Anna Kapusta: From an eco-fairy tale to an environmentally friendly lifestyle. An eco-friendly reading project by Agnieszka Marzęcka

Uniwersytet Jagielloński


Artykuł poświęcony jest fenomenowi ekokrytki literackiej w perspektywie nowego gatunku polskiej ekobaśni. Opowieść o ekologicznym stylu życia (metaforze ekologii ludzkiej biografii) została przedstawiona w oparciu o nowoczesną ekobaśń autorstwa Agnieszki Marzęckiej zatytułowaną Zwyciestwo Króla Czystości.



The article is dedicated to the phenomenon of the literary eco-criticism from the perspective of the new genre of polish eco-fairy tale. The fabulous tale about ecological lifestyle (the metaphorical ecology of human biography) was illustrated on the basis of Agnieszka Marzęcka’s contemporary eco-tale The Victory of King of Cleanness.

Eco-friendly literature: functional literature (not) only for children.


The today’s reading market requires that literature should be given the status of a product by its author and publisher. The status of an object designed for a target client with defined aesthetic (consumer) needs. Naturally, it is not only about market rationality of supply and demand undermining the literary quality, commercialisation that ruthlessly treats literature as an object[1], but particularly about a significant shift of the work’s aesthetic role to the functional domain of a text, and therefore about the primacy of its practical use by a reader. What the reading public, designed not only in high-circulation marketing plans but also in the reading market rules[2] secondarily adopted by authors themselves, sees in reading is particularly the chance of personal growth: broadening its own experience or going on an escapist journey into a stress-free world of fiction. Such self-awareness of reading[3] is, to a certain extent, the fulfilment of post-structuralists’ dream about an active virtual reader who takes out threads needed in both present and episodic act of reading from Barthes’ textual fabric. A long time ago, in positivist projects of work at the grass roots, such a cultural phenomenon was called a tendentious literature[4], an ideologically marked literary production. A positivist, thinking reader owed one thing to the author and his programme. It was an appropriate and previously expected “pull-out” of ideological themes from the text. These themes were to build the reader’s cognitive horizon. Naturally, in the code provided for by an authoritarian creator. In other forms of literature with a thesis (programme), which are known in Poland particularly thanks to their socialist realist exaggeration, the literature functionality was marked in an extremely pejorative way. The thesis-controlled act of reading was perceived as less creative, worse. The wide current of literature for children (Waksumnd, 1985) has, however, escaped this judgement as in the process of education, children are always subject to the programme (although culturally diverse) ideologisation in social science which is called “socialisation.” Late modernity teaches the reading public how to independently outline biographical and aesthetic limits (Giddens 2001) . Independently but on the basis of interpretative cooperation with social reality that is changeable, inconclusive and requires abilities to follow a distant project. Nowadays, it is necessary to know how to read tendentious literature (frequently referred to as the motivating literature) as all the abilities to cooperate with another human convinced of his own, often controversial arguments are required of us. In late modernity, one needs to know how to be both a mature leader and a guided child. In this meaning, the detailed status of a reader does not differ from the status of each mediocre social actor, an individual constituting a part of a community. As a result of this culture-creating shift of limits between a “non-adult” (requiring an educational control) and “adult” (intellectually independent) reader, didactic literature (including eco-fairy tales) functions as a peculiar, double-encoded text, i.e. symbolic reserves possible to be assimilated by a child[5], but also as a reservoir of stories attractive for an adult. Another, extra-literary aspect of this phenomenon – reading the literature created for children by adults – is the social shift of the limits of childhood dating back to the mid-20th century, which undoubtedly has two observable signs: professionalisation of childhood (lowering the age brackets of formal and informal education) and – its social reverse – self-infantilisation of adults (marketing aestheticisation of immaturity). The attraction of literature “for children” in “adult perception” is also connected with culturally expansive psychological trends[6] oriented to timeless and, so to speak, nonlinear childhood that, as a part of an individual reading therapy, each of us can have regardless of age. From this point of view, literary learning how to be a child is a significant breakthrough in social functioning of the institution of literature. In other words, the literature “only for children” has hereby become almost a relic. Nowadays, there exists, i.e. functions in the reading sense, double-encoded (childish-adult or adult-childish) literature as only such has a chance of marketing adaptation to the publishing market. And the market always reflects the main trend of its clients’ needs. This is where an interesting synthesis of two cultural phenomena comes from: a genre fusion of functional literature for children and auto-therapeutic how-to books for adults[7]. One of the most distinctive signs of this promising marriage of the “childish” didactic literature and “adult” publishing economy of the late modern age is the fairy tale by Agnieszka Marzęcka A Victory of the King of Cleanliness[8]. It is a herald of the new genre of eco-friendly literature: an eco-fairy tale. An eco-fairy tale is a story for children hidden in adults and for adults who are hidden in children. It is a story about ecology of biographical transformation. A transgression that is possible in everyday life thanks to an environmentally friendly lifestyle. In this meaning, the ecology of reading is the successful ecology of being in the world.

An eco-fairy tale: eco-friendly literary instructions.

When suggesting the new genre name “eco-fairy tale,” I mean a particular kind of didacticism of this functional literature. It is about a symbolic translation of the world of such ecological values as respect for Mother Earth: water, forest and animals into ready-made eco-friendly strategies expressed in words. Literature in this form loses its programme autotelic nature eulogised in Cassirer’s thinking, but her lost “seclusion” can no longer be regained in the present realities. Nowadays, modernist and avant-garde gestures of “art for art’s sake” simply clash with everyday’s economy of thinking and, excluding professional literary scholars, cannot take place in ordinary people’s private biographies. In other words, a today’s reader is incapable of going too often on independent and reckless reading journeys. The crucial role is played here by time capital which is scarce, limited and subordinated to entropic coping with life[9]. Reading “for a purpose” as a conscious path of personal growth should be, in my opinion, recognised as a sealed cultural fact, a phenomenon – neither a good, nor a bad one. A phenomenon that occurs and therefore exists, that exists i.e. is real. Eco-friendly instructions for children and literary relaxation for adults – this is a social portrait and a cultural face of an eco-fairy tale.

What does A Victory of the King of Cleanliness mean?

The plot of Agnieszka Marzęcka’s eco-fairy tale is heartbreakingly simple and winningly episodic. It is, therefore, exactly what the supposed, “double” reader (a child and an adult) expects. A child will see here a story about two kings: the piggy wiggy and the bathing king and their two visions of the world: the environmentally destructive and the eco-friendly one. The story, which is easily assimilated thanks to its rhyme, activates one of the oldest and most popular moral patterns of the struggle between personified Good and Evil (Kapusta, 2004, 23-42). Clarity of such division of the world into the dark and bright one, active and passive one, has been enlaced with the dynamics of both kings’ fight presented as a dramatic final of the bathing king’s educational campaign addressed to piggy wiggy. The characteristics of both kingdoms, two rival, ecological visions of the world are as follows. This is how the storyteller describes the mental landscape of both kings:


When the night falls outside, deep but pale

I hope you will listen to my fable or rather a fairy tale

Would you listen to my plotting, or maybe a pleasant talking?

Would you? Then listen carefully as I will tell you cheerfully

At this story beginning I will tell you about a niche of cleaning

There, where the Sky and Earth touch, and by a lake baby-birds hutch

Forests beautiful and majestic spread in which beeches and hornbeams can be met

Behind the clearing, near the forest’s brink, lives the piggy wiggy king

His castle, though not vast, is covered all in dust

If you go for the forest’s exploration, soon you will see its devastation

Frolicking is all the king does, chiefly rolling in the grass

Everyone is afraid, to meet him on their way

Different tricks he can perform, even turn you into stone.

The only defence, what a pity, is water in a great quantity

A bit further, behind a clearing, lives a charming king of cleaning

What the king values best, is order, fresh fragrance and tidiness

Both kings are engaged, in a cleaning war full of rage

Bathing king though distressed is often piggy wiggy’s guest

And persuades him with a zest, not to be such a pest.

[from polish translated by Jadwiga Smith]

The bathing king’s educational campaign is significantly (metonymically)[10] supported by the image of a pure water drop that, as it will turn out in the culminating point of the story, will save the good king from the magic designs of the bad one. Talking about the text metonymy – a drop of water as a symbolic abridgement of the whole plot – it is worth realising the linguistic fact that it constitutes a means of language expression related and common to mythical thinking, the pars pro toto logic (the rule of a “part” for the “whole”) and all memory techniques (mnemonics) useful in education. It is easier to remember an image and an image that additionally constitutes a developed symbol[11] refers to creative functions of imagination that is not determined at all by the reader’s age[12]. Nowadays, a drop of water could easily become another logo of a social, eco-friendly advertising campaign as it triggers deep, individual associations. It is not by accident that every novice poet has written a nostalgic poem about a drop of water as this image has always stimulated the imagination. Thus, a cognitive, culturally established pattern and a feature of individual creativity are combined into a coherent educational strategy. Its dynamics are perfectly illustrated by this eco-fairy tale’s content. A drop of water that reconciles both kings is also, in this story, a sign of peculiar, eco-friendly pacifism of the bathing king, and his negotiating concept of a “cleaning war” consisting in deepened conversations with piggy wiggy proceeds in an unusually dynamic way:

Bathing king though distressed is often piggy wiggy’s guest

And persuades him with a zest, not to be such a pest

But piggy wiggy makes threats, and the bathing king briefly dreads

“That you to my dwelling come, not afraid of any harm…

I can my evil magic employ and your court easily destroy”

Regaining composure the cleanliness king replies:

I don’t want any fight for we are both kings with pride

But the forest will not glitter when it’s strewn with tones of litter

Once streams and rivers meandered here with waters crystal clear

Today everyone knows that sewage in them flows

You destroyed almost all in a forest that’s not small

Think about your careless action, discontinue great destruction

But the magician with a roar changes into a wild boar

And he wants to tear apart his opponent who’s quite smart

Even though without a gun, the bathing king can quickly run

In a forest running  race he can everyone outpace

Still, to avoid being caught he finds a hiding spot

There he waits in peace for the conflict to decrease

But not ready for ceasefire piggy wiggy tries his fab attire

A disguise of a squirrel he puts on and chases the king until dawn

No one would have guessed how the situation then progressed

Dark clouds change into rain and wash the king not in vain

He still chases the bathing king around the forest ring

But to his great dismay his evil power fades away

The magic he used at night is gone and out of sight

The overnight rain drops shower deprived him of his power

The bathing king without disdain takes over the royal reign.

[from polish translated by Jadwiga Smith]


As it turns out, the final and successful transformation of the piggy wiggy king takes place only as a result of combination of the bathing king’s peculiar educational strategy (the element of “culture”) and intervention of a raindrop (the element of “nature”) that falls down from a cloud on the king running like mad in various zoomorphic forms (wild boar, squirrel). This symbolic abolition of the artificial and environmentally destructive barrier between “nature” and “culture” is also a visualisation of effectiveness of the most spectacular eco-friendly campaigns[13], whose success should be the practical (pragmatic) integration of knowledge and sensitivity in everyday activities undertaken by an individual. In this point, the eco-fairy tale combines both cognitive horizons: of a child and of an adult. As regards cognition, a child will be pleased with a vivid story about the revitalising power of rain, whereas an adult may find a symbol of aquatic transgression in the text. Growth inserted in the symbol developed from metonymy is available to every biography and this is what constitutes the power of an eco-fairy tale which displays this interpretative work as an attempt to find an ecological niche by individuals in their particularistic everyday life. In this perspective, “ecologically” means “in accordance with one’s individual nature,” and this “nature” may be revealed by means of an eco-fairy tale.


Eco-friendly reading: promotion of a lifestyle.

A literary translation of a story into an instructional lifestyle is a crucial element of eco-fairy tale’s social pragmatics. The moral expressed straight and without metaphors is addressed to a child, whereas its adult, metaphorising equivalent remains under management (or in symbolic imagination) of an adult reader. This is just another level of social functioning of such a genre of didactic literature: real and imagined co-reading. Reading together, in a subjective relation, in favourable conditions for social bonds and harmony (in a niche of eco-friendly everyday life). Maybe as a parent who reads a book to his child or maybe as an adult who finds a child in himself? Maybe as a child who finds support in the act of reading or maybe as an adult who gives himself over to relaxing infantilisation thanks to the “childishness” text? This question visualises the power of therapeutic and eco-friendly influence of the eco-fairy tale’s simple words:

Please remember my dear mate cleanliness is just great

Clean water never fear, let dirt forever disappear

Only kings with little power lead their life without a shower

What’s the moral of this story? No shower, no glory

Do you want your health be splendid washing hands is recommended

Let’s keep the bathing king with us and defeat dirt without fuss

Our schools can look nice at a very little price

If we collect dreadful litter our cities will be neater

For our rivers best solution is not to allow more pollution.

If we clean in the morning, evening and at noon, bad habits will vanish very soon.

[from polish translated by Jadwiga Smith]

Washed hands, defeated bad habits, fulfilled commitments towards oneself and the world. Such a state of reality constitutes a tempting vision for a contemporary reader not only due to a satisfactory sense of order and well completed “training in cleanliness” but because an eco-friendly lifestyle is nowadays the full (naturally utopian, i.e. habitually myth-creating) integration with the environment. In the realities of late modernity, it can mean not only classic strategies of environmental protection entered into one’s everyday schedule, but also a subjective feeling of the sense of the world resulting from a conviction that one’s self-fulfilment is in progress. An eco-fairy tale coherently teaches both orders, in both codes of literary “childishness” and “adultness,” and its outcome is simply this double “childish-adult” or “adult-childish” reader pleased with himself (and with the world). And in late modernity, this learning makes life easier for everyone.

Translated into English by Martyna Wielgosz.

The text of the eco-fairly tale “Zwycięstwo Króla Czystości” (“A Victory of the King of Cleanliness”) translated into English by Jadwiga Smith.

Correction and markup language: Tony Ames.




Marzęcka, Agnieszka; 2008, Zwycięstwo Króla Czystości (A Victory of the King of Cleanliness); in:  Magazyn Pielęgniarki i Położnej, n° 9, p. 22.

Bowie, Fiona; 2008, Antropologia religii. Wprowadzenie (Anthropology of Religion. Introduction), translated by Kamila Pawluś, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego.

Fiut, Stanisław, Ignacy; 2008, Kulturowa tożsamość poetów (Cultural Identity of Poets), Kraków: Wydawnictwo Akademii Górniczo-Hutniczej.

Giddens, Anthony; 2001, Nowoczesność i tożsamość. „Ja” i społeczeństwo w epoce późnej nowoczesności (Modernity and Self-Identity. Self and Society in the Late Modern Age), translated by Anna Szulżycka, Warszawa: PWN.

Górka, Anna; 2009, Zjawisko copingu religijnego wśród członków Art of Living (The Phenomenon of Religious Coping Among Members of the Art of Living); in: Ex Nihilo, n°  2,  pp. 73-92.

Kapusta, Anna; 2004, Kain Byrona – dramat podmiotu poznającego (Byron’s Cain – Drama of the Subject of Cognition); in: Artes. Prace Studentów Międzywydziałowych Indywidualnych Studiów Humanistycznych Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego (Artes. Papers by Students at the Jagiellonian University Interdepartmental Individual Humanities Studies), n° 2, pp.  23-42.

Kopaliński, Władysław; 2001, Słownik Symboli (The Dictionary of Symbols), Warszawa:  Oficyna Wydawnicza Rytm, p. 480.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude; 1973, Wprowadzenie do twórczości Marcela Maussa (Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss); in: Mauss, Marcel; Socjologia i antropologia (Sociology and Anthropology), translated by Marcin Król, Krzysztof Pomian and Jerzy Szacki, Warszawa: PWN, pp. XI-LVIII.

Martuszewska, Anna; 2002, Dydaktyzm (Didacticism); in: Józef Bachórz and Alina Kowalczykowa (ed.), Słownik Literatury Polskiej XIX wieku (Dictionary of the 19th Century Polish Literature), Wrocław: Ossolineum, p. 192.

Nyczaj, Stanisław; 2007, Metafizyka tworzenia (The Metaphysics of Creation), Kielce: Oficyna Wydawnicza “STON 2”, pp. 164-168.

Poźniak, Agnieszka; 2006, Dlaczego dzieci wędrują w baśniach (Why Do Children Wander Through Fairyland); in: Studia Międzywydziałowej Grupy Badań nad Mitem Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego (A Yearbook on Mythology. Studies of the Jagiellonian University Interdepartmental Group Conducting Research on Myths), n°  1, pp.131-148.

Slany, Katarzyna; 2008,  Ziarno miłości, czyli baśniowe opowieści klasy 1a (A Grain of Love, i.e. Fairy Tale Stories by Grade 1a), edited by Katarzyna Slany, Kraków: s.n., p. 13.

Waksmund, Ryszard; 1985, Poezja dla dzieci, mity i wartości (Poetry for Children, Myths and Values), Warszawa:  WSiP.

Żurek, Wojciech; 2009, Od struktur mitologicznych w filmie do fenomenów religijnych w rzeczywistości społecznej na przykładzie “Gwiezdnych wojen” George’a Lucasa (From Mythological Structures in Films to Religious Phenomena in Social Reality on the Example of George Lucas’ Star Wars); in: Ex Nihilo, n° 1, pp.  137-151.

[1]             To read about the cultural clash of authors (particularly poets) and marketing systems, both commercial and secondarily symbolic ones illustrating the social process of text commercialisation (Fiut, 2008, 11-17).

[2]             The fact of adopting a media discourse in direct presentations of authors who marginalise the meaning of the text itself in favour of its “author” deserves separate study.

[3]             The Internet (as an instant messenger) plays a particular role in building this self-awareness as a channel of peculiar “texting” of a meeting with the text’s author (Nyczaj, 2007, 164-168).

[4]             Interestingly, in the 19th century, “didacticism” was still opposed to “tendentious literature,” but the latter was positively evaluated. According to the entry “Didacticism” in the Dictionary of the 19th Century Polish Literature, “in the 19th century, this term [didacticism] is rarely used with reference to literary phenomena and when it appears, it is most often a pejorative epithet describing a thesis novel or a social comedy. The fact of playing a particularly or even exclusively educational role by literature is generally required and described by means of the following categories: tendency, tendentiousness, determination, aim, usefulness or sometimes utilitarianism and most rarely – idea of a literary work.” (Martuszewska,  2002, 192).

[5]             To read about children’s readiness to assimilate the symbolic world of culture (Poźniak, 2006, 131-148).

[6]             It is necessary to mention hundreds of how-to books (also in Polish) referring to a psychodynamic idea of “inner child” whose mature reintegration ensures life success.

[7]             Teachers mention even a “fairy tale therapy” (personality identification with the fairy tale content) which is used in every age bracket. In the preface to the collection of fairy tales written by children, Katarzyna Slany recommends it as a book for children and adults alike: “Thanks to this book, the reader will have the unquestionable pleasure of going on an imaginary journey to fairylands, where everything can happen. For children, this journey will constitute one of several fantasy escapades as it is a well-known fact that young readers love daydreaming and listening to unusual stories, whereas for adults, it can be a magical return to childhood (…).” (Slany, 2008, 13).

[8]             The functionality of this poem – a functional literature text designed for promoting an environmentally friendly lifestyle undestood as eco-friendly activites undertaken by the reader in his everyday life – was emphasised already in the nature of this text’s first edition. The eco-fairy tale was published in a specialist magazine for nurses and midwives and in this paper, the entire text is quoted on the basis of this edition (Marzęcka, 2008, 22).

[9]             The social theme of “coping with life,” especially in the meaning of “coping with stress,” makes not only reading but also other choices of post-industrial societies’ contemporary members pragmatic. Its spectacular example is the so-called practice of “religious coping,” the phenomenon of shaping one’s private spirituality on the basis of successful, holistic coping with life (and especially with everyday life’s stress). This phenomenon was perfectly described by Anna Górka (2009, 73-92).

[10]           Metonymy as a linguistic means was considered, already by Lévi-Strauss, the basic means of myth-creation as an association (a peculiar mental shortcut) indicating the magical thinking (Lévi-Strauss, 1973, XI-LVIII).

[11]           Władysław Kopaliński particularly emphasises the transformational character of the symbol of water and “transformation” (Kopaliński, 2001, 480).

[12]           The fact that a cultural text has the observable (empirical) power of social transformation in the dimension of a reader’s individual biography is most frequently connected by social researchers with the presence of deep mythological structures in its symbolic body. Naturally, film cultural texts constitute the most spectacular examples of this phenomenon in late modernity (Żurek, 2009, 137-151).

[13]           Ecology understood as a harmonious union of an individual (human, animal or plant) with the environment is a sign of both holistic, sacred world view and the newest eco-friendly trends. Such ecology is therefore simultaneously cosmology and anthropology implemented by a human being through such simple, everyday activities as washing hands as it takes place in “A Victory of the King of Cleanliness.” In this late modern concept of ecology, Fiona Bowie emphasises the element of “surroundings,” “environment” and therefore relation, stressing that the term “environment” comes from the French word environner – to surround and means our surroundings, everything that affects development of animals and life of plants (Bowie, 2008, 118).


Anna Kapusta urodzona dnia 29 grudnia 1982 roku w Krakowie. Antropolożka społeczna i literaturoznawczyni (w zakresie antropologii literatury). Doktorantka w Zakładzie Antropologii Społecznej Instytutu Socjologii oraz na Wydziale Polonistyki Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego. Absolwentka: Podyplomowych Studiów z Zakresu Gender (2007) w Instytucie Sztuk Audiowizualnych Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego, Socjologii Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego (2007), Międzywydziałowych Indywidualnych Studiów Humanistycznych Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego (2007) oraz Filologii Polskiej (specjalności komparatystycznej) Uniwersytetu Jagiellońskiego (2006).

Autorka monografii: Mitologie twarzy. Cyprian Norwid i Stanisław Wyspiański – próba komparatystyki mitu (2007), Od rytuału do mitu? Teatr Śmierci Tadeusza Kantora jako fakt antropologiczny (2011), Gry w kulturę: gry w mit. Mitografia jako lektura (2012) i Kieszenie i podszewki. Podteksty kultury (2013) oraz współautorka monografii: Writing Life. Suffering as a Poetic Strategy of Emily Dickinson (2011), a także twórczyni koncepcji merytorycznej i współredaktorka monografii Kultura i rozpacz. Analizy ekspresji rozpaczy w tekstach kultury (2009), współredaktorka Rocznika Mitoznawczego. Studiów Międzywydziałowej Grupy Badań nad Mitem (2006, 2008).
Opublikowała książki literackie: Biały ptak (2003), Kobiety mistrza (2006), Znaki życia (2008), Pisać rzęsą poemat (2009), Nie jestem poetką (2009), AnKa. Sennik byłej poetki (2010), Imbiry (2010) oraz Listy do skały (2011).

W latach 2012-2013 laureatka stypendium START Fundacji na rzecz Nauki Polskiej w dziedzinie literaturoznawstwa.