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.
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.
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.
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