Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, interns, or past contributors.
In the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale “The Goose Girl” a maid-in-waiting assumes the identity of the princess she serves, forcing the princess under threat of death to take an oath of silence about the crime. The evil maid-in-waiting goes on to steal the princess’s bridegroom and orders the princess’s talking horse killed. For her livelihood the princess must tend geese. Eventually the truth is revealed and the maid-in-waiting unwittingly determines her own punishment, one of the most gruesome in Grimms’: “‘She deserves no better fate than to be stripped stark naked, and put in a barrel that is studded inside with sharp nails. Two white horses should be hitched to it, and they should drag her along through one street after another, until she is dead.’”
The story can be read as a warning about pretending to be who we’re not and the dangers of appropriating another’s identity. Or as a reactionary tale about maintaining a malignant social order and a corrupt hierarchy. Or as a warning about the foolishness of determining ethical character by social class, attire, or occupation. Or as an inducement to traveling with a horse that can talk.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s sumptuous, erotically charged Vertigo, the splendid Kim Novak as Judy Barton pretends to be Madeleine Elster in a tricky murder plot. When Judy Barton re-assumes her own identity after the real Madeleine’s murder, she once again finds herself forced to take on all the identifying characteristics of Madeleine Elster to gain the love of the man she originally deceived. Like the maid-in-waiting in The Goose Girl she will be punished—although less gruesomely.
In All About Eve, a conniving young woman, played by Anne Baxter, schemes to take over the professional and personal life of the older actress Margo Channing, played unforgettably by the imperious Bette Davis. Eve succeeds professionally, but is punished: a cynical theater critic threatens to reveal her unless she fulfills his every whim. In the movie’s last scene a young woman appears in Eve’s hotel room—a “maid-in-waiting,” and Eve, we know, will herself be undermined by her “double,” another callous schemer.
This edition of Fairy-Tale Files is brought to you by multi-issue contributor Lee Upton.