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Literature / Donkeyskin

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Donkeyskin (in French, "Peau d'Âne") is a popular Fairy Tale transcribed by Charles Perrault in 1697. The Brothers Grimm recorded another variant — "Allerleirauh", translated as "All-Kind-of-Furs" — in 1812, and the tale type has been adapted as "Sapsorrow" in The Storyteller, Deerskin by Robin McKinley, and in 1970 adapted as a musical by Jacques Demy, among other adaptations.

A king loses his wife; on her death bed, she demands that he promise not to remarry except to a woman more beautiful than she is. The king finds it impossible to find such a woman, until he realizes that his daughter is the only one who surpasses her mother's beauty.

The king therefore plans to marry his daughter. The princess in despair begs for her Fairy Godmother's help, and the godmother advises her to declare that she will not marry unless she is brought three impossible dresses: one which is of the color of sky, one which shines like the moon, and a third like the sun. When the king succeeds in providing each of these three dresses in turn, the fairy godmother advises the princess to ask for the skin of the king's magic donkey, from the ears of which tumble gold pieces.

Despite the animal's usefulness, the king slaughters it and presents the unfortunate princess with the skin. The princess then decides to run away, and on her fairy godmother's advice clothes herself in the donkey's skin so that no one will recognize her.

She travels to a far-away kingdom, and takes a menial job at a farm, calling herself "Donkeyskin." The kingdom's prince happens to pass by Donkeyskin's hut while she is entertaining herself by dressing up in her sun-gold dress. He is very taken with her, and in an effort to ascertain her identity he requests that she bake him a cake, in which he finds the princess's ring. The prince then announces that he will marry only the girl on whose finger the ring fits, and tries it on every woman in the kingdom. When the ring fits Donkeyskin's finger, her identity is revealed and the two are married.

The Aarne-Thompson Number is type 510B, the "unnatural love" type of the "persecuted heroine". Others of this type include "Catskin", "Cap o' Rushes" and "Tattercoats", which elide the incestous aspects. Compare to Cinderella, a persecuted heroine whose nemesis is female, and so is type 510A. See also The One-Handed Girl for a different tale type with a male persecutor. Florinda is another interesting relative, which begins with the escape from an incestuous father but then shifts into a totally different tale type, 514: "The Shift of Sex".

Full text here. "All-Kinds-Of-Fur variant here.

The Erstwhile site made a webcomic adaptation.

This fairytale and its variations provide examples of:

  • Amulet of Dependency: Some versions have the princess with three items made of gold - a ring, thimble and spinning wheel. Each morning after the ball she hides one in the prince's soup.
  • Arranged Marriage: In one bowdlerised version of the story, instead of wanting to marry his daughter himself, the king wants her to marry a suitor he has chosen so that she can become queen and take over the throne, as his wife's death has made him lose any interest in continuing as king himself. However, the princess doesn't want to marry the intended suitor, prompting her to seek her fairy godmother's help.
  • Bowdlerise: In Victorian era, the fact that the donkey could poop gold was changed to the coins tumble from its ears. Also, many Victorian writers portrayed the princess as the adopted daughter of the king, whereas she was his biological daughter in the Perrault version.
  • Engagement Challenge: In this case, the challenge is there to be impossible so the marriage can't happen.
  • Fairy Godmother: Perhaps the most famous example alongside "Cinderella".
  • The Girl Who Fits This Slipper: The prince finds the princess's ring in the cake and he announces that he will marry only the girl on whose finger the ring fits.
  • Happily Ever After: The princess marries the prince in the end.
  • Heir Club for Men: The king and queen only had a daughter, and were content with this. But the queen fell ill and died without leaving a male heir, but not before saddling him with the additional restriction that his new wife equal her in beauty and other attributes. Which, after many failed considerations, leads him to the conclusion that his new wife should be his own daughter. Because that would be more acceptable than simply letting her inherit the throne.
  • Impossibly Cool Clothes: The three dresses, the whole point of which is that they're so impossibly cool that the princess hopes her father will not be able to supply them. The golden dress really does shine like the sun; it's not possible to look directly at it with unshielded eyes. Some versions, such as "Sapsorrow," also describe one of the dresses as "sparkling with stars."
  • King Incognito: The princess clothes herself in the donkey's skin so that no one will recognize her, flees her country, travels to a far-away kingdom, and takes a menial job at a farm.
  • Last Request: On her death bed, the king's wife demands that he promise not to remarry except to a woman more beautiful than she is.
  • The Lost Lenore: The dead wife whose deathbed wish kicks off the plot.
  • Love Before First Sight: In some versions the princess has never seen the prince before being asked to bake a cake for him. But she still puts her ring in the cake so he can find her later, ultimately marrying him.
  • Love Father, Love Son: The king loves his wife. After she dies, he falls in love with her daughter.
  • No Antagonist:
    • Not even the king, in many versions of the story. He's forgiven at the very end, and even finally remarries a beautiful widow queen. Some adaptions choose to stress the fact that he is bound by his wife's death-bed promise.
    • Averted in an early version called Doralice by Giovanni Francesco Straparola, in which the king takes on a more antagonistic role. Deciding If I Can't Have You…, he kills his grandchildren and tries to have his daughter blamed and executed.
  • Noble Fugitive: The princess has to flee her father who wants to marry her and go into service as a Scullery Maid.
  • Pair the Spares:
    • In some versions, the prince's mother is a widow and she and the princess's father hit it off at the wedding.
    • In others versions he remarries the Fairy Godmother.
  • Parental Incest: The king falls in love with her daughter and wants to marry her. Subverted because she resists his advances and finally marries someone else in the end. Some adaptations aim to play it down by having him being bound by the promise he made to his wife rather than actually being attracted to their daughter, or the princess being his adopted daughter.
  • Person with the Clothing: The princess is nicknamed Donkeyskin, after the skin she wears.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: The princess gets three of them as part of an Engagement Challenge, carries them with her when she runs away, and ends up wearing them to each ball.
  • Prince Charming: The prince is a classical example. He falls in love with the princess, he lifts her out of poverty, and he marries her.
  • Princess Classic: The princess is royalty by birth. She is innocent and beautiful (she is the only woman who is more beautiful than her mother). She falls in love with the prince and she marries him in the end.
  • Protagonist Title: Donkeyskin is the nickname of the princess who is the protagonist of the tale.
  • Rags to Royalty: Snow White Style. The heroine is a princess by birth, but she is forced into hiding to escape her father. She takes a menial job at a farm. She ends up marrying a prince.
  • Riches to Rags: The princess has to take a menial job at a farm.
  • Rule of Three: The three dresses. Sometimes the heroine wears them at three different balls.
  • Runaway Fiancée: Donkeyskin flees so that she is not forced to marry her own father.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Each night the princess cleans her face and puts on her dresses. The usual Cinderella version is played with as the prince initially doesn't recognise her when she makes him the soup (and really you wouldn't expect a supposed noblewoman you were dancing with to be serving you food the next day) but he does by the third time.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: The princess is so beautiful that she is the only woman who is more beautiful than her mother. Therefore, her father the king wants to marry her.
  • Solid Gold Poop: The king's donkey can poop gold.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In several adaptations, the princess' father completely disappears from the plot once she manages to escape from him.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Some retellings try to downplay the incest by making the king Donkeyskin's stepfather (specifically, her adopted father - the most notable example of this is found in Andrew Lang's retelling).
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: The king is looking for a woman more beautiful than his late wife. He does not find any, except her own daughter, so the princess must be the most beautiful woman.

The 1970 musical film by Jacques Demy provides examples of:

  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: In the kingdom of Donkeyskin's father, the costumes, the horses and the face make-up of some characters are blue. In the kingdom of the Prince, they are red.
  • The Genie Knows Jack Nicholson: The Lilac Fairy gave the king books by poets of the future. The king reads poems by Jean Cocteau and Guillaume Apollinaire.
  • Literal Split Personality: When she prepares the cake, Donkeyskin gets split into two copies of herself. A copy wears the sun-gold dress and represents her as a Princess Classic. The other copy wears the donkey skin and represents her as a slattern.
  • The Musical: Demy adapted the fairy tale into a musical film, with music by Michel Legrand.
  • Schizo Tech: The king and the Lilac Fairy come to the wedding ceremony in an Alouette II helicopter.
  • Time Stands Still: When Donkeyskin arrives at the farm, time freezes for the villagers, but not for Donkeyskin and the Old Woman.