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Swan Boats

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"Into the swan maintenance room of love!"
Ellis, Left 4 Dead 2

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 (whether or not on an Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date), 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. Swanboats are often found in a Tunnel of Love.

May overlap with Horse of a Different Color in the case of riding swans, or Chariot Pulled by Cats in the case of harnessing swans to the boat or the chariot.

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 used to show Subverted Innocence if the society or culture involved is actually a Town with a Dark Secret, or part of a Crapsaccharine World. Occasionally parodied by having the boat be a large yellow rubber duck instead of a swan.

See Swans A-Swimming for the actual birds.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Princess Tutu, the Prince uses a flying chariot pulled by swans to return to his story with his Princess.
  • Swan boats show up in Digimon Adventure more than once, mainly for the protagonists to ride around in over water.
  • In the Sonic X adaptation of Sonic Adventure 2, Chris and Tanaka use a swan paddle boat in an attempt to break into Prison Island and free Sonic.

    Comic Books 
  • Wonder Woman Vol 1: The Amazons have swan boats and swan spaceships meant to evoke their ties to Aphrodite, beauty and commitment to never killing.

  • In My Swan Harry and Cho go for a swan boat ride and accidentally upset the boat.

  • 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 also have swan-shaped boats, which makes sense seeing as they are ruled by Galadriel who is the daughter of Eärwen, a princess of the Teleri who herself was named the 'Swan-maiden of Alqualondë'.
    • On that note, the description of Eärendil´s boat Wingilot, as stated in Bilbo´s poem (We can clearly spot an ethnological tradition here):
      Her prow was fashioned like the swans that white upon the Falas roam.
  • In Bored of the Rings (a parody of The Lord of the Rings), the elves have boat-shaped swans. Of course they do.
  • In The Trumpet of the Swan, Louis the trumpet-playing swan at one point gets a job on the reallife Swan Boats in Boston. [1]
  • Subverted in The Amber Spyglass. At one point while on an alternate Earth, Mary sees some very large, white, swan-shaped boats coming down the river with sails like wings spread out. Except they turn out to be giant bird-like creatures instead, and nobody is aboard.
  • In the The Kalevala of the Finnish mythology, the lonely lake of Tuonela is guarded by a black swan, representing Death. Sibelius set this myth to music - a sort of Finnish "Swan Lake" with attitude. If a black swan on a black lake represents death and passage to Hades, the white swan - and swan boat - represents passage to a far brighter Otherworld, rebirth into the "land of the Blessed" in the Far West.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Teams in The Amazing Race 9 had to paddle a swan boat to get to one of their Pit Stops.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: Galadriel and her ranger company sail back to the Undying Lands on a boat having the shape of a swan.
  • Murdoch Mysteries, "Painted Ladies": The first murder victim is found dead in a huge swan boat floating on the lake. There is lipstick smudged all over his lips and they also find a flirtation card on the body. All subsequent murder scenes also feature swans and one of the suspects is girl tormented by kids and her teacher. This leads Constable Crabtree to an interesting theory: the ugly duckling transformed into a beautiful swan and now she's getting revenge on her tormentors.

  • 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 made their name as a glam-rock group, was called Ride A White Swan and evoked this trope. Indeed, given a TV pop music programme of his very own to host, Bolan shamelessly relaunched this song by appearing on stage and singing it from... a white boat shaped like a swan.
  • 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.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In the medieval legend of the "Knight of the Swan," a mysterious knight rides in a boat pulled by swans when he comes to rescue a Damsel in Distress, but his name must never be revealed. Richard Wagner's Lohengrin is based on this legend.
  • Classical Mythology and ancient visual art:
    • Apollo, the God of light, archery and the arts is sometimes portrayed in a chariot pulled by swans or riding a swan.
    • Goddess Aphrodite (Goddess of love and beauty) is sometimes depicted in a chariot pulled by swans or riding a large swan. It's one of her signature animals.
    • The Erotes (Aphrodite's son Cupid and siblings) also rode white swans.
    • Apollo gave a giant swan or swan-chariot to his lover Hyacinthus.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • In early editions, one type of Quaal's Feather Token was the Swan Boat. On command it turned into a huge swan-like boat capable of swimming on water and carrying 8 horses and gear or 32 men or any combination thereof. It was almost certainly inspired by The Lord of the Rings example.
    • The Spelljammer setting for features the Swan Ship, a spacegoing ship shaped like a swan and designed by halflings.
    • Judges Guild D&D supplement Wilderlands of the Fantastic Reaches, "Ghinor Highlands Ruins and Relics". Hex 1616 has a tunnel that leads to an underground lake with a swan-shaped boat floating on it.

    Theme Parks 
  • Disney Theme Parks: Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom used to have an attraction where you could ride swan boats around the Plaza and down a river toward the Swiss Family Treehouse in Adventureland.

  • The She-Ra: Princess of Power toy line had a swan shaped boat.
  • Playmobil has released a swan boat in its enduring "Princess" theme of sets. It seats a figure and floats.

    Video Games 
  • The Rollercoaster Tycoon games have swan boats as an option for boat rides.
  • Wooden swan boats can be seen around Teldrassil, the Night Elf starting area in World of Warcraft.
  • Naval Ops: Commander has metallic swan ships appear in at least one of the wackier postgame missions, firing lasers. The series also features a yellow rubber duck as a hull option; it's classed as a battleship with good weight capacity but limited deck space.
  • Fallout 4 features Swan, a Super Mutant Behemoth who has made some Improvised Armor out of the wrecked swan boats in the heavily-irradiated, post-apocalyptic Boston Common. He likes to hunker down just under the pond's surface, camouflaging himself as another wrecked swan boat, and smashes his ambush victims with an anchor.


    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Adventures of the Gummi Bears had a roller coaster-like transportation system with cars that normally were shaped like birds of prey. However, when they journey to a lost city, the cars there are shaped like swans.
  • When one episode had title character Darkwing Duck attempt to improve his public image, on his friends' advice he changed his entire costume and switched from his usual motorcycle, "the Ratcatcher", to using a swan-shaped motorcycle called "the Swan of Peace". Needless to say, Darkwing switched everything back at episode's end.
  • 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.
  • The Donald Duck short "Donald's Double Trouble" also features a Tunnel of Love with swan-shaped boats which Donald's lookalike takes Daisy on during their date.
  • On Hey Arnold!, Arnold and Gerald arrive at the lake for a fishing contest, but all the boats have been rented out already. They are forced to make due with a swan boat that earns them laughs from the other contestants.
  • The Legend of Korra For the legalization of gay marriage across the USA and a gallery, Bryan Konietzko drew Korra and Asami riding together in a turtle-duck version in Republic City titled "Turtle-Duck Date Night" to raise money for a LGBTQ suicide helpline. Word of God even states the idea came from Ueno (see below).
  • In the final episode of ThunderCats, the [2]"Sacred Barge" reappears as part of the restoration of New Thundera.

    Real Life 
  • 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; Orlando, Florida.
  • Swan-shaped boats are really common in Tunnel of Love boat rides found in amusement parks.
  • Swan boats can be seen along the Han River in Seoul, particularly in the Gangnam District.
  • In central Europe, there is a popular ride commonly seen at fairs and in amusement parks, called simply "swans". It's a large merry-go-round with seats that look like white swans and sometimes completed with a parasol. The swans can fly up and down. It's popular with kids and couples in love.
  • King Ludwig II of Bavaria had a golden swan boat in the Venus Grotto in Linderhof Palace. He liked to be rowed across the lake in the boat as Richard Wagner's music was played for him, particularly the swan-themed Lohengrin (which he loved so much that his most famous castle, Neuschwanstein, was decorated with swan motifs. Everywhere).
  • Victorian swan boats were inspired by an opera. Robert Paget searched for a way to conceal the machinery and human driver of his new invention: foot-powered paddleboat he invented in 1877. When he recalled seeing Wagner's opera Lohengrin, he got the idea of covering the boat with giant swans carved from wood.