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Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales: The Goose-Girl

“There was once upon a time an old Queen whose husband had been dead for many years, and she had a beautiful daughter.”

Content Warning: This tale and post contains gore and violence pertaining to animals and humans.

After reading Maid Maleen, I was in the mood for another princess-focused fairy tale, and The Goose-Girl is definitely that. Like Maid Maleen, this fairy tale features a twist of fate, two women pitted against each other, disguises, and a horrifying demise for the evildoer.

As always, I’m going to summarize this fairy tale below. I do this – even though you can find just about every one of Grimm’s Fairy Tales online – because typically it only takes a paragraph or so. However, as this one is longer than most, and has much more detail than those I’ve summarized in the past, I will link the actual fairy tale [here] if you would rather just read it for yourself, and then come back for my discussion.

As you know (presumably you read the first line of this blog post), the tale starts with a Queen. Early in her life, the Queen’s daughter was betrothed to a prince in a faraway kingdom. When it came time to travel there to get married, the Queen packed essential items for her daughter, including a white handkerchief with three drops of her own blood on it. With this item, the Queen told her daughter to “‘preserve this carefully; it will be of service to you on your own way.'” The Queen’s own maid in waiting accompanied the girl, who sorrowfully rode off on her talking horse, Falada.

Along the way, the girl twice asks the maid in waiting to fetch her water, to which the maid in waiting replied “‘If you are thirsty, get off your horse yourself, and lie down and drink out of the water, I don’t choose to be your servant.'” The girl does just that and each time, when she bent towards the water, a voice came from the three drops of blood on the handkerchief and said: “‘If your mother knew this, her heart would break.'” The second time, the girl loses the handkerchief in the water without noticing. The maid in waiting noticed, but did not say a word about it.

Then the truly devious nature of the maid is shown. The waiting-maid convinces the princess to switch horses and swap clothing, and take an oath that she would not say anything at the royal court (Falada the horse listens to all of this). The King welcomes the false Princess – aka the sinister waiting-maid – and assigns the girl (the tale’s Princess) to help Conrad, a boy who tends the royal geese. The waiting-maid, well aware of Falada’s abilities, orders the horse’s head to be cut off, which it then is. However, the true Princess bribes the knacker to have him nail Falada’s head on a gateway in town so she could see him everyday. And yes, the tranquility of this part of the tale makes it even more disturbing.

Early the next day, Conrad and the girl passed through the gateway, at which she says hello to Falada, to drive the geese into the country. Conrad, noting the girl’s gold-like hair, wanted to pluck a few for himself. To ward him off, the girl recites a spell-like speech to make the wind blow “Conrad’s hat far away across country, and he was forced to run after it.” This happened once more, after which Conrad tells the King what is happening (in a very pitiful way, of course), so the King follows the pair and witnesses the whole spectacle (from Falada’s mounted head to the blowing wind) for himself. Afterwards, the King pulls the girl aside to ask for an explanation. She says she cannot tell him because she swore not to, and even after his urging she said nothing. So the King tells her to express her sorrows to the iron-stove in order to get it off her chest in a secret manner. However, being a deceitful/true member of the patriarchy the King  stands outside by the stove pipe and hears the confession, and proceeds to announced the news to his son, the Prince.

At dinner, the waiting-maid is suddenly blind. This works for the upcoming scene, but there is no explanation as to why she is now blind. Anyway, she can’t tell that the rightful Princess has taken her rightful place at the table. The King asks the waiting-maid what type of punishment should be inflicted on a person who participated in a situation similar to that which she created. Her answer ends up being her own punishment: “‘She deserves no better fate than to be stripped entirely naked, and put in a barrel which is studded inside with pointed nails, and two white horses should be harnessed to it, which will drag her along through one street after another, till she is dead.'” The true Princess and the Prince thus live happily ever after.

I wrote about the substituted bride in my last post – which is the trope used here. Maid Maleen and The Goose-Girl are the two recognized fairy tales in which the substituted bride is not a relative of the true bride, although in this fairy tale the true bride does know the woman who is trying to trick the bridegroom.

I’m quite interested in the origins of this trope, because although it wasn’t widely used across the Grimm’s fairy tales, its appearance in more than one makes me think there is some significance. What is it saying about female relationships? That all women are always in competition with each other, even if it doesn’t appear to be that way on the surface? Or perhaps it’s more about fragile masculinity; in both Maid Maleen and The Goose-Girl, the true bride is described as beautiful, while the substitute is the opposite. Was it so horrible to imagine a life with a woman who isn’t “perfect” that she must be made an impostor for a more [male-determined] beautiful woman? At least Maid Maleen was given a name.


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