Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Fairy Tale Review: D is for 'Donkeyskin' (atozchallenge)

A Charles Perrault fairy tale has never failed to disappoint, and Donkeyskin is no exception. This particular tale, however, is also surprisingly provocative... Well, I shouldn't say 'surprisingly' - most fairy tales were provocative to begin with, and were merely sanitised over time. But anyway, a story that features incestuous desire, where a father's unnatural passion for his own daughter pushes her to disguise herself under a donkeyskin to escape him, is surely one of the more dark tales out there.

In Donkeyskin, the heroine's mother dies with explicit instructions to the father-King that he is not to remarry unless it is to a woman more beautiful, wise and accomplished than the dying Queen herself. Now, I don't see why it had to follow that the King would then set his sights on his own daughter, but hey, fairy tales have never shied away from controversial subjects, have they?

The princess - smart girl - does not take her father's sudden strange fancies lying down... :) I'm sorry, I couldn't resist that:) She's advised by her fairy godmother - apparently there are quite a few of them traipsing about in fairytale-land - to request an expensive trousseau as a gift from her father before she can agree to his request to marry him. Both princess and fairy godmother soon realise however that the wealth brought by an enchanted donkey the King owns will enable him to supply her with any remarkable dress she asks for (and she asks for some beauties, including a dress the colour of the moon and one more splendid than stars).

In desperation, the princess finally requests for the hide of that poor animal, thinking that her father would not be able to part with such a wondrous possession.

The donkeyskin is however delivered to the horrified princess.

The bright side is - it turns out to make wonderful camouflage.

Wearing it - hence the princess's new title 'Donkeyskin' - our heroine quickly escapes the castle, her jewels and lavish trousseau towed along in her trunk. She works at a farm on which there lies an aviary frequented by a prince (come on, you knew a prince would appear sooner of later:D). The Prince, by a bizarre turn of events that truly paints him as the worst sort of Peeping Tom, discovers the beautiful woman lying beneath that horrendous donkeyskin and tricks her into marrying him. Well, the fairy tale actually suggests that Donkeyskin tricks the Prince into tricking her into marrying him, but  I suppose there's no need to keep score here:) They marry, her father "purges himself of all lawless desires", and everyone lives happily ever after...

Except of course for one thing: I can't quite get over the senseless murder of that poor donkey!

Donkeyskin seems to be becoming forgotten despite its beautiful language, no doubt because of its controversial subject matter. It's a shame really, especially when the heroine in this piece is a breath of fresh air, taking her destiny courageously into her own hands for much of the tale. The piece has also been written in a beautifully lyrical style, so much so that I found it to be one of the more well-crafted (stylistically) fairytales that I've devoured so far:)

All right, I would normally write more on any fairy tale I'm featuring, but I've come to realise I'll never get through this challenge if I keep doing that, so I'll revisit this - and the rest of the tales - once the challenge is over:) May this review have persuaded you to pick up the much ignored Donkeyskin for a fascinating read. Till alphabet 'E' then:) Ciao:)

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Catherine Stine said...

Thanks for retelling this strange fairytale. It has some interesting symbolism in it for sure! Many people get very up in arms about the mistreatment of animals in fiction. Perhaps that's why it became obscure??
I tend to like the dark fairytales.
I'm over from A to Z, today at #639 so hop on over for a visit if you like! Catherine

Isabella Amaris said...

Thanks for dropping by, Catherine:) Yeah, it's very possible that's why the fairytale's become largely untold... but I still lean towards the whole father-daughter forbidden desire issue as the reason for its decline... Too distasteful/controversial for many, methinks, especially kids *shudder*... I'll pop over to your blog in a bit. Cheers:)

Francene said...

Your review inspires me to read the book. I'd never heard that fairytale. I agree with you. It's a shocking thing to kill the donkey. That's one of the ways we've progressed since the days of old.

Isabella Amaris said...

Thanks for your comment, Francene. The donkey's killing certainly showed the extent to which the princess's father would go to secure her hand in marriage. Quite awful:) If you're thinking of getting a good fairytale book, do check out either Maria Tartar's 'The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales' or Andrew Lang's 'Grey Fairy Book'. Both are excellent sources of Donkeyskin (amongst others). Cheers:)

Isabella Amaris said...

... for 'Donkeyskin', I meant. Again, thanks for dropping by:)

Teresa Cypher aka T K CypherBuss said...

I had never heard of this fairytale, before. Wonder what the inspiration was? I love that you take such time in your posts. And I understand what you mean about never getting through the A to Z. I am normally quite long-winded, but have had to curb that to get my posts done. :-)

Isabella Amaris said...

Thanks for your comment, Teresa:) I'm learning the hard way that my long-windedness is gonna hamper my chances of completing the challenge this year yeesh:) Anyway... hmmm, I'm not quite sure what the inspiration for Donkeyskin was actually. Maria Tartar does mention that it was a companion piece to Cinderella, though I can't really see commonalities between the two... Hmmm, time to check out some variants of the tale. Cheers:)