for the Donkeyskin fairy tale are below. Sources have been cited in parenthetical
references, but I have not linked them directly to their full citations
which appear on the Donkeyskin Bibliography page. I have provided links back to the Annotated
Donkeyskin to facilitate referencing between the notes and the tale.
1. Donkey: Donkeys, or asses, have long been a source of ridicule. The donkey is not expected to have special magical qualities since it is stereotyped as a stupid animal of drudgery.
According to Marina Warner, Perrault had many animals to choose from for her version of the story, but purposely chose a donkey. "Perrault picked the ass for effect; he was well acquainted with the vast Aesopian folklore about the jackass as fall guy." She speculates that Perrault wanted to mock the atmosphere of enchantment in the story with the donkey. She also notes that "A. A. Milne's Eeyore stands in direct line of descent from this classically pathetic figure of fun" (Warner 1994). Return to place in story.
2. Tumbled out of its ears: This version of the story was sanitized for a Victorian sensibility. In the original story by Charles Perrault, the donkey's feces are gold. Return to place in story.
3. Wait until you have found a woman more beautiful and better formed than myself: The queen's requirement for her successor in marriage is often considered to make her an accomplice in her husband's future transgressions. The mothers in fairy tales are usually given more blame and responsibility than the fathers. The fathers are almost always forgiven while the mothers are almost always punished. The implication in this story is that the mother is just as much to blame for dying and leaving rigid final instructions. The father is simply obeying his wife like the fathers in Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel.
In some versions of the story, the queen declares that the next queen will be the woman upon whose finger her wedding band fits. Donkeyskin, like Cinderella and her slipper, is the only woman whose finger fits the band.
As incest has become a more open topic and acknowledged in modern society, Donkeyskin has become less popular as an uncomfortable story for adults to share with children. Return to place in story.
4. Adopted daughter: The "adopted" has been added to this story once again to suit Victorian and modern sensibilities. In the original version by Perrault, Donkeyskin is the full-blooded daughter of the king and queen. If Donkeyskin is adopted, the marriage ceases to be incestuous and morally wrong, only undesirable to Donkeyskin herself.
Other famous incest stories include Oedipus from Greek mythology and Lot and his daughters from the Old Testament. Return to place in story.
5. Made known what his wishes were: In some versions of the story, the king's desire to marry his daughter is excused as madness resulting from his grief. Once again, the father is blameless for his actions in most versions of the story.
Saint Dympna, a seventh century princess and now the patron saint of the insane, was also wanted in marriage by her father, a king of Brittany, Britain or Ireland. When she refused and ran away, having already committed herself to her Christian faith, he found and beheaded her. She even has a "godmother" figure in her elderly confessor who dies with her (Warner 1994). Return to place in story.
6. Fairy godmother: This fairy godmother dispenses advice instead of gifts to Donkeyskin, unlike her counterpart in Cinderella. Return to place in story.
7. Dress that exactly matches the sky: The setting of impossible tasks, especially to avoid a marriage, is a common device found in fairy tales and folklore.
Donkeyskin's dresses are connected with celestial bodies--the sky, the moon, and the sun--and thus tie her to a natural setting.
Steven Olderr's symbolic meanings of the sky include: the active male principal, the father, holiness, purity, the supreme being or his dwelling (Olderr 1986).
The king's ability to give dresses with these celestial qualities implies that even the heavens and gods are conspiring against Donkeyskin's wishes at this point in the tale. Return to place in story.
8. Moonbeams: Among his many symbolic meanings of the moon, Steven Olderr includes: the feminine principle, resurrection, inconstancy, the transitory, potential evil, serene loveliness, chastity, virginity, imagination, lunacy, magic, death, silence, opposing values, isolation, imagination, and the rejection of reason (Olderr 1986). Return to place in story.
9. Sunshine: Olderr's symbolic meanings for the sun include: potential good, the will, the hero, the eye of God, sovereignty, the active power of nature, the male, guiding light, heaven, and domination (Olderr 1986). Return to place in story.
10. Demand the skin of the ass: This last attempt to spare her virtue is essentially a demand of her father's fortune. Amazingly enough, perhaps justifying the excuse of his madness made in the tale, the king has the ass killed and gives the skin to his daughter. Return to place in story.
11. Wrap yourself in this skin: In other versions of the tale, the coat is made up of a different type of fur or many different furs sewn together, such as in Catskin and All-Kinds-of-Fur.
As animals, and in turn their fur, often represent the carnal nature and physical acts, Donkeyskin is essentially donning the disguise of what she is trying to escape. The skin can also represent the violations and sin of which she has been a victim. Return to place in story.
12. Your dresses and your jewels shall follow you underground, and if you strike the earth whenever you need anything, you will have it at once: Besides the magical donkey, this is another element of magic in the story which gives the story a fairy tale sensibility. Return to place in story.
13. Princess clothed herself in the asss skin: Here we are given the reason for Donkeyskin's name: when she dons the skin, she becomes Donkeyskin.
According to Maria Tatar, the donkey skin turns the heroine into an outcast, but it also affirms her connection to nature. She is both degraded and empowered by this clothing (Tatar 2002).
Marina Warner considers the skin one of shame, but "the pathetic degradation of her condition contains a kind of Christian grace of humility, forbearance and lack of vanity" (Warner 1994). Donkeyskin's patient bearing of this burden is ultimately rewarded with her return to status and a suitable marriage. Return to place in story.
14. Slipped from the palace: The princess in this story is by no means passive such as many of her better known fairy tale counterparts. She attempts to protect herself as much as she can from the threat of immorality. When she fails, she flees the palace and the threat, abandoning her birthright and the luxury of her life.
Some scholars believe the girl's active disobedience and aggression against a parental figure, albeit for moral reasons, are the reasons that the story has diminished in popularity. Return to place in story.
15. Set to work in a corner of the kitchen: Donkeyskin proves herself through domestic arts just as a woman would in the time period when this story was first recorded.
In her novelization of the tale, titled Deerskin, Robin McKinley gives Donkeyskin a talent with animal husbandry, specifically dogs, which she cares for on the prince's estate. Return to place in story.
16. Peeped through the keyhole: Note that the prince's curiosity has vastly different results from the woman in Bluebeard. She is almost murdered for her curiosity while the prince finds his future wife. Return to place in story.
17. High fever: High fever is always a medical threat and would be disturbing in the heir to the throne. The implication that the prince has made himself sick in love is a highly romantic element of the story. Return to place in story.
18. Fell into the dough: Hiding objects in food is another common device in fairy tales. Donkeyskin uses the ring to reveal her true heritage to her potential husband by placing a valuable ring in the item she knows he will eat.
In modern times, the most common romantic instance is perhaps the hiding of an engagement ring in a food item or drink as part of a marriage proposal. Return to place in story.
19. But not one of them could slip the ring over the tip of her finger: The ring is very much like Cinderella's slipper in that it only fits its owner. In some versions of the story, hopeful girls cut off their fingers hoping to get the ring to fit. The exclusivity of the fit also implies the divine and regal heritage of the owner. Return to place in story.
20. Who by this time had married a widow: Most versions of the traditional tale explain that the father has returned to sanity and/or remarried himself. He occasionally attends his daughter's wedding. No red hot shoes await him at his daughter's wedding as await the stepmother in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
In Robin McKinley's novelization of the story, Deerskin confronts her father at his wedding ceremony to a young princess, exposing his crime of rape against her. Return to place in story.