Three of the Most Messed Up Princess Tales Ever

Many people like to talk about how much darker the Brothers Grimm stories were than their movie counterparts. Yes, we all know Cinderella's stepsisters had their eyes pecked out by birds, and Snow White's stepmother was forced to dance in burning hot iron shoes until she died. However, I find medieval punishments for wicked deeds far less disturbing than glorifying or rewarding characters for malicious actions. Did you know that in the story of "Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp," Aladdin wins the princess's hand in marriage by teleporting her into his bed on her wedding night and teleporting her new husband outside to sleep in the cold? Author A.G. Marshall wrote a fantastic short story about this aspect of the fairy tale called "The Princess and the Lamp." Women being treated as property is quite disturbing by today's standards, but here are three examples of even more disturbing stories where princesses are rewarded for downright wicked behavior.

"Donkey Skin"

Donkey-Skin (1970 film)

This is the tamest of the three examples in this post. I actually enjoyed the Brothers Grimm version of the story the first time I read it. It is known by many different titles. "Donkey-Skin" refers to the version by Charles Perrault, and the Grimm version is interchangeably referred to as "All-Kinds-of-Fur" or "The Coat of Many Colors." This scandalous fairy tale is about a princess whose father wishes to remarry after the death of the queen to a bride who is as beautiful as his wife was. Since he can't find anyone who resembles the late queen as much as his own daughter, he becomes determined to marry her. If you were wondering why Disney never adapted this story, there's your reason. In both versions of the fairy tale, the princess attempts to halt her father's advances by asking for three impossibly extravagant gowns that capture the brilliance of the sun, moon, and stars. When he satisfies all of her requests, she runs away and becomes a servant girl to a foreign king. The rest of the story strongly resembles "Cinderella," with the king holding three balls where the princess wears each of her gorgeous dresses but runs away whenever he tries to learn her identity.

What makes the Charles Perrault version of this fairy tale more disturbing is that the princess in his version makes one final request from her father before running away. She asks him to murder and skin his most beloved donkey, thinking that he would never do it and that she would be free. When he does the wicked deed anyway, the princess wears the dead carcass as a disguise, hence the title "Donkey-Skin." She somehow still manages to get hired by the foreign king despite wearing a literal corpse. The princess from the Brothers Grimm adaptation also wears a disguise, but it is a more innocuous one made from patches of fur that are given to her by her animal friends in the forest. The Perrault version with the dead donkey was turned into a French movie musical in 1970 aptly titled Donkey-Skin. Though parts of the movie make me cringe, I enjoyed it for the costumes and songs.

"Marigo of the Forty Dragons"

I had never heard of this fairy tale until I sent out my last reader survey. One of you picked it as a story you would be interested in reading an adaptation of. I looked it up out of curiosity and found that it is an Albanian version of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" with one major difference. Unlike Snow White, who is a complete innocent in the midst of her stepmother problem, Marigo agrees to kill her own mother as soon as she is propositioned by her future stepmother. That should eliminate any sympathy the reader might have for the heartless princess, and yet we are still supposed to root for her when her new stepmother tries to kill her for being fairer.  As cool as it sounds for a princess to have forty dragons protecting her, the dragons' role in the story is no different than that of the seven dwarfs. They allow her to stay with them after she agrees to keep their house tidy are unable to protect her from the queen's poison. They place her in a glass coffin, where a young king eventually wakes her so they can get married and live happily ever after, but does she really deserve a happy ending after killing her mother in cold blood?

"Faithful Johannes"

In college, I read an anthology of all the fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm. Some were forgettable, some I already knew, and one was the most disturbing story I have ever read in my life to this day. If you've never heard of "Faithful Johannes," consider yourself lucky. It is filled with irredeemable acts of violence and assault. A young king who kidnaps a spoiled princess by distracting her with gold and then forces her to marry him. Yet, The Princess of the Golden Roof does not object after the king explains that he only kidnapped her to be his bride. You can bet she won't be getting a Disney movie any time soon. The story gets worse from there. The prince's loyal servant is given three tasks to save the life of the king and his bride that make him appear quite guilty. One of those tasks is sucking three drops of blood from the new queen's right breast. Yes, that is actually in the story.

Here's the worst part. After Johannes is executed for his misdeeds, the king learns that he only did them to protect the royal family. He regrets executing his faithful servant and is told that he can bring him back to life by chopping the heads off his children and spilling their blood over Johannes's corpse. He does so right away, and when he tells his wife about it later, she agrees that murdering their children is necessary to bring back Johaness as well. As a reward for saving him, their children are brought back to life with no memory of their father slicing off their heads, and no one suffers any consequences for their actions. Um, yay?

Next time someone tells you that stories like "Snow White," "Cinderella," or "The Little Mermaid" are much darker than the Disney movies, tell them one of these instead. The fairy tales that get adapted into movies are usually light-hearted and mostly family-friendly from the get-go. I would hate to see what a movie about Marigo or The Princess of the Golden Roof would be like, but I know that neither of these will ever get turned into mainstream feature films into one due to the horrible message they send to children. The 1970 movie of Donkey-Skin is pleasant enough to watch, but it can also be disturbing if you think about it too hard. Plus, qualifications for French movies are not nearly as strict as they are in America. Do you know any princess stories that are more disturbing than these three? Let me know in the comments if you do!


PrincessContent said…
Oh dear... The versions of Donkey-Skin I have known for so long are even more messed up...

In one, the princess in donkey-skin hides as a servant in her own home and she does the whole thing with three dresses and she ends up marrying the father! I was so confused when I read this! Because the whole reason she went into hiding in the first place was because she did not want to marry her father!

And in this one, can't remember the title of this tale, she runs away, ends up in a different kings land but instead of a donkey skin, the princess kills and skins one of the kings servants and wears the skin!! I have no idea how this version ends. I never finished reading it...
Lisa Dawn said…
What?! I don't even know where those adaptations would come from when the Brothers Grimm version didn't even have the skinning in it in the first place!
PrincessContent said…
What indeed!
I discovered the tale years ago when I was looking through a tale collection in a library.
I’ve read many fairy tales through out my life, so I’m pretty used to the darker themes but this was way too much!
It’s also so unusual for fairy tale princesses to commit grim deeds in general. It’s more common with the male heroes. But so far I’ve never read a story where a male hero skins a person.
"Doralice" is another Donkey skin retelling, where princess Doralice escape her incestuous father, King Thibaut, by hiding in a wardrobe. It is sent to King of England, Genovese. They get married and have three Children. Then Thibaut learn where his daughter is gone. He goes to England incognito, hide into
the royal palace...and kills his grandchildren. Doralice is accused of the crime and sentenced to scaphism. Google it, I can't explain here what it is because of sensitive souls. Doralice story ends well thanks to her nurse, who testimony for her. Finally Thibaut is excuted .

Zezolla is an italian retelling of Cinderella, where she have the particularity to be a princess by birth, instead of being born to a gentleman. She have lost her mother, her father remarries a shrew (familiar until then). But the twist is, Zezolla have a governess who always acted nice to her. She tells the princess to get rid of her stepmother, by letting fall a heavy chest lid on her neck. Zezolla obeys, and the how widowed king remarries the governess. Who is not the nice stepmother Zezolla hoped she would be: she just wanted to be the new Queen. And is even worse than the original stepmom, with the assistance of her six (in this version) daughters. You know what comes next: Zezolla becomes a servant, is nicknamed "the ashes cat", and only find hapiness when she marries the prince of a nearby kingdom.

Due to the murder, it does not look like she desevered it. But: unlike Marigo, she did not killed her biological mother, and was misguided. Still, I had no idea that another tale would have an even worse version of the parricide princess.
Lisa Dawn said…
Wow! So much for "Have courage and be kind," huh?

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