30 July 2010


Fairy Tales Facing Off on a Friday
(Inspired by a meme at This Miss Loves to Read)

Every Friday, you can choose a fairytale you love,
or simply find interesting or haunting,
and review it or simply say why you like it so much,
or why it has captured your attention.

There are at least three other blogs for whom Friday means (or has meant) fairytales rather than followers, but this is the first one with a meme that sings to me. So it's the first one I'm doing!

And because I'm kind of in smackdown mode at the moment, this post can't help the form it is taking . . .

Fairytale Face-offCinderella vs. Donkey Skin

I'll be doing my own systematic deliberation here, but as always, you get to have your say in the combox when I'm done. Okay? =)

Instant Recognition:

Cinderella: Like Frances Hodgson Burnett's Sara Crewe (A Little Princess), this character has two easily recognisible "looks": she is either a little drudge wearing rags and sitting by the cinders or a lovely woman fleeing a ball in such haste that she loses a shoe. Her "props" include that glass shoe, a pumpkin (or a pumpkin-shaped coach), and a clock about to strike midnight.

Donkey Skin: The name says it all, doesn't it? She is a young woman wearing a donkey's hide (sometimes with the head still on) like a cloak. She also has a ring that plays a very important part in her story, but it's not a remarkable ring made of glass or vegetables or anything.

The Verdict: Although the collected images of Cinderella paint a more complete picture of her character because they show more than one side of her, I love the simplicity of the only depiction of Donkey Skin that works. I'd even say the lack of "props" is a plus--but this is where (I think) most of you will disagree with me.

This round goes to . . . Donkey Skin.


Cinderella: A young woman is forced to be a servant to her stepmother and stepsisters, but gets to go to a royal ball one night, thanks to her fairy godmother, who gives only the condition that she be home before midnight. At the ball, she meets and falls in love with the prince but still runs away as the clock is striking twelve. In her haste, she loses a shoe. Determined to find her again, the prince goes from house to house looking for the woman whose foot will fit in the shoe.

Donkey Skin: A princess tries to put off an incestuous marriage by making what she hopes are impossible demands, but when her father sacrifices even his magical donkey so she can wear its skin, she knows she has no choice but to run away to another kingdom. There, she finds menial work to do and never takes off the donkey skin, except on feast days (because she's a good Catholic girl, you know). On one of those days, the prince of the realm passes by, gets a peek at her through the keyhole (Don't ask; I know it sounds pervy), falls in love instantly, and asks others who she might be--which confuses them because they only know about the grimy, unattractive girl called "Donkey Skin". Then he falls sick and says that nothing will cure him but a cake baked by this "Donkey Skin"; and of course our princess is happy to oblige. While she is baking the cake, a ring falls off her finger; while he is eating the cake, he finds the ring. Getting better instantly, he resolves to marry the woman whom the ring will fit and when he tries it on the princess, she casts off the donkey skin and appears before him in all her well bred beauty.

The Verdict: Donkey Skin might be the more interesting story now because it isn't as worn and familiar as Cinderella, but it is clear which one has the better plot. Seriously, Donkey Skin's prince just happens to be looking in the keyhole on a rare day when the princess isn't wearing the donkey skin? And then he falls mysteriously ill? And then he gets even more mysteriously better? Randomness like that may be typical of real life, but stories should make sense.

This round goes to . . . Cinderella!

Main Characters:

Cinderella: We know that she is patient and hardworking despite the unjust hand that was dealt to her; and nobody in the story deserves a night out in a new dress more than she does. She also seems to understand the Chestertonian principle that gifts should not be rationalised and meets her fairy godmother's abitrary curfew without a murmur. And she seems to dance very gracefully. Quite a saint, really, with natural talents to boot!

Donkey Skin: She leaves a world of luxury in a palace to live as a servant in a cottage, because there is no way to remain at home without sinning. She seems willing to draw out the sacrifice for the rest of her life. And she observes feast days! And bakes well. =P A different sort of saint with another sort of talent.

The Verdict: We have two good girls here, but I prefer the one whose sacrifice is symbolised by something very much like a hair shirt. Because, you know, it's just more Catholic. And admit it: dealing with an evil stepmother is nothing next to dealing with one's own lecherous father. So now we know who really gets to be "Final Girl"!

This round goes to . . . Donkey Skin!

Fulcra on Which the Happy Endings are Moved:

Cinderella: A glass shoe! Which might have actually been made of fur, not glass. There's some legend about a slip of the pen: verre (glass) instead of vair (squirrel fur). But it's the principle, not the material that counts--as we can tell from the many retellings that replace the shoe with another object altogether.

Donkey Skin: A ring! I'd love to go with the donkey skin itself, which is both a symbolic hair shirt and a virtual "invisibility cloak" that hides her radiant beauty even from those who see her every day . . . but we all know it's the ring.

The Verdict: The shoe and the ring pretty much serve the same purpose. Only one woman's foot can slide into the shoe and only one woman's finger can slide into the ring. And that is how each prince knows which woman he should marry. Perhaps these personal objects symbolise inner beauty, which people often fail to see when they cannot look past someone's appearance. So far, everything is equal, aye? So it is time to point out that when the stories are also about love, sexy shoes have nothing on romantic rings.

This round goes to . . . Donkey Skin!

* * * * * * * * *

And now I'm really surprised! I personally prefer Donkey Skin (for the usual Catholic reasons that make me so tiresome), but Cinderella is the story the world knows better, loves better, bases idioms on, and creates more spin-offs and adaptations of than even Jane Austen novels. When I started this post, I believed it would end if not in a clear win for Cinderella, then in a draw.

Wow. =| I must be more inflexibly biased than I thought! (Bwahahahahahaha!) And that's probably why, in another face-off from earlier this week, "Weird Al" Yankovic's Amish Paradise, a universal favourite that I myself have never been able to "get," didn't really stand a chance. =P

(You're never coming back to read my biased blog again, are you?)

Image Sources: a) Cinderella, b) Donkey Skin


Sullivan McPig said...

Hmmmm, your version of Donkey Skin is different from the one I know. In that version she goes off to dance in beautiful clothes at parties in the palace and the prince falls in love with her, but she also draws attention as Donkey Skin by cooking such tasty meals that the prince gets interested in Donkey Skin as well. And when she drops a ring in the soup or porridge the prince understands the beautiful girl and Donkey Skin are one and the same and then there's the Happily Ever After.

And Donkey Skin is my favourite tale of the two too.
Have you seen Jim Henson's 'The Storyteller - Sapsorrow' btw? It's yet another version of this fairy tale and my favourite of the Storyteller episodes.

Salome Ellen said...

Wow, I thought I knew fairy tales, but I've never even HEARD of Donkey Skin!! Grimm? Andersen? French?

Enbrethiliel said...


@ Sully: I hadn't heard of that version before, Sully, but it's good, too. Even better, actually. It certainly makes more sense than the prince "just happening" to ride by, which is what hurt Donkey Skin in the plot round!

Nor have I seen that episode of The Storyteller, I'm afraid. I see I have lots of catching up to do if I'm going to start blogging seriously about fairy tales! ;-)

@ Ellen: I know that Perrault wrote a version of Donkey Skin (which is why I have a French picture book up there), but I'm not sure how old the story actually is. I was really lucky to have had one collection of fairy tales that mentions her (out of all the books I had as a child--and I assure you, I had lots!); and even so, she was hard to remember until I did some googling. And for some reason, I remembered the ring in the cake rather than the donkey skin--which is a little like remembering the glass slipper rather than a cinders, I suppose! =P

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

This is an AMAZING post. I love it that you compared two fairy-tales and you compared two really good and sort of similar stories. I've never thought about these two stories like that, but you make some very clever and fresh points. Donkey Skin is definitely a neglected fairy-tale, but it has much to offer. You pointed out the good and bad sides of both, and I completely agree with them. After reading your post, I can't say which story I prefer.;) Yesterday, I'd have said Cinderella, but today I see that both stories are great in different ways, so it's a draw for me as well. I have to re-read Donky Skin now!

Thank you for your wonderful post.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks for hosting the meme, Irena! =) I think I'll be doing a Fairy Tale Face Off every time I join (unless I come up with another idea) because I can think of a whole bunch I'd like to compare with each other.

By the way, which version of Donkey Skin are you more familiar with? Sully's or mine? I'm wondering which of ours is the more "official" or "traditional" version.

Dauvit Balfour said...

If memory serves, I'm more familiar with Mr. McPig's version. I believe we actually treated it as a parallel form of Cinderella, though it's been two years (and a half... wow college is fading) since I took the class. Parallel form is not the right word... there's a book that attempts to collect all of the fairytales under a few basic types, and Donkeyskin and Cinderella are in the same category... oh dear, forms, categories, types, and I'm mixing memories.

Anyway, I hope you do more of these. I liked that class.

Enbrethiliel said...


I guess I'm treating it as a parallel form of Cinderella as well, though I don't mean to imply that one came before the other or one is a mere shadow of the other. Since I have been out of uni for even more years than you, I can't remember what literary term would stand in for "parallel form," though I do know what you mean. Kind of like the archetypes of plots, aye?

If you remember the title of the book, I hope you will share it. I adore analyses of fairy tales, even the skewed feminist ones! =P

Sullivan McPig said...

"I see I have lots of catching up to do if I'm going to start blogging seriously about fairy tales!"

Nah, I'm just a fairy tale nut and read about every fairy tale I could get my hands/trotters on since I learned to read.

Jenny N. said...

It's my first time hearing about Donkey Skin. The story sound pretty good and I will now google it to learn more about it.

Enbrethiliel said...


It's also readily available online (and its short), so you'll have no trouble finding the story. =) But I think you'll get the version I'm used to rather than the ones Sully and Dauvit know. Thanks again for visiting, Jenny!

carolsnotebook said...

I've heard of Donkey Skin before, but haven't gotten around to reading it yet. I really enjoyed your comparisons.

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Carol. =) Thanks for visiting.

geeklady said...

Hmm. I think you unfairly docked Donkey Skin in the plot department. Cinderella may have the tighter plot, but Donkey Skin embodies the nature of a fairy tale, which is the coincidence that brings the happy ending. Donkey Skin is more satisfactorily fairy tale like than Cinderella, even though Cinderella is a favorite of mine in general. In fact, I find that my favorite Cinderella variations add a healthy dose of coincidence back into the story, if in a tight-plot acceptable manner.

@Dauvit Balfour - I bet you're thinking of the Aarne Thompson Index, but I have no idea what the right replacement word for parallel is.

Enbrethiliel said...


Hi, Geeklady! Thanks for stopping by. =)

We'll just have to disagree about what makes a plot--fairy tale or otherwise--satisfactory. I'm afraid that too much coincidence just kills the story for me. =P