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Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales: The Princess in Disguise

“A King once had a wife with golden hair who was so beautiful that none on earth could be found equal to her.”

I’m not really sure why I decided to start each one of these posts with the first sentence of their respective fairy tale. But, I am having fun with how different most of the tales turn out to be from their first sentence.

Anyway, The Princess in Disguise is at first about this King and his wife the Queen, who is on her deathbed. Before she takes her final breath, she makes the King swear that he will only get married again if he finds a woman as beautiful with her, and with golden hair.

The King is not in any rush to find a new wife, but after pressure from his counselors he starts searching. However, no woman in the kingdom has both beauty and golden hair. Then he starts noticing his daughter, who is a spitting image of her mother. Yep, that’s right! He tries forcing her into marriage with himself. She (and everyone else) is horrified and knows that 1. She doesn’t want to marry her father and 2. Doesn’t want herself or her father to be disgraced. So she refuses him, but being her father he doesn’t accept the refusal. She then presents a challenge: she will not marry him unless he gives her “‘a dress as golden as the sun, another as silvery as the moon, and a third as glittering as the stars; and besides this, I shall require a mantle made of a thousand skins of rough fur sewn together, and every animal in the kingdom must give a piece of his skin toward it.'” In true fairy tale fashion, the King accomplishes this, and the daughter has no choice but to flee in the night, bringing along the three dresses and wearing the mantle.

When she decides to rest in the woods, she falls asleep and is awoken by another King’s hunting party. They bring her to that King’s kingdom, and she goes to work in the kitchen. From there, a series of Cinderella-like transformations take place, involving the gowns, dancing with the new King, and ultimately ending up with him. The story ends with this:

Then she told him her past history, and all that had happened to her, and he found that she was, as he thought, a King’s daughter. Soon after the marriage was celebrated, and they lived happily till their death.


When this fairy tale was recorded by the Grimm brothers, it was titled Allerleirauh, or “All-Kinds-of-Fur.” I have been unable to find out when or why the switch to the particular title in my edition occurred, but I am assuming it was given the name The Princess in Disguise for this [English] edition, and for the sake of literary attractiveness.

Although I’m not a fan of incest being a catalyst for seeking independence, I still see the Princess as a woman (teenager) who puts fate into her own hands and isn’t too proud to be daring and hard working. This message is more clear after a few days of thinking about this fairy tale, because it’s not really the focus. But with the happily ever after ending and the “new” King being understanding and kind, it’s a conclusion I am comfortable drawing. Now, you could argue that it’s not until the King takes off the fur mantle to expose the Princess in her gown, thus truly seeing her beauty, that he falls in love with her. However, while they are dancing – before she goes back undercover as a kitchen maid – he slips a ring on her finger without her noticing, so I think he had a hunch (the ring tested it) about her real identity, and didn’t care that she wanted to earn her keep by working.

Have you read this fairy tale, or a variation of it? There are a handful of adaptations, including a book by author Chantal Gadoury (linked below), which you can be sure I added to my TBR as soon as I discovered it.


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  • FictionFan

    I haven’t read this, but your review reminded me very much of Aimee Bender’s short story The Color Master. It’s spun off from Perrault’s story Donkeyskin which sounds as if it must be a variation of this one. The Color Master is about the store where the three dresses are made. The old Color Master is fading and has picked our narrator to succeed her. We see how the colours are selected and mixed, how the narrator learns to see the hidden colours within and how she gradually learns to put not just colour but emotions into the dresses she makes. It is a beautiful piece of writing, full of imagery and feeling. If you can get hold of a copy – the collection it comes from is also called The Color Master – then I highly recommend it.

    • Kelsey

      Yes, Donkeyskin is a variation! This short story sounds wondrous; I will definitely seek out a copy (and link to it in this post). Thank you!!

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