Thursday, February 7, 2013

Unhappy Ending Cinderella: Denmark's The Two Princesses

Sorry I have been absent the last few days. And, no, not from illness. Just plain busyness and plain old being overwhelmed. I am trying to get back to a somewhat normal routine, but we will see. I obviously caught up with myself on Cinderella entries, but there's always more if I can just find time to think!

For today, I wanted to share one of the Cinderellas with an unhappy ending. The tale, The Two Princesses (De to Kongedættre), comes from Denmark and was summarized by Marian Roalfe Cox in a supplement to her book she published in Folklore journal in 1907, from M. Winther's Danske Folkeventyr. The following is a summary of the tale edited from Cox's article.

While I included many Cinderella summaries in the collection, I edited each one from the tabulation format she used to a more narrative style, replacing articles (especially "the") and fixing awkward grammar. The summaries lose some of the details of the original narrative--Andrew Lang expressed his dissatisfaction with them--but they are often quite sufficient for getting the flavor of the tale and its key elements. And since the task of trying to translate each of the roughly 200 tales that have no English translation already would have taken years of work with minimal benefit, the summaries are beautiful!

From my book, Cinderella Tales From Around the World:

A KING has two daughters. The elder is wicked and ugly while the younger is beautiful and good. The elder daughter is beloved and lives with the king in the most gorgeous rooms of the palace. The heroine lives with the servants and shares their work.

A neighbouring king arranges a festival to last several days. The elder daughter attends it with the father. The heroine is left in the kitchen. She sits crying in the twilight in her small room. Suddenly, a strange little man appears and offers to fulfil a wish for her. The heroine wishes to see the ball where the father and the sister are. She may go, she is told, on the condition that she returns before midnight.

The man vanishes, and the heroine stands in costly dress, wearing heavy gold chains and a crown of diamonds. At her door is a magnificent coach with four snow-white horses whose golden manes reach the ground. The heroine enters the coach and soon finds herself at the palace, admired by all, and unrecognised by her father and sister. As twelve o’clock strikes, she mounts the coach and is soon back in her shabby clothes in her dark room.

The next day the father and sister talk incessantly of the fair, unknown princess. In the evening they go to the festival, leaving the heroine hard at work. Seeing a red glare in the sky from the illuminated palace, the heroine longs to go. Immediately she is beautifully and magnificently dressed. This time her horses are yellow with jet-black plaited manes. At the ball she is admired and courted beyond measure. As the clock strikes midnight, she leaves in the midst of a dance.

On the third evening, a heavy gale blows. She wears a triple crown of sparkling diamonds. Her coach is drawn by eight flame-coloured horses with manes like shining gold. Everyone wants to dance with her. She stays beyond her given time and leaves in her black working dress, only to find outside, instead of a coach, an old wheelbarrow drawn by four small mice. She weeps bitterly over her forgetfulness and in the future passes her days as a common servant in her father’s kitchen.

As you read, this particular tale is also unusual in that the 510A tale has a father and sister who persecute the heroine--persecuting fathers are usually reserved for 510B tales. Not a mother, stepmother or multiple sisters in sight. We also have an almost Rumpelstiltskin type of magical helper--this is less unusual actually, but still rare enough--although no bargains are made. Virtue is its own reward--to a point!

And then the unhappy ending is fascinating. If you have always wondered what would have happened if Cinderella didn't leave on time, well, here's your answer. She wasn't sufficiently obedient and thus here is her punishment--lifelong servitude!

Finally, this tale was recorded circa 1825 before the full fury of folklore collection grew during the 1800s. The Perrault influence is there, but it's still a tale all its own.


  1. Unhappy endings in fairy tales used to upset me as a child. I recall when I first read the Perrault version of Little Red Riding Hood in Lang's Blue Fairy Book actually thinking a page was missing or that the ending was left out because there was no rescue of Red from the wolf by the woodcutter.

    Amongst the Cinderellas with unhappy endings--the one that hit me pretty hard had to be that Italian one that ends with Cinderella eaten by wild animals after being left in the woods. That seemed rather messed up.