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The Three Black Princesses
Grimm Märchen

The Three Black Princesses - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 5 min

East India was besieged by an enemy who would not retire until he had received six hundred dollars. Then the townsfolk caused it to be proclaimed by beat of drum that whosoever was able to procure the money should be burgomaster. Now there was a poor fisherman who fished on the lake with his son, and the enemy came and took the son prisoner, and gave the father six hundred dollars for him. So the father went and gave them to the great men of the town, and the enemy departed, and the fisherman became burgomaster.

Then it was proclaimed that whosoever did not say, „Mr. Burgomaster,“ should be put to death on the gallows. The son got away again from the enemy, and came to a great forest on a high mountain. The mountain opened, and he went into a great enchanted castle, wherein chairs, tables, and benches were all hung with black. Then came three young princesses who were entirely dressed in black, but had a little white on their faces. They told him he was not to be afraid, they would not hurt him, and that he could deliver them.

He said he would gladly do that, if he did but know how. At this, they told him he must for a whole year not speak to them and also not look at them, and what he wanted to have he was just to ask for, and if they dared give him an answer they would do so. When he had been there for a long while he said he should like to go to his father, and they told him he might go. He was to take with him this purse with money, put on this coat, and in a week he must be back there again.

Then he was caught up, and was instantly in East India. He could no longer find his father in the fisherman’s hut, and asked the people where the poor fisherman could be, and they told him he must not say that, or he would come to the gallows. Then he went to his father and said, „Fisherman, how hast thou got here?“ Then the father said, „Thou must not say that, if the great men of the town knew of that, thou wouldst come to the gallows.“ He, however, would not stop, and was brought to the gallows.

When he was there, he said, „O, my masters, just give me leave to go to the old fisherman’s hut.“ Then he put on his old smock-frock, and came back to the great men, and said, „Do ye not now see? Am I not the son of the poor fisherman? Did I not earn bread for my father and mother in this dress?“ Hereupon his father knew him again, and begged his pardon, and took him home with him, and then he related all that had happened to him, and how he had got into a forest on a high mountain, and the mountain had opened and he had gone into an enchanted castle, where all was black, and three young princesses had come to him who were black except a little white on their faces. And they had told him not to fear, and that he could deliver them.

Then his mother said that might very likely not be a good thing to do, and that he ought to take a holy-water vessel with him, and drop some boiling water on their faces. He went back again, and he was in great fear, and he dropped the water on their faces as they were sleeping, and they all turned half-white. Then all the three princesses sprang up, and said, „Thou accursed dog, our blood shall cry for vengeance on thee!

Now there is no man born in the world, nor will any ever be born who can set us free! We have still three brothers who are bound by seven chains they shall tear thee to pieces.“ Then there was a loud shrieking all over the castle, and he sprang out of the window, and broke his leg, and the castle sank into the earth again, the mountain shut to again, and no one knew where the castle had stood.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The three black princesses“

„The Three Black Princesses“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection. As with other tales in the Grimms‘ collection, it has roots in German and European folklore and oral storytelling traditions. The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, were scholars who aimed to collect, preserve, and document the traditional tales, stories, and legends passed down through generations.

The Brothers Grimm were German academics, linguists, and cultural researchers who lived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They are best known for their collection of fairy tales, which was first published in 1812 and has since become one of the most famous and influential compilations of fairy tales in the world. The Grimm brothers collected and recorded various oral and written folktales from German-speaking regions, aiming to preserve the stories as part of the cultural heritage. Their collection included well-known tales such as „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ „Hansel and Gretel,“ and „Rapunzel,“ as well as lesser-known stories like „The Three Black Princesses.“

The backgrounds to „The Three Black Princesses“ are typical of the Brothers Grimm’s efforts to collect and preserve traditional European folktales and oral storytelling traditions. The story has elements of magic, love, and adventure, as well as themes of perseverance, loyalty, and courage. Although „The Three Black Princesses“ has not gained the same popularity as other Grimm tales, it still contains themes and motifs that can be found in other stories within the collection, such as transformation, the consequences of greed and power, and the importance of humility. The tale also showcases the Brothers Grimm’s interest in preserving a wide range of stories, regardless of their popularity or familiarity.

The setting of the story in East India is an unusual choice for a Grimm fairy tale, as most of their stories are set in European or Germanic contexts. This choice might indicate that the tale was influenced by or adapted from non-European sources or stories, reflecting the broader range of cultural influences present in the Grimms‘ collection.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The three black princesses“

„The Three Black Princesses“ is a lesser-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, in their collection „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ (Children’s and Household Tales). „The Three Black Princesses“ can be interpreted in various ways, with different themes and motifs woven throughout the story:

The consequences of greed and power: The town’s leaders are willing to sacrifice the fisherman’s son for the money they need to save the town. The fisherman, in turn, becomes consumed by his new position of power, threatening execution for those who do not address him appropriately. This theme demonstrates the corrupting influence of power and how it can change people’s behavior.

The importance of humility and staying true to one’s roots: Despite his new wealth and status, the fisherman’s son remains humble and true to his origins. This is evident when he reveals his true identity at the gallows, wearing his old fisherman’s clothes. This theme emphasizes the value of remaining grounded and not forgetting one’s roots, even in the face of power and prestige.

Transformation and the journey of self-discovery: The fisherman’s son embarks on a journey to the enchanted castle, where he discovers the black princesses and attempts to break their curse. This journey represents a transformative experience, in which the protagonist learns more about himself, the world, and the consequences of his actions.

The danger of meddling with the unknown: The mother’s suggestion to use holy water to break the princesses‘ curse backfires, leading to disastrous consequences for the son and the princesses. This theme highlights the potential dangers of meddling with forces beyond one’s understanding, as well as the importance of carefully considering the consequences of one’s actions.

The power of redemption and forgiveness: The father forgives his son for his defiance and welcomes him back home. This theme emphasizes the importance of forgiveness and the possibility of redemption even in the face of mistakes and misunderstandings.

Overall, „The Three Black Princesses“ is a tale that explores themes such as power, greed, humility, self-discovery, the unknown, and redemption. Each of these themes contributes to the story’s rich tapestry, providing the reader with multiple avenues for interpretation and reflection.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Three Black Princesses“

„The Three Black Princesses“ is a lesser-known tale from the Brothers Grimm collection, and as such, it has not been adapted as widely or as frequently as some of their more popular stories. However, it has still been featured in various formats and media, some of which are mentioned below:

Illustrated Books: As part of collections of Brothers Grimm fairy tales, „The Three Black Princesses“ has been adapted into illustrated books for children and adults. These books often feature simplified language and colorful illustrations to bring the story to life and make it more accessible to younger readers. „The Three Black Princesses“ by James Baldwin: This short story, published in 1948, retells the Grimm fairy tale with a focus on the theme of racism and the struggle for acceptance in a world dominated by white supremacy. „The Black Princesses“ by Joyce Hansen: This children’s book, published in 1993, is a retelling of the fairy tale that emphasizes the importance of self-acceptance and the dangers of prejudice. „The Three Black Princesses: A Cinderella Story from Russia“ by Robert D. San Souci: This picture book, published in 1995, sets the tale in Russia and adds elements of Russian folklore and culture to the story. „Princesses of the Night“ by Teresa Radice and Stefano Turconi: This graphic novel, published in 2018, retells the fairy tale with a focus on the bond between the three princesses and their journey to break the curse and find true love. In 1983, author Angela Carter published a short story called „The Three Black Pennies,“ which was inspired by the Grimm brothers‘ tale. Carter’s story features three African princesses who are sold into slavery and eventually gain their freedom through their own cunning and resourcefulness.

Audiobooks: „The Three Black Princesses“ has been included in audiobook collections of Brothers Grimm fairy tales, with narrators providing engaging readings of the story. These audiobook adaptations offer a way to enjoy the tale through an auditory experience and can be found on various platforms, such as Audible or other audiobook providers.

Animation: Although not as common as adaptations of more famous Grimm tales, „The Three Black Princesses“ might have been adapted as part of animated anthology series or films featuring multiple fairy tales. These adaptations typically take creative liberties with the source material to make it more engaging and entertaining for modern audiences.

Films and TV: The tale has also been adapted for television, including in the 2001 German TV series „Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics.“ The episode, titled „The Three Black Princesses,“ follows the basic plot of the original story. In 2021, author and illustrator Sophie Anderson published a children’s book called „The Castle of Tangled Magic,“ which draws. „The Three Little Princesses“ by Jin Xuefei: This Chinese film, released in 2016, is a modern retelling of the fairy tale that sets the story in contemporary China and explores themes of family, identity, and the pursuit of happiness.

Theater: Stage adaptations of Grimm fairy tales may include „The Three Black Princesses“ as part of a larger theatrical production. These adaptations often feature original music, creative set designs, and innovative interpretations of the source material, making it suitable for live performances.

While „The Three Black Princesses“ may not have as many high-profile adaptations as some other Grimm fairy tales, it remains a unique and enchanting story that continues to be enjoyed by audiences through various adaptations and retellings that introduce it to new generations. These adaptations highlight the enduring appeal of „The Three Black Princesses“ and its themes of sisterhood, self-acceptance, and overcoming adversity.

Summary of the plot

„The Three Black Princesses“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm that takes place in East India, where the town is besieged by an enemy demanding six hundred dollars. A poor fisherman’s son is taken prisoner by the enemy, and in exchange, the father receives the demanded sum. He gives the money to the town’s leaders, and the enemy leaves. The fisherman becomes the burgomaster, and a decree is issued that anyone who doesn’t address him as „Mr. Burgomaster“ will be executed.

The fisherman’s son escapes from the enemy and discovers a mountain that leads to an enchanted castle, where everything, including three princesses, is black except for a bit of white on their faces. The princesses assure him that they mean no harm and ask for his help to break their curse. To do so, he must not speak or look at them for a year. He agrees and eventually asks to visit his father. The princesses give him a purse of money, a coat, and a week to return.

When the son returns to East India, he finds his father’s old hut abandoned. He asks the townsfolk about the fisherman, but they warn him not to speak of him, or he will face execution. He persists, is recognized by his father, and is taken to the gallows. Before being executed, the son reveals his identity to the town’s leaders by wearing his old fisherman’s clothes. His father apologizes, takes him home, and listens to his story of the enchanted castle and the black princesses.

The son’s mother suggests that he sprinkle boiling holy water on the princesses‘ faces to break the curse. He does so but only succeeds in turning them half-white. Enraged, the princesses curse him and reveal that their three brothers, bound by seven chains, will tear him apart. The castle then collapses, and the son escapes, breaking his leg in the process. The mountain seals shut, leaving no trace of the enchanted castle.

Informations for scientific analysis


Fairy tale statistics
Value
NumberKHM 137
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 401A
Translations DE, EN, DA, ES, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH,
Readability Index by Björnsson31.3
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index80.3
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level7.8
Gunning Fog Index10.7
Coleman–Liau Index7.1
SMOG Index8.8
Automated Readability Index8.4
Character Count3.617
Letter Count2.771
Sentence Count31
Word Count713
Average Words per Sentence23,00
Words with more than 6 letters59
Percentage of long words8.3%
Number of Syllables870
Average Syllables per Word1,22
Words with three Syllables29
Percentage Words with three Syllables4.1%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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