If you haven’t noticed, I’m sort of on a “Brave” kick today. And rightly so! Merida, my absolute favorite princess from the first day I saw her fiery red hair cross my television screen, is finally recognized as an official Disney princess.
“Brave” is one of those movies that I could watch over and over again and it will never get old. However now that I’ve actually been to Scotland, the movie means even more to me. The movie isn’t just about a princess’s fate; it also represents an entire nation and its heritage. Allow me to elaborate . . .
In the first scene we meet Queen Elinor and King Fergus as they celebrate their daughter Merida’s birthday. Merida, after firing an arrow into the woods, comes across a will-o’-the-wisp. It seems like a cute and minor detail, but the wonder and mystery of that simple encounter sums up Scottish superstition. It’s a mystical relationship, deeply embedded in culture.
The Scottish are superstitious. Even Angus, Merida’s horse, is superstitious! Later when she is riding him, he absolutely refuses to enter the ring of stones. It’s not that he isn’t able to—other horses are able to enter the stone ring—he just flat out doesn’t want to. And Angus has all the stubbornness of a true Scotsman.
The Scottish also love music and storytelling. It’s in their blood!
At least four times in the course of the movie we hear Fergus telling the story of how he lost his leg, and we know that he tells it often because Merida’s little brothers (who can’t be more than six years old) know the story by heart already. When I was in Scotland we went on a ghost tour of the Edinburgh—which was one of at least a dozen more of its kind—just to hear their stories and legends.
To the Scottish, every story worth telling is legendary. If it’s not legendary then it isn’t worth telling, and if it’s worth telling then you exaggerate the truth to make it legendary! However, at the heart of every story is a lesson. As Queen Elinor reminds Merida, “Legends are lessons that ring with truth.” They’re also really good to have on hand when you get bored. Like this scene:
What do they do to kill time? Tell stories and sing songs. Obviously. You don’t understand Celtic tradition until you’ve sat around the hearth listening to ghost stories and singing ballads. And speaking of hearths, the movie is incredibly accurate in the fact that you never see a room without a fire lit in the fireplace.
Why is a fire always lit? Because of this:
One word: RAIN. It wouldn’t be a movie about Scotland if it didn’t rain at least once. Or twice…
Hey look! More rain.
It also wouldn’t be a movie about Scotland without random sheep.
The one thing the movie is missing is a view of a field dotted with sheep, but they did get the landscape right. Lots of green . . . and lots of rocks. Oh, and castles.
And what about Scottish food? Well of course it wouldn’t be Scotland without haggis!
It also wouldn’t be Scotland if there wasn’t some talk of alcohol. How does Merida distract an entire roomful of Scottish warriors? By suggesting they all go and drink from the king’s private reserves. Naturally.
Of course, when talking about food you also have to talk about tea. It’s just as big of a deal there as it is in England. So naturally when Merida presents the meat pie (also very Scottish) to her mother disguised as a “peace offering,” the tray has to include a pot of tea. It wouldn’t be a peace offering without tea.
But I think my favorite part of the movie has to be the highland games. There’s nothing quite as Scottish as a friendly competition to demonstrate feats of great strength and pride. The Scottish are all about a bit of friendly competition. Even though this particular competition only involves one challenge to win Merida’s hand, they’re not just going to do that one task and go home. No, they’re going to make a whole day out of it, and all the men are going to compete in the other stuff just to prove their strength. Because they can. But there’s more to a highland festival than just throwing around tree trunks and dumbbells. It wouldn’t be complete without dancers!
There are records going back to pre-Christian times of such festivals including dance competitions. And while I’m no Scottish dancer—I’m strictly Irish—I do believe those girls are in quite good form. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think those dancers are well represented.
Oh, and of course each clan is wearing a different tartan plaid. Every clan had its own plaid pattern, and that’s what you wore to show your family pride. If you were a man, of course you wore a kilt. While many people laugh at kilts today, they are still a symbol of great national pride. Men wear them for any occasion, and they’re certainly not viewed as feminine in the least. Of course, if you ask any Scotsman what is under their kilt, they’ll all tell you the same thing . . .
Also, there are mischievous children. And more sheep.
The Scottish also aren’t shy folk. They’ll tell it like it is. And they aren’t ashamed to let you know how they feel. Even if it’s awkward.
I think overall, if you wanted to get a good glimpse into Scottish life, “Brave” has done a pretty good job of summing it all up in a nutshell, while also spinning a very good story. But it wouldn’t be Scottish if it weren’t also a good story, now would it?
Merida is by far my favorite princess not just because she is unconventional, but because she is a very real and down-to-earth character. She has her ups and downs, her strengths and weaknesses. She is both beautiful and imperfect. She is capable of growing as a person. But most of all, she has a deep connection to her family and her heritage. Everyone likes to point to the beginning of the movie where she is spirited and wild and free, but you can’t forget the end of the movie. Merida bravely walks through the hall filled with grown fighting men, just as she had seen her mother do. She puts into action everything her mother has instilled in her. She is prepared to concede to marriage if that’s what it takes to save her family. She is ready to sacrifice everything she has worked for because she finally understands the implications for her family, and indeed her entire kingdom. That is why I like her so much. She isn’t just independent, she is dedicated and most of all she is brave.
Basically, I think Merida is the epitome of what a Disney princess should be. She doesn’t have to sing or have conversations with woodland creatures. She doesn’t have to wait for a prince to come and save her. She only needs to have such a love for others that she is willing to sacrifice. As Zeus said to Hercules, “A true hero isn’t measured by the size of his strength, but by the strength of his heart.”
Also, there are more sheep.