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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Princesses and Chambermaids ~ guest post from Sophie Weeks

Yesterday, Bonnie featured a guest post on Anne Sexton's Transformations from author Sophie Weeks, whom you may remember from her guest post & giveaway that went up just prior to FTF (check it out here - it's still going on!).  Today,  Sophie's back to talk about one of my favorite, weird, dark little tales, The Goose Girl.

When Misty graciously permitted me to participate in Fairy Tale Fortnight, I knew that I would have to write about The Goose Girl somehow. Most people have one fairy tale, one single story that speaks to them louder than any other, and for me it has always been this grisly tale of a princess in tatters, a decapitated horse, and the most unpleasant form of execution I can imagine. For those who haven't read this tale, you can find a translation of the Grimm original here. In my creative commentary below, I have tried to tease out what is so meaningful about this tale, what has caused it to haunt my entire adult life in scraps of memory and verse. I hope you enjoy my interpretation.

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You can't blame the prince for it, not really. Most princes, given the choice, would choose a servant girl over a princess. Same goes for mothers-in-law. Princesses are nothing but trouble, and at least a servant girl knows how to put on her own shoes. There's something trying about a girl who can't put on her shoes, who has to sit there barefoot until someone else takes pity on her and slides a jeweled slipper on her foot. A princess learns to be helpless.

But horses and kings understand being bred to a single purpose. Both carry their strength and value in their blood, like a princess, and not in the work of their hands. Falada knew that a barefoot princess driving geese was still a princess, and the old king knew that magic in the blood was bound to tell.

So when the goose girl sat there crying in her bare feet, telling her sorrows to the old stove, the king didn't despise her. He could have—might have said what kind of princess can't beat a chambermaid in a fair fight? He might even have wondered at the relative value of chambermaids and princesses and decided to keep the scrappy chambermaid, who was clearly of stronger stock.

Still, kings don't think that way, and neither do fathers-in-law. They delight in princesses, in the difficult girl who weeps over a single pea. They want value for their money, and if they buy a princess, they expect to get a princess. If anybody can just mug royalty and take their clothes, then the world is chaos.

But you can't even blame the king for the way things ended, for he certainly didn't imagine that end. He was trying to keep things low-key, happy to have given his son a princess at last, thinking up names for his grandchildren. When he asked the chambermaid what should be done to a servant who betrays her master, she could have said anything. She could have said, “Give that enterprising young woman a sack of gold and send her on her way.”

When the chambermaid decreed a grisly end for the treacherous servant, though, the king was taken aback. There's missing the point, and then there's not even being aware that a point exists, and that it's the tip of a knife stuck to your own throat. He very nearly suggested she think about the question at a little more length and get back to him. He hadn't meant to make a riddle or a mystery, just find a quiet way to dismiss the girl.
The whole court was watching, though, and there wasn't really much he could do other than order the execution carried out. He might have been a better man if he could have found mercy for the stupid girl, but he would have been a worse king.

Inside the cruel barrel, the chambermaid screamed and screamed, demanding of the heavens above why? She knew how to beat a princess in a fair fight. She knew how to charm a man into doing her will. But no one had ever told her that a little self-knowledge was a useful thing, and it took her a day and a half to finally die.

So, guys, my question (Misty speaking) is, what's that "one tale" for you? The one that speaks to you, or takes over your brain, and makes you puzzle out all the little whys and wherefores? 

And if you've read "The Goose Girl," what did you think of Sophie's take on it?

Click here to go back to the Fairy Tale Fortnight Main Page,
where you can access the schedule! Or go here to get involved!
Credit to these awesome Deviants for our button [ 12 & 3]!


  1. I emailed Misty about this one, it's The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf. I don't know why it always stuck with me. Maybe because we only had two pairs of shoes growing up school shoes and Sunday shoes. Maybe because I had to cross a creek to get to school and I was afraid of it. And oh yeah, I grew up in Florida, swamp central. But this story still haunts me. Oh, and add the fact that I'm adopted. Maybe I was scared that if I didn't visit my birth mother I'd be dragged down into the swamp. I was probably very young when I read this story and it's just always stuck with me. Haunted me really. You can read it in The Brother's Grim.

    The jist is a little girl, very pretty, and poor, is sent to live and work for a kind wealthy woman. She is ashamed of her poor mother who washes people's clothes at the river. Her employer sends her with a loaf of bread to visit her mother in very nice clothes and brand new shoes. The river is muddy and she doesn't want to mess up her shoes so she puts the loaf of bread down and walks on it instead of getting her shoes wet and walks on it instead despite the fact her mother is starving. The woman that lives in the swamp below drags her down for her wickedness and she slowly turns ugly and pitiful until hundreds of years later a little girl cries for her and she's released and turns into a bird.
    I do not step on loaves of bread nor was I a pretty or poor little girl. Still, the story sticks.


  2. Oh, Heather, what a scary and amazing connection to have with that story. Thank you so much for sharing.


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