Disney Designs 4: Dun(broch) mind if I do

Time for another Disney Designs post! This week we’re going to run, fly, chase the wind, touch the sky…and take a look at Queen Elinor’s necklace.

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Ok, maybe just that last one, then…

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If you’ve not seen the film, Queen Elinor of Clan Dunbroch (above) is the mother of Merida, the flame-haired archer princess who is Brave‘s protagonist. Also, if you haven’t seen the film, I highly recommend it. Although a bit short on songs for my taste, it makes up for it with its focus on Merida and Elinor’s relationship, its lowkey, dry humour, and Merida being a generally cool but also realistic 16-year-old. I won’t spoil it for you if you’ve not seen it, but there is an excellent bit with an archery competition…


To get back to the point of this blog, when it comes jewellery, as well as her gleaming green circlet, Elinor also has a bear pendant which she gives to Merida before the ill-fated suitor contest:


….aaaand then Merida trades it to a witch. Ouch.

Anyhow, Elinor’s necklace is in a recognisably Celtic style, which makes sense given the story’s 10th century Scottish setting, but I wondered how it compared to what people might really have been wearing at the time.


Circular pendants and brooches with interlocking patterns were certainly popular in 10th century Scotland, but it seems there were more abstract than animal motifs. The never-ending circle motif was everywhere, just as it is on the walls of Merida’s castle:

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The three-animals-in-a-continuous-circle motif was widespread in Far East Asia, along the Silk Road, and in the Middle East, in the form of three hares rather than three bears. Although it’s uncertain when exactly the symbol travelled to Western Europe, it does not seem to appear consistently before the 13th century ,so Brave is a little early on that one.

13th century Iranian tray depicting the Three Hares. Photo by Chris Chapman.

However, animal heads as part of the triskele motif were found in Scotland and Ireland from the 5th-6th century:


I didn’t find any examples with bears from the period when Brave is set, but bears’ teeth were popular amongst those with slightly more hardcore tastes…

9th – 11th century CE


And if anyone fancies channelling Merida? Well, I’ve made a new design: a Celtic-inspired shield necklace just for you…



Just don’t go trading it with witches, now!


Disney Designs 2: I’d rather be shiny

I couldn’t do another Disney Designs piece without doing my new favourite Disney film: Moana. Seriously, it’s overtaken my long-time favourites, Hercules and Mulan, and it’s not even a cartoon! It’s also The Goblin’s new favourite – I don’t think he’s actually said ‘you’re welcome’ without singing it since the first time we watched the film…

The jewel in question is, of course, the Heart of Te Fiti, which Moana wears in a locket around her neck to keep it safe on her quest to return it to its rightful owner, the earth goddess Te Fiti.

Source: associatedmormonletters.org

The Heart is meant to be made of New Zealand greenstone, which is the catch-all term for certain types of nephrite jade, serpentine and bowenite, and which is highly valued in Maori culture. (They’re known as taonga, or treasure, and are so valuable that they’re protected under the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi.) These stones are also extremely durable, so it’s no wonder the Heart survives an epic journey across the oceans! Carved and shaped greenstones are known as pounamu, and increase in value the older they are, as they gain mana (prestige or power) from the histories they are witness to. Different designs also – naturally – mean different things, as this very interesting articles explains.

Some examples of pounamu:

Making the Heart a greenstone pounamu is a gorgeous detail in the film, and I’ve definitely learnt something new researching it. I also now reeeeally want this necklace:

Source: kouragallery.co.nz

Canon deities, canoes, and the world’s scariest crabs: bonus trivia

1) Maui actually did all the things he brags about in You’re Welcome, although he had a female counterpart, Hina, without whom he wouldn’t have been able to achieve many of them, and who was disappointingly left out of the film… They also left out the story where he dies from encountering goddess of night and death, Hine-nui-te-pō’s, vagina dentata – I wonder why! The teeth were made of obsidian though, so at least she was stylish with her murdering…

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Source: giphy

2) The storyline about Moana’s people being voyagers and then stopping for a mysterious reason is actually based on historical events. After settling Western Polynesia (Samoa, Tonga, Fiji 3500 years ago, Pacific Islanders stopped voyaging for a solid two milennia…and nobody knows why. Why did a civilisation built on voyaging just stay were they were until 1500-500 years ago? Many solutions have been suggested, from wind patterns to algae poisoning, but it remains a mystery to this day… As a historian, though, I was delighted that this element of Moana was based on a real-life trend.

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3) Although the queer-coding of Tamatoa was one of the more disappointing elements of the film, it turns out that Coconut Crabs like him he is actually are well-known for stealing shiny things. At up to 9lbs and 3m from leg to leg, they’re also the largest land crab, and they’re bloody terrifying. They’re cannibals and autophages (they fucking eat their own offcast exoskeletons, people), and they’ve been known to attack humans. Maybe Tamatoa was more on point than I thought… I just wish they’d made him the same browny-yellow colour as an actual coconut crab rather than that loaded pinky-purple!

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So there we have it – Moana’s Heart of Te Fiti and some trivia on the film (which is amazing and you should all watch it right now seriously go I’ll wait). Moana is a badass heroine who’s also really human and fails throughout the film, and she has no love interest for the entire 107 minutes. It’s definitely not perfect, but it’s as close as Disney’s ever got to decent representation whilst still being hilarious. And obviously Lin-Manuel Miranda’s involvement in the soundtrack doesn’t hurt…

Which Disney design should I do next? Let me know in the comments.

Disney Designs No.1: Poor unfortunate shells

Who doesn’t love a bit of nostalgia on an unseasonably-cold September evening? With the wedding coming up, I’m trying to stop obsessively checking the weather forecast for the weekend and lean into the cosy autumnal vibe instead. Lots of children’s books/films, bubble baths, and herbal tea (Twinings Lemon Drizzle Green Tea is the only thing getting me through chilly work afternoons at the moment, let’s be honest).

So, it’s not surprising that I’ve chosen now to start a ‘jewellery from Disney films’ blog series. (You may be thinking ‘hmm, large life change looming – is she watching kiddie films because she’s in denial about becoming someone’s actual wife?’, but if I’m honest, this series was The Goblin’s idea.)


This was a pretty fun one to research, and I’ve learnt several unexpected things, like the difference between a nautilus and an ammonite, and the fact there was a Little Mermaid Broadway musical (how did I miss this?!).

Ursula’s necklace

Ursula uses her shell necklace to keep Ariel’s voice once she’s traded it for legs. The first time we see her, Ursula is already wearing the ornament, so it’s presumably something she values as a piece of jewellery in itself. After all, where better to keep the precious spoils of your nefarious deals than in your favourite accessory? (I mean it worked for Voldemort…for a while…)

According to the Disney wiki, Ursula’s necklace is a nautilus shell, which, it turns out, is not the same as an ammonite, although they look pretty bloody similar:

As this extremely helpful page explains, they’re both cephalopods (from the Greek for ‘head-feet’), but the main difference between them is that ammonoids are extinct. No news on why nautiloids survived extinction despite being pretty much identical to their extinct ammonoid siblings (apart from their small biological differences such as flesh tubes – yuck – and separations between shell chambers). Whatever the reason, I’m guessing Ursula uses one because fossils don’t tend to have handy storage chambers…

Fun bonus reminder: in the original Hans Christian Anderson story, the Little Mermaid sacrifices her voice by having her tongue cut out rather than putting her voice in a shell. That necklace would have been more Hannibal Lecter than Hans Christian… (Although Ursula has more in common with Hannibal than you’d think – more on that later.)

Fairytale facts: Disney budgets, Ursula’s characterisation, and prehistoric jewellery

1) Ursula is an octopus with only 6 tentacles due to Disney’s budgetary constraints – apparently animating 8 tentacles in 1989 was way more difficult and pricey than just the 6 they ended up with.


2) In the original draft of the film, she was meant to be Triton’s sister, making her Ariel’s aunt. They decided to save that storyline for The Lion King, which I think is a good thing. I mean, how much more badass is Ursula as a character when she’s just generally power-hungry and keen for revenge than if she were explicitly usurped in some way (yawn)? Also, Ursula screws Ariel over for revenge, but what about the rest of the merpeople? She seems to just be a cannibalistic sadist with great charisma – what’s not to love?

See? Cannibalism.

3) Ursula is not alone in favouring seashell jewellery; from Brittany to the Bahamas, and countless other cultures across time and space, it has and continues to be incredibly popular. So popular, in fact, that what’s thought to be the first extant jewellery, created 100-135,000 years ago, is made out of seashells:

Source: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5504545

Back in the here and now, if you want a subtle silver version of Ursula’s magical pendant, my ammonite gives a nod to the sea witch without making your boss passive-agressively email you the company dress code…


Unfortunately, you can’t use it to trap the voice of every pillock making obnoxious comments on the tram… May have to consider that for the next shop upgrade!