The Twelve Dancing Princesses

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The Twelve Dancing Princesses
ChildrensTheareMaine1942.jpg
Children's Theatre performance in Maine 1942
Folk tale
NameThe Twelve Dancing Princesses
Data
Aarne-Thompson grouping306
CountryGermany
RegionMünster
Published inKinder- und Hausmärchen
RelatedKate Crackernuts
 
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"The Dancing Princesses" redirects here. For the Faerie Tale Theatre episode, see The Dancing Princesses (Faerie Tale Theatre).
The Twelve Dancing Princesses
ChildrensTheareMaine1942.jpg
Children's Theatre performance in Maine 1942
Folk tale
NameThe Twelve Dancing Princesses
Data
Aarne-Thompson grouping306
CountryGermany
RegionMünster
Published inKinder- und Hausmärchen
RelatedKate Crackernuts

"The Twelve Dancing Princesses" (or "The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes" or "The Shoes that were Danced to Pieces") is a German fairy tale originally published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 in Kinder- und Hausmärchen as tale number 133. Its closest analogue is the Scottish Kate Crackernuts, where it is a prince who is obliged to dance every night.

Charles Deulin collected another, French version in his Contes du Roi Cambinus (1874), which he credited to the Grimm version.[1] Alexander Afanasyev collected a Russian variant, "The Secret Ball", in Narodnye russkie skazki.

Plot[edit]

Twelve princesses, each more beautiful than the last, sleep in twelve beds in the same room. Every night, their doors are securely locked. But in the morning, their dancing shoes are found to be worn through as if they had been dancing all night. The king, perplexed, promises his kingdom and each daughter to any man who can discover the princesses' midnight secret within three days and three nights, but those who fail within the set time limit will be put to death.

An old soldier returned from war comes to the king's call after several princes have failed in the attempt. Whilst traveling through a wood he comes upon an old woman, who gives him an enchanted cloak that he can use to observe them unawares and tells him not to eat or drink anything given to him in the evening by any of the princesses and to pretend to be fast asleep until after they leave.

The soldier is well received at the palace just as the others had been and indeed, in the evening, the eldest princess comes to his chamber and offers him a cup of wine. The soldier, remembering the old woman's advice, throws it away secretly and begins to snore loudly as if asleep.

The twelve princesses, sure that the soldier is asleep, dress themselves in fine dancing gowns and escape from their room by a trap door in the floor. The soldier, seeing this, dons his magic cloak and follows them. He steps on the gown of the youngest princess, whose cry of alarm to her sisters is rebuffed by the eldest. The passageway leads them to three groves of trees; the first having leaves of silver, the second of gold, and the third of glittering diamonds. The soldier, wishing for a token, breaks off a twig of each as evidence. They walk on until they come upon a great clear lake. Twelve boats, with twelve princes, appear where the twelve princesses are waiting. Each princess gets into one, and the soldier steps into the same boat as the twelfth and youngest princess. The youngest princess complains that the prince is not rowing fast enough, not knowing the soldier is in the boat. On the other side of the lake stands a castle, into which all the princesses go and dance the night away.

The twelve princesses happily dance all night until their shoes are worn through and they are obliged to leave. The strange adventure continues on the second and third nights, and everything happens just as before, except that on the third night the soldier carries away a golden cup as a token of where he has been. When it comes time for him to declare the princesses' secret, he goes before the king with the three branches and the golden cup, and tells the king all he has seen. The princesses know that there is no use in denying the truth, and confess. The soldier chooses the first and eldest princess as his bride for he is not a very young man, and is made the King's heir.

Background[edit]

The Brothers Grimm learned the tale from their friends the Hauxhausens who had heard the tale in Munster. Other versions were known in Hesse and Paderborn. In the Hesse version, only one princess is believed to be responsible for wearing out a dozen shoes every night until a young shoemaker's apprentice discovers that she is joined by eleven other princesses in the revels. The spell is broken, and the apprentice marries the princess. In the Paderborn version, it is three princesses who dance nightly. This version introduces the ruse of the soldier disposing of the drugged wine and pretending to be asleep.[2]

Victorian editors disliked the "do or die" aspect imposed upon those willing to discover the Princessess' whereabouts, and found ways to avoid it. The candidates who failed simply vanished without explanation instead of being sent to their deaths. The garden of trees with gold, silver, and diamond leaves recalls a similar garden in the Sumerian epic of Gilgamesh.[2]

Strangely enough, the Princesses are often portrayed as somewhat malicious characters, showing no remorse for lying to their father, and repeatedly giving their suitors drugged wine to ensure that their mystery remains unsolved, despite knowing that those who fail are put to death in some versions of the story.

Variants[edit]

The tale is not likely to be earlier than the 17th century and many variants are known from different countries.[3]

Adaptations[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Charles Deulin, Contes du Roi Cambinus (1874)
  2. ^ a b Opie 1992, pp. 188-9
  3. ^ Sur La Lune Fairy Tales
  4. ^ [1]

References[edit]

External links[edit]