Fairy Tale Friday: The Goose Girl

August 28, 2009 at 12:00 am 3 comments

goosegirlRecently at a used book store perusing their fine wares, I came across Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. I was intrigued and even more so when I learned that it was a retelling of the Brothers Grimm’s The Goose Girl.

In The Goose Girl, a princess is tricked by her wicked maid into becoming a goose tender while the maid takes her place as princess. Of course, the princess’ true goodness shines through, the King finds her and dresses her in finery, and she ends up marrying her prince after all while the wicked maid is “put stark naked into a barrel lined with sharp nails, which should be dragged by two white horses up and down the street till she is dead.” (That’d be the Brothers Grimm for you.)

In Hale’s Goose Girl, there is a whole involved subplot involving the princess’ aunt, the princess being passed over in the line of succession, and the princess’ desire to speak to animals. Those things aside, the princess is still shipped off to marry a prince and her maid still betrays her and takes her place. What changes is that Hale’s princess then gathers a band around her, saves her own kingdom from war, actually fights the evil maid, and, interestingly, only ends up with her prince after it is revealed that he is secretly her good friend from the forest while she was a goose keeper.

The differences in these two stories got me thinking about what we value in our fairy tales and which values get passed on to our children in different versions written in different times. To me, girl off the street, comparing these two stories shows a huge shift in values away from the submissive princess whose goodness inevitably shines through (with her not taking any action and the King doing everything) to the princess who wholly takes control of her own destiny, saves her kingdom from destruction, rails against segregation and then marries only for love, not just because he is her prince. I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising considering the whole feminist movement in between the one version and the other, but the specific ways in which Hale’s Goose Girl chose to deviate from the Grimm’s The Goose Girl still shocked me.

Bearing these two versions in mind, which would I read to my daughter? Just because I like some girl power in my books, does not mean that I would less desire my children to know the importance of goodness. Similarly, just because I want my children to be good, does not mean that I don’t want them to stand up for themselves. Hale’s princess is in charge of her life, but her innate goodness is taken away from her. Meanwhile, the Grimms’ princess is good, but ineffectual. Which should be passed on? Should either be shoved aside for the other?

I think this is probably a problem that any re-told fairy tale from the nineteenth century encounters. Just because we have advanced into such “enlightened” feminism (or any other modern value), does that mean Victorian values must be eradicated, or at least downplayed, in our modern fairy tales?


Entry filed under: Fairy Tale Friday. Tags: , .

Innocent Traitor Another Literary Transgression

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. KT  |  August 28, 2009 at 8:27 am

    This is such a great post! I think that currently, good defined as something you do rather than something you are — in other words, actions are indicative of an inner goodness, but it’s the actions that are important.

    And I think we’ve moved beyond the idea that children are innately good, anyway. The Victorians believed that children were inherently innocent, to the point where they had a wee bit of a fetish about dead children (i.e., uncorrupted, forever innocent children!). I think given the choice, I would rather give my child the idea that she must work toward goodness through her actions.

  • 2. Corey  |  August 28, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Thanks, buddy! Your distinction between inner goodness and goodness through actions is so elucidating. I think you are absolutely right that proving your goodness is much more important today than it used to be. There used to be more trust in a person’s unprovable, innate goodness, which shows through in the Grimm’s version (and probably other, more traditional tales).

    I guess it’s kind of a reversal: a person used to be assumed good until s/he acted bad and now a person must first prove s/he is good by actions, rather than being assumed so until s/he acts. I rather prefer the former!

  • […] It seems to me that there’s been a trend in the last 30 years or so to rewrite classic fairy tales from a new perspective or with a twist. I’m talking about books like Ella Enchanted, Beauty:A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast, and Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl (which I’ve written about on LT before). […]


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