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The Father Who Wanted to Marry His Daughter
June 15, 2008 4:09 PM   Subscribe

You won't find Donkeyskin in many modern fairy-tale anthologies, perhaps because it concerns a girl so beautiful that her own father wanted to marry her. But don't worry, she dresses up as a donkey and escapes! Made famous by Charles Perrault, the story has many variants--Catskin, Allerleirauh, Thousandfurs, The She-Bear, All Kinds of Fur--and has been subject to many interpretations. The tale was illustrated by several of the great gift-book illustrators, including Arthur Rackham, Kay Nielsen, Gustave Doré, and the less well-known R. de la Neziere. (More R. de la Neziere here and here.) Oh, and here's a sexy one.

P.S. It's also an insane movie, in which Catherine Deneuve wears a donkey head for a little hat.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby (38 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously.
(And this gives me a chance to apologize for the extra space in the name.)
posted by bodega at 4:47 PM on June 15, 2008


Not to mention the screwup in recommending an INTERgenerational incest story...
posted by DU at 4:50 PM on June 15, 2008


The beginning of the story, where the princess demands tons of impossible things from the king, is very similar to the Malaysian tale of Puteri Gunung Ledang (Princess of Mount Ophir).
posted by divabat at 5:01 PM on June 15, 2008


They did a variation of this story on Jim Henson's The Storyteller. The episode was called Sapsorrow, and I think in that version the father was less eager to marry his daughter but a technicality of their law demanded it. According to the "many" link, Donkey Skin is a "sub-variant" of Cinderella. This SurLaLune site is pretty neat.
posted by Nathaniel W at 5:06 PM on June 15, 2008


There's also an Egyptian variant of this Cinderella+incest subtype that I've seen in translation as "The Princess in the Suit of Leather." Most of the English and Anglo-American versions of "Catskins" are closer to the more standard Cinderella template, except that Catskins is filthy and lazy rather than abused -- I admire that in a person.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:06 PM on June 15, 2008


I remember reading the story in primary school. I guess intergenerational incest it's not any worse than leaving your children to starve in the forest.
Fairy tales are dark, that's for sure.
posted by darkripper at 5:08 PM on June 15, 2008


[un]Related?
posted by sciurus at 5:23 PM on June 15, 2008


This story also appeared in Andrew Lang's The Grey Fairy Book.
posted by christopherious at 5:45 PM on June 15, 2008


I read this story as a kid and I loved it--but I read the Princess Furball version where her dad is forcing her to marry an ogre instead of marry him. The impossible gifts she demands and receives have always floated in the back of my memory like a dream--dresses popping out of rings and such.
posted by Tesseractive at 5:49 PM on June 15, 2008


I don't get a lot of "sexy fantasy art." Who makes this stuff? do people actually get off on it?

seriously, that artist has to have the strangest train of thought ever:
"I've got an idea! Why don't I draw an illustration for this wonderful dark little fairy tale i've found! You know what would be awesome, too? if I made the girl hot!
Yeah!
And what if instead of a real disguise as an animal like in the story, I gave her some weird leopard print thing that shows off more of the awesome boobs that I drew, and would be totally useless for actually giving her massive heaving chest any sort of support would she have to do anything physical at all!
And weapons! Who doesn't like weapon!
Fuck Yeah!
And what if I put her in a swamp with a gremlin!
I fucking love gremlins!
She's hot! Fuck yeah she's hot!
Man, This drawing rules! Jim's gonna love this one!
He's totally just going to pop one when he sees it!
what was I drawing a picture of?"
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 6:00 PM on June 15, 2008 [13 favorites]


Okay, I simply had to look that up: Catherine Deneuve wearing the donkey head hat (Peau d'âne).
posted by steef at 6:06 PM on June 15, 2008


The best is the part where she cracks the egg and a baby chick comes out, like, she is so magic that she accelerates chicken growth!
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 6:13 PM on June 15, 2008


Robin McKinley's "Deerskin" is a harrowing and wonderful variant of this story.
posted by gudrun at 6:14 PM on June 15, 2008


I remember telling this story around a campfire to other teenagers, when I was one. It was whichever version in which the princess's name was Preziosa, presumably the Italian one. I don't think I did a good job, but at least I told them one they hadn't heard before.

I seriously need to pick up my own copies of the Lang fairy books.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:17 PM on June 15, 2008


I think the majority of modern adults realize on some subconscious level which they do not wish to acknowledge that most of these little fantasy "morality" tales we have been pushing at kids for the last few centuries have some decidedly non-kid-friendly content and motifs woven throughout them, despite what appears to be a collective urge to "protect the children" from things like nipples and whatnot, so much so that direct mention of these awkward themes makes the less self-aware incredibly uncomfortable, something of which I took advantage to finally dispel someone nosy who had been pestering me in one of those temporarily confined situations that the needy use to force interaction upon unwilling participants who do not wish to be rude enough to say, "Go away," — this had gone on for about half an hour, while I attempted to pay attention to a book. The final blow came like thus:

Her: So, what are you reading?
Me: *holds up Snow White, Blood Red, the cover of which depicts what appear to be two young women, perhaps girls, both beautiful and colored each as you might expect in accords with the title, close together as sisters*
Her: What kind of a book is that?
Me: *still avoiding eye contact* Fantasy.
Her: Like what kind of fantasy?
Me: *peers over the top of the book, deadpan* Lesbian incest fairy tale.
Her: *blinks, pauses, then scoots off*

Thanks to this post, I may have found an even better book to fend off the unwanted.
posted by adipocere at 6:30 PM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Seconding Robin McKinley's Deerskin. Dark. Disturbing.
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:35 PM on June 15, 2008


I think the majority of modern adults realize on some subconscious level which they do not wish to acknowledge that most of these little fantasy "morality" tales we have been pushing at kids for the last few centuries have some decidedly non-kid-friendly content and motifs woven throughout them...

I don't know about subconscious. Hansel and Gretel's dad decides to deliberately lose them in the forest so he won't have to feed them anymore. My 3 year old daughter loves the Three Little Pigs, but I've never even tried to tell her about H&G or Little Red. I want her to go to sleep, not wake up screaming.
posted by DU at 6:44 PM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Robin McKinley's Deerskin is an excellent, non-bowdlerized retelling of this story.
posted by Violet Hour at 6:53 PM on June 15, 2008


Fourth McKinley's version, which I reread at least annually.
posted by joannemerriam at 7:06 PM on June 15, 2008


Ah, Robin McKinley. I discovered her from The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown way back when in High School. I think I avoided reading her other works because I was upset she chose not to continue writing books in the same world. But given the high ratings given by several of the above users I think I'll take a look and get over my silly issues.
posted by Green With You at 7:34 PM on June 15, 2008


thats kinda cool.
posted by locoindio at 7:47 PM on June 15, 2008


Fifthing McKinley. She strikes exactly the right balance between the harrowing issues at the heart of Deerskin, and the protagonist's journey to healing. I couldn't bear to give her books away when I was culling my bookshelves.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 7:52 PM on June 15, 2008


most of these little fantasy "morality" tales we have been pushing at kids for the last few centuries have some decidedly non-kid-friendly content and motifs woven throughout them...

Isn't that point of a morality tale? Readings Grim's, and so on, the stories can be summarised as follows:

Hey kids - if you disobey your parents, you will DIE GRUESOMELY.
hey kids - if you wander off into the woods(/city), you will DIE GRUESOMELY.
hey girls - if you don't watch where you fall asleep, U GONNA GET RAPED.
hey kids - if your parents don't know where you are, you will DIE GRUESOMELY.
hey kids - if you trust strangers, you will DIE GRUESOMELY.
Hey kids - if you do nice things for people, you might just get a HUGE REWARD!
hey kids - if you're lazy, you will DIE GRUESOMELY.
Hye kids - if you're greedy, you will DIE GRUESOMELY.

I assume these tales were just another way to prep your kids to survive in a big bad world.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:56 PM on June 15, 2008 [4 favorites]


Fairy tales are awesome. I think everybody should read up on the oldest variants of fairy tales, before they were all made safe for the kiddies. (I think the consensus among people who study fairy tales for a living is that the stories were originally told by and for adults.) For example, in Sleeping Beauty, she wakes up when one of the twin babies she had, after the prince (who's married) has sex with her while she was asleep, sucks on her finger and gets the splinter out. In the Frog Prince, the princess disenchants the frog by throwing him as hard as she can against a wall, cause she wasn't about to let a icky frog sleep in her bed. (Think that's the version Disney will go with?)

In Rapunzel, she and the prince were totally knocking boots, and the witch finds out that the prince has been visiting her when Rapunzel asks her "Why is my dress getting tighter around my middle?" In Goldilocks, the bears were just a big bear, a medium bear and a little bear, not a family of bears. And it was originally an old woman who broke into their house not a little girl. And in Little Red Riding Hood, grandma stays eaten and Red gets away by taking off her clothes piece by piece and then asking the wolf if she can go outside to use the bathroom. He says yes, she runs off. And it seems like every other fairy tale features cannibalism. What is that about?
posted by nooneyouknow at 8:03 PM on June 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Of course, the truly dark versions of many fairy tales that I love are those by Angela Carter. The Bloody Chamber is truly disturbing (if the Bluebeard tale can be any more disturbing) and her versions of Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast are likewise. I actually am very fond of her strange, Catholic witch vs actual witch version of Snow White. Good stuff.

(is happy that there is so much McKinley appreciation...and Deerskin is, nominally, set in the same world as Blue Sword, but only if you pick up a few hints here and there.)
posted by emjaybee at 8:12 PM on June 15, 2008


Bravo emjaybee, for mentioning Angela Carter ... now there was a woman who could write a disturbing story. The Magic Toyshop (enough said).
posted by gudrun at 8:55 PM on June 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think Pratchett pointed out that you could tell a real kid's story, as told and believed by kids, because there was always lots of blood and violence.
posted by maxwelton at 9:42 PM on June 15, 2008


Apparently, early Wonder Woman comics contained possible deerskin references (see this and this, via. The combination of elements was too hard to pass up for sharing with this post.
posted by christopherious at 10:21 PM on June 15, 2008


"possible deerskin references" = possible Donkeyskin/Deerskin references
posted by christopherious at 10:24 PM on June 15, 2008


mmm sexy snow white story was mentioned.. i wouldnt mind finding some more adult version of the kid stories around the place ;)
posted by Mikimi at 10:43 PM on June 15, 2008


My view of Snow White has been forever altered by the video of Rammstein's "Sonne."
posted by homunculus at 11:51 PM on June 15, 2008


I direct you to The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by Bruno Bettelheim.

They aren't for entertainment purposes.
posted by ewkpates at 5:04 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I just started reading Deerskin this morning! Only about halfway through, but nthing the recommendation.
posted by emmling at 6:21 AM on June 16, 2008


Nice post—I hadn't been aware of this story.

I think everybody should read up on the oldest variants of fairy tales, before they were all made safe for the kiddies.

Indeed. And I think kiddies need some darkness in their stories, too—not the boring contemporary "daddy is a violent drunk" kind, but the good old bloody terror. Let 'em have nightmares; it's good for their creativity!
posted by languagehat at 10:01 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


nooneyouknow : And it seems like every other fairy tale features cannibalism. What is that about?

People are delicious. And the only way to keep kids from realizing this is to scare them with morality tales which suggest that children who disobey will end badly.

Parents do this to ensure that they are not killed in their sleep and eaten by their offspring.
posted by quin at 10:41 AM on June 16, 2008


The best is the part where she cracks the egg and a baby chick comes out, like, she is so magic that she accelerates chicken growth!

This girl is an embodiment of the generative powers of the Earth-- the living world of dirt and soil and rot-- at some level, and the goddess of domesticated animals (and cooking, to boot!). She has access to the treasures under the earth, too, strangely, whenever she stamps her foot. There are fugitive echoes of Demeter and Persephone (and Hades) here.

The King has the powers of the heavens; he gives her dresses of moonbeams, sunshine and the very blue of the sky. This tale has deep undertones of the struggles of the sky-god to dominate and control the fundamentally feminine powers of generation and regeneration that well up from and grow out of the dirt and filth of the earth, and also manifests an unconscious recognition that the blessings of the earth require the gifts of the sky to reach fruition.

Yet the gifts of the King are in vain until he makes an animal sacrifice to her (I can't get the idea out of my mind that the donkey is a later substitute victim for the girl herself, as corn queen in an original ritual-- think bog maidens and the ram caught in the thicket that stands in for Isaac), and that animal is also his wealth, and that wealth and the other gifts of his pursuit are transmuted into her dowry. I think this tale points to an understanding that dowries are part of a campaign of seduction, and culminate in the sublimation of the father's forbidden desire for his daughter by an act of projective identification with the groom on the wedding day.

I wonder if the theme of avoidance of incest might not go beyond the girl herself into the herds of domesticated animals she is the apotheosis of, which benefit from outbreeding as much as any king's daughter would, and which are themselves very often part of a dowry.
posted by jamjam at 12:01 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Folk tales ≠ fairy tales. Case in point.
posted by eritain at 9:52 PM on June 16, 2008


Spooky! Donkeyskin's story is very close to that of St Dymphna (of whom I learnt in this recent thread), though her means of escape were less creative.

Also, lovely illustrations. Also, nthing Angela Carter's awesomeness. Cool thread.
posted by tiny crocodile at 3:48 AM on June 17, 2008


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