Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Legend of 'Ladyhawke' (A Deep Dive)

"Always together - eternally apart."
NOTE: This article was meant to be a gentle tribute to the late Rutger Hauer, and a light delve into tales or legends possibly related to Ladyhawke. It turned out that the question of related tales was complicated, and we found ourselves knee-deep in time-consuming research, trying to sort fact from fiction. We hope what we have uncovered is useful. Settle in - it's quite a ride... 

Footnotes included after relevant section for easier reference. Also, formatting isn't staying put so please forgive the odd weirdness.]  
Rutger Hauer - Man of Mythic Roles & Black-Armored Knight of Genre
With the sad news of actor Rutger Hauer passing away on July 19th after an illness, we thought it overdue we pay tribute to the film we will forever remember and cherish him best in: Ladyhawke*.
*You say Bladerunner, we say Ladyhawke.
Have a read of this glorious entrance, detailed in the shooting script for Ladyhawke:
Hauer plays the cursed black knight, Captain Etienne Navarre, in this often undervalued fairy tale film, which, according to the production notes, has its origins in thirteenth-century France. What exactly those sources might be, though, is not easy to pin down...

We thought we'd attempt to connect Ladyhawke with the legends and/or tales it was supposedly based on and share those here. Little did we know it would take a full week of heavy-duty research and that we were in for some surprises...

We hope you've saddled up your trusty steed, because...
...we're going on a Quest!
(Capital 'Q'!)

In case you'd like to take some detours, or skip any side-quests, here's a handy roadmap of where we're going to go. To go to any section in the future, just scroll on down (apologies we can't time-jump you there):
  • Ladyhawke - A Soaring Overview
  • Legends or Lies?
  • The '13th-Century Legend' References - A Closer Look
  • So Are There Any Legends Or Tales Like Ladyhawke?
  • Of Bird Women & Wolf Men in Medieval Literature
  • - 1. Wolf Men & Bisclavret
  • - 2.The Hawk, the Lady & Medieval Romance
  • Night & Day - Curses Medieval & Curses Fairy Tale
  • Following Breadcrumbs of 'Story DNA'
  • The Legend of Ladyhawke - A Revisionist Take On Fairy Tale Tropes
  • Rutger Hauer - A True Knight
  • Additional Notes
  • A Note About the Controversial Score
  • Sources Referenced
Ladyhawke - A Soaring Overview
But first, a quick refresher. Here are a couple of trailer options (remembering this was the 80's when trailers were, er, getting better but still weren't great, especially if they had narration. We give you a choice of three:
  1. trailer with original soundtrack and lines but no voice-over
  2. the original trailer with hideous voice-over
  3. fan-made trailer with different (non-rock) music.
The choice is yours:
A quick synopsis, in case you're still in the dark:
Upon breaking out of a dungeon, youthful thief Phillipe Gaston befriends Capt. Navarre, a man with a strange secret. Navarre and his lover Lady Isabeau d'Anjou were cursed by the wicked Bishop of Aquila, who desires Lady Isabeau for himself. His dark magic prevents the pair from ever being in each other's presence except for a brief moment at twilight and another at dawn, so they enlist Gaston in a dangerous plot to overthrow the Bishop and break his evil enchantment.
To give you some details beyond the synopsis, here are a few delightful extracts from a Los Angeles Times review, written by Sheila Benson, that is worth a read in its entirety:
“Ladyhawke” soars. It is enchanted. Laced with medieval magic, it has stalwart knights and tremulously fine ladies, heavy-hoofed horses who might have clattered straight out of German fairy tales and broadswords so heavy you or I could never heft them. Most of all, it is a bold, beautiful, marvelous vision... 
Since the legend has been around several hundred years, it doesn’t reveal too much to say that the lovers’ plight is sad and seemingly insoluble: the Bishop (John Wood, the senior computer wizard of “WarGames”), yearning after Isabeau, has made sure that if he cannot possess her, neither can her lover, Navarre. Under the Bishop’s curse, each takes an animal form, one by night, the other by day. The only time when both are human together is a glimmering between night and dawn, only a yearning split-second... 
Although, in other films, transformations have been more painstaking, hair by hair and fang by fang, these human-into-animal effects are brilliant because each actor embodies the character of his/her animal, and possibly because so much of the magic is completed in our minds... 
The actors are extravagantly good: Hauer, as always, with a sense of intelligence behind his physical exploits; Pfeiffer, strong and exquisite, and Broderick, embroidering on his role as go-between, is irresistible, comic and wistful by turns. And the presence of such classically grounded British (or in McKern’s case, Australian) actors as Wood and Ken Hutchison to round out the cast gives the film a splendid weight and presence... 
Marvelous stuff, this, down to its last images, as Isabeau “soars” in a radiant moment of ecstasy, whirling around and around, still inhabited by her winged spirit.
Legends or Lies?
As previously mentioned, according to the production notes, the original Ladyhawke story by Edward Khmara** has its origins in a legend from thirteenth-century France. What legend that specifically was, does not appear to be noted anywhere. Turns out the reasons why that is, are rather complicated.

** Script by Edward Khmara, Michael Thomas, and Tom Mankiewicz

With the 13th-century connection initially taken at face value, as the years went by and no one wrote about that legend (or legends), fans began to believe that the statement of there being a "13th-century French legend" was false; that this was just part of a marketing ploy to give the film historical weight. Most of these fans had no idea the story writer, Edward Khmara, had been saying this for a long time. There is a note from the scholarly work Race, Class, and Gender in “Medieval” Cinema by Angela Jane Weisl, in the chapter The Hawk, the Wolf, and the Mouse: Tracing the Gendered other in Richard Donner’s Ladyhawke, stating that Khmara dispelled this promotional myth early on, and asserted that his story was purely original. (From the chapter's abstract):
Although the film’s promotional materials claim it is based on “a thirteenth century European legend,” like many medieval truth-claims, this one turns out to be the product of invention, one of the few genuinely medieval qualities the work displays. Edward Khmara, the film’s scriptwriter, dispels this myth, suggesting instead that the story came to him while walking around Paris at night looking at gargoyles and old churches.
The story of "walking around Paris" is one of two reports
from respected, well-researched and cited sources,
with the other quoted below. The fact there are two
different statements on the circumstances of the
inspiration for the story add to the muddiness and confusion.
Despite Khmara's insistence, a Guild inquiry and eventual settlement, proving that the Warner Bros marketing tag for Ladyhawke, (quote) "dates back to a 13th century French legend" was a myth, it seems the studio continued to use the public's acceptance (approval?) of such a statement to their advantage and that is still perpetuated to this day. Ironically, a legend was born.
The Warner Brothers marketing department said the movie was based on a true medieval legend. Of course, Mr. Khmara, who created the story from his writer's imagination, took issue with that claim. He took his complaint to the Writers Guild Association and was awarded a cash settlement from Warners. However, the medieval legend claim had a life of its own by then. (Source)
In Harlan Ellison's Watching: Essays and Criticism (by Harlan Ellison), there are a couple of sections/chapters which deal with how movie companies lie to the consumer - whether for marketing or to justify certain content. The excerpt below uses Ladyhawke as an example, and details the contention between writer Edward Khmara and Warner Bros, and the ongoing misinformation:
From Harlan Ellison's Watching: Essays and Criticism - [Installment 30: In Which The LI'l White Lies Thesis (Part Two) Takes Us By The Snout And Drags Us Unwillingly Toward A Door We Fear To Open]
"We were talking about the false lures thrown out by the makers of movies to convince us that trash has sidebar merit, value apart from the work itself. And I mentioned that we had been lied to as regards, among other films, the 1985 fantasy Ladyhawke. And one of you wrote insisting that I was wrong, that the film was based on some obscure medieval legends. (later in chapter) ... In the September/October 1987 issue of Scannings, an information search and retrieval newsletter for librarians, we find the following Q&A exchange:
Q: On what legends was the movie "Ladyhawke" based? The story concerns lovers who are cursed. He is a wolf at night, she a hawk during the day. They assume their human forms only at opposite times.
A: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Library had a press release from Warner Bros, stating, "legend dates back to the 13th century from paintings on the walls of the Mauseturm Castle in the Rhine Valley to the Loup Garou legend of France's Auvergne Forest to Rodriguez de la Fuente in Spain."
When we went to gather these legends... we found the Mauseturm story did not match, the loup-garou, or werewolf, story was too vague, and the only Rodriguez de la Fuente we found was a 20th century Spanish naturalist.
We wrote to scriptwriter Edward Khmara for an explanation. Here is his reply:
"The story of two lovers kept apart by taking human form only at opposite times of day was an inspiration that occurred to me while jogging on the roof of the Hollywood YMCA.
The studio contention that "Ladyhawke" is based on an old legend is, in fact, a violation of Writers Guild rules, since it denies me full rights of authorship. The Guild undertook an action against Warner Bros, on this account ... and a small amount of money was paid as compensation ... Warner Bros.,  or its publicity department, continues to circulate material restating the old legend story.
The inspiration for the character of Phillipe the Mouse was Francois Villon. His "Testament" recounts his imprisonment and mistreatment by Bishop Thibault d'Aussigny, in the dungeons of Meung. When the Dauphin, soon to be Louis XI of France, passed through Meung on his way to the coronation, he freed the prisoners, including Villon. This incident was actually used in the original story of "Ladyhawke."

The '13th-Century Legend' References - A Closer Look
1. "paintings on the walls of the Mauseturm Castle in the Rhine Valley"
Mauseturm Tower is now known as Mouse Tower (essentially a corruption of the original name) and has its own false legend surrounding it. (The closest castle to the tower is actually Ehrenfels Castle, not Mauseturm Castle.) The legend of Mouse Tower does involve an evil bishop (a misattribution in the legend - the truly cruel one had a different name) but the similarities end there.
The Mouse Tower: Nikolai von Astudin (1847–1925)
According to legend, Bishop Hatto II, Archbishop of Mainz was a cruel and selfish ruler. When famine struck Germany, the starving townspeople pleaded with the Archbishop to give them more food from the storehouse. In response, he invited them all to come into the storehouse, and take all the food they could carry. But once they were inside, he barricaded the doors, saying "You have pestered me like rats, and now you shall die like rats", and set the place ablaze, remarking to his conspirators: "Hear the mice squeak!" as he listened to their death-cries. (This quote exists in several slight variations.)That evening the Archbishop returned to his mansion to celebrate his solution to the famine. When he woke the next morning, he found his portrait had been eaten out of its frame by rats. As he looked out from his window, he saw the army of rats headed straight for him, and he fled to his island tower, hoping the rats couldn't swim but the rats had taken to the water in a wave... In the end, the cruel man is devoured by rats, in a sort of (sadly, totally apocryphal) poetic justice. 
They have whetted their teeth against the stones,And now they pick the bishop’s bones;They gnawed the flesh from every limb,For they were sent to punish him! 
(From a combination of sources: 1, 2, 3 - also see Curious Myths of the Middle Ages/Bishop Hatto by Sabine Baring-Gould 1866 for similar tales around the world)

You can read the details of the fascinating legend and folklore HERE (via Atlas Obscura overview) or the actual legend HERE in the 1865 text. There are no paintings on the walls that we can find reference to (apart from the Bishop's portrait) or reports of frescoes on the actual tower walls, but here are the illustrations accompanying the old tale:
This legend could make the basis of a story, but the only real similarity to Ladyhawke is the nature of the EVIL BISHOP. There are, possibly, some of visual cues from the text illustrations that may have been taken, such as the BISHOP IN BED, THE GALLOPING HORSE (how it's framed & and the type of landscape) AND THE HORRIFIED POSE BACKING AWAY though they're not "paintings on the walls of the Mauseturm Castle". And of course, there is the idea of a "MOUSE" being key to the revenge on the bishop, something which could have inspired the nickname, stature and nature of Philippe Gaston aka The Mouse. A writer may have added those descriptions in the story, but as far as inspiring the story of Ladyhawke, it's a character inspiration at best.


There is a piece of writing on Bishop Hatto, which reads very much like the retelling of a legend, and has many more similarities to the plot of Ladyhawke. Whatever historical record you read about the evil Bishop Hatto, all agree that there are "many legends of his cruelty" and "a wide variety of legends detailing the way he died" - whether by the hand of God via nature, or by the Devil (who was apparently so disgusted with the Bishop, he threw him into a crater -or Hell- himself). This other text involves the Bishop's obsession with a woman, and there are many more elements in this legend in common with Ladyhawke than first appears.  Here's a summary:

Scorned by a beautiful woman he was in love with as a youth he turned to the church and made a good career for himself, including building the (Mouse) Tower on the Rhine. He invited the woman for a visit then locked her up in Mouse Tower. Despite years of being given every luxury (except freedom) she never gave him the slightest favor or hope for returned affection. The Devil appeared to the Bishop and made him a deal, which the frightened Bishop attempted to circumvent by trickery, but the Devil, with the aid of the Chief Rat of the castle, in exchange for the guarantee that his giant rat horde would be fed, outwitted him and the rat horde was incited to attack. The Bishop fled across the water to Mouse Tower, hoping the rats could not swim but they did, caught him and ate him as the Devil took his soul to Hell. As promised to the Chief Rat, when he found his way to the top of the tower with the captive maiden inside, squeezing his way under the door, he was transformed to a stately young man - such as the lady had had in her dreams for years - and they fell in love and lived happily.

So here we have a WOMAN OBSESSED OVER BY A BISHOP, being TRAPPED BY A BISHOP, A BARGAIN WITH THE DEVIL, a RODENT CRAWLING THROUGH SMALL SPACES, TRANSFORMATION FROM ANIMAL TO MAN, RESCUE and MEDIEVAL ROMANCE. The problem with this 'legend' is that we are unable to find any secondary sources for the other elements of the Rat Chief, medieval romance or the rescue by transformation (of rat to 'stately man'), from the Bishop's tower. The page is nested under the fiction section (a German site which explores culture, beliefs etc) which remains confusing as retellings of legends or tales are posted there too. The lack of additional sources lead us to believe it's likely an original work that uses elements of different legends or tales and may even have been created after Ladyhawke. It makes no reference to Ladyhawke, but the similarities are interesting. You can read the full - we suspect fictional -legend HERE.

2. "the Loup Garou legend of France's Auvergne Forest"
This legend is actually about a Were-woman. Here's a summary:
The Were-Woman – In the mountains of Auvergne in 1588, a nobleman saw a hunter out in the forest around his chateau. He told the hunter to report to him what conquests he gained from his hunt when he returned. The hunter later stumbled upon a wolf and in the struggle, cut off its paw. The hunter bagged the prize and presented it to the nobleman at his chateau. When the pouch was opened, they found a woman’s hand bearing at gold ring instead of the paw of a wolf. The nobleman recognized the ring and immediately sought after his wife. He found her in the kitchen nursing an injury. Her hand was missing. After questioning, she admitted to being the wolf that fought the hunter. She was burned at the stake in Ryon. (source)
There is this general note about the Loup Garou (of France) but the elements are not similar enough to be more than inspiration notes, if that. Here's the note from"Typically, the French werewolf or loup garou has human reasoning within it, hence it attempts to free itself from the lycanthropic curse. It was placed under the curse by someone’s witchcraft"

Again, as far as the basis for the Ladyhawke story, it's thin ice, but here are two possible aspects, included in the film, that may have taken inspiration from this and other loup garou (French werewolf) legends: 1) the idea of the NOBLE WEREWOLF and 2) the WEREWOLF HUNTER sent to bag the 'beast'

3. "Rodriguez de la Fuente in Spain"
This is the one note that has some weight. Relevant information is excerpted from Wikipedia:

Rodriguez de la Fuente is the name of a Spanish Naturalist and broadcaster, born in 1928. In 1960, he became one of King Saud of Arabia's personal falconers after impressing the Saudi Government with two attractive specimens on behalf of Franco, which allowed him to become popular and produce his first documentary programme, Señores del espacio (1965). His knowledge covered areas such as falconry and ethology, emphasizing the study of wolves
In 1961 he was a consultant for the film The Cid, (FTNH Ed: a popular French legend, which became a well-known tragicomedy play, then this film. It revolved around a knight) shot in Spain. In 1964, thanks to his growing international contacts with scientists, Rodríguez de la Fuente presented a study on the then state of peregrine falcons in Spain at the International Congress for the Protection of Birds of Prey held in Caen, (France). That year, he also published his first book, The Art of Falconry. During these years, (1970-1974) he took up a number of conservationist causes. He initiated a campaign for the rescue of animals under the threat of extinction, most notably the wolf, which probably owes its survival in the Iberian peninsula to him. Wolves are now extinct in most countries in Western Europe; the remaining populations in central Spain struggled for survival. His work inspired appreciation and respect for the wolf, but at the cost of confrontation with shepherds and hunters.

There are enough unique elements here that it would be plausible to have used de la Fuente as character inspiration, specifically him being SKILLED IN FALCONRY, IN COMBINATION WITH HIS STUDY OF WOLVES so perhaps there is something to this, but only in as much as Francois Villon was the inspiration for the character of the thief, Mouse (played by Matthew Broderick).

The combination of elements from each of these three sources does give some pause, and makes for a good starter case, though it could use a little more footing as proof (which is probably why the settlement happened). What we would like to know, is who recorded/decided those three sources were to be claimed as inspiration in the first place? Was it a conversation Khmara had with someone during the story/movie development that was taken out of context? Were these rough notes, or clippings on a storyboard for an early draft that went a different way? Did someone at Warner's "hunt down" some "legends" for the marketing claim? We would love to know...

One thing that's clear is that, even if these claims by Warner Bros originated in early research notes someone saw and decided to use for marketing purposes, there is no single 'legend' or legend combination from of these three sources upon which Ladyhawke could be considered based. Elements inspired by, perhaps, but a retelling, no.

So Are There Any Legends Or Tales Like Ladyhawke?
Why is the idea that this story is based on legends so tenacious? Why can't such a claim be easily dismissed? Ladyhawke does indeed feel familiar as if it originates in a medieval legend, so could there actually be one - or a few - that might have (maybe subconsciously) inspired the idea? Khmara himself acknowledged the influence and inspiration of historical record to create his characters but what of the fairy tale, or fantastic aspect?

Let's look at it from a different angle - Khmara's experience, qualifications, and travel. According to his LinkedIn profile, he studied at UCLA and received a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), English Language and Literature/Letters, and also has a Masters of Fine Arts (MFA) in Theater. He lists Russian as an additional language and traveled to both Paris, France and many locations around Italy prior to the production. It's not unreasonable to assume that such studies and experiences would bring Khmara into contact with classic medieval literature, especially French (since Le Morte d'Arthur is a standard subject of study in literature - the importance of which will become apparent shortly).

So are there, in fact, legends, tales or texts - especially ones which Khmara may have been exposed to - similar to Ladyhawke? It's a question with a complicated answer but, very basically, the answer is "yes".

It took some digging and while medieval legends involving both wolves and hawks (or falcons) are fairly easy to find, it should be noted that none seemed to have enough similarity in their elements to feel related to Ladyhawke on their own. There are aspects of different texts though, that, when combined, do seem to share some "story DNA" with that of Ladyhawke.

Written by an anonymous poster, the paragraph below eluded google quite well excepting via breadcrumbs, which we, of course, followed. We ended up going full circle and found ourselves back on the IMDB page for Ladyhawke. It reads:
While the plot of Ladyhawke has its own unique twists, one example of a relevant medieval legend is the story of Bisclavret. This legend was recorded in the second half of the 12th century, as part of a work now known as The Lais of Marie de France. In the legend, Bisclavret is a happily married baron and knight of Brittany who disappears for three days of each week. When pressed by his wife, he admits that he goes hunting in wolf form. She becomes upset about this and betrays him, taking another knight as her lover and inducing him to steal Bisclavret's clothes so that he can't resume human form. Eventually the wolf becomes a companion of the king, and while at court has the opportunity to attack both his rival and his former wife. The wife is forced to admit her actions and return Bisclavret's clothing, whereupon he is restored to human form.The image of a hawk occurs in several texts of the same time period, in (Germanic) minnesang. The poet von Kuerenberg, for instance, wrote "Women and hunting birds are easily tamed. When one lures them correctly, they fly to the man." Dietmar von Aist writes of a woman who compares herself to a falcon, choosing her loves as freely as the wild falcon chooses its perch. Bird song is also linked with the season or moment of love or parting. (IMDB - posted without credit or tag)
If a writer - a breed of folk who are known to be walking sponges for information and inspiration - were to absorb some of these ideas while studying or researching, it's very likely they would appear in some form in that writer's work. It's almost impossible to avoid. It's clear Khmara has a classical education in literature and a keen awareness of history. If Khmara had been exposed to Medieval French literature and legends (which is highly likely given his credentials and experience) it would be fair to say that Ladyhawke is indeed an original story but is informed by - or has roots in - medieval literature and historical accounts. 

With humans being the story-driven creatures that we are, that's enough for us to sense a familiarity and weight in a new story that contains historical and social validity.

But just how original is Khmara's story? Let's do a deep-dive into medieval legends and beyond to find out if there really are works with similar motifs and elements. we're going to break it down by the main elements in which Ladyhawke is recognized for and look at those separately. By the time we're done it should be clear how unique a story Ladyhawke is, (full respect, Mr. Khmara!), provide insight into just how well this script was written, and why the "13th-century legend" myth refuses to fade away.

Of Bird Women & Wolf Men in Medieval
To hunt down some specifics that might have seeded themselves in a young student's writerly mind, we headed to Project Gutenburg - the online library and keeper of original/ public domain texts, and one of the reasons we love the internet - and (another digital goldmine) and proceeded to read romances of the medieval kind, specifically French Mediaeval Romances from the Lays of Marie de France, the Minnesang of German minstrel Der von Kürenberg (Falkenlied) and the Minnesang of romantic poet Dietmar von Aist

To orient you historically, we're starting in the late 1100's.
                                                    †The lais of Marie de France are a series of twelve short narrative
Breton lais (courtly love poems) by the poet Marie de France.
They are written in the Anglo-Norman and were probably
composed in the late 12th century. The short, narrative
poems generally focus on glorifying the concept of courtly
love by the adventures of their main characters.

After a lot of reading and looking at multiple sources, it's clear the most cohesive and similar story of use to us (in comparing medieval texts to Ladyhawke), is Bisclavret and its various evolutions. That particular tale has elements that evolve (but not change), over time yet it stays recognizable since its first incarnation. For ease of discussion we'll break the medieval texts into two sections: 
1) those that relate to the cursed knight and noble wolf and 
2) those that relate to the image of woman as hawk (or falcon), the medieval ideal of romantic love and passion

1. Wolf Men & Bisclavret
"Bisclavret" ("The Werewolf") is one of the twelve Lais of Marie de France written in the 12th century. Originally written in French, it tells the story of a werewolf who is trapped in lupine form by the treachery of his wife. (Wikipedia description)
This is where we find the earliest mentions of a wolf man who is distinctly different from a werewolf, in a popular tale in the 1100's titled Bisclavret. It's thought that the way Marie de France uses the Breton term for wolfman, 'Bisclavret', for one man only and with a capital letter (unlike the norman French term garwaf, meaning werewolf) describes his uniqueness, as if he is the only one (ie. the only werewolf) like him - civilized, intelligent, noble.

Marie de France's noble wolf-man is both the victim of a curse and the hero of the story. He's forced to say a wolf through betrayal by a (he believed) 'pure' person (his wife) and is present for her eventual punishment of when the 'curse' is broken and he is able to return to human form.
The noble wolfman in literature is nowhere near as common a motif as a werewolf, indicating he is cursed differently and, in some ways, an entirely different 'animal', that is, not a true werewolf at all. It should be mentioned that the 'sympathetic werewolf', appears to be a peculiarity of medieval literature. (Note: Russian medieval lays -poems- have their own "Prince Werewolf" who can transform into a number of animals, including a wolf and a falcon. He is born under interesting circumstances with these abilities but has to learn how to use those abilities - interesting read HERE.)
- 2008 dissertation by Brent A. Stypczynski 
Ladyhawke motifs shared with Bisclavret checklist:
  • Nobleman betrayed & cursed by (supposed) symbol of purity - CHECK (but wife, not BIshop)
  • Lady conspires with a knight to escape the curse - CHECK (but not original couple)
  • Man cursed to be/stay a wolf - CHECK
  • Woman cursed to be bird - MISSING
  • Day/night, opposites, together but apart - MISSING
  • Commoner/knave acts as go-between for couple - MISSING
  • Largely civil (retains some rational mind) even in wolf form - CHECK
  • Largely civil (retains some rational mind) even in hawk form - MISSING
  • Romantic estrangement - CHECK (but couple are at odds - not both cursed)
  • Curse broken & human form regained - CHECK
  • Punishment for the cause of the curse - CHECK
  • Happily Ever After - CHECK (but not as a couple)
2. The Hawk, the Lady & Medieval Romance
"Calisto's hawk is a complex emblem that consciously announces the type of love and literature that is the subject of (La) Celestina. in essence, it heralds the work's major thematic intentions: the portrayal of the clash between reality and chimerical courtly love, while foreshadowing the violent human tragedy that befalls those who indulge themselves in its fantasies and dissipations.. the theme of passion and its sinister, destructive outcome." (Discussing La Celestina by Fernando de Rojas - 1499 - from "Calisto's hawk and the images of a medieval tradition" (article) by E. Michael Gerli, 1983)
Women have been portrayed as being transformed into birds in literature, myth and fairy tales all around the world; swans, firebirds, storks, peahens and more, come to mind, as well as all those transformed maidens held in cages in Jorinda and Joringel. Often in the tales, the type of bird is important and symbolic. Medieval literature takes this symbolism to the extreme, inciting many a vibrant discussion with regard to just what a certain text might be implying.

The hawk, specifically, often appears in medieval literature as a symbol of the beloved but it's also more layered than it first appears. Wildness, passion, idealism, and class are all referenced when using the hawk (or falcon) as a symbol. When looking at Ladyhawke with this view, having Isabeau take the form of a hawk is akin to an ideal medieval profession of romantic love, passion and indicates her to be the ultimate woman. That this woman is both a survivor and completely faithful to her chosen knight, is in perfect keeping with the medieval romance 'genre'.

Here are a couple of examples from well-known medieval romantic poems (lays, minnesingers and ballads):
The two falcon songs of Der von Kurenberg and Dietmar von Aist, implicitly associate the lover with a falcon, a powerful bird that can be tamed but retains the potential and the will to fly away. The motif of lover but still trained wild falcon, or hawk, appears in the Italian Tapina in me(from Anthology of Ancient Medieval Woman's Song by A. Klinck)
The "Falkenlied" of the Kürenberger is one of the most famous texts of German minstrelsy. The complaint about the escaped hawk alludes to the pain of separating two lovers. It remains unclear whether a man or a woman speaks. (From the online translation of Liebeslieder aus dem Codex )
The excerpts below discuss the symbolism of birds, specifically falcons, in the TV series Robin of Sherwood: The Power of Albion. The examples reference multiple well-known medieval works of literature, and explain the subtext occurring when falcons and birds of prey are used in Gottfried von Stressburg's Tristan and Isolde (1211-1215), Dietmar von Aist (mid to late 12th century),
Metaphors of falconry and the hunt also appeared in medieval poetry of love and passion.–and chivalry itself idealised the romance of choosing a lover, particularly amongst the noble-born; in one contemporary verse, that wish is compared to a falcon freed, soaring and landing at will:

“‘How fortunate, falcon, you are!
You fly where you want,
you choose for yourself in the wood
any tree that pleases you.
I too have done that:
I have chosen myself a man
whom my eyes picked out…”
–Dietmar von Aist, mid to late 12th century.  
In a literary sense, the bird could represent the object of desire, as in this excerpt from (Gottfried von Strassburg’s) Tristan and Isolde, where Isolde’s nobility, beauty, and bewitching gaze are described by way of references to the stately falcon: 
“…exquisitely formed in every part, tall, well-molded, and slender, and shaped in her attire as if Love had formed her to be her own falcon, the fulfillment of every wish beyond which there is nothing…Rapacious feathered glances flew thick as falling snow, ranging from side to side in search of prey.” 
This idea of birds representing the social hierarchy appears in several surviving texts, such as the work of the 13th-century minstrel Baudouin de Condé, who was not speaking with optimism when he predicted, “There will come a day when lanners {serfs} will fly higher than the crane-falcons {nobles}.” That the Lady Marion and Lord!heir Robert are both fallen nobles is shown when Huntingdon’s affections are communicated by a simple robin’s song, in contrast to the youth’s falcon-carrying father. The falcon was the “royal” raptor, and falconry a noble art with echoes in feudal society. In the work of scholar Dafydd Evans – specifically, a paper called The Nobility of Knight and Falcon – we read that, “the most obvious social ground for comparison of knight with falcon was between falcon as successful bird of prey and knight as proficient fighting man…(source: Robin of Sherwood: Addendum, “The Power of Albion” – On falconry. - Sword, Table, Antlers blog)  Baudouin de Condé 13th century and scholar Dafydd Evans' paper, "The Nobility of Knight and Falcon" (1988).
In looking at how Isabeau is portrayed, as well as her relationship with the various other characters in the movie, it's easy to see that the form of 'hawk' was not chosen randomly for the movie either, but is very much in keeping with romantic poetry of the middle ages and adds another layer of meaning to her scenes. 
Before Ladyhawke, Pfeiffer’s looks had been subject to some fairly outlandish criticism. Some said she was too pretty to ever be taken seriously. For that reason, she was hesitant to try out for Ladyhawke. In her own words, she didn’t want to play a “beautiful princess romping through the woods,” a Disney character, if you will. After reading the script, though, she changed her mind, citing it as one of the most charming stories she’d ever read. (Screenrant)
Isabeau is not a Disney princess by any stretch but that doesn't mean she's not a fairy tale heroine. Isabeau's character embodies the passion of the wild woman and the vulnerability of the feminine, harking back to older - much older - fairy tales. She is not a princess trapped (in a tower, or a cage) waiting to be freed; she is the personification of the medieval symbol of true love - the hawk‖ - and a tenacious woman who would climb up a glass mountain in iron shoes - whatever it took to be with the one she had chosen as her lifelong mate.

We also wanted to mention a similarity of circumstance in a Russian fairy tale, in which a young woman is transformed into a bird because she rejected the romantic advances of a powerful man. In the tale the spurned man casts a transformation spell in his possessive rage (a sorcerer in this case, instead of the evil Bishop in Ladyhawke). The tale is a version of The Firebird. The following is a summary from Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia by Suzanne Massie. 
An orphaned village girl, Maryushka, was a gifted embroiderer who had no interest in the riches she could attain by selling her wares far and wide.  Instead, she wanted to stay in her village, selling to those who found her work to be beautiful, and charging only what was needed for her craft, and the buyer could afford. She would not leave her village. The merchants went away, year after year.  Then the evil sorcerer, Kaschei, learned of her skill, and shape-changed into a handsome youth who went to her cottage and asked her to leave with him, to embroider for him alone, so others could no see, and to be his Queen. She declined. Enraged, he turned her into a bird -- a Firebird. He himself became a black falcon who captured the Firebird in his claws and flew off. Maryushka, aware, sought to "leave a last memory of herself" and plucked her plumage, feather by feather as she was taken away, so each floated and wafted to the earth below. Then Maryushka, the Firebird, died in the claws of the Falcon. But her feathers, rainbows of light, each remained where it landed, never covered, and bright despite winds and rains, beautiful, where they had fallen. They were magic, though, and only those who loved beauty and dedicated themselves to making beauty for others could see them.
(You can find a more detailed version online HERE.)

This version of Firebird is unique because the girl has worth all on her own. There is no family, no prince. She is beautiful, skilled, and happy before she is assaulted by a vain and possessive man and afterward still retains who she is despite it. The story lauds the values of beauty for its own sake and resisting seeing that beauty exploited. There are parallels with Isabeau's character in her independence (remember, Isabeau has been on her own for three years and is very capable in the wilderness), in the way Maryushka resists the advances of the sorcerer and in how she adapts to keep her free will, despite being transformed into a bird. The tale doesn't say whether Koschei/Kaschei meant for her to become a firebird, but we find that powerful - and akin to the power of a hunting bird that though tamed, should always be considered wild.
 ‖ According to director Richard Donner and producer Lauren
Shuler, one of the major hurtles to clear was the casting
Isabeau. Michelle Pfeiffer’s audition tape was appealing enough, but as Shuler tells it, it wasn’t her reading that
won her the part, but her sense of humor. Apparently, at
one point on the tape, she demonstrates what she imagined
Isabeau the hawk to look like, putting the camera on
a little bird, and providing voice over from off screen.
This sense of humor immediately endeared her to Donner,
and she got the part. (Screenrant)

Night & Day - Curses Medieval & Curses Fairy Tale
Curses are a fairly common thing in medieval literature and legends, as was - not surprisingly - the belief in supernatural, or holy, signs and portents warning of great and terrible endings or beginnings, with regard to the "heavenly bodies" (mainly the sun and moon).

But are there any curses (or beliefs or superstitions) that might echo the cursed lovers in Ladyhawke: for him, wolf by night, man by day, and her, hawk by day, woman by night - "always together, eternally apart"?

Apart from superstitions about 'heavenly events' (such as eclipses) most stories in which people are cursed to be animals are either born that way - with the curse often broken by the actual (or eventual) spouse - though they rarely had much choice about being put in that situation, or there is a 'sorcerous device', such as the pelt of an animal being worn at a certain time, that allows the person to transform.

Although our research is by no means definitive, we could not find any mention in which lovers:
a) are both cursed to (different) animal forms
b) return to human form by either night or day, but at opposite times
c) that the day versus night separation is key to the curse on the couple

It would seem that the motif of lovers separated by day and night [with the secondary motif of one an animal by night, the other an animal by day] keeping company yet unable to be truly together, is unique.

If our readers are aware of a tale that shows a separation motif of this kind, we would LOVE to know! Just leave a note in the comments and we'll update this post.

While we are here let's have a quick overview of other tales of interest. It's clear the following tales share elements with each other (with some even being variants of each other) and illustrates even further how original the day/night curse in Ladyhawke truly is. (Note: if any reader is aware of a similar tale, legend, folktale, urban legend, poem or other - especially from the Medieval period - we would love to hear about it!)

Changing Form by Day and Night
There's only one tale in which the fall of night and rise of dawn are key components for transformation that we are familiar with. (We are not counting Beast-Bridegrooms that change to human form to sleep with their poor wives under cover of darkness.) In Hans Christian Andersen's The Marsh King's Daughter a girl is born half-monster, half-human but shows her monstrous nature when she is beautiful and her beautiful nature when she is toad-like. Breaking the curse (with divine assistance) allows the girl to overcome her inner beastly nature and retain her human form - sweet inside and out. There is a similar fairy tale by George Macdonald, title The Gray Wolf, though it's not clear there is a curse, it's not clear it is dependent on the time of day, and there is no eventual change to permanently human, only an internal fight with a dual nature. 

Part-Time Humans (Who Hide Either Their Beast-Form Or Human Form)
Most of these tales also require the breaking of a curse, but not all. Some, like The Crane Wife and the Selkie Wife are truly half-human, half-other - there is no curse to break. (Note: not a definitive list!)
The Frog Princess                               The Wild Swans
The Crane Wife                                   The Black Bull of Norroway
Hans My Hedgehog                            The True Bride
The Enchanted Pig                              The Selkie Wife
East of the Sun, West of the Moon      Swan Lake
Juan Wearing a Monkey Skin
The Cursed Bridegroom Tales
There are many of these, almost all having their roots in the myth of Cupid & Psyche, with Beauty and the Beast now being the most well-known. In some of these, the man takes a beast-form during the day and is only a man at night when he visits his bride (and she must promise not to look at him, or it will make the spell worse). In these cases a curse must be broken for them to be fully human.

Cursed to Animal Form (Until the Curse Is Broken)
Brother & Sister                                 Jorinde & Joringel
The Golden Stag                                Beauty & the Beast
Frog King

Bonus Medieval Curse: The Pig With the Golden Key
Liptov Castle (Slovakia) - "locals swear there is a horrendous swine wandering around at night with a golden key stuck in its mouth! Believe it or not, this beast once used to be the gorgeous daughter of the castle master. Her father cursed her because she betrayed him – she gave key from the castle´s gate to his worst enemy whom she foolishly fell in love with. Legend says you might release her from her eternal punishment – if you only dare to take the key out of her mouth!" (source)

Following Breadcrumbs of 'Story DNA'
Below is a "breadcrumb path" for some key story elements included in Ladyhawke. The idea is to track the earliest known recorded instance of a leitmotif and see if it connects to the present.

Story DNA is often as complicated as biological DNA however, with an existing story not necessarily being aware of all that exists within it - something that's only traceable (and not completely) through a detailed study of timelines and influences: it's a nature/nurture combo of epic proportions. Direct footsteps from one story to another are not always clear, especially once we reach the modern age of digital resources and cross-cultural sharing.

The "DNA strand" we're following here is that of courtly, romantic love opposed by another (would-be partner), which is additionally complicated by transformation into a falcon or hawk (for the woman) and a wolf (for the man).

That's actually pretty specific.
Let's go for a story-walk and see how strong that thread is, using the most obviously comparative tale Bisclavret (insofar as we have tracked it down):
  • 12-century      Bisclavret (ie. Werewolf) - a lais by Marie de France
      • >  1217-63                     Bisclavret was translated into Old Norse as Bisclaretz ljóð,                                         one of the Strengleikar (21 Old Norse prose tales based on Marie de France's lais)
      • >  1600 onward             Circulating in Iceland, it was much adapted,                                                                               becoming Tiódels saga
  • 1190-1204       The Lady of Melion - anonymous French poetic retelling of Bisclavret (OR shares the same source, but adds a feature of a magic ring
  • ~1468               The Hoole Book of Kyng Arthur and of His Noble Knyghtes of The Rounde Table, includes the 'Tale' of Sir Marrock§ in Le Morte d'Arthur - by Sir Thomas Malory)
  • 1485                 Le Morte d'Arthur (translation, then publication, of Malory's work by Sir William Caxton, including lines denoting Sir Marrock's Tale)
  • ? After 1485    The Chronicle of Sir Marrock by Abbot John (year unknown - passed down orally from clergy to others - eventually recorded in part by Allen French -see below- as a lay)
  • 1902                  Lay of Sir Marrock & The Chronicle of Sir Marrock - fictional/newly-created story of Sir Marrock by Allen French (1902) 

This is where the 'breadcrumbs' stop.
There is no apparent line connecting these tales to Ladyhawkeother than via study or influence in reading medieval romantic literature.

  • 1979    Ladyhawke story for screen (filmed 1985) by Edward Khmara
This is the first instance in which the motif of a woman-as-hawk (or falcon), as per medieval literature, has been combined with the noble wolfman. That alone is unique. Add the night-and-day curse of "... always together - eternally apart..." (in any variation) and it's clear Ladyhawke is an original work.
§ Brief mention of Sir Marrock's story: "Sir Marrok, the good knight
that was betrayed with his wyf, for she made hym seven yere
a wer-wolf". "Malory did not invent the stories in this collection;
he translated and compiled them..." Malory in fact translated
Arthurian stories that already existed in 13th-century French prose (the
so-called Old French Vulgate romances) and compiled them together
with at least one tale from Middle English sources (the Alliterative Morte
Arthure and the Stanzaic Morte Arthur) to create this text."
(Elizabeth Vryan, introduction to Morte d'Arthur)
Shoutout to the fairy-tale-feel TV series 'Pushing Daisies' in which the
piemaker, who can bring back people from the dead with a touch,
cannot touch the girl he loves, as a second touch would kill her forever.
"Always together - eternally apart." They have a much
easier time of it than Navarre and Isabeau though!

The Legend of Ladyhawke - A Revisionist Take On Fairy Tale Tropes

While Ladyhawke holds up impressively against its literary ancestors for fairy tale themes, there is also no doubt any root in medieval motifs does not stop the film from being its own original work, and one which was created uniquely in a contemporary age.

Uniquely, with Ladyhawke, there was not a 'social memory' of the elements used (ie. any medieval motifs used were not familiar to most viewers). Ladyhawke and all its fairy tale elements largely appeared in social vacuum, unlike, say Cinderella, of which society has seemed to retain a basic knowledge, even before the popular versions (Perrault, Grimms, Disney) appeared. With Ladyhawke, there is both an evolution (of a sort) of various 'legendary' motifs (previously unrelated until the film), and a new revision of classic fairy tale themes (we'll touch on that shortly), resulting in it being beloved and retold in the memetic forms of popular culture; from cult-classic film status and repeat viewings, to quotable lines and even gifs.

To quote Jack Zipes in discussing "The Meaning of Fairy Tale within the Evolution of Culture":
Think of a gigantic whale... To grow and survive, it constantly adapted to its changing environment. The fairy tale is no different. The wondrous fairy tale emanated from a wide variety of tiny tales thousands of years ago that were widespread throughout the world and continue to exist in unique ways under different environmental conditions. The form and contents of the fairy tale were not exactly what they are today, for as a simple, imaginative oral tale that contained magical and miraculous elements and was related to the belief systems, values, rites, and experiences of pagan peoples, the fairy tale, also known as the wonder or magic tale, underwent numeroustransformations before the invention of print led to the production of fixed texts and conventions of telling and reading. But even then the fairy tale refused to be dominated by print and continued to be altered and diffused throughout the world by word of mouth up to the present. That is, it shaped and was shaped by the interaction of orality and print and other technological mediations and innovations, such as painting, photography, radio, film, and so on. In particular, technological inventions enabled it to expand in various culturaldomains,even on the Internet. Like the whale, the fairy tale adapted itself and was transformed by common nonliterate people and by upper-class literate people from a simple brief tale with vital information; it grew, became enormous, and disseminated information that contributed to the cultural evolution of specific groups. In fact, it continues to grow and embraces, if not swallows, all types of genres, art forms, and cultural institutions; and it adjusts itself to new environments through the human disposition to re-create relevant narratives and through technologies that make its diffusion easier and more effective. The only difference between the whale and the fairy tale is that the tale is not alive and does not propel itself. It needs humans—and yet at times it does seem as though a vibrant fairy tale can attract listeners and readers and latch on to their brains and become a living memetic force in cultural evolution.(excerpt from article by Jack Zipes, from Marvels & Tales, Volume 25, Number 2, 2011pp. 221-243 (Article), Published by Wayne State University Press)
The film exists on its own merits, not requiring reference to previous works for validity (ironic, considering how it was marketed!). The fact that it can show "Story DNA" (absorbing familiar motifs and legends of ages past), includes the evolution of motifs into a distinct story pattern, and has memetic properties are all good arguments for the Ladyhawke to be considered a (new) fairy tale.

Even more admirable is that the film doesn't stop its fairy tale tracks there either. It's slyly revisionist, without broadcasting it. Here are some excerpts from an article on which look at the refreshing take on fairy tale tropes in more depth:
The women in most 80s fantasies were either beautiful but vapid (Princess Lily, Buttercup) or warriors (Teela, Sorsha, Valeria). Isabeau is revolutionary to me because she is neither of these. She is a believable woman of her era, with a hint of an unhappy childhood, who is put in an extraordinary situation and rises to it. 
Isabeau has lived essentially alone for three years, or, to state it more plainly: every night Isabeau wakes up naked and alone in a forest, dresses herself, defends herself, and hunts rabbits for her meals, while tending an enormous horse and keeping an eye on the giant wolf—who is fully a wolf, remember, and could wander into trouble at any time. She has done this for three solid years at the start of the film. So when a real threat comes in, the film gives us a quick fakeout before trampling a particularly annoying fairy tale convention. 
When Cesar first finds Isabeau and Philippe, it is the boy who brandishes Navarre’s sword, telling the villain, “If you lay a hand on her, you’ll find it on the ground next to your head,” which is an admirably badass line. Cesar, however, is not impressed, since Philippe almost collapses from the weight of the sword, and laughs at him before riding on. A second later, it is Isabeau who comes charging out on Goliath. She stalks Cesar through the forest, using all the stealth she’s learned in her years of isolation to track him. When Navarre’s wolf form turns up, growling at Cesar, Isabeau exploits the huntsman’s moment of distraction to kick him into his own wolf trap. She stands over him and watches him convulse until she’s sure he’s dead—no pity, no fear, no squeamishness. 
Naturally in the morning Philippe refers to their adventure as “nothing I couldn’t handle,” but the audience knows the truth. From this point, the film shifts again, and Isabeau changes her black cloak for a red one. 
The film then takes the next step in its quiet subversion: the presumptive hero, Etienne Navarre, is wrong. About everything. His entire, vengeance-based plan is The Worst Thing He Can Do, because killing the Bishop, the one thing that has driven him for the last three years, will make the curse permanent...
The article goes into much more detail on the way this film flips the usual fairy tale script, and we recommend giving it a read. You can find it HERE.

The questions around Ladyhawke origins and inspiration, despite investigation and proof (settlement can be regarded as such here) are the very stuff legends are made of. It makes for an interesting case study on creating a fairy tale in modern times.

If Ladyhawke, as a tale, had to have a folklore classification, it would likely fall into the range of ATU 400-449, (Supernatural or Enchanted Wife (Husband)) possibly using two of the numbers, as both partners are supernaturally transformed by a curse that must be broken before they can continue in their relationship. (Note: we are not qualified to label a tale with the correct ATU classification! This is only a guess and we are likely missing elements that should be considered for the most appropriate ATU 'box'. It's just a fun exercise and a useful tool to consider its relationship to other tales worldwide.)

Since scholars the world over can't seem to agree on a definitive answer for "What is a fairy tale?" when they decide, perhaps they can weigh in on whether or not Ladyhawke qualifies (and if it gets an ATU type!). In the meantime, the masses consider it a fairy tale, and we are more than happy about that.

Rutger Hauer - A True Knight
There is, perhaps, one last thing you should know for repeat viewings of Ladyhawke, or any other of Rutger Hauer's many films: Hauer was a genuine knight. 
In 2014 Rutger was made Knight of the Order of the Dutch Lion. This well deserved bit of recognition was bestowed upon him to celebrate his large body of work in acting as well as acknowledge his commitment to charity and conservation. He (was) a true gentleman by any measure. 
Although he cites Ladyhawke as being one of the best filming experiences he ever had, he deliberately turned down starring roles afterward so he could keep his privacy and have the choice and time to be true himself and his passions - specifically ocean conservation and animal advocacy, including KFPS for Freisian horses, the same breed as his Goliath, in Ladyhawke^. He was an active environmentalist and humanitarian, putting his energy and resources into helping the world's oceans and ocean life (he was on the Board of The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) and through the Rutger Hauer Starfish Association which raises help and awareness for those with AIDS/HIV, particularly pregnant women and children suffering from the disease.
Rutger was a Shepherd of the Sea, a hero for the planet and a truly wonderful person. (Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)
Farewell Captain. You changed the world and us with it. May you rest in peace.
Rutger was accompanied by two big black Friesian horses at his funeral on July 24, 2019.

Additional Notes

Fanart cover by Fabio Leone
author shown is the original story writer 

Awards Note:
Ladyhawke was nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Sound & Best Sound Editing) in 1985.
It was also nominated - and won - the 1985 Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film. Other Saturn nominations were Michelle Pfeiffer for Best Actress and composer Andrew Powell for Best Music.

The Novelization:
Did you know Joan D. Vinge (Hugo award-winner The Snow Queen), also wrote a novel version of "Ladyhawke"? Isabeau isn't as strong, not as capable, but we will still have to find a copy and read it.

The Original Movie Ending Left Us With A Wolf:
The climax of the film is wonderfully tense, with multiple lives in the balance and miracles of timing. Director Richard Donner did an amazing job of keeping the suspense - and our hopes - very high, and we can't imagine the film ending any other way. But it could have. Here in a couple of screengrabs of the shooting script, you can see that, at one point a wolf appeared in the church.
! That would have raised a whole lot of questions and left the story feeling unfinished. Thank goodness that wasn't the final cut.

A Note About the Controversial Score
We haven't discussed the soundtrack, which, for many people is a point of contention. Since this article isn't really about the production and a discussion on the score isn't very relevant - yet can't be ignored completely - we will add this little tidbit of information as food for thought, from Screenrant's 20 Crazy Details Behind the Making of Ladyhawke:
One of the most memorable aspects of Ladyhawke is its incongruous and controversial musical score, written by Andrew Powell of the Alan Parsons Project. Powell was Donner’s first choice from day one, and he was thrilled when the musician signed on, and remains a staunch proponent of Powell’s score today. One might wonder what inspired Powell to blend modern synthesizers with Gregorian chants. According to the composer himself, he drew inspiration from several sources, both audio and visual. (Ed Note: the "incongruus rock element in the score" only actually occurs for a small percentage of all the music - about 15%. Unfortunately, it's (often considered) so jarring those refrains are the most remembered.] The cinematography caught his eye, and in many ways his score attempts to translate sight into sound. Another great influence was the even more controversial composer Igor Stravinsky. Stravinsky incited his audience to riot on one occasion, so some connection may be drawn between the two.
Hey! There's The Firebird again! ;) 
††Via studies a new volume titled The Complete Sir Marrok: Tales from the Days of King Arthur has been published by Alan Russell 2010. It attempts to fill the gaps between the Lay of Sir Marrock and the Chronicle.