Of all the gifts Santa Claus has ever brought my daughter the one that has proven to be her favorite is her LeapPad tablet. If you haven't seen one it's part iPad, part Nintendo DS and it's got a library of great educational games, story books, and other neat stuff at very affordable prices. Plus, it doesn't have internet capabilities, which I appreciate very much because the kind of things that I look up in the course of this job have left every device in the house with a browser full of pretty creepy search histories.
The other day she was playing her Brave game on the way to daycare. It's a good title with simple puzzles and a lot of peripheral facts about woodland creatures. At four-years-old it's already taught her that stealth missions are bullshit, and I was twice her age before I figured that out. Merida's brothers feature heavily in the first zone, which prompted my daughter to ask me "Daddy, what are triplets?"
"Triplets are three babies born to the same woman at the same time," I said. "It's like twins, but there are three of them."
Satisfied she went back to her game, but focusing on Merida's brother for a second made me realize that the entire plot of Brave was actually Merida's father King Fergus playing an animated version of Game of Thrones. Not the magic bear stuff, I mean. Not even Tyrion Lannister could plan that sort of thing, but the whole debacle of the lords coming to compete for Merida's hand and her ultimate rejection of all of them was clearly from the beginning planned by her father in order to prevent having his kingdom eventually descend into a bloody civil war.
Think about it... there's Merida, his oldest child, but also a girl. It's never even hinted in the film that anyone ever expects her to inherit the throne as ruling regent. All the actions of her mother indicate that her primary place is to be a dutiful wife to whoever she chooses to raise to the level of heir to the throne of DunBroch
But her father has other plans, and at almost every turn is keen to encourage Merida's more headstrong and war-like ways. You get the impression that it's simply because he loves his tomboy daughter, and there's no doubt that he does think very dearly of her. The primary purpose though has more to do with the state of the throne.
Because Merida has three male heirs beneath her who are all equally in line, and that is a problem.
History shows us that disputes of lineage are the catalyst for schisms and bloodshed, and that's with just regular brothers and cousins in the mix. If Merida is not to rule, then one brother must become king while the other two are regulated to eternal princes. Such arrangements rarely work out well.
Then you have to consider that DunBroch is maintained by three powerful lordships under Fergus, Clans MacGuffin, Macintosh, and Dingwall. Before the uniting of them all under Fergus the four houses were locked in constant war. It was the leadership of Fergus against Vikings, Romans and Northern invaders that led to the foundation of the kingdom and Fergus' dynasty. There's no long tradition of kingship in their part of the Highlands. This whole concept is really very new, and presumably very fragile.
Three powerful clans and three equally worthy male heirs of Fergus. If Merida is taken out of the equation then odds are almost certain each of the triplets will wed a daughter of a different clan setting up a constantly shifting power imbalance that will utterly destroy the tranquility of the kingdom.
Elinor's plan is obviously very traditional. She will make one clan more powerful than the other two by crowning the son of one of the lords heir to Fergus by marrying Merida. Unfortunately, this plan is just as likely to upset the delicate foundation of the kingdom as allowing the title of king to fall to Harris, Hubert or Hamish. The film makes it quite clear that each of the clans will take a loss in the matter quite personally, and it's only their grave respect of Fergus that holds them in check.
By the time Brave concludes the lords of the kingdom have witnessed Merida facing down not only themselves, but a massive bear in combat. In essence, she performs the perfect metaphorical reconstruction of the same traits and actions that led her father to the throne. She denies all three suitors, but placates the lords through appeals for the freedom of their children to choose their own mates and an implied promise that she may yet wed at a later date to give them hope.
In doing so Fergus has clearly established that Merida, not her future husband or her brothers, will rule DunBroch after him. It ensures his direct lineage both genetically and spiritually through his like-minded daughter, and while her brothers may resent their prince status it's unlikely that they would be able to topple their established and beloved sister and still ensure that they would not be double-crossed among themselves.
In short, what looks like a man who just doesn't have the heart to correct his daughter to be more ladylike is in reality a Machiavellian plan to groom her to succeed him because she is the only person who can and not tear apart the Highlands in another series of civil wars. House DunBroch could give everyone in Westeros a run for their money.
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