Monday, November 11, 2013

The Nain Rouge: French Folklore in The Returned

THE RETURNED: The French series The Returned is more than your average zombie story. The show, which chronicles what happens when the dead of a small Alpine town begin to inexplicably reappear, constantly uses atmosphere and setting to convey a disconnect between worlds. But one character, Victor, seems to exist both inside and outside the community of the newly-arisen undead. Victor has powers the other revenants do not, as well as a much more mysterious origin. If we look at his character in connection with French folkloric tradition, however, it's possible to view Victor as a nain rouge, which has profound implications for The Returned.


First, you may be asking, what the hell is a nain rouge? Well, we're glad you asked.

A nain rouge (literally, "red dwarf") is a specific type of lutin, or mythological creature found in French folklore. Lutins originate from Normandy, and are described most notably in the fairy tale Le Prince Lutin, written by Marie Catherine d'Aulnoy in 1697, as beings with no physical obstacles.

Specifically, d'Aulnoy gives the description of a lutin is as follows:
"You are invisible when you like it; you cross in one moment the vast space of the universe; you rise without having wings; you go through the ground without dying; you penetrate the abysses of the sea without drowning; you enter everywhere, though the windows and the doors are closed; and, when you decide to, you can let yourself be seen in your natural form."
When viewing Victor through the context of this definition, his unexplained knowledge of how others have died and his ability to enter other people's thoughts seem to be definite characteristics of a lutin; Victor is uninhibited by the physical world in ways that the other revenants of The Returned are not.

In d'Aulnoy's tale, Léandre, the price who becomes a lutin, is also given a red hat with two feathers meant to make him invisible. While Victor doesn't have the ability to become invisible (at least not yet, anyway), the red clothing is a motif that can be easily recognized throughout The Returned.

The first time we meet Victor at the bus station with Julie, as well as almost any time he appears on screen after that moment, he is wearing a red shirt or jacket.


Consistently appearing in red also ties Victor not only to the folklore of lutins in general, but also to the figure known as the nain rouge. The nain rouge, most notorious for haunting the city of Detroit, Michigan, was thought to have been brought over to America by one of the first French settlers of the city, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.

Given its name for its red-faced appearance, the nain rouge is known as a harbinger of doom, who appeared "only when there was to be trouble." 

We can guess right away that Victor's appearance at the beginning of the series aligns with the trouble brewing as a result of those who have newly returned from the dead. But, the connection gets even stronger when it is revealed that Victor was present at (and even contributed to causing) the bus accident that killed Camille and the other schoolchildren.


But, the similarities do not end there. Throughout the first season of The Returned, Victor often mentions that he believes Julie is his "fairy," who his mother told him would always protect him.

In the story of Le Prince Lutin, the prince is closely tied to fairies on several occasions. It is a fairy named Gentille who transforms Prince Léandre into a lutin in the first place, as well as provides him with the hat that grants him the ability to become invisible. At the end of the story, the prince also falls in love with a fairy who lives on an isolated island inhabited only by women. When the fairy princess's mother is angered by the match, it is once again Gentille who comes to the prince's defense so he can live happily ever after.

If Victor is granted the classification of lutin in The Returned (or at least treated as such, even if the label is not explicit), his presence signifies more than just a miracle or a mystery. A mythological origin tied to French folklore places Victor apart from the other revenants and establishes that there is more than just one story to be unraveled in the coming seasons.

Even death can't keep us from looking forward to that.


Written by: Jacqueline 
Jacqueline is one half of the team at the helm of Red Herry, and the whole brain behind almost every fish pun you can find on this website. She is a fierce advocate for helmets, ice cream, and the Oxford Comma.
Follow Jacqueline on Twitter and Tumblr.

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