Grimm 198. Maid Maleen

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series Fairy Tales & Myths

There’s a princess and a tower and a wedding, and yet this isn’t one of the more popular stories. Go figure.

Source: SurLaLune Fairy Tales: Annotated Maid Maleen


Maid Maleen is the daughter of a king. She falls in love with a prince, but her father is against the marriage. Being a reasonable parent, he has a tower built and bricks Maleen and her maid inside. For seven years. The women are fairly accommodating, note.

But, after seven years, no one comes to let them out. They have to break through the bricks themselves to get out, and they discover that the kingdom is in ruins. Some enemy has sacked the place and driven off the king. They wander in poverty for a long, long time before someone takes pity and hires them to work in a castle kitchen.

This just so happens to be the castle of the beloved prince! And his father has betrothed him to another, a woman who is vile in all ways. Which means she’s wicked and super ugly. Maleen is ordered to serve this woman, which she does.

On the day of the wedding, the vile bride doesn’t want to go outside and be seen as the hideous person she is. So she forces Maleen (with much threatening to behead her) into taking her place. Everyone is quite surprised to see how beautiful the bride is, and yet no one recognizes her as Maleen. On their procession to the church, Maleen begs a nettle, the threshold, and the church door to not break though she is a false bride. She says it so quietly that the prince asks what she’s said, and each time she tells him she said something about Maid Maleen. The prince is surprised–did she know her? No, for she only heard of her. He gives her a necklace as a final gift, and then they’re married.

That night the wicked bride puts on a veil and goes to the prince’s room. He asks, “What was it you said to the nettle? To the threshold and the door?” Each time, the bride denies she said anything (“I don’t talk to doors.”), to which the prince says, “Then thou are not the true bride.” She hurries back to Maleen to find out what was said, and then repeats the answers to the prince.

At last he asks, Where is the necklace? The bride doesn’t know of any necklace. “Then thou are not the true bride.” This time he pulls the veil away. Clearly not the woman he married earlier. She confesses to the switcheroo, and he summons the true Maleen. But the bride orders the servants to kill her instead. Maleen screams so loudly that the prince hears and rescues her.

When they’re alone, he recognizes her necklace (but not her, note) and says, “On the way to church thou didst name Maid Maleen, who was my betrothed bride; if I could believe it possible, I should think she was standing before me thou art like her in every respect.” Maleen replies that she is Maleen, and she still loves him. Then they kiss and everybody lives happily ever after. Except the wicked bride, who is beheaded.

WTF-scale: *groan*

Yet another case of conveniently not recognizing someone when  they’re standing right in front of you, even when you’ve been lovers. This guy gets some wiggle room because a) it’s been 7 years, and b) she’s been through hell and probably doesn’t look like the fresh flower of her youth.

But hey, no one was swallowed by a cow.


What really gets me, though, is this conveniently awful other bride. She’s always yelling at Maleen and threatening to cut off her head. And worse of all, ugliness is symbolic of badness, and beauty of good. What a great trope to teach children. How many generations of humans believed that their looks defined their goodness?

For once, we have a princess who’s a passable heroine. She endures seven years of isolation and then an undated period of scrounging for survival with no complaint. She bucks up and carries on. She respects that her former love is betrothed to another. Okay, this makes her sound horribly passive, but I quite like her!

The prince, on the other hand, is a moron. He needs a dozen attempts to figure out who Maleen really is. I know three’s and repetition are important to this kind of storytelling, but come on.

And we’re left to wonder who or what decimated the princess’ kingdom. Could it happen again? Is her new home in danger, too?

I think one could do a decent adaptation of this if Maleen’s noble spirit were played up and she took more agency.

Final Thoughts

How is this not in the broader cannon?

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