The Goose Girl

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"The Goose Girl"
Heinrich Vogeler - Illustration Die Gänsemagd.jpg
"The Goose Girl" Illustration by Heinrich Vogeler
AuthorBrothers Grimm
Original title"Die Gänsemagd"
Genre(s)Fairy tale
Published inKinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales — Grimms' Fairy Tales)
Publication typeFairy tale collection
Publication date1815

"The Goose Girl" is a German fairy tale from the collection of the Brothers Grimm. (German: Die Gänsemagd) It was first published in 1815 as no. 3 in vol. 2 of the first edition of their Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales — Grimms' Fairy Tales). Since the second edition, published in 1819, The Goose Girl has been recorded as tale no. 89.[1]

The story was first translated into English by Edgar Taylor in 1826, then by many others, e.g. by an anonymous community of translators in 1865, by Lucy Crane in 1881, by LucMargaret Hunt in 1884, etc. Andrew Lang included it in The Blue Fairy Book in 1889.


A widowed queen sends her daughter to her bridegroom in a faraway land. She sends her with a waiting maid. The princess's horse is named Falada, and he is magic so he can speak. The princess is given a special charm by her mother that will protect her as long as she wears it.

The princess and her servant travel for a time, then the princess grows thirsty. She asks the maid to go and fetch her some water, but the maid simply says: "If you want water, get it for yourself. I do not want to be your servant any longer." So the princess has to fetch herself water from the nearby stream. She wails softly: "What will become of me?" The charm answers: "Alas, alas, if your mother knew, her loving heart would break in two." After a while, the princess gets thirsty again. So she asks her maid once more to get her some water. But again the evil servant says, "I will not serve you any longer, no matter what you or your mother say." The servant leaves the poor princess to drink from the river by her dainty little hands. When she bows to the water her charm falls out of her bosom and floats away.

The maid takes advantage of that. She orders the princess to change clothes with her and the horses as well. She threatens to kill the princess if she doesn't swear never to say a word about this reversal of roles to any living being. Sadly, the princess takes the oath. The maid servant then rides off on Falada, while the princess has to mount the maid's nag. At the palace, the maid poses as princess and the "princess servant" is ordered to guard the geese with a little boy called Conrad. The false bride orders Falada to be killed, as she fears he might talk. The real princess hears of this and begs the slaughterer to nail Falada's head above the doorway where she passes with her geese every morning.

The next morning the goose girl addresses Falada's head over the doorway: "Falada, Falada, thou art dead, and all the joy in my life has fled", and Falada answers " Alas, Alas, if your mother knew, her loving heart would break in two." On the goose meadow, Conrad watches the princess comb her beautiful hair and he becomes greedy to pluck one or two of her golden locks. But the goose girl sees this and says a charm: "Blow wind, blow, I say, take Conrad's hat away. Do not let him come back today until my hair is combed today." And so the wind takes his hat away, and he cannot return before the goose girl has finished brushing and plaiting her hair.

Conrad angrily goes to the king and declares he will not herd geese with this girl any longer because of the strange things that happen. The king tells him to do it one more time, and the next morning hides and watches. He finds everything as Conrad has told. That evening, he asks the princess to tell him her story. But she refuses to say anything because of her oath. The king suggests that she might tell everything to the iron stove. She agrees, climbs into the stove and tells her story while the king listens from outside.

As the king is convinced she has told the truth he then has her clad in royal clothes, he tricks the false princess into "choosing her own punishment". While each choice is different in each version of the story, in the classic version, she tells the king that a false servant should be dragged through town naked in a barrel with internal spikes. As a result, she is punished that way until she dies.

After that, the prince and the true princess are married and reign over their kingdom for many years.


The story uses the false bride plot with a good-hearted princess being seized by her maid and turned into a common goose girl. It is Aarne–Thompson type 533. Another tale of this type is The Golden Bracelet.[2] These motifs are also found, centered on a male character, in The Lord of Lorn and the False Steward[3] (Child ballad 271) and the chivalric romance Roswall and Lillian.[4]

In the 13th century, the tale became attached to Bertrada of Laon, the mother of Charlemagne.[5]


Despite the story being viewed as obscure there have been many film versions from countries ranging from Germany to even America. Falada is often restored to life in film versions, or even spared entirely. While the Queen is implied to have died in the original story, many versions also have her survive to expose the false bride at the wedding. The false bride's motive for suggesting such a cruel punishment varies by retelling; in some, she is simply too ignorant to recognize herself, others have her play along to keep the charade, and others imply she has believed the king is talking about the true bride. Such film versions include:

  • Harold MacGrath adapted the story into a novel, which was then developed into a 1915 American silent film starring Marguerite Clark. In this version, the princess is stolen at birth and raised as a goose-girl, by a courtier who places his own daughter in her stead. The king she was engaged to at birth falls in love with her without knowing who she is. The false bride's counterpart, Hildegarde, in the original novel, is ignorant of the truth and is portrayed sympathetically, although the film version restores her role as a villainess, where she is raised by her father and is only presented as the princess when she has come of age. The film is believed to be lost.
  • In Germany, two film adaptations of the story were made during the silent era, one in 1910 and the other in 1927.
  • The story was also adapted into a live-action German film during 1957 which was imported to the U.S. by Childhood Productions, who also adapted other fairy tales into films. This version also has Falada restored to life in the end.
  • The fairy tale was shown in the 1960s television show Jackanory during Season 1, Episode 38 and was read by Dilys Hamlett.
  • There is also a Swedish film version produced in 1977. This version spares Falada completely, who the princess is able to keep hidden by the butcher until the false bride is exposed for her crimes. This version also spares the false bride, who is forgiven by the princess, although she is sent away.
  • The late 1970s Japanese anime anthology series, Manga Sekai Mukashi Banashi, adapted the story. The prince takes on the role of his father in this version, being the one to uncover the deception. When ultimately exposed, the false bride commits suicide with a dagger.
  • 1988's Die Geschichte von der Gänseprinzessin und ihrem treuen Pferd Falada, or The Goose Princess and her Trusty Horse, Falada, expands on the romance on the Goose Girl and her prince, who falls in love with her without knowing her real identity. As with many retellings, Falada is also restored to life in the end.
  • In 1985, Tom Davenport adapted the story into a short film as one of his "From the Brothers Grimm" series. While visibly set in the American Appalachia, the narration refers to the characters as princesses, princes, and kings, implying that the story retained its European setting. This version is more faithful to Grimm, as Falada is not restored and the false bride is put to death.
  • The Goose Girl is a 1990 German animated short film directed by Paul Demeyer.
  • Titled "The GooseMaiden" in this version, the tale was loosely adapted into a 1999 German short animated episode with slight differences from the source material. This episode was a part of the series SimsalaGrimm. While Falada is still beheaded, this version has him restored to life. There is no prince, but the king himself is the betrothed. Another change is that the princess has been bewitched into forgetting who she is, rather than being forced into posing as the goose-girl.
  • There was another German film version in 2009. The false bride is forgiven in this version, but sent away, as well, possibly as a reference to the Swedish film.


  • The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale is an adaptation of the tale in the form of a novel.
  • "The Goose Girl" was one of the many folktales used in Emma Donoghue's novel Kissing The Witch. The tale was titled "The Tale of The Handkerchief".
  • Author Alethea Kontis adapted this tale together with The Wild Swans in the form of a novel titled Dearest.
  • Adrienne Rich's 1974 poem "The Fact of a Doorframe" references the Goose Girl.[6]
  • The story was used in a fractured fairy tale novel titled Goose Chase by Patrice Kindl.
  • The tale was retold into a short children's book by Eric A. Kimmel.
  • In the shōjo manga Ludwig Revolution (ルードヴィッヒ革命 Rūdovihhi Kakumei) the story tells about Prince Ludwig who is ordered by his father to find himself a wife more suitable than the women he often brings into the castle. Along with his servant Wilhelm, they travel across the land in search of fair maidens from classic stories in hopes of finding Ludwig a wife. It includes the tale of "The Goose Girl" among other tales from the Brothers Grimm.
  • The tale was adapted into a novel titled Thorn by Intisar Khanani.
  • "Falada: the Goose Girl's Horse" is a short story adaption by author Nancy Farmer. This version tells the classic tale from Falada's point of view.
  • "The Noble Servant" by Melanie Dickerson is an adaptation of the tale in the form of a novel.
  • A version of "The Goose Girl", appears in Deirdre Sullivan's dark YA collection of revised fairytales, "Tangleweed and Brine". In this version, re-named "The Little Gift", it is the maid who is wronged rather than the princess.
  • The Canadian poet Jay Macpherson references the story of the Goose Girl in her poems "Poor Child" and "What Falada Said," both reprinted in Poems Twice Told: The Boatman and Welcoming Disaster.[7]
  • The Scottish comic book writer Grant Morrison references the story in Doom Patrol issue 31, "The Word Made Flesh," when Baphomet takes the form of Falada's head.


  • Although an original story, the German opera Königskinder by Engelbert Humperdinck was inspired by Brothers Grimm fairy tales, particularly "The Goose Girl."
  • Helen Trevillion recorded a song named after the story for her "Once Upon a Time" collection.
  • The American children's radio series, "Let's Pretend," also adapted the story.
  • Song "The Goose Girl" from 2012 album Dreggradation by Spartan Dreggs.


  1. ^ Jacob and Wilheim Grimm, Household tales, "The Goose Girl"
  2. ^ Heidi Anne Heiner, "Tales Similar to the Goose Girl"
  3. ^ Helen Child Sargent, ed; George Lymn Kittredge, ed English and Scottish Popular Ballads: Cambridge Edition p 586 Houghton Mifflin Company Boston 1904
  4. ^ Laura A. Hibbard, Medieval Romance in England p292 New York Burt Franklin,1963
  5. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories", Essays Presented to Charles William edited by C. S. Lewis p 53 ISBN 0-8028-1117-5
  6. ^ The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New 1950-1984. (London & New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1984)
  7. ^ Macpherson, Jay (1981). Poems Twice Told: The Boatman and Welcoming Disaster. Toronto: Oxford University Press Canada. ISBN 9780195403794.

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