he's lying and how to prove it.
  • In the Norman Hunter short story The Priceless Present, Count Beeniwunnum Harteigh asks the king of Inkrediblania for permission to marry his daughter, Princess Joyday. The King dislikes the Count, who is handsome, clever, popular with the people and also very poor, so he tells him he can only marry her if he can bring him a present as valuable as the Princess in return, and if he can't, he'll be beheaded. The Count does bring him a present at the appointed time, but when the King asks him how he got it, he confesses that he stole it. The King angrily refuses to accept it and demands that he give it back to the person he stole it from, to which the Count replies that he has already offered it to him, but he refuses to take it back, to which the King in exasperation tells him to keep it. The present is the Princess herself, whom the Count "stole" from the King that morning, meaning the King has now "given" her to the Count. The Queen, who is more reasonable than her husband, insists that he keep his word, and the two are married.
  • In The Adventures of Strong Vanya, Grand Duke Dimitri plots to force the Tsarevna Vasilissa into marrying him to take over the throne. Aware that the Grand Duke is despised by his daughter and hated and feared by the common follk, the old Tsar invokes one law which allows him to launch an engagement challenge: Anybody who intends to marry the princess must bring the Armor of the Tsar Ivan Vasilievich within seven years, seven months and seven weeks multiplied by seven. Meanwhile, he secretly mentors one guy who looks decent to undertake the challenge.
  • In Andrew Lang's Prince Prigio, the king has promised his niece's hand in marriage and the kingdom to whoever brought him the head of a monster. The monster is killed by his rather annoying son Prigio, but the head is brought by a servant. Prigio persuades the king that obeying the letter of his promise would infringe on the right of royalty to say other than what they mean. However, being in love with another woman, he refuses to marry his cousin — who had been engaged to and in love with his dead brother but finds being refused rather insulting. Fortunately, Prigio revives his younger brothers, and so they agree to let him marry his love and the niece to marry his brother.
  • In Bruce Coville's The Dragonslayers, the king promises that whoever can slay the dragon may marry his daughter. The only person who will go is the ancient squire Elzar. The princess, naturally not liking this at all, pulls a Sweet Polly Oliver and sets off to slay it herself.
  • In Codex Alera every Marat marriage involves one of these. However, since each individual challenge is set by the Marat woman in question the nature of the challenge can vary wildly based on the abilities of the prospective husband, and whether she wants to marry him or not. Tavi points out that, for example, if a woman from the Horse clan did not want to marry a man from the Wolf clan, she could challenge him to a horse race since he would stand no chance of winning. This way the Marat woman effectively exercises a complete marriage veto if she so chooses. In the final book Kitai names her challenge to Tavi as killing the Vord Queen. He does, and the final chapter of the series is their wedding.
  • In Diana Wynne Jones's Power of Three, the Chief of Otmound says that Gest can only marry his daughter Adara if he completes three tasks first: one, spend an entire day answering riddles the Chief asks him (Adara tells him the answers); two, move a massive stone from the top of Otmound (Gest gets the Giants to help); and three, bring back a Dorig collar, made more complicated by the fact that Adara refuses to marry a man who would kill a Dorig (luckily, Gest has Dorig friends). The Chief wanted Gest to remain on friendly terms with him without actually refusing his suit—hence the challenges. Unfortunately, Gest got help.
  • The Doctor Who Expanded Universe short story "The Trials of Tara", a pastiche of Shakespearian tropes, has Queen Strella of Tara set tasks for her suitors to avoid marrying any of them since she believes that King Reynart is still alive.
  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Monster Men, the Mad Scientist regains his wits after his daughter and promises his assistant that he can marry her if he rescues; as the assistant is lying and one of the villains of the piece, he does not succeed in the end, where the scientist agrees that the man who has rescued her can certainly court her.
  • The basis of the romance subplot in The Edge novel On The Edge. Rose has powerful magic but no pedigree, and as such would be treated as a baby-making machine by any noble she married. Declan proves that he's powerful enough to take her by force, and then offers her a deal. "The traditional solution" to their dilemma is three engagement challenges. If he loses any of them, he will leave and never bother her again; if he wins them all, she must come with him and be pleasant and agreeable. Rose accepts. It develops that Declan came up with this plan on the spot as a reasonable excuse for him to be hanging around the area, where he has a mission to complete. In short order it's more than a cover, however.
  • In The Empress Game, Prince Ardin is required to marry whichever princess wins a special gladiatorial tournament (the titular Empress Game). In fact, he's already in love with a perfectly good princess, but she isn't any good at fighting — thus, a scheme is hatched for Kayla to impersonate Isonde in the arena and win them the marriage that they both want anyway.
  • Eyrbyggja Saga: Styr promises the berserk Halli he will give him his daughter Asdis in marriage if Halli and his brother will do a few difficult work orders for him, which is, to clear a path across a lava field, to build a dyke on the farm boundary, and to build a sheep-shed. However, he already plans to rid himself of Halli and has no intention of actually giving him his daughter.
  • Parodied in Guards! Guards!, in which barbarian heroes refuse to try and slay the dragon plaguing Ankh-Morpork unless they get "the king's daughter's hand in marriage and half the kingdom", despite the fact that Ankh-Morpork is a republic and its Patrician is unmarried.
    • He's got an aunt though. And a dog. One of the heroes asks what kind of dog before deciding "Nah."
  • In James Thurber's The 13 Clocks, the Duke sets impossible tasks to the princes who want to marry his niece Saralinda.
    • In another Thurber tale, the princess herself sets the tasks, giving impossible ones to the two elder princes and an easy one — that turns out not to be quite so easy — to the youngest prince. Guess which one she really likes.
  • Heroics for Beginners: When the Ancient Artifact Model Seven is stolen by Lord Voltmeter, it immediately becomes clear to everyone that Princess Rebecca's hand must go to the man who retrieves it. There's no other way. Which is a problem for her boyfriend Prince Kevin, since Prince Logan—and his army—is clearly the most qualified man to retrieve the artifact. Kevin has only his copy of The Handbook of Practical Heroics on his side. Due to the Artifact being destroyed in the final battle, the challenge is rendered void and Rebecca is free to marry Kevin (despite Logan being the one to defeat Lord Voltmeter).
  • Tolkien's Legendarium:
    • In The Silmarillion/Beren and Lúthien, the Elvenking Thingol tries to get rid of his daughter Lúthien's human suitor Beren by tasking him to get one of the holy Silmarils from the world's Satan-equivalent (who wears it constantly), thinking Beren'll either back off, fail, or die trying. Beren accepts the task, but in a variation on the usual trope, his lover Lúthien is instrumental to the quest; she follows him, repeatedly saves his ass, and vanquishes his much more powerful foes. Not that Beren's a slouch — he's a badass who accomplishes quite a bit himself along the way. He also uses Exact Words to pull it off; he was told to return with a Silmaril in his hand, and he did so. Even though the hand was in the stomach of the werewolf Carcharoth. This makes Thingol feel pretty guilty over the whole thing.
    • In The Lord of the Rings, Elrond will only let his daughter Arwen marry Aragorn if he's King of a reunited Arnor and Gondor and Sauron is gone; quite sensible, as of course Elrond doesn't want his daughter to stay behind on a Middle-earth ruled by Sauron, so he won't let her unless Aragorn helps make it a safer place to live. As Elrond raised Aragorn as a foster-son, it's pretty strongly implied that he badly wants to make sure that Aragorn fulfills his destiny, so he's also using the useful coincidence fate dealt him to do so. And unlike their mutual ancestors Beren and Lúthien, Aragorn and Arwen seem okay with the condition set on their marriage. Naturally Aragorn wants to save the world anyway, and the allusion to Beren implies he's lucky it's a relatively easier prospect.
  • Subverted in The Legends of Ethshar novel With a Single Spell where the erstwhile dragon-slayers were promised a bag of gold and a princess for defeating the dragon. Upon returning successfully, one of the heroes tries to refuse the princess and take the gold only to find that it's a package deal. There are too many princesses and the gold is her dowry.
  • A Civil Campaign: Miles Vorkosigan is having trouble courting the lady of his dreams. She discusses him with his former boss, who tells her: "Do you know all those folk tales where the count tries to get rid of his only daughter's unsuitable suitor by giving him three impossible tasks? ... Don't ever try that with Miles. Just... don't."
  • This trope forms the backbone of How Culhwch Won Olwen, one of the oldest surviving works of Welsh literature. Culhwch is cursed by his Wicked Stepmother that he can marry no-one but the daughter of Ysbaddaden the Giant. Ysbaddaden claims that he cannot prepare for the ceremony until Culhwch hunts the giant boar Twrch Trwyth and retrieves a comb, scissors, and razor from his hair. But he can only be tracked by a certain hound, and the leash can only be made by a certain hero and held by another... the job ultimately involves over forty different tasks and the aid of no less than King Arthur and his warband.
  • In the Magic: The Gathering novel The Brothers' War, the warlord ruler of the city of Kroog and the surrounding nation of Yotia wants somebody "strong" to carry on his legacy, so he sets up one of these. He puts a giant statue in an arena — far too heavy for any single person to lift — and promises his daughter and kingdom to the man who can carry it to the other side. Gadgeteer Genius Urza succeeds by building a Magitek robot to do it for him, and the king is unusually willing to keep his side of the bargain. Amusingly, Urza, being a Chaste Hero, is far more interested in the kingdom's supply of magical powerstones than its stunningly beautiful princess; she ends up falling for him long before he develops feelings for her.
  • A double example occurs in the Nibelungenlied — Siegfried will only get her brothers' permission to marry Kriemhild if he helps the eldest, Gunther, to woo Brunhilde. And whoever wants to marry Brunhilde has to defeat her in a three-part athletic contest of throwing a javelin, throwing a boulder, and a long jump or die. Using his Tarnhelm (helmet of invisibility and shape-changing), Siegfried helps Gunther to win by cheating. It does not end well.
  • Patricia A. McKillip's The Riddle Master Trilogy begins this way. The Prince of Hed (an island principality so small that even the Prince, which is the title of the ruler, is just a farmer) went in secret to challenge a fearsome ghost to a riddle-contest — his life wagered against the ghost king's crown. He won the contest that princes and sages had died in for centuries and went home, unaware that by winning Peven's Crown he had won the right to marry his best friend's sister, Princess Raederle "the second most beautiful woman in the Three portions of An". (Mildly subverted in that Raederle's father Mathom had second sight and knew who would win the game before he made the challenge. And even besides that, everyone who learns about his promise thinks it was literally the most stupid thing Mathom could possibly have done and doesn't hesitate to say so.)
    • This is all backstory, mind you. And Morgon, the prince, does not go to collect his princess, which requires her to go searching for him, which in turn drives much of the second book of the trilogy, which she narrates.
  • In Red Queen, future queens are decided through Queenstrial, a contest in which eligible noble daughters compete to best show off their superhuman abilities.
  • In Robin Hobb's Fool's Fate, the princess's family will only let the prince marry her if he can lay the head of the dragon on their mantel. He goes on a quest with some others to kill the dragon and fulfill this, but events transpire such that they realize that they really shouldn't kill the dragon. However, he fulfills the condition anyway by convincing the dragon to come over and rest its head on the mantel.
  • In the backstory of Robin McKinley's Deerskin, the heroine's grandfather was highly possessive of his daughter, and set fearsome challenges to her suitors, that no man might take her from him.
  • In Ruslan and Ludmila, Prince Vladimir announces that whoever rescues Ludmila will get her hand in marriage.
  • Stardust: Victoria demands that Tristran bring her a falling star. He finds the star, which turns out to be a MacGuffin Turned Human, and falls in love with her instead. (As it turns out, Victoria was just teasing him and was already engaged to someone else.)
    • Of course, the movie made both Victoria and her suitor a bit less honorable than in the book, wherein Victoria thought Tristran dead and was all set to marry her other beau when Tristran returned — and she was willing to honor her promise to him regardless. She was rather distressed, to be quite honest. Not that it was idle characterization, either: the marriage had a rather startling effect on a certain prophecy.
  • In The Sleeping Beauty, the Princess Rose's hand is the prize of a great tournament that many princes have traveled to compete in. The thing is, the reason the tournament is being held is the princes being there prevents the kingdom from being attacked until it's strong enough to discourage invasions by other means. Furthermore, the challenges are designed to be completely non-lethal and entirely relevant to ruling the kingdom, and the Genre Savvy Princess Rose and her guardian are hoping that narrative causality will make sure that the winner ends up being someone Rose can love, as well as a good king. It works, with Siegfried solving the final test by hiring dragons to solve the biggest problem of the kingdom.
    • In The Fairy Godmother, Prince Alexander and his two brothers head off to a neighbor's kingdom to take part in one of these ... and two of the three (Alexander and Octavian) flunk before they even get there when they're rude to a disguised Godmother Elena.
  • The Terry Pratchett short story The Prince and the Partridge featured a challenge to present to the princess a gift that can dance, leap, play tunes, make a beat, carry pails, hiss, swim, lay eggs, can be worn on one hand, sing, cackle, coo, waggle its eyebrows and is good to eat. The titular prince and partridge ultimately work out that the gift doesn't necessarily have to be one item, and so, on the twelfth day of Christmas, Prince Albert presented to his true love Twelve ladies dancing, eleven lords a-leaping, ten pipers piping, nine drummers drumming, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves, And a partridge in a pear tree.
  • In What is the Name of This Book? Raymond Smullyan uses this many times as the framing device for logic problems that the suitor (and the reader) must solve.
  • In The Merchant of Venice, Portia's suitors must solve a puzzle in order to marry her, and if they answer incorrectly they're barred from marrying anyone.
  • Ascendance of a Bookworm: If women from Dunkelfelger want to marry a man, but know that the chances that the man will propose to them are very slim to none, they are known to ambush the the man and demand a task that that will allow them to prove that they are a worthy wife via its completion. The third queen, who is from Dunkelfelger, is known to have done this to the current king back when he was a Royal Academy professor she was in love with. This also how Hartmut from Rozemyne's generation ends up finding a wife.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Free Spirit (1989), a sit-com, had main character Winnie Goodwin (a witch)'s fiancee (a warlock) show up after a courtship that spans 150 years. He had to cross the Atlantic in a day, and capture a girl's smile without using magic. Modern tech helps him beat most of her father's challenges.
  • The Goodies spoofed the trope in the episode "Scatty Safari" by having "an anonymous Queen" offer the hand in marriage of her eldest son to whoever purged the land of its plague of Rolf Harrises.note 
    • In another episode Tim wins the hand of his bride, but it's literally the hand. Graham is shown snogging with the rest of her, except for the legs which are given to Bill.
  • The Grimm episode "Maiden Quest" presents this as a tradition of a lynx-like Wesen called the Weten Ogen. The one seen in the episode has a number of twists: the father is a mob boss who offers his daughter's hand to whoever kills his rival, the first two challengers are killed by the daughter herself who hates the whole thing, the third challenger turns out to be gay and forced into it by his mother, and the whole thing turns out to have been a Secret Test of Character for the daughter, who's proven herself determined enough to be his heir.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus spoofed this with a sketch in which a king keeps telling his daughter's courtiers to go to the tallest tower in the land and hurl themselves off it. If they survive they can marry the princess. All of them do it, not one of them survives, until eventually the queen gets so fed up with this that she makes him stop it. The final courtier's impossible task is to go to the shops and get the king a packet of cigarettes. Ironically, he fails as well; he gets hit by a bus on the way home.
    • In an alternate version of the sketch, the prince succeeds, but a better-looking prince shows up and slays a 'dread dragon' (a plastic toy on a string), at which point the king hands him the engagement. This causes the rejected prince to get an evil witch to curse everyonenote  to turn into chickens in revenge. At which point the kingdom is invaded by chicken prospectors.
  • On My Name Is Earl, Earl goes to Catalina's village to get her back in the country (because it was technically his fault that she got deported). The way to do that is to have a Citizenship Marriage, but in order to get the blessing of Catalina's male next-of-kin (her uncle; her father got killed), Earl has to pass a series of (allegedly symbolic) tests of worthiness. Because Randy desperately wants to marry Catalina as he's been in love with her since the beginning of the series, Earl deliberately fails the tests so Randy can pass them and marry Catalina. Although she really wanted to marry Earl.
  • Nirvana in Fire: The tournament set up for Nihuang's suitors. The top ten have to pass the final challenge: beating Nihuang herself. This effectively gives Nihuang Child Marriage Veto powers.

  • Parodied in John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme, where a man asks his girlfriend to set him one of these. Once she realises he's serious, she challenges him to shoot a panda. When he protests that this is cruel and illegal ("You didn't say 'legal', you said 'possible'"), she instead challenges him to spend ten years in the Arctic, although she's not going to wait for him, because she'd look pretty silly if he died. He doesn't like that idea either and, rather fed up with the whole thing ("You’d do anything for me, so long as it isn’t unpleasant or inconvenient! That’s very good to know!") she asks for a glass of water.
    Man: No! I mean...
    Woman: You want to be out three for three?

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible:
    • David had to bring Saul back the foreskins of 100 Philistines to prove himself worthy of Michal's hand (and not coincidentally, Saul's throne). Some versions claim he brought back twice that number in order to show Saul up. This is less silly than it sounds; the challenge amounts to "Kill one hundred of our worst enemies by yourself" (since, as noted below, they're probably not going to give him their genitalia), and since Jews were/are circumcised, foreskins would be fairly conclusive proof that the part came from some enemy of the Jews.
    • Also Book of Judges 1:12:
      "And Caleb said, He that smiteth Kirjathsepher, and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife."
    • The Book of Tobit (not to be found in Protestant Bibles) features a woman cursed with a demon so that the men who try to marry her don't survive the wedding night. In a subversion of the trope, her parents are only too eager to marry her off to a young man willing to give it a try — the seven previous suitors didn't make it. With the help of the angel Raphael, Tobias banishes the demon by putting fish parts in the fire and saying his prayers and survives 'til morning.
    • Older still: In Book of Genesis, Laban has Jacob work for a period of 7 years (in lieu of a more conventional bride price) for his daughter, Rachel. Then, he switches her out for her sister Leah under the bridal veil, on the grounds that he didn't think it was appropriate for the younger daughter to be wed before the elder. Daddy agrees that he'll still give Jacob the girl he really exchange for another 7 years of servitude.
  • According to a Jewish legend, Reb Eisele Charif challenged all the young yeshiva students with a difficult Talmudic question, declaring that the one who answered correctly could marry his daughter. No one came up with a good answer, so he packed up and left. However, on the outskirts of town, he noticed he was being chased by one young scholar, who admitted that despite failing the challenge he still wanted to know the answer to the question. He was allowed to marry the daughter.
  • Greek Mythology:
    • Atalanta made a deal with her father so she would only marry the man who could outrun her in a race (she was a really, really fast runner). Some versions also held that losers of the challenge would be killed. Hippomenes (or Melanion) won her by throwing golden apples (kindly donated by Aphrodite) at her feet during the race, which she stopped to pick up. Older Than Feudalism.
    • Alcestis' father said only a man who could yoke a lion and a boar (some versions replace the boar with a bear) to a chariot could marry her. Admetis succeeded thanks to help from the god Apollo, who owed Admetis a favor for sheltering him when he was banished from Olympus for a year for murder.
    • Peleus had to hold on to the sea nymph Thetis until she gave up, which was not easy because she could shape-shift into several forms. He managed to hold on, and the couple eventually had Achilles.
    • The Odyssey: Queen Penelope was under pressure to remarry after her husband Odysseus had been missing for twenty years. Eventually, she tells her many suitors that she will marry whoever can string Odysseus' bow and then fire an arrow through the holes of twelve axes that have been lined up. None of them can string the bow, because it is a recurve bow that requires skill as well as strength. Penelope's son Telemachus tries, saying if he succeeds, the suitors have to go home, but he fails as well (but got closer than anyone else did). Then, Odysseus shows up (in disguise) and passes the challenge before he and his allies slaughter the suitors for harassing his wife and mooching off his estate.
    • In Jason And The Argonauts, there are a list of increasingly bizarre and difficult tasks required in order to obtain the Golden Fleece. This starts to make more sense when we learn that Medea, the sorceress princess, has to marry the man who obtains the Fleece because she cannot be parted from it. It turns out the only way to complete the tasks is to have help from Medea. Jason wins not because he is strong or fast or tough, but because he treats the princess with respect whereas his competitors treat Medea poorly. In some versions, Jason and Medea are Happily Married: one of the few such couples in Greek mythology. In most other versions, the marriage goes poorly when Jason loses interest in her.
    • King Eurytus of Oechalia said whoever could defeat him and his sons in an archery contest would win the hand of his daughter Iole. Heracles won the contest, but Eurytus, fearing Heracles would go mad and kill Iole and any children they had like what he had done with his first wife Megara, refused to give her and expelled Heracles from the kingdom. That decision backfired when years later, Heracles (who had married Deianira in the meantime) got his revenge by sacking Oechalia, killing Eurytus and his sons, and claiming Iole as a concubine.
  • Standard practice in ancient India, so of course it shows up in the Ramayana and Mahabharata. In both cases, they're occasions not only to get the hero with his future wife but also to establish just how awesome he is. In the Ramayana, Rama picks up Shiva's personal bow, tries to string it, and snaps it. Most people and some lesser deities aren't even able to lift it. And in the Mahabaratha, Arjuna and Karna both shoot the eye of a wooden fish atop a pole by its statue, and Arjuna goes on to be The Hero while Karna becomes The Dragon.
  • In the 19th-century Finnish epic The Kalevala, Louhi of Pohjola likes to give her daughters' potential suitors nigh-impossible tasks.
  • Norse Mythology/Russian Mythology and Tales: One of the points where Germanic and Russian heroic legend meet in Thidrekssaga is when Hartnit (or Ortnit), who ruled in Novgorod (Holmgard) and supposedly son of the hero Ilya Muromets, won a Valkyrie bride by fighting against a giant. He was later killed by a dragon, but his brother avenged him and married the widow — which probably counts too.
  • Celtic Mythology: When Cu Chulainn asked for Emer's hand in The Wooing of Emer, Emer told him via a very dense riddle that, as Forgall the Willy would almost certainly refuse to let his daughter marry him, Cu Chulainn wasn't allowed to "come to her plain" until he defeated one hundred men at every ford from Ailbine to the Boyne, slain her evil shape-shifting aunt, salmon-leaped across three ramparts to reach her, killed each of her three brothers' teams of guards while leaving the brothers themselves untouched, and personally carried both her and her possessions out of her father's castle. After some training under the warrior woman Scathach, he did exactly that.
  • Japanese Mythology:
    • In Hachikatsugi-hime, when the parents of a young nobleman learned that he had fallen for their maid Hachikatsugi who is actually a Fallen Princess, they decided to hold a competition between her and their daughters to see which girl is the best Japanese woman. Hachikatsugi is depressed as she immediately realizes that they intend her to lose, but her beau reassures her that even if she loses, he'll always love her. At that moment, Hachikatsugi's hat that she couldn't take off falls off her head and shows that it's actually a Bag of Holding, containing all the stuff she needs to win the challenge issued by the parents AND a box that has proof of her Blue Blood. With her confidence restored, Hachikazuki both wins the competition and proves that she's a noblewoman, and soon is able to marry her boyfriend.
    • Even though Okuninushi was already married to Suseri-hime, he still had to win over her father, the infamously ill-tempered Susano'o. Susano'o tried to get rid of his new son-in-law by making him sleep in a room full of snakes, then a room full of centipedes, and then making him retrieve an arrow in a field and then setting it on fire. Since his father-in-law was clearly trying to kill him, Okuninushi simply eloped with Suseri-hime. By the time Susano'o caught up with them, he begrudgingly accepted Okuninushi as his son-in-law.
  • In the Circassian Nart Sagas, there is a self-imposed one in Warzameg's rescue of Psatina. In this instance, the lady herself gets to decide whether the suitor is worthy (and she does).

  • In Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg by Richard Wagner, Walther must win the Nuremberg's Got Talent time-honored singing contest before he gets the hand of Eva.
  • In A. A. Milne's The Ugly Duckling the test is a ridiculously easy riddle: "What is it which has four legs and barks like a dog?" A dog, of course. But because the Princess is [perceived to be] so very ugly everyone always guesses wrong.
  • The main plot of All's Well That Ends Well is a gender- and time-reversed variant. Helena is married to Bertram by her choice and against his will. He runs away to Florence, saying that he'll only accept her as his wife if she can get his family ring off his finger and present him with his own child. Of course, she does.
  • The opera Der Freischütz by Carl Maria von Weber is based around this. Max, the protagonist has to shoot true in a hunting contest to get a job and the allowance to marry his love Agathe. To make sure of that, he delves into dark arts.
  • In Jenufa, Števa, the titular character's initial Love Interest, is told by her stepmother he'll only marry the girl if he stays sober for a year. It isn't a case of Wicked Stepmother, quite the contrary, because Števa is a selfish irresponsible jerk and drunkard. He abandons Jenufa on the same day anyway, so it never comes to the challenge.
  • In the song "Princess of Pure Delight" from Lady in the Dark, a King demands his daughter's suitors answer the riddle, "What word of five letters is always spelled wrong?"
  • The Merchant of Venice: When Portia's father died, he set up a lottery — anyone who wants to win Portia's hand must be given the choice of three chests, gold, silver, and lead. If a man chooses the one that contains her picture, he gets to marry her immediately—but if not, not only does he have to leave her forever, he's bound by oath never to marry anyone else. Portia's father wanted a man who wasn't blinded by the lure of gold and silver; the correct choice is lead.
  • Gender-flipped in Once Upon a Mattress: Queen Aggravaine has declared that nobody in her kingdom can get married until her son Dauntless does. Unfortunately, she keeps setting impossible tests for the Princesses because she believes that nobody is good enough for him.
  • Played nastily by Shakespeare in Pericles, Prince of Tyre: Antiochus decrees his daughter's suitors must attempt to answer a riddle, and if they fail they will die. Since the solution of the riddle is "Antiochus is in an incestuous relationship with his daughter", those who answer it correctly will also die.
  • In Turandot, if one wanted to marry the titular princess he had to correctly answer three questions asked by her; failure resulted in beheading.

    Video Games 
  • In the H Game Monster Girl Quest, Luka (the main character) ends up having to tag along with a Rebellious Princess who wants to marry a monster. In order to earn this right, she has to make it through a pyramid and receive permission from the Sphinx. As it happens, the Sphinx makes people do this in order to make them confront the difference between human and monster life spans. The Sphinx is still mourning her lost love, who died centuries before, and hates seeing others have to go through that.
  • Dragon Quest:
    • In Dragon Quest IV, a king offers his daughter's hand in marriage to the one who wins a fighting tournament. His daughter is already in love with someone who isn't a wonderful fighter, unbeknownst to daddy. What's worse, the front-runner in the tournament is viciously cruel. In the end, both king and princess plead with the tomboyish Alena to enter the tournament, since a woman winning it would cause the whole marriage thing to be called off. In the original version, it's just the princess who asks Alena to help her. And when Alena wins, the king briefly jokes about marrying her instead. Considering how clearly she could make her disagreement with that idea known, it's no surprise he backs off.
    • Dragon Quest V features an Engagement Challenge for the hand of Nera, along with a shield the hero needs as a wedding present. You have to complete the challenge and can marry Nera, but Nera's father is willing to let you marry your childhood friend Bianca if you so desire and still get the shield. In the DS Remake, you can also choose to marry Nera's sister Debora, but no matter what, you'll always get the Zenithian Shield. Conveniently, all three girls are descendants of the previous Chosen One, thus allowing your son to be the new Chosen One later in the game.
  • The (unstated in the game) backstory of Emperor Mateus Palamecia from Final Fantasy II says he once did this with his daughter, declaring that anyone who can reach her at the top of a tower filled with dangerous monsters would have her hand in marriage. Nobody succeeded in rescuing her the fair way, but a bold adventurer just used an airship to fly up to her room and rescue her. Being bested by this loophole caused the Emperor to be consumed with rage, and he invaded and burned down the adventurer's hometown, finding he very much enjoyed conquering in and of itself.
  • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones plays with the trope in how, during Innes and Eirika's A-support, he tells her that he loves her... but that he won't officially propose to her until he defeats her twin brother Ephraim, probably to deliberately invoke the trope. Eirika's reaction is pretty much a Flat "What". Innes and Eirika's shared ending states that the Innes vs. Ephraim duel did take place but ended in a draw, and some time later they got married anyway.
  • Played with in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. After defeating the monster that was making Lord Jabu-Jabu ill, Link is granted the hand of Princess Ruto of the Zoras...which he doesn't want.
  • Live A Live: The beginning of the Middle Ages chapter has Oersted and his friend Streibough take part in the tournament, the winner of whom will earn the right to marry Princess Alethea of the Kingdom of Lucrece, and the last part of tournament pitted Oersted and Streibough against each other. Oersted was victorious. But as it was revealed the end of chapter, Streibough did not take the loss well and, Driven by Envy, organized the events that would lead to him wooing Alethea by saving her from demons, while Oersted would lose all of the public's fame by tricking him into slaying the king.
  • MapleStory treats this like a quest. And like any quest in MapleStory, it requires you to collect 20 Bear Asses to earn a Proof of Love. Males have to earn 6 of those Proofs of Love (And have the materials to make the ring), while females have only have to earn 2. That's as far as you can get for free, the actual wedding is going to cost you real money.
  • Variation in Odin Sphere. In order to obtain the MacGuffin, Demon Lord Odin requested his former enemy, Oswald the Shadow Knight, to slay a dragon. He offered him a castle as a reward at first, but Oswald wasn't interested until Odin decided to offer his daughter Gwendolyn. Having fallen in love at first sight with her earlier, he decided to accept the task, though not without being skeptical at first.
  • Should you choose to marry Mana in Rune Factory 2, her final request will involve fighting her crazy father.
    • In Rune Factory 3, your chosen bride will disappear the morning of your wedding. You'll have to fight Aquaticus, Dragon God of Water to get her back.note 
  • In Suikoden V, the Queendom of Falena traditionally chooses the Queen's husband (the Commander of the Queen's Knights) through a tournament. Normally, Falena's nobles use gladiators as champions, but the current Commander Ferid, Queen Arshtat's husband, was a foreigner who won the Sacred Games in an upset. In the tournament for Princess Lymsleia's hand, Lymsleia favors Beowulf, another foreign warrior, but Gizel Godwin cheats to drug Beowulf before the final match with his champion Childerich, and later launches a coup to force Lymsleia to go through with the marriage. In the end, the Games are abolished and it's an open question who Lymsleia will marry.
  • In Terranigma, the King of Loire gives the hand of the mute princess to the man who makes her speak again. However, there is a twist: She's not really his daughter but a child from a village that he destroyed in search of the village treasure. The King only wants her to speak again so she can tell him where the treasure is.
  • Touhou Project puts a spin on the aforementioned Kaguya-hime story from Japanese Mythology. In this instance, Kaguya Houraisan was giving her would-be suitors Impossible Tasks because she already had all the treasures she sent them to fetch. When a noble from the Fujiwara clan cheated by bringing back a fake treasure, Kaguya humiliated him in front of his peers, leading his daughter Mokou to swear revenge. Mokou ended up stealing Kaguya's gift for the Emperor of Japan, the Hourai Elixir, and used it to become immortal like Kaguya. The two now routinely, pointlessly murder each other in continuation of this 1300-year feud.
  • Wishbone and the Amazing Odyssey: In the final phase of the game, Penelope challenges the suitors to shoot an arrow through a setup of axes and shields, bouncing it off the axes correctly and missing the shields until it hits the target at the end, with the winner becoming her new husband. Wishbone, naturally, passes in order to beat the game and escape from the Combobulator.
  • Present in the Backstory of Wish Bringer: the evil Queen Alexis sent all of her daughter Morning-Star's suitors on Love Quests that invariably get them killed, then declares that no man is worthy of the princess and Morning-Star will be forever unwed. Morning-Star dies with all her wishes unfulfilled and her heart becomes the wish-granting stone Wishbringer.

    Visual Novels 
  • The Fruit of Grisaia: When she was little, Sachi told Yuuji that she wouldn't marry anyone that couldn't kick their shoes off farther than she could. She was only trying to cover her embarrassment and when it turned out he couldn't do it even when she was going easy on him she regretted coming up with that kind of stupid challenge.

    Web Animation 
  • Tonin: If the King of Sanvil has no sons, his daughter must marry someone who proves his worth by defeating a champion chosen by the King. King Mipussy got the throne because the champion chosen by his father-in-law threw the fight in exchange for half the royal treasure.

  • In the Intellectual Animal comic Faux Pas after Dusk finally gives up on stealing Randy she tells the unmated male foxes in the forest that she'll mate with whichever one wins a series of lengthy challenges, and then her estrus runs out before they're done.
  • The 'Flower Queen' of Drowtales did not wish to mate with a drow, the newest forming race in their underground kingdom and the only remaining race that had suitable males for her to mate with. To avoid this, she set up a challenge that anyone who wished to mate with her most first bring her the most beautiful flower in the world, expecting this to be an impossible task. The Flower Knight was determined to prove her wrong.
    • This gets deconstructed when it's revealed that a guardian spirit gave him a soul-devouring parasite for a flower. Almost everyone wears the flowers and they die giving birth to the seeds. The end.
  • As evident from the page quote, one of these forms the basis of Girl Genius' Cinderella parody. While Agatha-rella does end up marrying the prince(s), it's because her Science Fair entry is an army of war clanks.
    Agatha: And thus, Cinderella won the science fair, became supreme ruler of the kingdom, and, might I add, showed them, showed them all.
  • In Your Throne Crown Prince Eros has an "Crown Princess Tournament" organized to pick his future wife out of two noblewomen. The two compete in three tasks, and Lady Medea Solon handily wins against her rival — only for Eros to disregard the contest and announce his engagement with the loser, Psyche Callista, instead, claiming he fell in love with her.

    Web Original 
  • In C0DA, Jubal-lun-Sul, a Dunmer noble, receives one of these that crosses over with Impossible Task. He seeks to marry the daughter of Almalexia (who turns out to be Vivec...its a long, Mind Screwy story...). Thus, he is given the challenge of killing Numidium, the Reality Warping Humongous Mecha of Dwemer construction which has Curb Stomped every other foe who has contested it (including refuting an entire race from existence).
  • A Hero's War: Landar's father actually very much wants her to marry Cato, but since the wider clan is dubious about Cato's inability to use magic, Yan suggests that Cato travel with the army going north to fight zombies, and prove himself on the battlefield. Landar isn't keen, and would be content with the alternative option of simply leaving the Iris Clan, but Cato sees it as a minor obstacle if it means keeping their valuable political support.
  • This forms part of one of the longer Micro SFF stories. The princess has been training with the knights in order to be strong enough to carry her dragon, and when she hears about the challenge, knights herself and competes for her own hand.

    Western Animation 
  • On Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, Mira invokes this when she is suddenly reminded of her Arranged Marriage. She challenges her foppish fiancé to get through Space Rangers Basic Training, knowing that a pampered blueblood like him could never—oh wait, he winds up becoming the most decorated cadet in history. Fortunately, she eventually gets it called off, and the fiancé decides that he would rather go back to the Rangers than settle down anyway.
  • The He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983) episode "The Return of Granamyr" had a variation. A dragon had fallen in love with a human girl. Her wizard father consented to the union and offered to make him human if he could pass his test, but the test was designed for humans, so He-Man was volunteered to be his substitute. He-Man had to enter a maze and retrieve a silver apple from a tree in the center. In the maze, his path gets blocked by a wall of fire, but He-Man realizes it is an illusion and continues. Then, he gets confronted by a beautiful woman who offers him the apple, but He-Man remembers the apple is on the tree and dismisses that illusion. The final obstacle was a centaur who demanded a test of strength. He-Man was unwilling to fight him, so he proposed a tug-of-war, which the centaur accepted and lost. On the way back, He-Man gets attacked by an evil wizard who wanted the girl for himself, but he quickly defeats him and returns with the apple to win the challenge.
  • Hilariously invoked in one of Rocky and Bullwinkle's Fractured Fairy Tales. A young man is told by the king that in order to marry the princess, he must successfully complete one task. The youth points out that this is unusual, as three tasks is the regular requirement.
    King: Well, since no one's ever come back from the first task, I've forgotten the other two.
    • That show had at least two other sketches poking fun at the trope. One in which the princess refuses to marry the frog-man who could leap to the top of the glass hill she was imprisoned on and ran off with the architect who built it, and one where the Cinderella type refused to marry the invisible prince despite being able to see him because he was even uglier than her stepsisters.
  • The Legend of Tarzan: the plot of the episode "Eagle's Feather" centers around this. Tarzan's Waziri friend Wasuli intends to marry her fiancée, but being the son of the chief he has to show his strength and courage as the future leader of the tribe by climbing a mountain nearby with Tarzan and bringing back an eagle's feather before the sunset. He succeeds despite being delayed by his rival Muviro.
  • This idea was played with on The Simpsons when Manjula calls Apu out for being a workaholic and not spending enough time with her. He lays the challenges on himself in an attempt to make it up to her, which works wonders but also causes a lot of marital problems for all the other guys in town.
  • The Smurfs (1981): In "The Gallant Smurf", to prevent her son Godfrey from marrying the peasant Priscilla, Queen Felicity promises his hand to anyone who can show her something she hasn’t seen before. Of course, since she has lived a long time, she “has seen everything”. Hogatha tries to win the challenge by kidnapping Grampa Smurf, since Smurfs are still an unknown species to most. But when Godfrey and Priscilla swear their love to each other in front of the Queen, she remarks with disgust that she has “never seen such true love before”. An escaped and hiding Grampa Smurf points this out to Godfrey while hiding behind his head, and Godfrey uses his mother’s Exact Words, saying that Priscilla has shown her something she has never seen before, and thus has won the challenge.

    Real Life 
  • In early 19th-century Okinawa a woman named Yonamine Chiru insisted that any would-be-suitors had to best her at martial arts. She defeated everyone until Bushi Matsumura, one of the founders of modern karate and among the most fearsome fighters in Okinawan history, managed to narrowly defeat her and so won her hand.
  • Khutulun, the great-grandaughter of Genghis Khan, was a fearsome warrior and wrestler; if any man wanted to marry her, he had to beat her, and if he lost, he had to give her a hundred horses. She ended up with ten thousand horses. And, in fact, she was never defeated in a wrestling competition—it was political pressure that got her. When rumors started that she didn't want a husband because she was sleeping with her father, she had to call off the challenge and pick a guy to dispel them.
  • The founder of the Tang dynasty won the hand of his bride in an archery contest.