Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Maid Maleen: When Fathers Imprison Their Daughters

In Surlalune's fantastic collection of Rapunzel tales throughout the world, Heidi Anne Heiner includes a small section of Maid Maleen tales. "Maid Maleen" is one of the tales in the collection of the brothers Grimm, and it's related to Rapunzel in that it includes a young woman imprisoned in a tower.

However, Maid Maleen is imprisoned not by a witch, who can be seen as an overprotective mother figure, but her father-for she is in love with a man her father does not approve of and refuses to marry the man he chose for her. As punishment, her father imprisons his daughter and her maidservant in a tower-yet this one appears much more terrifying than Rapunzel's tower. She and her waiting woman are walled in it, almost like being buried alive-they have no light and the walls are too thick for sound to come through. They were left with enough food for seven years, and the father promised to return and see if he had weakened her resolve.
Arthur Rackham

Only no one came at the end of the seven years. Realizing they might be left alone, Maid Maleen suggests they try to break out using a bread knife (why didn't they try that at the beginning of the seven years?). The women discover that the land has been destroyed and her father is gone-they take employment as servants at a palace that just so happens to be where Maid Maleen's former lover lives, but he is betrothed to another, ugly, wicked woman.

Maid Maleen drops a series of hints at who she is as the wicked bride forced her to take her place at the alter, for fear she will be mocked because of her ugliness. I'm not especially impressed by the Prince's lack of efforts to get her out of the tower in the first place, if she could make a hole with a bread knife, or at how slow he is to get the hint, but of course at the end he discovers the truth, is married to Maid Maleen, and the wicked false bride suffers the punishment she intended for Maid Maleen-beheading.
Paul Hey

If that tale is dark, "Princess Who Was Hidden Underground," a German tale recorded in Andrew Lang's Violet Fairy Book, is even more depressing. The father in that one builds a palace for her underground, simply because she has grown up, and killed the architect who built it. He declared that anyone who could find her could marry her, but many died in the attempt. And even in this he was not honest, for once the hero of the story had found the Princess (by disguising himself as a lamb to be given to the Princess as a gift), there is an additional trial: the hero must identify the Princess even after she and her maidens have been turned into ducks. Fortunately, the Princess knew of this, and arranged a signal between herself and the young man. Finally they defeated the King's evil plot and were able to marry.

My favorite was the last, "The Girl Clad in Mouse-Skin," a Danish tale. In this one, the father is not evil or controlling-he simply creates a safe house where his daughter can hide while he goes away to fight in a war, and she is not locked in. After seven years, the young woman leaves and finds that her father died nobly in battle.

Like Maid Maleen, she finds work as a servant in a Prince's Castle. Yet the Prince's betrothed is not evil or ugly-she (like Maid Maleen) is in love with another, whom her father has forbidden to marry. The women mutually agree to switch places at the Prince's wedding, and both women end happily married.
R. Leinweber

I like that in this series of tales, the heroines prove to be their own agents of change-you can't accuse these ladies of waiting around for a Prince to save them, they escape and get husbands using their wits. Another fairy tale stereotype is to pit female characters against each other-mothers/stepmothers or sisters are the villains. There aren't too many fairy tales with males as the villain, and even in common tales like Donkeyskin, he is never really punished and the blame too often gets put on his first wife.

What do you think about Maid Maleen tales? Read these stories for yourself, Heidi Anne Heiner has made text available through the Surlalune website!

Read Maid Maleen
Read The Girl Clad in Mouseskin
Read Princess Who Was Hidden Underground


  1. The problem I have wit Maid Maleen is that despite the Grimm's efforts, I did not get the impression that the other bride was evil. She was an ugly woman who was deadly ashamed of her looks and was afraid to show herself the wedding guests... a quite tragic character imho.

    1. I agree! I felt sorry for the ugly bride. In the Grimms she does threated Maid Maleen with death if she doesn't go through the wedding as the bride but that seemed kind of forced, just to make her seem unsympathetic.