From the German Fairy Tale – “The Goose Girl at the Well”: Die Gänsehirtin am Brunnen, Leinweber, 1895
The Goose Girl at the Well
The tale talks of an old woman who lived in the mountains and raised geese. She would go down to the village on occasion for provisions. One day, she met a count and told him of her heavy burden and convinced him to help her bring it up the mountain. She was rough on him as she wouldn’t let him rest carrying the heavy load. When he approached her hut, he was introduced to an ugly girl tending her geese and the old woman wouldn’t let them stay together unless he falls in love with the ugly girl.
Before the count left, the old woman gave the count a box cut out of emerald to thank him for carrying her burden. He became lost in the woods for three days until arriving at a town where a king and queen rules, and presenting them the box, intrigued their interest. The queen collapsed upon sight of the box and the count was imprisoned in a dungeon below. When the queen awoke she insisted on speaking with this count. She told the count that her youngest daughter, the most beautiful girl in the kingdom, used to weep pearls and jewels who was banished from the kingdom. For the king had once asked his three daughters how well they loved him, and this youngest said she loved him like salt, thereby triggering his temper and sending her away with a sack of salt.
The king then divided his kingdom between the older girls. He regretted what he did after she left, but she could never be found again. Within the box, the count had shown the queen, was a pearl just like that of her daughter’s jewel tears looked like. The count told her where the old woman with the geese lived, and the rulers wanted to speak with her. During all this, back at the old Goose woman’s farm, the ugly girl was washing in the well at night – thereby becoming the most beautiful girl. The well would break the magic and reveal her true form. She however was very sad. Once the moonlight was blocked, she returned to her usual form as an ugly girl. She would then return to the old woman’s hut to help her clean.
The old woman then told the girl that she had been here for three years and they could no longer stay together. This upset the girl who was now lost and confused, scared as to what her fate will be. The old woman said she was disrupting her work and sent her to her room to wait. As the king and queen headed with the count to the farm they became separated. He saw the ugly girl become beautiful by the well and became charmed by her radiance. He followed her and met the king and queen at the hut. The old woman told the royalty that they could have spared themselves the journey if they only had been more just to their daughter. She took them to the ugly girl’s room and the family wept to see one another again. Upon these tears, the old woman vanished, the hut turned into a castle, the count married the girl, and they lived happily ever after.
This tale was written by the Brothers Grimm as tale number 89 in 1815 within the first edition of the “Kinder- und Hausmärchen” (Children’s and Household tales – Grimm’s Fairy Tales) with its second edition published in 1819. In 1826 it was translated to English by Edgar Taylor and again in 1884 by Margaret Hunt. It was also added to the Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang.
Another version tells the tale where a widowed queen sends off her daughter to betroth a prince in a very far-away land to her bridegroom with a waiting-maid. She travels atop a magical horse that can speak named Falada. She carries a charm from her mother that will protect her while she wears it. Traveling across the countryside they become thirsty and stop for a drink. She commands her maid to fetch some water and the maid says “If you want water get it yourself. I am no longer your servant.” The princess goes for water at a nearby stream and wails softly “What will become of me?” The charm speaks to her and says “Alas, alas, if thy mother the queen knew, her heart would break in two.” Again traveling, she gets thirsty again and commands her maid to fetch some water.
The maid snarkily replies “I will not serve you any longer, no matter what you or your mother says.” She then breaks the princess’s goblet leaving her to drink from the river by means of her dainty little hands. As she bows to the stream to drink, the charm falls off her bosom and floats away, making her quite helpless and unprotected. Upon seeing this, the maid orders the princess to exchange clothes with her as well as horses, threatening to kill the princess if she tells anyone they’ve traded places. The princess makes an oath with her that she would not tell. The maid rides off on Falada while the princess rides the maid’s nag. At the palace, the maid pretends to be the princess and orders her servant girl to guard the geese with the little boy named Conrad.
She orders Falada to be killed to make sure he does not spill the beans of the illusion being woven. As the real princess learns of this, she begs the slaughterer to nail Falada’s head under the doorway where she passes daily with her geese. That next morning, the goose girl addresses Falada’s head saying “Falada, Falada, there thou art hanging” to which he replies “Bride, bride, there thou art ganging!
Alas, alas, if thy mother the queen knew, her heart would break in two.” On the meadow with the geese, Conrad admires the goose girl as she combs her beautiful hair, and greedily plucks her golden locks. The goose girl notices and says a charm “Blow wind, blow, I say, take Conrad’s hat away. Do not let him come back today until I am finished brushing my hair.” The wind picks up and takes his hat away, and he doesn’t return until she’s finished with her hair. When he does come back, he angrily goes to the king and says he will not herd geese with this witch as strange things happen when he does. The king orders him to do it one more time and watches what happens when Conrad and the goose girl are together. He finds the truth in what Conrad tells, and that evening asks the princess to tell him her story, but she refuses to say anything because of her oath.
He suggests to her to tell her tales to the iron stove and she agrees while climbing into the stove and telling her tale while the king listens from the outside. He is convinced she has told the truth, dresses her in royal clothes, and presents this goose girl to the false princess at dinner. The false bride doesn’t recognize the goose girl in her new clothes. The king tells her that a servant has done what she has done and lets her find an appropriate punishment for the wrong-doer and as the false bride answers that she should be thrown naked into a cask stuck round with sharp nails to be drug by a horse from street to street until her death. So the king does this to the false bride. The prince and the real princess marry and reign the kingdom for years.
By the 13th century, the tale was believed to be the story of Bertha Broadfoot, the mother of Charlemagne. Numerous adaptations do not include the well. It was also adapted into a novel by Harold MacGrath and turned into a movie in 1915.
- Bibliography/References/Recommended Reading:
- Grimm, Jacob and Wilheim 1815 “The Goose Girl” in Household Tales.
- Hibbard, Laura A. 1963 “Medieval Romance in England”. New York.
- Sargent, Helen Child 1904 “English and Scottish Popular Ballads”. Cambridge Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston.
- Tolkien, J.R.R. “On Fairy-Stories” Essays between Tolkien and Charles William edited by C.S. Lewis. ISBN 0-8028-1117-5.
- Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. “The Goose Girl”. Website referenced on 3/8/2014.