The Goose Girl: A Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm
Like many fairy tales, The Goose starts with a death of the king. His wife managed to rule alone and when her daughter grows into a young woman, she arranges a marriage with a prince from another kingdom. The princess leaves her with a magic handkerchief, a talking horse, and a maid. The maiden very soon rebels against the young princess, who simply doesn’t have enough authority.
The princess loses the handkerchief and is forced to change clothes and a horse with her maid who decided to present herself to the prince as his future wife. Princess is also forced to give her word not to tell anybody about the true origin of both. Maid’s plan goes well at the beginning, the talking horse is slaughtered and the real princess becomes the goose girl at the court.
While the false princess enjoys the preparations for the wedding, the king (father of princess’ future husband) becomes suspicious. He heard about the goose girl’s talking with the horse’s head (she convinced the slaughterer to hang it under one of the town’s gates), her golden hair and strange behavior of the wind when she combs it.
The king asks the goose girl who she really is, but she doesn’t want to break her promise though it was enforced. But the king persuaded her to tell her story into the iron stove and secretly listens at the other side. When he finds the truth, he challenges the false bride to suggest the punishment for somebody who had stolen one’s identity.
The maid, who believed her plan was a total success, proposes very brutal penalty and right after that becomes the victim of her own cruelty. The goose girl becomes the princess and the bride.
The Goose Girl is a classic fairy tale by Grimm brothers. It fits riches-to-rags-to-riches story pattern, similar to the story of Cinderella. Majority of fairy tales follows one of two patterns:
1. Rags-to-riches, where the hero starts in poverty, has low social status, is somehow handicapped, but at the end wins the heart of the princess, defeats a giant or becomes very rich and influential. Examples of such fairy tales are Puss in Boots, Valiant Little Tailor or Hansel and Gretel.
2. Riches-to-rags-to-riches, where the protagonist starts in very good position but loses everything before through series of events regains the same or even better status. Apart from already mentioned Cinderella, we can find a similar pattern in The Beauty and the Beast or The Snow White.
Unlike at the rest of most popular fairy tales, we can see a lot of illogical elements and connections in The Goose Girl. Her magical charms seem useless. While it’s believable to lose them due to her lack of competence, she never did anything to earn them back. And while it’s pretty cool to have a talking horse in the story (a talking head sounds even better), it doesn’t really add any substance to the story. We know much better fairy tales with talking animals having much bigger roles (think about The Frog Prince or even the harp in Jack and the Beanstalk).
While the princess doesn’t have enough power or courage to resist her own servant, she is still able to persuade slaughter to put Falada’s head on the door. Even more. Apparently, she bribes him, but we just heard she lost all her valuables!
She also has some magic powers over the wind. If she uses to prevent her hairstyle, why she didn’t use them to protect herself or her precious Falada? By the way, what’s the use of the talking horse, if it didn’t tell the truth before the true princess lost her position including the horse? It’s also not very believable to expect the servant playing the role of the princess without making at least a few mistakes!
Such narrative clumsiness is not typical for fairy tales, especially for the books by brothers Grimm, who revisited their texts numerous times during seven edition published during their lives. Maybe we’ll find some answers in the section about the mythological background of this particular fairy tale.
Do you notice specific elements in the stories too?
While the story has several magical objects (a handkerchief, a talking horse, a power over the wind), they actually don’t play very important roles. The focus of the story is the princess who s too immature to handle her own servant. She is incapable to protect her most precious possessions (magic handkerchief and a horse) and rightly ’dethroned’ from her position.
But she still can’t escape her destiny, obviously presented through her golden hair. Hair is very important in several other fairy tales as well (think about The Goldilocks, The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs or The Rapunzel) and can be interpreted as a sign of her royal lineage she can’t deny even if she wants. Being so incompetent, does she actually deserve a happy ending? Well, frankly, no. But she still has something - a power of her word.
While her maid successfully overpowered her before they entered the foreign kingdom, the king had to use all his cleverness to squeeze the truth out of her. By the way, don’t forget the role of the iron stove, a symbol of the womb, in another well-known fairy tale: Hansel and Gretel.
The Mythology Behind The Goose Girl
Brothers Grimm almost obsessively tried to find mythological roots in all fairy tales, trying to prove the existence of universal myth which is a predecessor of all stories (fairy tales included) in the world. They have spent a considerable amount of time to connect The Sleeping Beauty with Brynhild before they decided to include it in their collection and The Goose Girl is no exception.
They found an interesting mythological character of Central Europe. She is called Perchta (Berchta, Bertha) and was an important goddess in paganism of The Alps. Perchta is still present in old stories in the area of today’s Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. She is portrayed in different forms, mostly as a beautiful white lady and as an old wrinkled granny.
As we can find in old legends about Perchta, she is a master of the beasts and capable of shapeshifting, what is shown with one of her feet being unnaturally large and often called a goosefoot. Thus the power of the goose girl over the wind and the geese in the fairy tale may be elements coming from the old legends about Perchta.
The hair and dress in both major presences of Perchta can serve as indicators of connection between both kinds of stories: as an old lady she has ragged clothes and messy hair, but in her pretty incarnation her clothes are almost royal and hair shiny as gold!
Perchta was definitely a role model for thousands of wise women who got some seemingly magical powers in times of paganism because they knew how to use herbs and understood some basics in the area of medicine and physiology. Alle these women became a threat to the monopoly of knowledge acquired by the Christian Church and many ended their lives accused being witches and burnt at the stake.
A Few Words About the Characters in The Goose Girl
The father is absent like in many classic fairy tales.
The mother obviously has some magical powers (seen through talking drops of blood), but can’t help her daughter anymore.
The servant is ambitious but primitive and cruel, like the sisters in The Cinderella or the lazy girl in Diamond and Toads, what eventually leads to her punishment similar to the ones of the wicked step-sisters of Cinderella or the lazy girl in Diamonds and Toads.
The prince is immature and can’t spot the difference between the true and false princess. Any girl is good for him, is she is willing to marry him.
Conrad is loyal to his king but actually acts as the major helper of the goose girl.
The king (future father in law) is the smartest person in the story and serves as a detective and a judge.
The goose girl (the real princess) has royal blood but needs to lose almost everything (but the honor of being able to keep her promise) before she earns the position on the court.
The story of the false princess inspired many artists working in different media. Painters and illustrators portrayed The Goose Girl in the key situations of the story. Hundreds of them are in Public Domain and some of them are used for this article. Here is the source:
This fairy tale was also adapted for television and silver screen. We can see it as a classic or animated movie, in silent, black and white or full-color sound versions. Masters of anime couldn’t resist it either.
In literature, The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale, a fantasy novel for young adults, made particular success at the audience. Next picture is from Harold MacGrath full-length novel where the real princess is stolen at birth, but the prince falls in love despite not knowing about her noble origin. Author of illustration is Andre Castaigne (1861-1929).
Knowing how popular became some of the old fairy tales in last years we can only expect to see more adaptations in the near future.
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