Bilbliographic Information (best version for telling):

Lunn, Janet. The twelve dancing princesses: a fairy story re-told. Toronto: Methuen, c.1979.

(NOTE: Technically, I did not tell this one due to time constraints, but I think it is the best version, and is the one I wanted to tell in class and will tell in the future.)


Ethnic Origin:



Running Time:

Approx. 18 minutes


Power Centers:

The emotions I want to convey in this story are those of the gardener and the youngest princess:

The gardener’s awe of the beauty of the forests and alabaster castle, his despair at the condition of his enchanted souvenirs, and his growing attraction for the princess.

The youngest princess’ concern throughout – first because she senses all is not right during the nights the gardener is in their room, and then because she is falling for him but she knows he is going to have his head cut off.



Gardener’s boy

Old woman


Twelve princesses (emphasis on character of youngest)



Gardener’s boy travelling

In the old woman’s field

In the castle garden (2x)

The princesses’ chamber (3x)

In the enchanted forests (3x)

Within the alabaster castle (2x)

In the King’s hall



A simple gardener’s boy dreams of twelve beautiful princesses and sets off in search of them. He meets and helps an old woman, who tells him the tale of the enchanted princesses: “Once the happy princesses spent all their time in the castle garden, which bloomed and caused the land to prosper. For no apparent reason, they one day became dull and began to stay inside, and beside the bed of each was found a pair of danced-out shoes every morning. The king could not determine the cause of their behavior or shoes, and a gloom settled on the land. He declared that any man who could discover the cause of the mystery within three nights could wed the fairest princess and rule half the kingdom, but whoever failed would lose his head. Many tried and failed, and the garden and the country withered.”

The old woman gives the boy a cloak of invisibility and three pieces of advice (don’t eat after dark, don’t show yourself while in the cloak, and leave before dawn), and sends him to the castle. He undertakes the challenge, and also begins to work in the lifeless garden. The first night the boy pretends to drink some wine the princesses offered him, feigns sleep and follows the princesses into an underground kingdom He breaks and keeps branches of gold, silver, and diamond, but fails to jump into a boat with the princesses. The youngest princess hears him, but is hushed by her sisters. The next morning, the branches look like ordinary twigs. As the boy gardens, the youngest princess touches the rose bush he is trimming – it seems to grow greener. The second night the boy follows them into the alabaster castle in the middle of the lake; he wants to reveal his face to the youngest princess, who seems to sense where he is, but he keeps hidden. That day he shows her the rose bush that has budded where she touched it; she keeps a rose petal. The third night the boy steals a golden goblet from the castle, and almost stays past dawn in the underground kingdom, but remembers the advice and leaves in time. When the princesses check to make sure that he is still in his chair and gloat over his imminent doom, he feels a tear fall on his cheek from the youngest princess. That morning, the boy sees the king, tells what he has seen, and holds out the dried twigs and the rusty tin cup (that had been the golden goblet) as evidence. The king is about to order his death, when the youngest princess drops the rose petal in the cup, and the objects change back into their enchanted, golden state. The spell is broken, the land bursts into bloom, and the gardener’s boy marries the youngest princess and rules half the kingdom wisely and well.


Rhymes/Special Phrases/Flavor:

The old woman’s rhyming advice:

            Nothing shall you drink nor eat, once the night’s dark shadows meet.

            Reveal not face nor fingertip, nor suffer sound to pass your lip.

            Stay not past dawn’s discovering hand, or remain forever within that land.


Audience (why appropriate? developmental characteristics?):

No one is too old for a fairy tale, and I think this one can work for the twelve-to-fifteen crowd, especially girls. Melanie Rapp’s “emotional roller coaster” list mentions peer groups and self-discovery as important issues for young teens. The princesses all share a secret and are therefore a powerful clique; the youngest struggles to be more of an individual throughout, but is scolded into conformity by her sisters! The youngest princess succeeds in her pursuit at the end, by falling in love with the gardener and breaking the spell. This also relates to Stover and Tway’s concept that teens are concerned with “defining oneself outside of family.”

There are also some plot elements which may be of interest to adolescents. The twelve princesses are essentially sneaking out at night and refusing to tell their dad where they’re going. The budding romance between the gardener and the youngest princess is blatantly paralleled by the rose blooming –  I think most young teens are savvy enough nowadays to pick up on flower/sex analogies in literature. And of course, it is a happy romantic ending, which is (as I remember) extremely important at this age, when most of the forays into early dating are somewhat awkward!


Bibliographic information on other versions/variants:

1)  Baker, Augusta. “The princess with the twelve pair of golden shoes.” The golden lynx and other tales. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1960; pp34-40.


2)  Lang, Andrew. The twelve dancing princesses: illustrated by Adrienne Adams. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966.


3)  “The shoes that were danced to pieces.” The complete Grimm’s fairy tales. New York: Pantheon books, 1944, 1972; pp.596-599.




Brief comparison of all versions/variants (language, rhythm, tellability, content, etc.):

            Each of the stories includes an enchanted underground kingdom for the princess(es) to dance in, and the possibility of death for the hero if he cannot discover the secret. The first variant involves only one princess, but she wears out twelve pair of shoes each night on her own. The hero is given a stick of invisibility instead of a cloak, and a magical ball leads him to the princess’ castle. The hero sleeps through the first two nights, so all of the action takes place on night three. When he finally manages to follow her to the underground kingdom, he sees that the princess dances with a troll, which the hero vanquishes in the end, freeing the silver/gold/diamond trees, who are actually enchanted people. This is a lovely story, and would be a good version to tell, but was not my favorite – there is little character development.

            In the second variant the hero becomes the gardener for the castle, and a fairy godmother-type visits his dreams and gives him a magic laurel bush. The bush enables him to become invisible and follow the princesses, etc. The princes that they dance with are men they have trapped in the underground kingdom, by giving them a philter which “froze the heart and left nothing but the love of dancing.” When the gardener and the youngest fall in love, the other princesses want to make him drink the philter also, but just as he is going to drink she declares her love for him, and the spell is broken.

            The traditional Grimm’s version is the same story as the Lunn version, but without the garden subplot. The story I told for class was an amalgam of these two versions. The reason I like the Lunn version best is that it is a more intricate and more beautiful story; I liked the complexity of the plot and the depth of the imagery in this tale. The story allows for a development of a relationship between the hero and the princess, and I think it ties up most of the loose ends.