I’m just going to put it out there, the symbolism and the moral of the original Goose Girl story is awfully muddled. In fact, it seems like the Brothers Grimm–who are usually quite clear cut in their morals–can’t decide if they are telling a coming of age story, or a tale to remind kids to listen to their elders.
Here’s my case:
So the old queen is sending her beautiful daughter off to a far away country to get married–a pretty clear transition from girlhood to adulthood, right? Well some of the weirder parts of the story drive that point home, specifically the handkerchief with the three drops of blood on it.
In my research I found several reasons for why the handkerchief was important–some explanations said it was divine proof of the princess’s royal identity, others say it places the princess under the old queen’s care and protection. But what everyone agrees on, is that the handkerchief ties the princess to the queen and by losing it, she severs the bond between them which is how the maid manages her takeover.
So let’s recap: The princess is traveling to a foreign country BY HERSELF to get married, but because she steps entirely out of her childhood she ends up dooming herself and the maid takes over. (That’s not exactly an encouraging coming of age tale.)
The princess’s continued action doesn’t make it any better either. When they arrive at the kingdom of her husband-to-be, she stands around in the courtyard and does NOTHING until the old King (not her intended) basically asks “Why is there a random girl doing nothing in my courtyard?”
Her inattention continues, even to the point where when Falada–who is called her faithful steed–is KILLED. Indeed, the princess shows no signs of growing up at all until Little Conrad tries to pluck her hair and she sicks the wind on him. After that, she grows a little more proactive, but she only speaks to the King because Conrad complained about her so if this really was a coming of age story it’s a pretty poor one. (“Sit on your bum, kids, and one day you too will be crowned princess because one of your co-workers complained to HR!”)
I did read a few explanations that argued that princess is displaying meekness and sweet temperament–which prove her divine status as a royal. These same explanations claimed that her return to her royal status just shows that nobility is more than just a title but is something you’re born with that will eventually reveal itself. Honestly I think that’s a load of horse droppings–birth does NOT make you better or lesser than someone. Plus this doesn’t really help the coming of age argument anyway, all it does is make a case for the many childish kings/queens from history.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the actions of the old King that point to the story of being more of the “listen to your elders” instructive parable.
The King notices the princess when she arrives, actually listens to Little Conrad and then summons the princess, and he’s also the one who figures out how the princess can get around her vow by telling the stove, and he’s the one who handles the chambermaid when her betrayal is revealed.
But the whole bit at the start–where the old queen bids farewell to her daughter in what is clearly a bid for the childhood-to-adulthood-narrative–kinda messes up the King’s often overlooked wisdom and intelligence.
Personally, I’m more inclined to go for the ‘listen to your elders’ moral, but I admittedly have very little patience for heroines who aren’t proactive or even just productive.
But what do you think, Champions? Does the original story make a little more sense, now? What kind of story do YOU think it is?