Let’s Talk Fairy Tales #3: Donkey Skin

Hello, all! If you’re on the East Coast, I hope you’ve stayed warm through the blizzard of the ages, and if you’re on the West Coast, how’s that drought going? I’m ready to once again enter the realm of the bizarre with a third discussion about fairy tales, this time with Donkey Skin, the strangest take on Cinderella since A Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Song.  To all the people who think Lucy Hale can sing: re-evaluate.

^^ What is this junk? ^^

**Tangent** Not to be splitting hairs between two awful Cinderella stories, but the Lucy Hale version seems scarily similar to the Selena Gomez version, the only difference being that Lucy Hale’s Cinderella is an “ahmaaazzzing singer” and Selena Gomez’s Cinderella is an “ahhhmaaazing dancer.” Besides that, their prince characters are both famous pop-stars with “stereotypical black friend” sidekicks and they both have a concert-style finale. I think the Selena Gomez version is a tad better because the prince character is Drew Seeley, a.k.a the singer behind Troy Bolton in HSM:1 and he has a really top-notch voice. However, neither can hold a candle to the original teen Cinderella remake: A Cinderella Story with Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murray. **Tangent Over**

Anyways, let’s move on to Donkey Skin.  Written by Charles Perrault, known as one of the fathers of the fairy tale genre, Donkey Skin falls into the “unnatural love” category of the Aarne-Thompson classification of fairy tales.  Not surprising, considering its disturbing, incestuous plot. It’s not considered to be similar to Cinderella, Perrault’s most famous story, but I think that the latter half of the plot is similar enough to be considered a Cinderella story. This story also falls in to the “douchebag dad” category of the CultCrumbs classification of fairy tales. You’ll soon see why.

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I’m a professional.

As always, we begin in a sleepy little kingdom with a noble king and a beautiful queen. They have a grand castle, loyal subjects, and “their servants liked hard work.” Because, god forbid, they don’t smile when they empty the king’s chamber pots. But the king has one possession he treasures beyond everything. No, not his daughter, silly. His donkey.

The king kept him in a luxurious stall, with a hundred servants all his own. The king had a good reason for this. For the donkey never simply soiled his bedding. Instead, each morning the bedding was found covered with heap upon heap of gold coins.

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Is this disgusting or amazing?

Get that donkey to a doctor, sirrah! First the goose with the golden egg, then the donkey with the golden shit; why do 17th century writers have such a fascination with livestock that excrete money? But then again, if I was a French peasant, I might dream about that too.

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*dies of plague*

The king loves his cash cow (money donkey?) but even he can’t stop the queen from falling ill. As she lies dying, she tells the king her last wish.

“You must remarry. Your ministers will insist that you have sons to succeed you on the throne. Only promise me to wait until you find a wife better and fairer than I. Promise me this, and I’ll die happy.”

The king promised solemnly. And the queen died, happy in the knowledge that there were none to be found as beautiful as she.

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Oy vey, lady. She should’ve thought  this plan over a little longer before bestowing such an ultimatum on her husband. First of all, this wife who is described as “fair and good” is actually a manipulative she-witch. And their “deep and true love” might be better described as sick and twisted. It’s one thing to tell your husband on your death bed that you don’t want them to remarry, it’s another to tell them that they have to remarry, but only to someone who can’t possibly exist. Though I do think that Miss Queen is a little full of herself thinking that there is no one alive in the whole world more beautiful than she. The only person she didn’t think of? Her daughter.

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Poor daughter. Poor, nameless, beautiful, princess. She’s so busy mourning her dead mother that she can’t prepare for the tsunami of horror about to hit.

As the queen predicted, the king’s ministers immediately tell him to remarry. He tells them that he can’t until he finds someone as beautiful as his late wife and they tell him to shut up and go bride shopping. He visits every family with an eligible princess, but they’re all too ugly. So he decides that the only logical course of action is to marry his daughter because she’s the only princess who is prettier than his dead wife.

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I’m so glad I get to use this gif

I bet the dead queen did not anticipate this turn of events. Or even worse, what if she did? What if she knew that the only princess more beautiful than her was her daughter, so she made the ultimatum knowing that the king would never be so sick as to marry his own child? She never guessed that the king would take a boat to Crazytown and actually consider the idea. Number 1 Rule of Fairy tales: Always assume that your husband is crazy.

He told his daughter that he would marry her, since she alone met with the conditions of his promise.

She begged and begged him, as well she might, to forget the idea. But he would not change his mind. The princess was frantic.

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Having accepted that her father’s mind has left the building, the princess calls upon her fairy godmother, the Lilac Fairy, to help her out. Thank god for fairy godmothers. What would all these poor princesses do without them? Let’s see her invaluable wisdom:

“To wed your father is wrong,” said the Fairy. “But you needn’t refuse him outright. Instead tell him to get you a dress the color of the weather, before you give him an answer. Rich though he is, he’ll never find a weather-colored dress.”

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It’s impossible to find good help these days. Cinderella’s fairy godmother is like “here, wear this dress” instead of “leave your abusers.” This princess’s fairy godmother is no better. Look, fairy, a nice dress does not solve every problem in life. And he’s the king! If he needs a weather-colored dress, all he needs to do is call his royal seamstresses and get them working. It’s really not that hard to find some cloudy blue silk.

The king summoned the finest dressmakers.

“Make my daughter a weather-colored dress at once,” he said. “If you fail, you’ll hang.”

The dressmakers soon delivered the dress. The sky itself was no lovelier, blue, cloud-soft, and shimmering.

Ah, well, that failed. What’s the fairy’s next brilliant plan?

“Demand a dress the color of the moon,” said the fairy. The king ordered a moon-colored dress from his best silversmiths. He was in such a haste, they finished it the next day. It was a marvel of soft radiance. But the sight of it sent the princess to her room in tears.

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The princess asks the fairy once more for advice, so she tells the princess to ask the king for a dress the color of the sun. He delivers it easily, so the fairy tells the princess to ask the king to do something really hard this time. He must kill his cash cow (money donkey) and give the princess its skin. The king barely deliberates before killing his donkey and giving the skin to the princess. Poor donkey. It really gets short shrift in this story.

And now for the most bizarre advice I’ve ever heard.

Her godmother found the poor princess weeping. “Don’t cry, child,” she said. “Misery can turn to joy if you’re brave. Wrap up in the donkey skin. Leave here, and walk until you can walk no more. If you give up everything for virtue’s sake, heaven will reward you richly. Go. And take my wand. All your dresses will follow you underground, in this trunk. When you want them, tap twice with my wand. Now hurry.”

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No map, no directions, not even some food or water? For god’s sake, fairy, how is a trunk of dresses supposed to keep this pampered princess alive? And where was this advice weeks ago? She could’ve been halfway to China instead of delaying her father’s incestuous marriage proposals with wardrobe requests. But, never fear, the fairy has an ultimate plan. I’m sure she’ll reveal it…eventually.

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The princess smears her face with soot and wears the ugly donkey skin as a disguise. Frantic to find her missing, the king sends “199 soldiers and 1199 policemen to find her” but they fail. It’s because they’re looking for a beautiful person, duh. Ugly people fall right through their net. And now that princess is “ugly,” they’ll never find her. What an ingenious plan.

The princess travels far and wide looking for a place to stay. A few kind folks feed her, but she’s so ugly and dirty that no one will let her stay. Is she really so ugly and dirty because of the soot on her face and the donkey skin? These are French peasants. They bathe twice a year and they’re turning away this girl?

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She finally comes across a nice farm where a girl was needed to do all of the dirtiest jobs. Soon, “despite her filthy looks, she was known as a good worker. She was allowed to live in a tiny hut near the pigs.”

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Cue part two of the story, Cinderella time. One day, the princess sees her reflection in a pond and is so horrified with her ugliness (soot??) that she bathes and becomes beautiful again. But she has to hide in the donkey skin so that no one will notice. What will they do if they find out? Must all beautiful people be reported to the king?

The next day is a holiday, so the princess summons the fairy trunk and dresses in her weather-colored outfit. As luck would have it, the prince of the neighboring kingdom is riding by the farm and decides to pay the farmers a visit. He eats dinner and takes an afternoon stroll by the princess’s hut. Expecting some uggo, he peers through the keyhole, only to find a beautiful girl!!!

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What a funny coincidence

He fell in love immediately with her noble, sad, modest face, and hurried to the farmhouse to ask her name. There he was told that the hut was the home of Donkey Skin, a girl so dirty none but the pigs could stay near her. The prince realized that these people knew nothing of the mystery. He went home. But he was haunted by the memory of the lovely vision he had seen, and soon he fell desperately ill with a high fever. The doctors were helpless. “Perhaps,” they said to the queen, “he has a secret sorrow.”

Man, these are some astute doctors. The prince tells the queen to have Donkey Skin make a cake for him. She has no idea who such a peasant could be, so she asks her local servants, and they tell her that Donkey Skin is the ugliest, most disgusting girl who ever dared set foot in France. And all because she has some soot on her face. These people are really, really, judgmental.

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The queen doesn’t care how dirty or ugly Donkey Skin is and orders her to bake a cake for the ill prince. The princess, who has “heard good things about the prince,” (whatever that means) decides to use this as an opportunity to reveal her true self. She bathes and dresses in her moon dress, then makes a cake for the prince. But “by accident (or perhaps on purpose, who knows?) a ring slid from her finger into the batter.”

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I think you know, book

The prince eats the cake, but almost chokes to death on the ring. This near-death experience fills him with excitement because he now has a way of identifying the mysterious girl who baked his cake. Or he could summon Donkey Skin to court? Why doesn’t he do that? Unlike Prince Charming, this prince knows exactly who made his cake.

Princes will be princes, so a zany Cinderella-inspired hunt for the perfect girl ensues.

The king took the ring. He sent a hundred drummers and trumpeters throughout the kingdom, with a hundred heralds. They summoned everyone to the Trying-on of the Ring. The girl who would wear the gold-set emerald was to marry the princess.

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This is the only ring that should have a capital R

None of this makes sense. Unlike Cinderella, who had her glass shoes custom-made for her feet, the princess’s ring is an ordinary ring. It should fit a variety of fingers. And besides, you know who the goddamn girl is!!! It’s so frustrating to see the king waste so much money on all these trumpeters and heralds when there are peasants starving, ya know?

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The Trying-on of the Ring is the event of the season. Princesses, baronesses, and duchesses come, but they can’t wear the Ring, then actresses and models tried but no joke, their fingers are too fat. Then came all the poor ugly people who had to work for a living, but even they had no luck. Donkey Skin is of course a no-show. She’s a princess in spirit. She wants the prince to come to her.

Donkey Skin had heard the heralds. She well knew that it was her ring that caused all the commotion. Bathed and dressed and beautiful, she waited, quietly. When the heralds came for her, she slipped on her donkey skin and opened the door. Joking and poking fun, the courtiers led her to the prince.

“Do you live in the hunt behind the barn-yard?” he asked.

“Yes, Majesty,” she replied.

“May I see your hand?” he asked.

The king and queen were amazed, and the courtiers were dumbfounded, when they saw her hold out an exquisite little white hand. The ring slid on easily, a perfect fit.

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A truly shocking twist. The prince is overtaken by the sight of her beautiful hand and proclaims his love. Touched, the princess shakes off her donkey skin disguise and reveals the full package. The king and queen are so excited that this peasant is beautiful that they beg her to marry their son. Then, the Lilac Fairy appears and tells everyone the whole horrid story. The queen and king sigh in relief when they find out that she’s a princess, but the prince “rejoiced at her bravery and fell twice as much in love.”

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Let’s all praise the bravery of beautiful people who pretend to be ugly

The princess sends a wedding invitation out to her father. He has no idea who the bride is, but he attends anyways, with “his new wife, a lovely, sensible, widowed queen.”

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The king is happy to find his daughter alive and gives the couple his blessing. I’m glad he didn’t decide to honor his vow and marry his daughter on the spot. The prince’s father gives the happy couple the throne as his wedding gift and they all live happily ever after. The end.

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So, what can we learn from this? Once again, beauty is the only important quality for a woman to have, and ugliness will land you in a life of universal hatred and poverty. If your father wants to marry you, try and stall him as best you can, then run away with no supplies and no destination. And in the end, don’t forget to invite him to your wedding. What’s a wedding without a loving father’s blessing, after all?

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P.S

Apparently there was a 1970 French film made about this story and in this version, the princess wants to marry her father, but the fairy must persuade her out of doing so. Oh my god. France, why? Just watch this trailer. It’s ridiculous. Look at the soot!

And the English trailer…

English donkey skin trailer

“Enchanting musical?” Whaaatttt? Whyyyyyy? This is about a father wanting to marry his own daughter!!!! What the hell? I’m stunned. This is awful.  What other terrible things happened in the 1970s?

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Oh right
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