The Goose Girl by Brothers Grimm

by Tolovaj

The goose girl is one of the classic fairy tales from the collection by Grimm Brothers. It is known in many variations and inspired numerous interpretations.

It's hard to explain why The Goose Girl doesn't share the popularity of The Rapunzel, The Sleeping Beauty or The Cinderella. Maybe thanks to small, yet visible faults in the story structure, too many, not enough developed characters or poor execution of present magic powers.

Yet it's still a story on which hundreds of artists based their creations in the fields of literature, paintings or movies. We'll explore The Goose Girl through 10 amusing points. Here they are:

(all used images are in Public domain, intro by Paul Meyerheim)

The Magic in the Goose Girl

1. The princess starts her journey with two lucky charms. A handkerchief with her mother's blood is able to talk and so is the horse named Falada, but both lucky charms are more or less useless. When she gets into trouble (this happened right after the start of the journey, the charms don't give her any additional strength or determinations. They serve only as the reminder of the loss of her mother's protection, what is shown by repetitive lines:

"If your mother only knew,
Her heart would surely break in two."

This is practical all both charms can say. The additional line is said by Falada's head (when the horse is already dead), serving as a hint for the king (see his shadow in one of the pictures by Rackham below), who eventually helps her regaining her royal position.

2. The princess / the goose girl has some magic powers on her own as seen in the scenes with her hair being combed in the wind while Conrad (Curdken) is running after his hat. Her magic was never used against her nemesis.

The Goose Girl illustration by Arthur Rackham
The Goose Girl illustration by Arthur Rackham

The Power

4. Mother of the princess is obviously capable to rule the kingdom without a husband, yet she sends her daughter to another kingdom where a groom is waiting for her. While it's not explicitly explained why she decided that (her age, danger from outside, her illness, daughter's age) it's a common pattern in fairy tales. The character who leaves the safety and predictability is the character who can expect the best results at the end of the story.

The Goose Girl illustration by Hermann Vogel
The Goose Girl illustration by Herman...

5. Princess' maiden in waiting is not a classic servant. Just think about the faithful Iron Henry in The Frog Prince!

Goose Girl's servant, on the other hand is rebellious from the very beginning.

She overpowers her master with words and actions, she forced the princess to change identities and she even protects her position of the false bride by her master's promise and talking horse's death.

But when she starts to feel too comfortable in her new position, giving advice on the sentence of the imposter, she instantly earns a cruel punishment.

Some people believe the fairy tales are too cruel ...

Who's punishment was the cruelest?

6. The king in this story is surprisingly competent. We are more used to meet kings (or fathers in general) who can't protect their kids (Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty), their values (The Golden Bird, Doctor Know-All, Emperor's New Clothes) or themselves (East of the Sun and West of the Moon, Hans My Hedgehog, Snow White and Rose Red), but this one is active, smart and authoritative, comparable to the one in the Frog Prince (the father of the princess).

Goose Girl illustration by Maximilain Liebenwein
Goose Girl illustration by Maximilain Liebenwein


7. Costly baggage, given by princess' mother represents the earthly goods. They don't do any good for her and she is unable to preserve them even long enough to get to her husband. The message is clear - parents should focus on giving their kids wisdom, courage and life skills, not money. Money is useless without knowledge to handle with.

8. Blood (three drops on the handkerchief) is the power of life. Mother has to lose some blood to give birth (think about Snow White and Seven Dwarfs) and in this fairy tale, she gives her daughter a handkerchief with three drops of blood as a lucky charm with magical properties. Yet the princess loses the handkerchief and mother's protection what forces her to find her own powers.

9. Geese represent loyalty, faithfulness, and truth, but also innocence, silliness, and cowardice. The princess must spend some time with them to choose which of all these characteristics shared with them should prevail in her personal future.

10. The iron stove is a symbol of rebirth. We can find an iron stove with an important role in Hansel and Gretel, where Gretel needs to kill the witch before she saves her brother and herself. The princess from The Goose Girl must lose everything before she can start with her new life and we find a similar situation in many different tales.


The rebirth is represented in another popular way - by being eaten (fairy tales Red Cap or Wolf and Seven Goats or biblical story about the prophet Jonah).

We can go on and on (we didn't even touch the meanings behind girl's golden hair, for instance), but that's for now. Read the story and find a few interesting points on your own!

Updated: 12/21/2017, Tolovaj
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Tolovaj on 09/18/2023

I believe the magic worked more as a reminder, not as protection.

DerdriuMarriner on 09/12/2023

The first fact, about magic in The Goose Girl, intrigues me with the name Falada.

What country, culture and language might The Goose Girl oftenest and originally have been associated?

The name occurs in Asturian, Galician and Portuguese as the feminine past participle of the verb "to speak, to talk." So it would be pronounced "fuh-LAH-duh" in Brazilian Portuguese, in which I'm fluent, and translated as "(the) spoken (one)."

DerdriuMarriner on 06/14/2023

The first amusing point about the ineffectiveness of magical charms and powers really amuses me.

Was the point perhaps to advise the princess never to rely completely or predominantly upon other than herself? Why else would magic not work?!

Tolovaj on 11/23/2018

Great to hear that, Mira. If there is any picture book already in Public Domain, please, send me a link. It would be awesome, to include a Romanian illustrator among other artists.

Mira on 11/23/2018

Thanks, Tolovaj! :) Yes, we too have digitalized many old collections here in Romania. It's quite wonderful :)

Tolovaj on 11/22/2018

Hi, Mira. The Goose girl is not about a peasant girl who becomes a princess but about the princess who temporarily loses her social status to regain it back later despite the fact 'she must keep her word'. Such plot is essential in a fairy tale genre.

It's great to have so many great stories available for free on Gutenberg and similar services. More and more universities are putting their otherwise dusty and forgotten libraries online as well.

Mira on 11/21/2018

I read this as a child but am still not sure what the geese did in the story. To me now it's just a way of choosing a peasant girl for a protagonist.

I really enjoy your posts as I have read lots of fairy tales as a child up until second grade (we had many wonderful anthologies and series), and I still find fairy tales amazing -- have found many free collections on Gutenberg.

Tolovaj on 02/21/2018

You did, sandyspider, I just wasn't here to approve your comment. I appreciate your visit.

Tolovaj on 02/21/2018

Thanks, sandyspider.

sandyspider on 02/01/2018

I remember reading this. Thought I had left a comment before. Really love it.

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