Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast
Birds can represent the fluttering, darting thoughts of intuition. This is why little birds helped Cinderella help herself.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Cinderella #175 Donkey-skin (Perrault)


The King's daughter asked for
a dress the color of the sky. 

Once upon a time, "there was a King who was the most powerful ruler in the whole world. He was kind to his subjects and inspired dread in his enemies, and "his wife and faithful companion was both charming and beautiful."  He had stables full of the noblest steeds, but "what surprised everyone on entering these stables was that the place of honour was held by a donkey with two big ears." It is said that Heaven mingles the evil with the good, and so it happened that the Queen took deadly ill. When she felt the last life ebbing from her, she called for the King and whispered to him,"Promise me that it, when I am gone, you find a woman wiser and more beautiful than I, you will marry her and so provide an heir for your throne." The King was sure that he would never find such a woman, so he agreed to the pact.  Then his wife died. Time passed and the King grieved bitterly. At length, he "became so confused in his mind, and, imagining that he was still a young man, he thought his daughter was the maiden he had once wooed."  However, this notion terrified his daughter, who "sought out her fairy godmother who lived in a grotto of coral and pearls." This one advised her to delay the marriage by requesting "a dress which has the colour of the Sky". So she went home and told the King that she must have this dress, and, to her dismay, he brought it to her the very next morning. Back she went to the pearl and coral grotto, and now the fairy advised her to request "a dress the colour or the Moon".  The King would not, thought the fairy godmother, be able to find this dress quickly. Alas, he did exactly that, and presented the dress to his daughter the next day. She "was delighted with its beauty." Still, her godmother "urged her to make a request to the King, this time for a dress as bright and shining as the Sun." Now the King called for the Royal Jeweler, and "ordered him to make a cloth of gold and diamonds, warning him that if he failed, he would die. " Less than one week later the princess saw her newest dress.  It was so exquisite it took her breath away, and its radiance outshone all else. But now the godmother bade her ask for "the skin of the donkey in the royal stable." The King would surely not consent to this, and so no wedding could take place. So thought the godmother. But once again, she was mistaken, for the King gave immediate orders for the animal to be butchered and skinned. When the hideous thing was brought before her, the princess knew that she must marry her father. Now the fairy counseled her. "Pretend to give in to the King. Promise him anything he wishes, but, at the same time, prepare to escape to some far country. " So saying, she gave her god daughter a charmed chest that would hold all of her dresses and jewels, and a magic wand. The enchanted chest, the fairy said, "will follow you everywhere, always hidden underground. Whenever you wish to open the chest, as soon as you touch the wand to the ground, the chest will appear."  The best disguise to use, said the fairy, would be the frightfully ugly donkey skin, for no one would guess that a lovely girl was hidden inside. So that night, the Princess ran away. Although the King commanded that the servants, as well as his army, participate in the hunt, the girl seemed to have vanished without a trace. Meanwhile, the princess traveled on as fast as she could. She could not take lodgings, for no one would let a Donkey-Skin inside, and it seemed she was destined to wander forever. At long last, she "came to a farm where they needed a poor wretch to wash the dishcloths and clean out the pig troughs".  The servants made bawdy sport of the strange girl in the hideous donkey skin, and tormented her in many ways. She was, however, given Sundays off from work. Then she would take to her dark little chamber and try on her dresses: first the one the color of the Sky, then the one which shone like the Moon, and, finally, the dress that glittered almost as brightly as the Sun. In this way, she reassured herself that she was still a princess. On the farm where Donkey-Skin worked, "there was an aviary belonging to a powerful king." This king's son, being fascinated by the many unusual birds there, and enjoying the aviary's serenity, made it his habit to pause for refreshment there on his way home from his daily hunt. And Donkey-Skin, because she watched him every day, thought to herself, "How gracious he is! How happy must she be to whom his heart is pledged! If he should give me a dress of only the simplest sort, I would feel more splendid wearing it than any of these which I have." It happened one day that as the prince rested at the aviary that he noticed a hovel, from which he saw a bright light coming. Peeping in at a crack in the wall, he saw a splendidly dressed young woman, wearing a gown of radiant diamonds and gold. Her face was lovelier than any he had ever beheld. Yet when he enquired who the princess in the hovel was, his manservant guffawed."The beautiful maiden who lived in such squalor" was called Donkey-Skin, and she was known as "the ugliest animal one could find, except the wolf". He would not believe this, and continued to pine for the maiden. After many days of melancholy, during which he would neither eat nor drink, his mother the Queen despaired.  She sent for the doctors, who told her that her son was love-sick, and that she must give him whatever he requested. Begging her son to specify his desires, the Queen was appalled to hear him ask for a cake baked by Donkey-Skin, a dirty serving girl. Yet a mother's love runs deep, and she directed that this be so. Now Donkey-Skin took "some flour which she had ground especially fine, and some salt, some butter, and some fresh eggs" and baked a cake for the prince. As she was mixing it, her ring fell into the batter. Many have said that it was done on purpose, for they say she must have known that the prince watched that day at her door. When the cake was served to the prince, and he encountered the ring, he took it for a token of Donkey-Skin's love. Now he pined mortally for the girl, and again the doctors said that he must be allowed his heart's desire, or surely he would die. When the prince declared that he would marry only the girl whose finger fit the ring, every young lady in the kingdom was called to try it on. "Every charlatan had his idea of making the finger slim. One suggested scraping it as though it were a turnip. Another recommended cutting away a small piece." Yet even with these gruesome tricks, the ring would fit no one. At last, "it was necessary to turn to the servants, the kitchen help, they slaveys and the poultry keepers, with their red and dirty hands." Yet none of this group could wear the ring. Finally, "there remained only Donkey-Skin.  Who could dream that she would ever be Queen?" Yet when the prince drew near her and she put a soft white hand out from her dirty hide, his heart gave a leap. And when "it was placed on her finger and it fitted perfectly, everyone was astounded." Now Donkey-Skin begged permission to go and change clothes before being presented to the prince, and this was given. She went to the hovel and changed into her radiant gown, and came to the palace "with her blonde hair all alight with diamonds and her blue eyes sweet and appealing". Kings "of all the surrounding countries" were invited to the wedding, and all kinds of rulers, from many lands, attended. One in particular burst into tears and said, "How kind heaven is to let me see you again, my dear daughter.' Weeping with joy, he embraced her tenderly. "At that moment, the fairy godmother arrived too, and told the whole story of what had happened, and what she had to tell added the final triumph for Donkey-Skin... It is not hard to see that the moral of this tale is that it is better to undergo the greatest harddships rather than to fail in one's duty, that virtue may sometimes seem ill-fated but will always triumph in the end. MORAL: The story of Donkey-Skin may be hard to believe, but so long as there are children, mothers and grandmothers in this world, it will be fondly remembered by all."
From Perrault't Complete Fairy Tales.Translated by A.E. Johnson and others. (1961) USA: Dodd, Mead & Co. 
Note: This book does not appear on Amazon, but is available at the Berkeley Public Library and probably others. It is clearly of the Catskin genre, and is the only example I have seen so far where maidens must try on the ring. In others it falls into the cake and so the baker is recognized as the girl with whom the prince has danced.  Here, there is no ball either, only a chance viewing when the prince stops for a rest at the aviary. Notice the important role that birds play here, as in most Cinderella stories. 
Montessori Connection: History/1600's
1. Read this story and learn that it was retold, and polished, by Charles Perrault in the year 1697, in France. 
2. Learn about the 17th century, and compare what else was happening in the world when this story was publihsed in France. 
3. Learn that:
  • in England, in the 1690's, Sir Isaac Newton was discovering his laws of motion.
  • in Russia, in 1696, Peter the Great was victorious over the Turks and captured the port of the Black Sea.
  • in America, the Salem Witch trials took place in 1692; 19 women were found guilty and executed. 
  • in India, Hindus were being persecuted by Aurangzeb, Emperor of India, in 1670 

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