Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Gruesomer, the Better!

I bet you all thought I was going to say my favorite fairy tale is Beauty and the Beast.

Clearly that one is right up there. After all, my obsession with what the Beast *did* to the nubile, young Beauty all those nights they were locked up together in his castle led to me writing Petals and Thorns. Turns out, in my world, he did quite a lot of very naughty things.

Go figure. But, even though I love that tale and how it explores the nature of the beast and the true meaning of beauty and, best of all, the opportunity for transformation, it's not my all time favorite.

No, my favorite tale is sad and gruesome. For the life of me, I still don't know why I like it best. It's one of 54 stories in my copy of Grimms' Fairy Tales, given to me by mother for Christmas of 1972, when I was six. I know this was the occasion, because she wrote it in the front of the book. (And Mom? You signed it "Mother," which I find very funny!)

The image above is from the story: The Goose Girl.

Yeah, I know. No one else has ever heard of it, either. Believe me, Disney never touched this one.

So, the sweet and beautiful princess is sent off by her mother, the queen, to marry her betrothed prince. On the way, her waiting woman gets progressively meaner and finally forces the princess to strip down and trade clothes with her. The princess loses the drops of blood her mother sent with her for protection and is totally powerless. The waiting woman marries the prince and the princess, lacking ANY abilities whatsoever, is sent to help the Goose Boy. The waiting woman also has the princess's talking horse, Falada, killed, so he won't spread the tale. Interestingly, he's the only character in the story who has a name. The Goose Girl asks for his head to be nailed over the gate she passes through daily, herding them geese along. Fortunately, Falada's death does not interfere with his ability to talk and the story comes out. The princess weds the prince and the waiting woman receives one of those particularly horrific punishments these old tales were so good at meting out.

There's a lot of logic missing in the story and it's one I wish I could track down an older version of. I suppose this hits a lot of my "themes." Separation from the mother and maternal inheritances. The faithful horse who dies, but persists in spirit. (Or, at least, in a nasty talking head.) Power - who has it and who doesn't.

Really, upon reread, the princess is a complete ninny. And yet, something about her appealed to me. The beauty and refinement unrecognized and unappreciated, yet discovered anyway.

I can't help but notice that my thread in The Middle Princess, which has the mother leaving a message in blood, might very well come from this story.

The thing about fairy tales is that they are so much about symbolism and archetypes. The stories work on us on the subconscious level, speaking to something in us that isn't about logic, but is all about the feel and the deep connection.

And now I'm noting down "Falada" - must use this name!


  1. I love that fairytale as well! Yes, I'm familiar with it, It's in my big Grimm book as well.
    But my favorite tales are Bluebeard and Rumpelstiltskin (sp?) .
    And I love the tales by Anderson as well. He can write about objects and things like that and make you care about them. He has one story about a daisy that is so sad it makes me cry when I read it.

  2. "If your mother only knew, her heart would surely break in two."

    One of my very favorites! I've thought about doing a retelling of this, but you're right. There's a lot of logic missing. In the version I have, the king has the princess tell her troubles to a stove pipe and leaves her alone. But he's in the next room listening and believes her sad story. And damn, dragged through the streets naked in a barrel lined with nails? I think a retelling needs to come from you. I can't pretty that up and make it funny. You can switch it up and make it erotic.


  3. So funny that both of you have read this one, too! I guess this is why you're my tribe.

    I have Anderson's book, too, Sullivan, but I don't remember the daisy one.

    Ah yes, Rachel - what is it about that line? I would love to switch this up and make it erotic, but I don't know...

  4. This was also one of my favs - Falada was always deliciously creepy. I do think a lot of fairy tales could stand to be rewritten for today's audience - so many questions left unanswered! (Probably why I love Robin McKinley's books so much. Deerskin ranks as one of top books.)

  5. Tuck, it might be just right up your alley!

    Deerskin is one of my all-time favorite books - a beautifully unsettling mash-up of fairy tales. Yeah. I might have to do this story. What the heck is Falada's deal, anyway?

  6. Well, maybe the logic is missing, but I love the hammering up of the talking horse head. That is wonderful. Great post, and I so agree - fairytales work on a deep level. And they stick with us.

  7. YES! The hammering up of the talking horse head - such a visceral reaction to that....

  8. I thought I read all the Grimm stories, but I don't remember that one. It probably fell through the sieve that is my brain. LOL I was always drawn to the gruesome aspects of the original Cinderella - with the evil stepsisters cutting off bits of their feet to fit into the shoe and stuff. And Rumpelstiltskin getting so mad he stomped through the floor straight to hell. So I should probably see if I can find the Goose Girl story.

  9. I loved the Goose Girl. The TV show From the Brothers Grim used to come on PBS in '90s. I remember watching the Goose Girl, Ashpet, and Soldier Jack. You can rent the episodes on You Tube for $1.99 Here's a preview of the The Goose Girl.

  10. Sorry, I forgot to ask if anyone remembers the story where the Good Sister marries the King (or Prince) and her evil sister eats the baby and smears the blood on her sister's face making the husband think she killed the baby. The good queen(princess) is put to death and the evil sister marries the king.

    1. Ooh, I do remember that one. I bet Allison knows which story it is.

  11. Frugal - you're thinking of The Six Swans - the girl marries the king but can't talk because she's trying to free her brothers from the curse that turns them into swans. (She can't defend herself from the accusations that she's killing her babies.) But it all works out in the end. :)

  12. Thank You. I was going nuts looking for that story.