Thursday’s Tale: King Thrushbeard by The Brothers Grimm

Illustration by Arthur Rackham from The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Mrs. Edgar Lucas, translator. London: Constable & Company Ltd, 1909.

The princess in “King Thrushbeard” is a bit unusual for the heroine in a Grimm tale. She’s beautiful, naturally, but not good and kind. She was proud and haughty and no matter how many suitors her father the King presented to her, she found fault with each one, ridiculing them and mocking them. She was exceptionally mean to one good king who had a slightly crooked chin, saying his chin looked like a thrush’s beak, of course earning him the nickname King Thrushbeard.

Finally the King is so angry that he vows to marry her off to the first beggar who shows at his door. A few days later, a fiddler comes and plays under a window, begging for alms. The King holds true to his word, forces his daughter to marry the beggar and then to leave the palace to go and live with her husband.

On the trip to the beggar’s home, the couple passes through a beautiful wood and meadow which, according to the beggar, belong to King Thrushbeard. Finally, they get to the beggar’s cottage, which is of course tiny, and the man makes his new wife do chores and attempt to earn a living. It turns out she’s pretty useless at most things she tries and so she is finally sent to the King’s palace to work as a kitchen maid.

At a wedding of the King’s eldest son, she sneaks to a doorway to watch the festivities ad is surprised to see the man getting married is King Thrushbeard. He sees her and wants to dance with her, but she is ashamed of how low she has fallen and runs away. I bet you can guess what happens next.

On the stairs a man caught her and brought her back; and when she looked at him it was King Thrushbeard again. He said to her kindly, “Do not be afraid, I and the fiddler who has been living with you in that wretched hovel are one. For love of you I disguised myself so; and I also was the hussar who rode through your crockery. This was all done to humble your proud spirit, and to punish you for the insolence with which you mocked me.”

She cries, goes on about how wrong she was and how she doesn’t deserve to be his wife. He forgives her and they celebrate their wedding again and live happily ever after.

Notice she only gets her happy ending after she conforms to society’s expectations of women. Not only does she have to be married, she has to be humble and subservient to her husband.

I like to think though, that her father and Thrushbeard had it all planned out, that the King knew the fiddler was Thrushbeard and knew his plan to teach her a lesson, but that in the end she would be royalty again, content and loved.

Since it is Shakespeare Reading Month, hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey, I wanted to mention that several sources say this tale is similar to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. I haven’t read the play yet, although it’s on my “possibles” list for this month.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.

13 Comments

  1. I love happy endings, but I see your point. No contrary women allowed, and certainly not in Shakespeare’s time either, unless she was a real queen! In the Tamin go fo the Shrew though, he won her over and she fell in love instead of being humbled by poverty. I will have to re read this to be sure!

    The Tempest is one of my favorite plays. The relationship between the father and his daughter is wonderful, how he looks out for her, etc.

    • Carol

      Like I said, I haven’t read The Taming of the Shrew. I did like the Tempest though, but he really has no choice but to look after her. He doesn’t teach any of his magical knowledge, though, which I found interesting.

      I’m reading Much Ado about Nothing right now, and I have to say I’m liking Beatrice – funny, mouthy, a great character, at least so far.

  2. Another fairy story I haven’t heard of it, I love these posts as you always come up ith something new and different . And then of course, there is your indepth review that always gives me something to think about – today this was the remark you made about the princess only getting her happy ending after she conforms to society‚Äôs expectations of women.

Leave a comment