Subject: So one day, it was like, in this kingdom, the queen is very ill, and she’s dying. And the king says…or she, the queen tells the king: I want you to promise me one thing, and it’s that if you get remarried, you will only marry a woman as beautiful as I am. And then she dies.
And then…for…the next, like, I’m going to say 20 years. but we know that fairy tales, and like way back when people were getting married at 15 years old, maybe 15 years. For the next 15 years, he did not get married. And, you know, eventually his advisers and like everyone in the court is like, okay, it’s time, like you’ve mourned for a really long time, but for the sake of the kingdom we need a queen again. Maybe it was because their only child was a daughter, and they wanted a son, or maybe they just need a queen. Maybe they just needed him to get out of mourning. But they tell him, it’s time, like you have to stop mourning, let’s get you married.
And so he has people search the kingdom and neighboring kingdoms and everywhere, for someone who’s as beautiful as his last wife, but he can’t find anyone. And as he’s despairing the fact that no one is as beautiful as his wife used to be, he hears someone singing or playing music outside, and he looks outside, and he sees a girl who he believes is as beautiful as his wife is. Problem is, that’s his daughter, who he hasn’t really seen, because he’s been like, mourning. There, but like, she’s his daughter, and he is aware of that fact. And he’s like, this is a woman who is as beautiful as my wife. If you want me to get married, I’m getting married to her. And the entire kingdom is like, no, you can’t do that you cannot marry your daughter, and the daughter is…
I read this in a really Christian context first. Like, the, the original version that I read “Donkey Skin” in was very Christian. And so the daughters is a very pious Christian girl, and she is like, horrified. She’s like, God will smite us down. Or I think, just like. Like that’s just a terrible, terrible precedent. Do not marry your daughter. Um…
And…so she is scared, of rejecting her father. Or, she doesn’t have the, like, the autonomy or authority to, because he has final say as king of the land. So, she gives him impossible tasks instead. And she’s like, I want you to first get me a dress that is as blue as the sky. And unfortunately he does, he like, hires master craftsmen, and this is a dress that truly captures a piece of the sky. And then she says I want you to get me a dress that is as golden as the sun. And once again he manages to like, defy her expectations, and she’s forced to admit that he has fulfilled the task. And then, she says I want you to get one new dress that is as silver as the s—the moon. And he gets her the dress. Oh, the order is mixed up, I think it was sun, moon, and sky (the subject taps on the table as she counts off each of the dresses).
And then she’s like, okay. Like, I have to pull, like, a big one, I have to like, make sure he cannot do it, or else…like. It’s over. So she’s like, the kingdom is very rich and prosperous, because they have a donkey that shits out gold, twice a day. Or, jewels. And that’s like the biggest, that’s like the prize of the kingdom. And he has a place of honor, he has like a fantastic stable, and she’s like, I want you to kill the donkey, and skin it, and give me a cloak made out of its skin. In which case the donkey will no longer be able to excrete gold. And the kingdom will be over. And he does.
And so she’s forced to, like—she cannot escape that in any way. So she decides to flee. Um…
And then the French film on adaptation that I watched, well, I can talk about that at the end. There’s a fairy godmother in that one. But in most versions that I’ve read there isn’t a fairy godmother, which is why I like this one. Um…
So she dons the donkey coat, and…in her…like, her mother, before she passed away, gave her a few gift. Or, left her, bequeathed her a few gifts, which is a bag that could hold anything. So she puts the three dresses into the bag, a gold thimble, a gold, like, spindle, and a gold ring. I think? Yeah.
And, and this is where my memory gets fuzzy because I didn’t know what a spindle or thimble or whatever it was when I was reading this. So she puts those in the bag, and she flees the country. She…I might be giving this mixed up with All-fur, A-thousand-fur, Allerleirauh. She…is hiding in the woods, and the, like, in a neighboring kingdom, in a faraway kingdom. And the prince, sees like, this strange animal…and they’re like…they’re about to shoot, and then they realize it’s a person, and they’re like, what are you doing? Um…and…they take her back, and she like gets employment, in the castle kitchen. Where like, the cook doesn’t really like her, but makes her work hard, and she’s a good worker, so…you can’t really do anything.
And…there is a grand ball, where the prince is kind of seeking to get married. Or, just one ball. And, so, she rolls up in that golden dress…or she begged, she begs the chef, she’s like, please I’ve done all my work, can I have some time off? I just want to peek at the ball from the top of the stairs. I won’t do anything, like, they will never see me. And he’s like, fine. And this whole time, she’s still wearing that like donkey skins that people are like. (Subject whispers.) Are you a furry?
(The interviewer and the subject laugh.)
But they are like, okay, like something’s up with, you know. (Subject laughs). But…yeah (subject laughs), so she takes off her robes, she washes her face which she normally covers with soot, and she goes to the ball in her golden dress and she dances with the prince, and everyone is like, where is, it’s like, this is clearly a princess, she has all the training, where is she from? And…at…she disappears, um…and then the prince is like…darn. He’s like…also I want some soup. And he asks the chef to bring him some soup. And the chef is tired, and he’s like, and he’s—Al, er, Donkey Skin, All-fur, she’s like, I’ll make soup. And so she does, and she like, drops one of the gold items—I think it’s the spindle, into…into the soup.
And he’s eating the, the prince is eating the soup, and he’s like the, chef delivers it to the prince, and prince is eating to soup and he’s like, this is the most delicious soup I’ve ever had. Who made it? And he goes like—the chef goes like, me! He hits the bottom of the, like the bottom of the bowl, and he sees that golden item. And he’s like, what is this. And the chef is forced to admit like, I didn’t make it, let me get the person who made it. So now that it’s time to throw someone, someone under the bus, he’s like, okay, Donkey Skin made it, let me go get her. And the prince is like, what is this. And she’s like, I’ve never seen that before in my entire life. I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Um…so he gives up. But he decides like he wants to see the woman he danced with at the ball again, so he throws another ball. And she wears the silver dress. And they dance, and they have a good time, and then she leaves again. And that happens one more time.
Um…the third ball he throw—the chef is like, yo, like…you keep…doing like, he’s like, every time there’s soup, like something sus happens, like do not do that again. He’s like stop pulling the shit. And she’s like, yes, oh and like I promise. Um, she goes to the ball, in like her, in like her…I think it was her sky dress?
But I remember getting this confused, because I thought in my head that the most beautiful dress had to be the golden dress, which is the sun dress, just ‘cuz I liked gold as a child, I was like, blue is a pretty color, but how, like, like beautiful and amazing could that be in comparison to something as bright as the sun?
Though it’s not really important, what the order of the dresses were. So, she dances and he’s—the prince stalls. Like, he makes the orchestra play longer, and she’s like getting antsy, and she’s trying to leave, and while she’s distracted, he slips—I think the last item was a gold ring. And he slips the gold ring onto her finger. And she doesn’t notice. And then she leaves, but she—like because the ball was delayed, like the chef is waiting, he is like okay, he wants his soup like normal, but like where were you? She doesn’t have time, before she sees the chef, to take off her dress, before she puts on the like, donkey skin. So she throws the donkey skin over, and like, throws it on, but under she’s still wearing the dress.
And then, she…does the, drops the gold item in there again, the Prince calls her up, and then, as she’s like, taking the bowl I think, he notices the ring. And like, they take off her coat and she’s the princess, and she washes her face. And they’re like, she is like, yeah, so I’ve been a princess all along. And I think, as they’re about to get married…the news comes that like, her father has died in a fire. Like, shortly after she left, he went like, mad mad. Though he was already mad, and, he’s died in some accidental fire. So she’s now like, the ruler of two kingdoms.
The subject is a 20-year-old Korean-American student at USC. She heard this rendition either online, or in an anthology. Reading during her leisure, she encountered several versions of the tale under different titles, most notably a German version known as “Allerleirauh” and a French film adaptation known as “Donkey Skin.”
The subject was raised deeply religious as a Southern Baptist Christian.
The subject found this tale particularly memorable because, in her experience, most fairy tales she read never mentioned Christianity and God. She contrasts this to the French adaptation, where there is no God, and the princess is much more wishy-washy about rejecting her father. Replacing God as the voice of reason is a fairy godmother, who adamantly convinces the princess not to marry her father and flee the country. But it turns out, the reason why the fairy godmother insisted on this plan, was because she was romantically pursuing the father, who eventually comes to his senses in the film. The idea of the fairy godmother only intervening to stop the princess to marry the king for selfish reasons made the subject uncomfortable, and she wasn’t sure what the moral takeaway was supposed to be.
The central motif that catches the subject’s attention seems to be the role of Christian religion in preventing moral debauchery. By replacing God with a morally bankrupt fairy godmother, the French adaptation may have been making fun of God’s role in the German version of the tale, suggesting that even without the guidance of God, moral debauchery finds a way to solve itself. However, the subject mentions she prefers the version without the fairy godmother, suggesting that the subject probably prefers that debauchery be resolved through absolute moral guidance.
The performance of this tale is an aesthetic mashup of traditional and modern vernacular narrative style. On one hand, the subject seems to be striving to imitate the solemn, “traditional fairy tale” language recorded in her childhood readings, to speak in the fantasy medieval tone of once-upon-a-time. On the other hand, aware of her modern audience, the subject can’t seem to resist peppering her narrative with contemporary slang and humor. She seems slip into modern lingo when she wants to speed up or add excitement to slower parts of the narrative. Her dynamically chaotic performance of this tale is arguably unique to oral tradition. Other methods of narrative, such as the novel or the film, are too structured to permit drastic whiplashing between aesthetic styles.