In my last blog post, I examined misogyny in the context of The German Fairy Tale, The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces. This week, on Sophie’s Fun Writing About Literature Blog, we will compare and contrast the German and Russian versions of this story. Let us begin:
The German and Russian versions of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” have much in common, but there are some important differences. Firstly, the Russian tale involves a poor nobleman, not a wounded soldier. Also unlike the German story, this poor nobleman is the only man to even attempt to discover the princesses’ secret. Most importantly, the threat of death is also gone. The poor nobleman is afraid that, should he fail, the king will arrest him, but he is not afraid to be put to death. This significantly lowers the stakes of the story and makes it more tonally appropriate—frankly, the tone of the German story pretty inappropriate. The fact than a lot of men were killed, just because they were unwittingly drugged, calls for a much more self-aware portrayal if events than was provided. These are murderous princesses, not harmless young girls up to a little jaunty practical joking. The events make much more sense as explained by the Russians. The Russian princesses arguably are just up to a little pranking. Although they do attempt to drug the poor nobleman, this is mostly out of self-preservation, and they are never out to cause his death. Thus, the matter-of-fact language and the events are all entirely appropriate, that is to say, there is no extraneous beheading. After all, the Russian princesses only do it once.
So, both stories are tonally similar, but the effects are pretty different. The German story portrays the princesses as evil in a disturbingly cavalier way, making sympathy for these characters nearly impossible. The Russian tale is structurally similar but differs in that it doesn’t actually make out its main characters to be horrific and felonious.