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Literature / Maid Maleen

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Maid Maleen and her chambermaid break out of the tower. Illustration by Arthur Rackham (1917)

"Kling, klang, gloria.
Who sits within this tower?
A King's daughter, she sits within,
A sight of her I cannot win,
The wall it will not break,
The stone cannot be pierced.
Little Hans, with your coat so gay,
Follow me, follow me, fast as you may."

"Maid Maleen" (German: "Jungfrau Maleen") is a German Fairy Tale included by The Brothers Grimm in Children's and Household Tales (Kinder- und Hausmärchen).

Once upon a time there was a princess named Maid Maleen who was deeply in love with a neighbor country's prince, who loved her in turn. However, Maleen's father intended to marry his daughter someone else, so he rejected her lover's proposal. When his daughter declared she wouldn't accept any other man as her husband, the king got Maleen and her chambermaid locked away in a tower with food and drink enough to keep them alive for seven years.

Time passed, and Maleen and her servant knew the seven years were coming to an end because they were about to run out of supplies. Yet they couldn't hear any sound of people working to break them out. Maleen decided they had to escape by their own means, so both women used a knife to get several bricks loose. When they could finally see outside, they found the kingdom destroyed and deserted.

Maleen and her chambermaid wandered around the countryside, feeding on nettle leaves, until they arrived in Maleen's lover's country and found work as scullery maids in the royal kitchen.

Meanwhile, the king had convinced his son to reluctantly consent to an arranged marriage on grounds of Maleen surely being lost to him. A wedding had been fixed, and the prince's betrothed moved into the palace.

However, the chosen bride was as wicked as she was ugly, and was too embarrassed to show her face; Maleen had to deliver every meal to the room the bride had locked herself in. When the wedding day arrived, the bride forced Maleen to take her place. Maleen put on her wedding gown and entered the royal hall. The prince felt shocked by his fiancée being a dead ringer for his lover, but thought he was imagining things because Maleen was surely dead.

As the prince was leading her to the church, Maleen whispered a rhyme to three different objects. When the prince asked her what she said, she answered she was only thinking of Maid Maleen. Feeling even more disturbed, the prince asked if she knew Maleen, but his bride claimed she had only heard of her. Then, before entering the church, the prince put a gold chain around her neck.

Later, the false bride was led into the prince's chambers, wearing a veil over her face. However, the prince figured out she wasn't true bride when he asked what she said to the objects, and why she wasn't wearing his gift. The false bride was forced to confess she switched places with a scullery maid, and the prince demanded that she bring that maid to his chambers.

Instead, the false bride attempted to get Maleen arrested and beheaded. Thankfully the resulting ruckus attracted the prince's attention; he noticed Maleen wearing his wedding gift and brought her to his room, remarking that she resembles his deceased lover. Maleen finally reveals her identity to him, and they kiss. The prince marries Maleen, and the false bride is executed.

"The tower in which Maid Maleen had been imprisoned remained standing for a long time, and when the children passed by it they sang."

It can be read here, here, here and here with annotations.

Listen to the audiobook here.

Maid Maleen has also been adapted to webcomic form by Erstwhile.

Shannon Hale's 2007 Book of a Thousand Days and 2015 German tv movie Prinzessin Maleen ("Princess Maleen") are based on the fairy tale. The sixth chapter of Ludwig Revolution is a parody of Maid Maleen.

Maid Maleen is Aarne–Thompson Type 870 - The Entombed Princess, and has some elements in common with Type 310 - The Maiden in the Tower -see "Rapunzel"- and Type 510 - The Persecuted Heroine -see "Catskin" and "Donkeyskin"-.

Tropes found in this fairy tale:

  • Abusive Parents: When Maleen refuses to go along with her father's arranged marriage, he tries to "break her spirit" by locking her away in a tower for seven years.
  • Alliterative Name: Maid Maleen
  • Alliterative Title: The story is named after the main character, whose initials are "M.M."
  • Arranged Marriage: Both Maleen and her prince have arranged marriages; she refuses hers and thus gets locked in a tower, and he goes through with his because he thinks she is lost to him forever.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: The false bride has "a face as ugly as her heart was wicked".
  • Big Damn Reunion: After seven years, Maleen manages to break out of the tower, makes her way to her prince's country, and she is reunited with him again.
  • Bride and Switch: Maleen, working as scullery maid is asked to substitute herself for the bride by the bride herself, who either wants to hide her ugliness or her pregnancy. Alas for the bride, this means that Maid Maleen can reveal that she is the prince's old love, not actually dead.
  • Buried Alive: Maleen and her maid are sealed away in a tower with no door or windows. The king intended to get them out after seven years -expecting his daughter to be more "pliable" after her long captivity-, but he became unable to do so when his kingdom was destroyed. If both women had not decided to find a way to break through the wall when they were running out of food, they would have starved to death inside their giant tomb.
  • But What About the Astronauts?: When Maleen and her servant get out, they discover some enemy destroyed their country and killed everyone while they were ironically safe inside their tomb.
  • Child Marriage Veto: Maleen is locked away as punishment for refusing an arranged marriage set up by her father.
  • Cue the Sun: Maleen likens her happy ending to "the sun [shining on her] once more" after "seven years in the darkness".
  • Damsel out of Distress: After spending several years imprisoned, Maleen notices their food supplies are running dangerous low and realizes nobody is going to release them; so, she and her maid dig a hole in the wall and get themselves out of the tower.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Maid Maleen gets locked away in a tower for seven years, becomes a homeless wanderer who lives off nettle leaves until she finds work as a scullery maid, gets nearly beheaded...but she ultimately gets married to her life's love and finds happiness.
  • Fallen Princess: When Maleen breaks out of the tower, her father's kingdom has been destroyed, and she finds herself wandering around the countryside and living off nettle leaves until she manages to get a job as a scullery maid.
  • Girl in the Tower: Maleen is trapped in a tower by her cruel father after she rejects an arranged marriage. Unlike many examples, she escapes and must learn to navigate the world seven years later and find her way back to her true love.
  • Great Offscreen War: When the princess and her maid break out, they find out that Maleen's father got into a fight with the wrong ruler during their captivity, since "her father's castle lay in ruins, the town and the villages were, so far as could be seen, destroyed by fire, the fields far and wide laid to waste, and no human being was visible. [...]The enemy had ravaged the whole kingdom, driven away the King, and slain all the inhabitants." Regardless of who destroyed the realm -their identity is never revealed-, Maleen and her servant have no longer a home, so they are forced to wander around the ravaged countryside until they arrive in another city.
  • Have We Met?: Maleen and her prince meet again after seven years of separation, but they don't recognize each other until the prince mentions she greatly resembles his former lover.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: The false bride attempts to get Maleen killed before the prince finds out Maleen is his childhood love.
  • Noble Fugitive: When Maleen breaks out of the tower and discovers her father's kingdom has been destroyed by some enemy army, she flees into the wilderness.
  • No Name Given: Maid Maleen is the only character who is given a name.
  • Nursery Rhyme: The tower where Maleen was imprisoned inspired children to sing a nursery rhyme as they passed it.
    "Kling, klang, gloria.
    Who sits within this tower?
    A King's daughter, she sits within,
    A sight of her I cannot win,
    The wall it will not break,
    The stone cannot be pierced.
    Little Hans, with your coat so gay,
    Follow me, follow me, fast as you may."
  • Off with His Head!: The false bride attempts to get Maleen beheaded; instead, her treachery is discovered, and her head is cut off.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Maleen says that she will only marry her childhood love, while her father wants her to marry somebody else. She gets locked in a tower for her trouble.
  • Princess Protagonist: The story is about princess Maleen breaking out of the tower where she was locked away, and struggling to survive after fleeing from her destroyed kingdom.
  • Rags to Royalty: Maleen and her maid burrow out of the tower and live in appalling poverty until she can find her way to the prince's kingdom and win him back.
    Oh, nettle-plant, Little nettle-plant,
    What dost thou here alone?
    I have known the time
    When I ate thee unboiled,
    When I ate thee unroasted.
  • Rebellious Princess: Maleen refuses to go through an arranged marriage and is locked away in a tower as punishment. When she realizes nobody will come to set her free, she and her chambermaid dig a hole in a wall and run away.
  • Riches to Rags: Maleen becomes a homeless wanderer when her kingdom is destroyed. She and her servant wander from one village to another, living off nettle leaves, until they get hired as scullery maids.
  • Rule of Seven: Maleen and her chambermaid spend seven years locked away in a tower.
  • Rule of Three: When Maleen is pretending to be the bride, she speaks to three objects; the bride must find out from her three times what she said, and the bridegroom figures out the substitution.
  • Scullery Maid: After breaking out of their prison-tower, the princess and her chambermaid find jobs as scullery maids in the nearest city.
  • Talking to Plants: Maleen talks to a nettle-plant on the way to the church.
    "Nettle-plant, Nettle-plant,
    Nettle-plant so small!
    What are you doing here,
    Alone by the wall?
    I have the time known,
    When unroasted, unboiled,
    I ate thee alone!"
  • Uncertain Doom: When Maleen gets out of the tower where she spent seven years imprisoned, she finds her father's royal castle and town lay in empty, burned ruins. It is unknown whether her father was slain together with all his subjects by the enemy army, or he was merely driven away.
  • Undying Loyalty: Maleen's chambermaid remains always by her side, no matter what.
  • Uptown Girl: Maleen gets married to her prince after being reduced to work as a scullery maid.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After Maleen and her servant get a job, the latter is not mentioned anymore.
  • You Have Waited Long Enough: Maleen arrives in the city when the prince is about marry his new bride.