Friday, April 12, 2013

Far-Fetched Fairy Tales: The Goose Girl

The Goose Girl is a lesser-known fairytale. Perhaps this is because it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Even less sense than most fairytales.

The basic tale, as told by the Brothers Grimm, is as follows:

The Princess is betrothed to a Prince who lives far away, and her mother, the Queen, gives her a gift of a handkerchief stained with three drops of the Queen’s blood as protection. (Why? No one really knows.) So Princess sets of—riding her beloved talking horse named Falada—and looses the handkerchief. (Which really fails to have any purpose in the tale whatsoever.) She is soon coerced by a maid who forces Princess to trade places with her. Maid then switches horses and, upon arrival at the distant palace, the Prince sweeps her up and falls in love with her beauty and charm. (He has brains, that one.)

Princess, seen as a servant-girl, is sent by the King to a goose boy named Conrad for work. (It is interesting to note that in the storytelling realm where the main characters are know as Princess, Prince (or ‘young King’) and King (or ‘old King’), the goose boy and the talking horse are the only ones given names.)

Meanwhile, Maid orders that Falada be killed to keep her secret safe and Princess finds out about it. She pays the butcher to place Falada’s head on the wall where she will see it each day. (That one’s a bit disturbing.) When she and Conrad pass by with the geese, she laments to the dead horse and he replies that if her mother the Queen knew what happened to her, her heart would break. (How does the dead horse talk? No idea. It’s a fairytale, folks; give it room to breathe a bit.) Then Princess lets down her long, golden hair, Conrad sees it and wants a strand or two, and Princess begs the wind to pick up his hat and he has to chase after it. This happens several times. (You’d think Princess would stop letting her hair down with Conrad about, or that Conrad would clap a hand to his hat or, better yet, take it off. But of course none of those things happen.)

Finally, Conrad gets mad enough that he tells the King all about it, including Princess’s loony conversations with decapitated animals. King hides by the wall to find out for himself, hears the mention of the Queen, and is curious. Then King confronts Princess and asks for the whole story. Princess refuses, having taken an oath not to breathe a word to another human for fear of Maid’s wrath. King relents and says, ‘Fine. Talk to the stove’. (No joke. He really did.) So she does. (Again, no joke.) She crawls inside the stove (Why? Privacy, I guess.) and empties her heart and tells all. King listens at the pipe and hears all.

King has Princess all dressed up and shows her to Prince, who sees her beauty and falls instantly in love with her. (Wonderful, smart chap, isn’t he?) At a feast, Maid fails to recognize Princess in her old splendor (How? Not a clue.) until King proposes a riddle. (Rather cruel of him, given the results…) He gives some version of the events and asks Maid what should be done to the usurper. Maid gives a very nasty punishment of execution—having to do with public disgrace, a barrel, and nails—before it is revealed that this shall be her punishment. Thusly, the Prince (such a charmer) is finally wed to his true Princess and, quite naturally, they live happily ever after.

My reaction upon reading this story, as it is with many of the old tales, was a dumbfounded ‘WHAT??!’ Bloody useless handkerchief, talking horse head, boy obsessed with catching a lock of golden hair, stove-side revelations, prince with very little of the family cleverness, and a mighty horrible death sentence. It’s an odd tale, to be sure, and other versions of it are not terrible varied from what I just related.
The Goose-girl is not one of the more popular fairytales—we apparently much prefer kissing frogs to dead horse conversations—so I’ve been unable to find a creditable illustrated version, apart from the illuminations I discovered online and used above. (Artist unknown.)

Since most of the old tales were supposed to have a moral along with them, what morals can we find in the Goose-girl? Aside from the injustice being justified, evil defeated and good coming out victorious—which happens in almost every story—there’s not a whole lot to say. Just don’t go pulling on people’s hair.

My favorite novelization of this tale—indeed, the only novelization I know of is, quite simply titled The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale.

She takes each of the bizarre details of the story and transforms them into a much more believable tale. The only thing that truly deviates from the original folklore is that the old King plays very little part in the proceedings. His position in the tale is given to the goose-girl, the prince, or some other character. And this makes a good deal more sense then having an aged monarch scrambling about after servants and listening in at stove pipe’s to someone’s confessional time. Ah, yes, and the stove has miraculously vanished in Hale’s retelling as well—thank goodness. Hale's The Goose Girl is by far one of my favorite fairy-tale retellings and one of my favorite all-time books. I highly recommend the reading.

What do you think of the Goose-girl fairytale? Or Hale's version? What lessons might we learn from the tale? Any other retellings of this particular fable you know of?

1 comment:

  1. Wow. That's a fairy tale I haven't read before, and it indeed sounds like one of the strangest. If nothing else, we can learn from it that stories should make sense. ;)