Friday, April 1, 2011

Fairy Tale Friday - The Princess In Disguise

Because it's April Fool's Day, I thought a fairy tale about trickery was in order, so this week I read The Princess in Disguise, wherein a princess disguises herself first to flee her father and then to trap herself a husband.

Once upon a time there was a queen who was dying. Shortly before she died, she made her husband, the King, promise not to remarry unless the woman was a beautiful as the Queen was and had hair as golden. After she died, the King's men searched far and wide but never could find such a woman for the King to take as a second wife. So the King finally decided that he would marry his daughter (I know, yuck!).When he told his daughter his plan, she was creeped out by the idea as well. To put him off, she told him that she first she wanted three gowns, one as golden as the sunshine, one as silvery as the moon and one as glittering as the stars. She also asked for a mantle made from a thousand skins of rough fur sewn together. Impossible tasks, thought she. But she was wrong. So when the King presented them to her, she decided she needed to run away. One night she folded the gowns up so small that they fit in a nut shell (what the heck material were these dresses made of?), stained her hands and face with the juice from a walnut, and took three gold tokens with her before she left, a ring, a spinning wheel, and a hook.

She walked all night then fell asleep in a forest. It just so happened that day the King of that country's men were out hunting and thought the girl was some new kind of animal. Fortuitously, the King ordered the animal captured alive and when the men found that this was a girl and not an animal, they decided to try to help her. They brought her back to their castle where she became an assistant to the cook and was known as Roughskin. Some time later, the King was hosting a party and Roughskin asked to watch the visitors arrived and the cook agreed. Swiftly, the princess, washed off her face and hands and changed into the gold dress and joined the guests. The King was enchanted but the princess left without telling him who she was. Later the King asked for a bowl of soup and the cook let Roughskin make the soup. Into the soup she dropped the gold ring. When the King asked the cook about it, she said she hadn't made the soup and Roughskin said that she didn't know where the ring came from.

The next time visitors were coming, the princess did the same thing with with the silver dress. Again the king was taken by her but again she disappeared. This time when he asked for soup, she dropped in the golden spinning wheel, then , as Roughskin, denied knowing anything about it. The third time the King had guests, the princess donned the shimmering dress but the King was smart and snuck the ring on her finger before she left (really? she didn't feel that?). The princess was late getting back and this time didn't fully get her face stained and could only hide her dress under her mantle. When she sent the king the soup, she dropped in the hook. When he came to the kitchen, he saw uncovered the princess and found the ring on her finger. She finally told him all of her history. Where upon he asked her to marry him and "they lived happily till their death."

This is actually quite a short story that carries quite a lot of symbolism. The number three repeatedly appears in the story (three dresses, three golden pieces, and three attributes that made the princess appeal to the king), a number that was historically significant. The attributes of the princess (wealth, beauty and the ability to cook) are symbolic of the way men have traditionally valued women. Each of the golden pieces is symbolic on its own. The ring, given first, represents a promise; the spinning wheel represents femininity; and the hook...well, the hook is obvious, isn't it? It's interesting to note that the princess only had value when she was with her father or future husband but only when she was away from them did she have a name, her own identity.

For a humorous look at the story, checkout this version in play form.


  1. Just been catching up on your March posts. Sounds as if you've had a busy time at work and with the family as well as your mystery March reads.
    Thanks for the fairy tale and the follow-up link to a play version and also for the info on the symbolism (which I would have missed).

  2. Robin McKinley did a version of this fairy tale - Deerskin. It's a bit disturbing and dark, mainly because of the elements of possible incest and then all the skins. But McKinley, as always, tells a compelling tale.

  3. I remember reading this fairy tale, though it took me a minute to remember it. I just remember thinking that I didn't really get why she was suddenly okay with marrying him. Or why she was putting the stuff she took into his soup.

    I feel kinda silly, but I feel like the whole point of the fairy tale is just whooshing right over my head :o)

  4. Sounds like a great fairy tale and I noted what you said about the girls only seem to have value when they're with men..interesting!

  5. I had to re-read a bit, Sarah. I thought she had gone back to her dad, too. But it was actually another King. MUCH less creepy!

  6. I loved this review! This is a story that I have never before been exposed to, and it really caught my interest. I am always so glad you are doing these posts. They are tremendous fun to read!