What Am I Missing Here?

by Joyce Goldenstern

Folktale behavior often bewilders me, as does my own. My thoughts wander to trace hidden patterns, more easily discerned in folktales than in my own life. This morning, a tale opens with the death of a beautiful queen. Before the queen dies, she makes her husband promise not to remarry anyone who does not have hair as golden as her own. Has she forgotten that her own daughter has such hair? Allerleiruh.

This afternoon, a tale opens with an old queen who has betrothed her daughter to a prince in a distant land. It is a tale of a long journey, of a true bride and of a chambermaid who takes the place of the true bride. The Goose Girl.

Allerleiruh, distraught upon hearing of her father’s desire to marry her, gathers her wits to dissuade him. She makes an impossible demand. He must provide her with a cloak made of 1000 furs, one from each animal in the kingdom. Undaunted, the king presents his daughter with said cloak and sets a date for the wedding.

Meanwhile, the talking head of a slain horse reveals the chambermaid’s deception, so the prince decides to ask a fatal question at a feast. “How would you sentence a false bride?” the prince asks the chambermaid, his own false bride.

Allerleiruh chars her face and wraps herself in furs. She runs away to a forest where she sleeps night and day in a hollow trunk until finally a hunter, identified as “the king,” finds her. This reference to “king” is so jarring that once when I presented this tale to an adult seminar, many participants ended up thinking that it was indeed the father who had found his daughter. How startling that the tale does not proffer a “prince”—a royal title which would distinguish generations and relations more clearly. Yet, not clarifying can blur relationships in psychologically significant ways.

That Allerleiruh marries the “new” king who is confused with the old … That the chambermaid does not recognize her own crime and thus sentences herself to torture and cruel death…. Such predicaments attest to the human capacity to self-deceive and force me to ask, “What is obvious in my own behavior that I do not see?”


Joyce Goldenstern leads seminars in folktales and in literature at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Her adapted tales have been published in Western Humanities Review, North American Review, Pacific Review and other venues. She also writes and publishes fiction.


Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. [1819] 1977. Grimms’ Tales for Young and Old. Translated by Ralph Manheim. New York: Anchor Press, Doubleday.

_______________. [1819] 1992. The Complete Fairy Tale of the Brothers Grimm. Translated by Jack Zipes. New York: Bantam Books.