Märchen Monday: Die Gänsemagd (The Goose Girl)

Die Gänsemagd (The Goosegirl) may not be as famous as other “princess stories” like Cinderella and Snow White, but it’s the only one that deserves that description. Disney marketing aside, the other two fairytales are closer to “king’s son stories.” There is also a king’s son in Die Gänsemagd, but he isn’t so important. If you don’t know what I mean, you can read Die Gänsemagd on GrimmStories.com before we begin: Link.

Märchen Memories

Die Gänsemagd very well. I can still recite the English version of the spell that the Gänsemagd says to make the goose boy’s hat fly away! That is, I can recite the version that was in my childhood books: “Blow, breezes blow/ Let Curdken’s hat go . . .” But it is different from what is on GrimmStories.com.

It also has one very different detail. The rhyme that I know says that the Gänsemagd has “silvery” hair; but in the Märchen, her hair is “eitel Gold” (noble gold). It may be a small point, but it’s a big change! And I’m not sure why the new writers and editors decided to change it.

On the other hand, I’m fairly sure why one version made another significant change. Instead of telling the truth to an Eisenofen (iron stove), the Gänsemagd speaks to a well. And the reason is obvious: An iron stove is just too strange. A well is also odd, but it’s a little more romantic.

Normally, when I know a fairytale this well, other people know it, too. But I just made a quick survey of family and friends, and no one even remembered this one! Even the cousin who had argued with me about the right way to say “Falada” (the horse’s name) couldn’t even recall our disagreement. But the title did stir her memory a little. And as soon as she remembered the stove, she remembered everything else.

Going Back to Grimm

Most interpretations of Die Gänsemagd see it as a “coming of age” story — or an allegory for Sigmund Freud’s aspects of the psyche (PDF Link). It is hard to find a good Christian interpretation of it online. Even its Christian symbols, like blood and water, seem to fit in a psychological frame better than a religious frame. The great exception is the princess’s horse Falada.

The last time we read a Märchen with a dead horse, it was obviously a Christian story. In Der weiße Schlange, the hero’s dead horse recalls the mount of the Good Samaritan, which is a symbol of the Body of Christ (Link). But Falada doesn’t help to save the princess at all. Nor do the three drops of her mother’s blood on a white handkerchief, although they point to both Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross and the Holy Trinity. The princess loses both horse and handkerchief early in the story, becoming “schwach und machtlos” — weak and powerless. The sacramental gift from her mother (the Church) could have protected her throughout the entire journey to her bridegroom; and she was extra safe upon her horse (the Body of Christ). But she lets her conniving maid manipulate her into losing both.

When you lose sanctifying grace, there is only one way to get it back. When the Gänsemagd finally tells the truth, she is not just revealing what her maid did, but also confessing her participation in it. Admittedly, the Eisenofen is a very strange stand-in for the confessional. (A well might actually be better here!) But there is a connection between them: The oven is a traditional symbol for a mother’s womb and the confessional is a place where a sinful soul can be reborn.

Next Märchen Monday: Die zwölf Brüder (The Twelve Brothers)

Read it here: Link

2 thoughts on “Märchen Monday: Die Gänsemagd (The Goose Girl)

  1. This is definitely a very weirdly structured tale; all the things that you’d expect to help out, don’t do anything but commiserate. But a being a goosegirl is bound to be a nasty job, so maybe it’s in order; geese are messy and mean-spirited.

    Most of the versions I looked at keep the horse’s name as Falada (or some close variant), but the Finnish calls the horse ‘Liinaharjasen’, which I take it means ‘Linen-mane’.

    1. Cristina @Linguavert

      Now that you mention it, I remember being very let down by Falada’s passivity in the face of the maid’s villainy. The picture book I remember best has an illustration with Falada weeping while being ridden by the maid; but that’s really the only resistance he shows. The handkerchief with the three drops of blood is even more useless to the plot. I suspect that’s why the retelling that I remember best inserted a scene in which the maid makes a grab for the handkerchief . . . only to be thwarted by Falada’s swallowing it!

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