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Israel Sukhanov
Israel Sukhanov

Son Of The White Mare

Son of the White Mare is about as deep as you want it to be. If you want to analyze all the layers of symbolism built into the movie, feel free to do so. Alternately, if you just want to let the gorgeous imagery and exciting action wash over you, that's an equally valid way to enjoy the movie to. The lack of a strong emotional connection to any of the characters (except, perhaps, the suffering of the white mare in the first act) holds it back from masterpiece status, but it's still well worth checking out for daring animation fans.

Son of the White Mare

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The story of Son of the White Mare comes from Hungarian folklore, and the goal essentially is the rescue of the universe, of all life. The mare has three sons. The first is Treeshaker, and then come Stonecrumbler and Irontempererer (not great translations maybe). They go into the underworld, to complete tasks, overcome dangers and dispatch ogres.

Terror befalls the kingdom when the princesses open the forbidden locks and unleash three terrible dragons who kill their husbands and whisk them away to the underworld to be their brides. The Snow Queen disguises herself as a white mare to escape and raises her youngest son in secret. Treeshaker grows up to be a powerful deity and goes on a journey to find his brothers and free the princesses from the underworld.

The white mare give gives birth to a son once again, who grows to be strong enough, to defeat the evil ones, who keep the three beautiful princess' as captives... and even, to find his long lost, and just as powerful brothers on his journey.

Son of the White Horse (Fehérlófia) is Marcell Jankovics's 1981 Animated Adaptation of steppe nomad legends and Hungarian folk tales (culled mainly from the collections of László Arany and Gyula Illyés), featuring the eponymous Son of the White Horse, or more accurately Fanyűvő (Treetearer or Treeshaker), the superpowered son of a white mare.

Shortly after he's born, his mother tells him a story: long ago, there was happiness and peace as the Ősapa Esőkirály (Forefather Rain King) and Ősanya Hókirálynő (Progenitrix Snow Queen) ruled the world; however, their three sons grew restless and wished for wives. This soon proved to be to their ruin, as their princesses became curious about the lock they were never supposed to open, and unwillingly set the evil dragons free. The dragons seized power, killing the three brothers, relocating their apple castles to the Underworld and kidnapping the princesses. The Forefather escaped with his power stolen, while the Queen was captured when trying to save his sons in the form of a white mare. In captivity, she gave birth two times, with both of her sons disappearing. Finally freed thanks to the King's waning powers, she took refuge in the World Tree as she became pregnant a third time. After the death of the White Mare, Fanyűvő sets out to find his similarly superpowered brothers, Kőmorzsoló (Stonecrumbler) and Vasgyúró (Ironkneader, Ironrubber, or Irontemperer). It is up to them to overthrow the dragons' rule and bring balance back to the world.

  • A-H Actor Allusion: Gyula Szabó, highly-skilled storyteller and narrator of the concurrently produced and likewise folktale-based Hungarian Folk Tales, voices the Rain King and the Kapanyányimonyók. His tone and infliction were meant to strengthen the film's bedtime story-like atmosphere.

  • Adaptation Expansion: The backstory regarding the origin of the dragons, the rulers and forerunners of the three brothers are unique additions. In the tales, none of them have any prior history; Fehérlófia (or his equivalent) is simply born from a horse with no in-universe context and in most versions he's not even related to the other characters.

  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: Kőmorzsoló spending his time shuffling mountains around doesn't make much sense without the original fairy tale context, in which a similar character called Hegyhengergető (Mountainroller) would literally roll mountains around to either help out or simply annoy regular people. And why did he never visit his sibling Fanyűvő during his childhood? They weren't originally related for one, and he never set foot in the woods because he only liked being around mountains.

  • Adaptation Induced Plothole: In a world seemingly uninhabited by anyone outside the main characters, how do Fanyűvő's long lost brothers already know who he is, what he's called and what his mission is? In the tales, they've heard about his amazing deeds through hearsay.

  • If the Kapanyányimonyók is the Rain King and the brothers his children, meaning they share the same goal of defeating the dragons and reclaiming the lost kingdom, why does he abuse, hurt and hinder them? In the original tales, the Monyók is a true villain unrelated to all other characters, yet the film kept his scenes the same despite rewriting his character. Likewise, why doesn't the Rain King get Fanyűvő and the Griffin family out of the Underworld himself, instead of merely giving them nutrition? Maybe because Fanyűvő still had to learn the lesson of self-sacrifice, but more likely because in the original story, there was no all-powerful Rain King.

  • Adaptational Context Change: The White Mare opens her story by alluding to 77 tree branches with 77 crows and 77 tree roots with 77 dragons. In the old tales, these are just fancy but meaningless opening lines that show up in multiple stories. They serve only to grab the attention of the audience. In the movie however, the Mare talks about actual tree roots and branches, and an actual invasion of dragons. The crows though seem to be absent from the film either way.

  • The film has a lengthy scene where Vasgyúró forges a sword for Fanyűvő out of the Monyók's cut-off beard, failing on his first two tries but perfecting the weapon in his third attempt. In the old stories, this scene and accompanying dialogue is actually about Vasgyúró forging his ax out of the piece of iron he was carrying around. In the film, this iron piece is an all-purpose tool, Vasgyúró (Ironkneader) literally kneads it into whichever shape he wants, and uses it as a hammer to forge Fanyűvő's sword.

  • Early on, the three dragons threaten to kill the giant chain-snake if it lets the White Mare's third son escape. This line is spoken in a different context in the folktale Juhfi Jankó (Sheep Son Johnny), where a mean king issues the same threat to a shepherd who keeps losing sight of a Black Sheep's offspring. In the folk tale, the shepherd's life is spared after he lets the pregnant Black Sheep escape because the animal hides inside a tree in the courtyard of a priest where he can't follow it. In the movie, it's not explained why the dragons spare the snake after its failure... unless their threat was meant to be taken as a prophecy, in which case it does come true when Fanyűvő, the third son of the White Mare eventually kills the snake.

  • Adaptational Heroism: In Arany's version, Hétszűnyű Kapanyányimonyók is a villain. Here, he's The Hero's father in disguise.

  • Likewise in Arany's tale, Fehérlófia's servants, including Fanyűvő, do betray him by leaving him stranded in the Underworld. In the film, Fanyűvő and Fehérlófia are one and the same, automatically stripping him of his villainous role. But even in other versions of the fable where Fanyűvő is the protagonist, his partners clearly betray him. Their animated incarnations on the other hand aren't villains, they try their best to lift Fehérlófia/Fanyűvő out of the Underworld and only let him fall back because the rope isn't strong enough.

  • Adaptational Modesty: Inverted with the Fall Princess, who proudly displays her boobs and her bush. In the original tales, she's a regular girl wearing normal princess garments.

  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Kőmorzsoló or Hegyhengergető is something of a vengeful prankster in some old fables, rolling mountains around to the grievance of others. Here, he just pushes mountains around for fun.

  • Adaptation Personality Change: Almost all of the film's characters were given unique personalities compared to the original folk stories. In the stories, the three brothers are physically strong but mentally weak but don't differ frome each other in their personality. In some versions, all three of them are villains who turn on the Son of the White Mare, in others one of them is benevolent and the other two are opportunistic but hapless. In the film, they're all good guys. Kőmorzsoló is a down-to-earth oaf, Vasgyúró is a brazen hothead, and Fanyűvő is perfection personified but has to learn to show compassion and forgiveness.

  • The three princesses are likewise generic, one-note damsels in distress in the folk tales, though they do care for each other. In the movie, the eldest princess is a selfish slut, the middle one is hysterical and mentally fragile, while the third is selfless and deeply emotional, even partaking in the final fight against the 12-headed dragon.

  • The three dragons sort of mirror the princesses. The first is lustful and gluttonous, the second is abusive and temperamental, the third is "perfect" but not strong enough to hold its own against Fanyűvő and his princess.

  • Adapted Out: Numerous events and characters were changed or omitted compared to the story Fanyűvő, Hegyhengergető, Vasgyúró, on which the film's events were primarily based. The generic townsfolk, Fanyűvő's unnamed acquaintance, a land steward and a landlord were all left out, as were the chores the heroes perform for them.

  • Said landlord sends a boar, a bull and a bison to kill the main characters, only for all three to end up as porridge ingredients. As they don't appear in the film, our heroes cook porridge out of snow instead, somehow.

  • Fanyűvő's ax, replaced in the film by a sword.

  • The subplot about Fanyűvő removing the dead dragons' tongues to use them as proof that he was the one to slay them was left out, since in the film no one would doubt him.

  • All three castles spin around on bird legs that Fanyűvő has to cut off, but in the film this only happens to the third.

  • Fanyűvő has numerous meals in the Underworld and drinks power-granting wine three times. Here, he only drinks wine once and his single meal is only referenced in the dialogue.

  • Affectionate Nickname: Fanyűvő shortens the Kapanyányimonyók's name to just Monyók. Meaning he calls him "Testicle".

  • All There in the Manual: The director based the film on his award-winning essay on the morphology of folk tales. His thoughts were then compiled into a book in 1996. A lot of symbolic motifs, quotes and imagery only begin to make sense if you have either read it or if you're familiar with the sources he used.

  • Allegorical Character: The three main dragons, representing the evil side effects of technological progress. Certain interpretations of the source tales also view Fanyűvő and his brothers under the same light, especially in the versions where they're villains. The movie obviously adopts a different approach to their portrayal, but they're still walking mythological symbols rather than individual, fleshed-out characters.

  • Amazing Technicolor World: Perhaps one of the most psychedelically eye-searing examples ever seen in a mass-release film. The entire movie is an unrelenting barrage of crazy colors and hues, which actually plays into its symbolism. This is especially true for the 2005 Hungarian DVD and the earlier Russian VHS releases, both of which suffered from horrible color grading, making the former overly bright and pink and the latter overly dark and green. This isn't the case anymore in the 2019 restoration, which significantly lowered the saturation and toned down the colors to more earthly hues. This is probably what the film looked like originally.

  • An Arm and a Leg: In a final show of self-sacrifice, Fanyűvő cuts off and feeds his own leg to the griffin to grant him enough strength to escape the Underworld. He gets it back, though.

  • Animals Lack Attributes: Averted, though heavily and tastefully stylized when the White Mare gives birth. Played straight with the Griffin.

  • Anthropomorphic Personification: The brothers represent sunrise (Vasgyúró), midday (Fanyűvő) and sunset (Kőmorzsoló), while the princesses are personifications of spring, summer and autumn. Then there are the Rain King and Snow Queen.

  • Antiquated Linguistics: Most of the dialogue was taken verbatim from several hundred year-old fables, so a lot of the terms uttered by the characters would nowadays be used mostly by rural countrymen.

  • Archetypal Character: Basically everyone. The creators deliberately avoided characterizing them as unique individuals, showcasing them as the "essence" of traditional folk tale figures instead.

  • Arboreal Abode: Both the World Tree housing the White Mare and Fanyűvő and the seemingly abandoned tree-hut hiding the hole leading to Hell.

  • The Artifact: The aforementioned dialogue. Having been lifted straight from old folk tales, it doesn't always match the on-screen events because so much got changed in adaptation.

  • Technically also the title, which is singular despite the plot revolving around three Sons of the White Mare. In the folk fable of the same name, there is indeed only one Son.

  • Ascended Extra: The White Mare, the man in the forest, the king and, to a degree, the Kapanyányimonyók. In the original stories, the Mare is a simple horse with no backstory or character whose sole role is to nurture her son and die. In the movie, she is a former goddess, the Snow Queen. Much time is spent on her struggles and she is the one who gives her son a goal, plus she comes back at the end as her goddess self. The old man and the king are both minor characters who give the hero guidance and purpose, but the movie combines them into an ancient god called the Rain King, and makes him the three heroes' father. The Kapanyányimonyók has a strong presence in the tales, but he's ultimately a second-rate villain and a plot device, a stepping stone for Fehérlófia's goals. The movie hugely increases his role by making him yet another form of the Rain King.

  • Back from the Dead: Once peace is restored, the Snow Queen, who has previously expired as the White Mare, is resurrected as her original goddess self.

  • Bad Boss: The twelve-headed dragon, who threatens the chain-snake with death should he fail to keep the White Mare and her children restrained. Given that each link of the chain is its own entity, that's a pretty extensive threat.

  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: Strangely averted, despite the film being aimed partially at and often shown to children. The Copper-Haired Princess even gets multiple uncensored full frontal shots. Even more strangely, the dragons zigzag this trope: the 3-headed dragon lacks a penis but has prominent balls, the 7-headed one has a giant penis but no testicles, and the 12-headed dragon plays the trope straight.

  • Bear Hug: The serious, wrestling-kind. Fanyűvő uses this tactic to defeat the seven-headed dragon.

  • Beneath the Earth: The Underworld, home of the dragons, which has "swallowed" the real world.

  • Big Eater: The three and seven-headed dragons, the Griffin and technically the Hétszűnyű.

  • Bittersweet Ending: On one hand, the dragons have been killed, balance restored, love found. On the other, the closing words mean this is a never-ending cycle. Another sad vision is shown during the credits: the world may become a polluted, metropolitan hellscape, or in the director's own words, America. Such endings are a staple of the folk literature the film was inspired by.

  • Bizarrchitecture: The three castles rotating on giant bird legs that turn into apples at the touch of their princesses' metal hair. Castles spinning on bird legs are found in a number of Hungarian folk tales, and presumably originated from some version of the Slavic Baba Yaga story, which famously features a hut walking on chicken legs.

  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: The official English subtitles of the 2020 release contain some deliberate and accidental mistranslations. When the White Mare gets pregnant for the third time, the dragons threaten the snake keeping her captive that they will kill it if it lets the third son escape. In the subtitles, the dragons talk to the Mare instead, telling her she won't have enough milk to raise her son, probably because the translator misheard "ha te evvel" (if you [can't deal] with this) as "a tejeddel" (with your milk) and reinterpreted the rest of the line from there.

  • The subs add that Vasgyúró tempers iron in a forge, yet there is no forge to be seen, he's just sitting beside a stream to cool the iron with.

  • The griffin father is strangely referred to as a "she" in the subs.

  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The princesses.

  • Bowdlerise: The official English subs opted to tone down some of the original dialogue's squickier lines. Why this was necessary is anyone's guess, since the film's visuals are full of sexual symbolism anyway. The word suckling is replaced with nursing.

  • White Mare's "hole" became White Mare's lap.

  • The Gnome's second name that means "Hoe Handle-Sized Dick" is reinterpreted to refer to the size of his beard. This is actually more in line with the film's visuals though, as he does sway his beard around when introducing himself.

  • Breath Weapon: Kőmorzsoló can blow fire to help his brothers forge a blade.

  • Butt-Monkey: Poor Kőmorzsoló.

  • Captive Push: The jagged chains holding the White Mare are alive, and lash at her to keep her going.

  • Catch and Return: Fanyűvű flings first and second dragon's tools right back at them.

  • Censor Steam: Blown onto the newly born Fanyűvő by the White Mare. It becomes his regular clothing.

  • Character Narrator: First, the White Mare recounts the fall of her ancient kingdom and the death of the original princes to her son Fanyűvő. The movie closes with her repeating her lines to the audience, implying something similar will happen again.

  • The Chosen One: Fanyűvő. The twelve-headed dragon knew he'd have to fight Fanyűvő well before he was even born.

  • Chromatic Arrangement: Yellow-gold for Fanyűvő, blueish-green for Vasgyúró, red-orange-pink for Kőmorzsoló. Also holds for the princesses. Although Fanyűvő does cycle through his brothers' hues when in the radiant gleam of the two elder princesses' castles.

  • Cold Open: The films kicks off with a pregnant white mare on the run.

  • Comedic Spanking: How the brothers punish each other.

  • Composite Character: A given, as there's over 50 versions of this basic story out there, most of them putting a different spin on the characters. In most versions of the original folk tale (including László Arany's), Fehérlófia and Fanyűvő are separate characters.

The film combines the mysterious old man in the forest, the king whose daughters have been kidnapped, and even the villainous Kapanyányimonyók into one, and on top of it all makes him the Forefather deity himself, dubbed the Rain King. The White Mare, meanwhile, is a form taken on by the Snow Queen goddess. In Arany's telling of the tale, deities aren't explicitly referred to; both the old man and the king are human beings, and Fehérlófia's only relative is his mothe


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