Grimms' Fairy Tales (Selected) | Study Guide

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

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Grimms' Fairy Tales (Selected) | Furrypelts | Summary

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Summary

This tale is an earlier version of "Cinderella." Just before a king's beautiful wife dies, she makes him promise to remarry only if he finds someone as beautiful as she and with golden hair like hers. A vast search is organized, but on the rare occasions an equally beautiful woman is found, she doesn't have golden hair.

Meanwhile, their daughter grows into a young woman, exactly as beautiful as her mother and bearing the same golden hair. When the king realizes that she looks exactly like his late wife, he falls passionately in love with her. He tells his councilors he wants to marry his daughter. They're horrified, and the princess is even more so.

Hoping for time to change her father's mind, the princess stalls by asking for three dresses. One is as golden as the sun, one as silvery as the moon, and a third as bright as the stars. She also asks for a cloak that contains fur from every animal in the kingdom. Unfortunately, her father finds people who can make these clothes. He spreads them out for his daughter's approval and announces that the wedding will take place the next day.

The daughter makes up her mind to flee. She packs three of her most precious possessions: a ring, a spinning wheel, and a bobbin, all made of gold. She tucks the fantastic dresses into a nutshell, or case, blackens her hands and face with soot, puts on the fur cloak, and steals away.

At length Furrypelts is found by three huntsmen who bring her to a nearby castle belonging to the king of that land. There she's given a windowless garret and put to work in the kitchen, where she must do all the worst chores.

A ball is announced, and Furrypelts gets permission to go watch the festivities as long as she returns in time to sweep up the ashes. She cleans off the soot and puts on the dress that shines like the sun. When the king sees her, he falls in love. But before anyone learns who she is, Furrypelts slips back to the kitchen and puts her disguise back on.

The ball is still in progress. The cook wants to get a look at the festivities and asks Furrypelts to make a bowl of soup for the king. She obeys, putting her gold ring in the bottom of the bowl. The soup turns out better than any the king has tasted before, and he finds the ring at the bottom. When he learns who made it, he sends for Furrypelts, but she refuses to answer any of his questions.

A second ball is held, and the adventure is repeated, this time with the moon dress and the golden spindle. At the third ball, Furrypelts wears the starry dress and puts the bobbin in the soup. But this time the king manages to slip the girl's gold ring onto her finger without her noticing. He's able to track her down soon afterward, and they are married.

Analysis

A story that openly discusses father-daughter incest is hard to process. It's not as though the king's decision goes unopposed: his councilors and daughter tell him his idea is monstrous. This is a case where a king knows something is wrong but is still determined to do it. Scholars have classed it under the category "Unnatural Love."

In some versions of "Furrypelts," the excuse for the king's behavior is that he has gone insane. One rendition even ends with the king's recovering in time to attend his daughter's wedding. In this version, the only excuse the king may have is that he's obeying the promise he made to the queen. It's hard to imagine the queen's asking for this vow because she hopes he'll choose their daughter. Perhaps she exacts the promise because she assumes he'll never find anyone as beautiful as she. Besides, their daughter is young at the time, so no one knows what she'll look like as an adult. In that case, though, why not simply beg the king not to remarry? That would have been selfish, but at least it wouldn't have put the princess at risk. There seems to be something "off" in this marriage.

It's lucky Furrypelts isn't one of those passive Grimm maidens who meekly accept their fate. Her plight's so dire she must move fast. The three dresses she brings suggest that she has the blessing of the heavens. Swathing herself in fur seems to impart a kind of animal wisdom. After all, the fur cloak is a practical choice for someone who will have to live in the woods. (Disguising herself as a beggar wouldn't have given her the same advantage.) It's hard to think of another Grimm princess pragmatic enough to sleep inside a log.

Even in disguise and living a new life, Furrypelts is determined to remember who she is. That's why she brings the little gold trinkets with her. Once she's living in the new castle, the trinkets prove as helpful as the fabulous dresses. Dropping them into the king's soup is a sure way to get his attention. So is refusing to answer his questions. Not only does the refusal pique the king's interest; it also signals that she's confident enough to say no. A girl who's confident enough to say no to a king can't be an ordinary servant!

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