While my reimagining of Donkeyskin carries out over the entire Hall of Blood and Mercy trilogy, I figured we should get an early start and go over the fairy tale for those of you who aren’t familiar with it.
Donkeyskin was written by Charles Perrault–a Frenchman who is famous for many French versions of fairytales, including Cinderella. It was first released in 1695 and republished in 1697 in a book that also contained Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and more. As you read through the original, you’ll find it is reminiscent of a few other fairy tales–including the original fable I based my Princess Who Chased Sheep on.
Most people are familiar with this fairy tale through Robin McKinley’s Deerskin, which–truthfully–captures more of the original story that I wanted to. (Spoiler: Donkeyskin is another one for the Creepy category. It’s perhaps just as bad as Sleeping Beauty, though in a different way.) As a warning, I’m more sarcastic than usual with this one. With all the icky stuff that happens I had to let the sarcasm flow or I wouldn’t be able to get through it. So let the ‘fun’ begin!
Once upon a time there was a super rich, super handsome, super kind King and his gorgeous and charming Queen. They had a beautiful daughter, and were the most powerful rulers in the whole world, probably because they had a magic donkey that literally pooped gold. Everything was great…until the Queen got sick.
No one could heal her, and the Queen knew she was dying, so she called the King to her side and told him “Only marry someone wiser and more beautiful than me if you want to provide an heir for the throne.”
PAUSE! The King always gets a bad rap in this story–AS HE SHOULD–but a lot of people don’t see the treachery in the Queen. So we need to get a few facts straight. 1) She is aware her daughter can’t inherit the throne–she specifically acknowledges the King needs an heir which means his people will be putting a lot of pressure on him. 2) She knows she’s the most beautiful woman in the world, so by telling him this she’s trying to get him to promise he won’t remarry.
You probably think I’m overthinking this, but I know the Queen is a hag, because the story tells you she knew what she was doing. The original story says… “Confident that it would be impossible to find such a woman, the Queen thus believed that her husband would never remarry.”
In other words, dear old Queenie knew that by making him promise this, she was screwing him over politically–not to mention blocking him from any kind of romantic relationship which could give him happiness later in life–and she didn’t care.
After Queenie-the-Selfish died, the King mourned her for months, crying 24/7. (I’m assuming this means the princess was raised by her nanny, which is probably a good thing considering how her parents act.)
Eventually the courtiers started nagging the King about remarrying and producing an heir, and he agreed. He tried to keep his word and looked all over the world for a woman as beautiful and wise as dear ol’ Queenie. Unfortunately, Queenie was right, and the King couldn’t find anyone…except for his daughter. (And this is where we start calling the King GK for Gross King.)
GK proposes marriage to his daughter, who is legitimately grossed out by the idea. Disturbed, she seeks out her fairy godmother who lives in a grotto of coral and pearls. (Does this mean her fairy godmother is the sea witch from Little Mermaid??)
The Fairy godmother tells her not to worry, there’s now way GK is that far gone, but in the meantime ask him for an impossible task–a dress that resembles the sky. Since he won’t be able to have one crafted, the Princess will be safe.
The Princess does as she is told. GK rises to the challenge and tells the tailors that if they can’t produce a sky-dress, he’ll hang them all. (Geez, what happened to being the kind king that the story took pains to point out at the start?)
The tailors pull it off, and it’s the most beautiful thing ever, filling the Princess with both happiness and fear because GK succeeded. She runs back to fairy godmother, who tells her to ask for a dress that is the color of the moon. Threats are issued, the embroiderers encounter stress overloads, and the dress is successfully made. This happens a third time when the fairy godmother tells the Princess to ask for a dress as bright as the sun, and some severely stressed-out jewelers produce a gown of gold and diamonds.
It’s becoming pretty obvious that GK lives in a really fashion-forward country, so the fairy godmother finally decides to change the task, and tells the Princess to ask for the skin of the gold-pooping donkey. (She assures the Princess there’s no way GK would kill his wealth-producing donkey–he’s not that crazy.)
SURPRISE!! GK immediately has the creature killed and its skin brought to the Princess.
By now Fairy Godmother has figured out how cray-cray GK is, so she tells the Princess to pretend to give into GK, but then run away using the donkey’s skin as a disguise and hiding her new fabulous dresses and jewels in a magic chest. (This furthers the notion that the fairy godmother isn’t so bright. Not only did it take her 3 dresses and a magic donkey to figure out GK had lost his marbles, but she also suggested taking these easily-identifiable dresses ON THE RUN.)
The Princess makes a break for it, and with her disguise no one is able to find her. She travels all the way into a different kingdom and is hired to work in a farm owned by the royal family as a kitchen servant. During the week she wears her donkey skin disguise–it’s a little sketchy how anyone can mistake a DONKEY for a person, I think they actually knew but thought she was just weird, but whatevs–and on her days off on Sunday she cleans up and puts on her famous dresses to feel pretty again.
Since she’s on a royal farm, of course the Prince of the Kingdom makes it a habit to drop by this particular farm after his hunting excursion. Apparently the prince was really handsome because the Princess–in disguise–enjoys gawking at him. She notes how gracious his manners are, and thinks that if he gave her even just a simple dress, she’d love it more than the fancy ones GK gave her. (I’D HOPE SO! EW!)
One day the Prince visits the farm on a Sunday and wanders around all the way to the servants’ quarters where he happens to put his eye to the door key hole. (Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. Pervert.) Since it’s Sunday, the Princess was wearing one of her gowns–the sun one.
The Perverted Prince was astounded by her beauty, and almost bursts into her room, but barely manages to restrain himself. Since the dude has apparently never heard of leaving a letter or verbal message, he meanders back home and proceeds to pout.
He won’t hunt, won’t go to any balls, he refuses to have any fun and sighs all day long. (Poor thing.) Finally he loses his appetite and sinks into a deadly melancholy, and only THEN does he bother to ask the farm managers who ran the place who the gorgeous girl was. The farm managers tell him the room belonged to Donkey Skin, who isn’t pretty at all.
The prince doesn’t believe them and moans and sighs some more until his mother–the Queen–asks him what’s wrong. He tells her he wants Donkey Skin to make him a cake. She is mildly weirded out, but commands it to be done.
Our Princess-in-disguises makes the cake while wearing one of her jewels–specifically a ring. Proving that she is GK’s and Queenie’s daughter, the princess purposely drops the ring in the cake because she knew Prince Pervert was watching her through the keyhole. (What can I say? They deserve each other.)
The Perverted Prince almost swallows the ring (no one ever called him smart) when he eats the cake, and is very happy to find it, but he still grows sicker every day. It seems it was his method of protest, because he’s so sick his parents don’t object when it is claimed that marriage will cure his lovesickness. (And YES that is a line from the book, it seems Perrault a sarcastic streak) Perverted Prince decides he fancies a Cinderella story, and declares he’ll only marry the person whom his cake-ring fits.
The ring trials begin, and all the princesses, duchesses, and titled ladies of the land give it a try, but none of them can get the ring on. Eventually everyone from the middle class, and even the servants are given the chance to try on the ring, until our disguised princess is the only one left.
The princess–being Queenie’s and GK’s daughter–knows what’s going on, so she asks permission to change, and dresses in her sun dress and puts on all her jewelry. The King is stoked she looks so rich while the Queen delights in her manners, so when she tries on the ring and it fits everyone is happy.
Preparations for Perverted Prince and our no-longer-disguised Princess’s wedding begins immediately, and invitations are sent everywhere. And I mean everywhere.
So it was no surprise when GK shows up–still super rich and handsome, but thankfully no longer cray-cray. He’s so glad to see his daughter and begs her forgiveness–and Perverted Prince’s parents are now twice as thrilled to see that their son’s father-in-law was such a rich and powerful king.
The borderline useless fairy godmother shows up at the end and insists on telling all the wedding attendees the whole story–because that wouldn’t be awkward or creepy–and the disguised Princess is happy.
So. That was…something.
I’m not afraid to admit I like the stories that borrow aspects of this tale but skip the whole creepy-king/selfish-queen aspect of the princess’s parents. To reassure you guys–I DON’T DO THAT. EW. NO. Also, NO DONKEYS ARE HARMED IN THE DURATION OF THIS STORY!
But I borrow many other aspects of the story that we’ll go over after Magic Forged is launched. Until then, have a lovely day, Champions!