In Defense of the Twelve Dancing Princesses

Brief History: A German tale with way too many underdeveloped characters. The story consists of a king who locks his daughters in their room each night, only to discover their shoes full of holes every morning. The king, who can’t just communicate with his kids, declares that any man who can figure out how they go out dancing without leaving their room will have his pick in marriage. If the man can’t find out the secret within three nights (because it’s always three), he’s executed. . . because the king can’t just be a jerk to his daughters. Enter our hero on his way to the palace, sometimes a shepherd or shoemaker apprentice but usually an aging soldier returning from an unnamed war. He is gifted an invisibility cloak from the cliché mysterious old woman who he’s kind to. The woman also gives him conveniently useful advice – don’t drink the wine. Long story short (too late), the soldier figures out that the wine she’s referring to is roofied by the princesses each night to keep their secret safe (obviously not caring that their dad is going to kill this men when they fail). So, he pretends to drink it each night then uses the cloak to follow the princesses into a magical world under their beds. That’s right. The princesses are literally going each night to a party probably held by the boogie man. He collects evidence of the magical world and witnesses the women dancing happily with enchanted princes.). After the third night, he reveals everything to the king, marries the eldest daughter, and the rest of the princesses are put under a temporary, unnamed curse for their deceptions.

Analysis: So. . . this. The princesses in this aren’t heroes. They’re awful, selfish creatures who were raised by an equally awful man. One the one hand, they are trying to assert their independence and have some small control over their lives. On the other hand, they are allowing their dad to kill each of the potential suitors just so they can go dancing. Not really sure how I can fully defend them.

Blame it on the Victorians: I have to agree with the Victorians on this one. As the story was told and retold through the 19th Century, the king stopped killing the suitors, the soldier/hero becomes more age appropriate, and he manages to get the eldest or youngest princess to trust him a little (they don’t exactly fall in love, but she doesn’t seem to mind marrying him in the end).

Last thoughts: So. Many. Characters. So. Little. Personality.

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