Greetings, Champions! (Don’t worry, no spoilers here, we’re just talking about the source material today.)
The original story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses is tough to pin down, mostly because there’s so many variants. There’s the most well known version–the Brothers Grimm version which was published in 1812–however, there are also French, Russian, Romanian, Hungarian, Portuguese, Slovakian, Scottish, and Icelandic versions as well. Each story is a little different, but they typically share one of two story structures, which are best showcased in the German version and the French version.
The German version–which is perhaps the more traditional version–follows the adventure of a soldier.
The king of his country has twelve beautiful daughters who, despite sleeping in a locked room, wear their dancing shoes to pieces every night. The king promises that if a man is able to uncover the mystery of the princesses and their worn shoes within three days and three nights, he will be given the kingdom and he will be allowed the marry the princess of his choice. (Seems like a pretty big reward for a mystery that pertains to used shoes...) However, anyone who tries yet fails to uncover the secret within that three day time frame will be put to death. (There’s no reason given for this death threat. I bet this king is a relative of the king from Rumpelstiltskin!)
This unpromising cycle has continued on for some time, until our hero–the retired soldier–asks for a chance. The king gives his permission, and right before it’s time for the soldier to spend his first night with the princesses, he meets an old woman who gives him an invisibility cloak and tells him not to eat or drink anything the princesses give him and to pretend to sleep.
The soldier follows that advice, and as a result is able to sneak out after the princesses when they leave their room through a trap door. (The soldier follows so closely behind them that he treds on the dress of the youngest princess–who cries out in surprise.) The princesses lead the way through three groves of trees (One grove is made of silver trees, one of gold, and the last of diamonds.) and the soldier takes a twig from each tree.
They then come to a beautiful lake where twelve boats and twelve princes wait to ferry the princesses across. The soldier hops on the boat of the youngest princess, who lectures her prince for being slower than anyone else due to the extra (and unknown) weight the soldier provides. (I might add that while it’s noted the princesses are beautiful, they certainly don’t get personality points.)
Across the water is a castle, where the princesses dance the night away before hurrying back to their home.
The soldier follows the princesses a second and third time, but on the third night he manages to steal a golden cup. The next day he presents the cup and the tree branches to the king as he explains what the princesses do every night. Faced with this absolute proof, the princesses confess that he is correct. The soldier then picks the oldest princess as his bride, and that’s it.
A few things about this story really gets me, and it’s why I was so determined NOT to write a story about the princesses themselves. 1) The princesses are brats. They aren’t under any kind of enchantment, spell, curse, NOTHING. They willingly go dancing every night and refuse to tell their father what they’re doing for reasons never explained. 2) The princesses have been drugging those who tried to uncover their mystery–which is bad enough, but by doing so they willingly participated in their father’s madness and sent men to death because they wanted to dance. Nice girls, these princesses are NOT! 3) If the king is related to the blood thirsty king of Rumpelstiltskin–who threatened a girl with death or marriage–then the soldier is certainly related to the miller’s daughter of Rumpelstiltskin. Why on earth would he want to marry a girl who is at worst capable of murder and at best a compulsive liar??
The second most popular variant of the Twelve Dancing Princess story is fairly similar, but instead of a soldier the hero is a gardener’s boy. (As I mentioned at the beginning, the most well known of this particular strain of the 12 dancing princesses is the French version) This story is actually a bit more detailed than the German version, so we’ll examine it in another post.
However, if you want to read some of the many variants I mentioned at the start of this post, I highly recommend Twelve Dancing Princesses Tales From Around the World, by Heidi Anne Heiner. (The ebook is in Kindle Unlimited!)
Thanks for reading, Champions. I hope you enjoy Quinn and her adventure in The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Have a lovely day!