Friday, March 7, 2008


Recently on one of the listservs I'm on, someone asked whether anyone knew what the movie Penelope was based on. There is a book by Marilyn Kaye, published in 2007, but the person asking the question thought the story originally came from an older folk tale. I was intrigued by the question so I did some web searching, and here's what I found. It turns out the movie IS actually an original screenplay based on an older tale and not the Kaye book. In fact, the book seems to be a movie tie-in product. The book itself says "Adapted from the screenplay by Leslie Caveny" and the movie website describes Caveny's creative process in coming up with the story. (A number of the reviews I saw online incorrectly state that the movie is based on Kaye's book, which is a shame. Caveny should be getting complete credit for her idea!)

In interviews, Caveny mentions that she based the movie on a folk tale, but she doesn't provide any more detail. My searching led me to believe the folk tale is probably that of Tannakin Skinker, a woman born with a pig snout whose only hope of having a normal face is marrying. It's pretty obscure: the only mentions I found of it are in scholarly works. Below are a link and an article excerpt for anyone interested.

There's a lot of information about the story in Jan Bondeson's The Two-Headed Boy, and Other Medical Marvels (in fact, there's a whole chapter about hog-faced women!).

This excerpt is from Kathryn Hoffmann's Of Monkey Girls and a Hog-Faced Gentlewoman: Marvel in Fairy Tales, Fairgrounds, and Cabinets of Curiosities:

"... It was the tale of Tannakin Skinker, the hog-faced gentlewoman. A fifteen-page pamphlet that told her story bore the following title: 'A certaine relation of the hog-faced gentlewoman called Mistris Tannakin Skinker, who was borne at Wirkham a Neuter Towne betweene the Emperour and the Hollander, scituate [sic] on the river Rhyne. Who was bewitched in her mother's womb in the yeare 1618 and hath lived ever since unknowne in this kind to any, but her parents and a few other neighbors. And can never recover her true shape, tell [sic] she be married' (n.p.). Tannakin's parents had, in typical fairy-tale fashion, 'very lovingly lived together, without any issue' for a long time, their lack of child 'being no small griefe unto them.' Mother Skinker, having finally conceived, to her great joy, makes the common fairy-tale error of refusing alms to an old woman who was heard to say, as she departed: 'As the mother is hoggish, so swinish shall be the Child shee goeth withall.' Miss Skinker is subsequently born with a snout and must be fed from a trough. A famous artist (who also happens to be a mathematician and an astronomer) predicts in equally familiar fashion that marriage, but only of course to a gentleman 'who would take her to his bed after loyall matrimony,' would cure her state. The promised dowry of forty thousand pounds supposedly attracted suitors from throughout Europe, desirous of the hand and the dowry (if not the face) of the maiden, willing to try their luck at transforming her back into human form through marriage."