The Princess and the Spider

Once when I was walking with a friend in Kraków, we climbed up Kopiec Kościuszki. From the top we could see Kopiec Piłsudskiego.

‘Does everyone who fought for Polish freedom get their own mound?’ I asked.

Almost,’ he laughed. ‘Kościuszko, Piłsudski, Wanda.’

Wanda?’

Yes, Wanda who didn’t want to marry the German.’

What?’

You know, she jumped into the river instead of marrying a German prince.’ my friend explained.

I had read some Polish history, so I knew who Kościuszko and Piłsudski were, but I had never heard of Wanda before. And when I heard about the legend…the Polish princess, the bad German, the heroic sacrifice…it reminded me of a Scottish legend.

The Scottish king, Robert the Bruce, and his army were defeated by the English. He hid in a cave, where he watched a spider trying to spin a web. Time after time, the spider would fall from the cave ceiling to the floor, only to crawl back up the cave wall and start again. This inspired Robert not to give up. He formed another army, defeated the English at Bannockburn and Scotland was an independent country for nearly 400 years thereafter. The legend teaches Scottish children that ‘if at first you don’t succeed, then ‘try, try again.’

Poles aren’t familiar with the legend of Robert the Bruce, but they all know the film Braveheart. I remember the first time I heard the film’s title in Polish:

Jacek: Do you like Fighting Heart?

Me: Fighting Heart? Is it a card game?

Jacek: No, the Scottish film. It won an Oscar. Freedoooom, you know?

Me: Oh, Braveheart.

Jacek: Yes!

Me: What’s it called in Polish?

Jacek: Waleczne Serce. It means Fighting Heart.

My friend, Jacek, confused the translation of waleczne (brave) with walczące (fighting), and his confusion make me realise what a silly title the film actually has in English.

Poles seem to love the film – there’s definitely some similarity between Scots fighting for their freedom from a dominant neighbour and Poles fighting for their freedom from dominant neighbours. And I must admit that the film is great PR for Scots. It portrays us as brave, passionate and romantic. I’ll take that.

Just like Wanda, the hero in the film, William Wallace, makes a heroic sacrifice and dies for the cause of freedom. Yet the film Braveheart was produced in Hollywood and, while it’s based on historic people and events, a lot of story was adapted or invented to make the film more appealing. The film is legend, not history.

So I’m waiting for a Hollywood version of the Wanda legend. Maybe it could be called ‘Braveheart 2‘ and Mel Gibson could direct it? I’d cast Emilia Clarke as Wanda (same costume as in GoT), Zac Efron as the German prince, and Sean Connery as king Krak. The soundtrack would be performed by Zakopower. Since historical facts can be ignored, we can assume that the Wawel dragon was still alive at this time and plays a prominent role.

The original Braveheart won five Oscars, so I’d expect this version to win even more.

wanda2

In Braveheart, William Wallace shouts ‘freedom’ just before he is executed by English soldiers, and if Hollywood made a version of the Wanda legend, I’m sure the final scene would show something similar – Wanda jumping into the air above the Vistula river and shouting ‘freedom‘ in English at the top of her voice.

Thankfully times have changed. When I, a foreigner, asked for her hand in marriage, my Polish wife didn’t even consider jumping into the Vistula river…well, if she did, she didn’t mention it.

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