Jungian Fairy Tale Interpretation

Fairy Tale Interpretation Group

Fairy tales are the purest and simplest expression of collective unconscious psychic processes. Therefore their value for the scientific investigation of the unconscious exceeds that of all other material. They represent the archetypes in their simplest, barest, and most concise form. In myths or legends, or any other more elaborate mythological material, we get at the basic patterns of the human psyche through an overlay of cultural material. But in fairy tales there is much less specific conscious material, and therefore they mirror the basic patterns of the psyche more clearly.

Von Franz, 1996, p. 1

These sessions deal with the powerful imagery of fairy tales and examines why their interpretation is such a crucial aspect of the Jungian tradition. Through fairy tales we access rich material from the collective unconscious, telling us how individuation may happen.

Who hasn’t remembered the experience of listening to a fairy tale as a child? Why were we so enthralled by these tales? Are these stories for adults or children? How do they differ from myths, legends and sagas?

Fairy Tale Enactment Workshop

At the Zurich training institute, where students train to become Jungian Analysts, there is a series of extremely popular Fairy Tale enactment workshops. These workshops permit students to experience fairy tales through enacting them in psychodramas. Small groups of four students choose a Grimm’s fairy tale, then act it out in a closed setting before two or three other small groups involved in the same workshop. Three to four enactments are made, one by each group.

The power of this workshop is in the experience of the archetypal characters of the fairy tale – for a short time you ARE the witch, or the evil king. Each group usually dresses up as actors in the tale, often with costumes, wigs and other props. The actors then enact the individual roles in the fairy tale, becoming the characters. After de-roling, each actor then speaks within the closed group about what it felt like to be in that role and how they experienced the other characters.

After this, the tale is interpreteted in the larger group. This is a profound way to grasp the power of the fairy tale and one which leaves us with a deeper appreciation of just how the psyche undergoes the individuation process.

A core issue in the workshop is that of complete confidentiality. Nothing from the experience of the group may be discussed outside of the group. This workshop is not about acting ability, but about the ability to experience your own and other’s psyches.

Most of us acted out stories and tales as children – this is similar to that with two major differences – we fully become the archetypal character with intention, and we fully debrief the experience.

Fairy Tale Interpretation Group

In a Fairy Tale Interpretation group we work as a group to learn how to conduct a Jungian interpretation of a fairy tale. Below is an example of what we can achieve in this process.

Here is an interpretation of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale that I wrote for the C.G. Jung Society Victoria journal.

Hope you enjoy the ideas in the story and the interpretation. If you would like to know more about this work, please contact me.

A Jungian Interpretation of Grimm’s

‘The Shoes That Were Danced To Pieces.’


“Too much time in the unconscious can be a dangerous thing”









TASKS____ 11













I am going to interpret this fairy tale using a Jungian approach, and, as I do, try to explain some of the reasoning behind what I am doing. There are particular issues to bear in mind as we do this together : the whole tale is a description of the psychodynamics of an individuation process in one psyche, and, all characters in the tale represent structures in the psyche.

One thing I do know having worked with, and taught fairy tale interpretation, is that strong emotions are stirred up by our interaction with tales. People’s complexes and typology are constellated in uncanny ways through this work. The most common error one can make is to take a fairy tale character and expect human or reality-base qualities to guide that character and confuse the character with the structure of the psyche. We all do this from time to time. I am going to show how, in working through a fairy tale and amplifying its symbols, we need to pay particular attention to which symbols and what amplifications we use. Not all symbols are vital in an interpretation, and many of the symbol dictionary amplifications of symbols are not helpful. Another challenge to the work is that we can become caught by our own typology, meaning that if we have a strong superior function of sensation, we may invest too much detail work (usually in the form of excessive symbol amplification) in the process. We have to remember to balance out our typology in the way we deal with the material.

The Jungian approach to fairy tale interpretation is covered in great detail in the Jung Podcast. This is a series of free, downloadable MP3 files that you can play on your iPod or computer. The Jung Podcast deals with the fundamentals of Analytical Psychology. You can access the episodes through iTunes.com or go to the blog of the Jung Podcast at http://jungian.libsyn.com. There are seven episodes on fairy tale interpretation. Included in the episodes is an approach to interpretation developed by Catherine Moreau, a French psychoanalyst. I will be using her guidelines to fairy tale interpretation in this essay.


The Moreau Guidelines help us to structure an interpretation of a fairy tale. There are two discrete sections to the work, the first being a detailed working through of the tale in terms of title, numbering etc. The second section is the amplification of core symbols. Let’s begin by dealing with each step and seeing why we follow this process.

Title : the title serves to ‘announce’ the tale and can be viewed as a concise synopsis of the core issue that the tale attempts to deal with. Those of you that have had to write academic journal articles will know about the APA style of psychology journal papers and how critical the title of the paper is. The same applies to a fairy tale title.

The initial paragraph: the problem of the tale is also laid out in the first paragraph. We are very quickly able to recognize what is missing in the initial setting of the tale, and, by having a quick peek at the ending of the tale, we can see if the initial problem has been resolved by the conclusion of the tale.

Dramatis personae: who are the characters in the tale and how do they serve the tale? As you’ll see in the essay, each character in the tale represents a structure of the psyche (e.g. the hero is the ego in this tale). So we need to fully understand what the characters do and how this relates to the structures of the psyche.

Numbering patterns: how many times is a task attempted? how many kings are there? how many princesses? These, and other numbering issues in a fairy tale, are vital clues to how the tale unfolds, and, equally so, how the psychodynamics of the psyche is being explained.

Key sentences: what are the central sentences in the tale and how do these show how the tale progresses? You’ll notice that the sections of a tale or the paragraphs of a tale may feel like discrete stories or sub-plots. It can feel as if the tale is a series of sub-plots all cobbled together to make one tale, but, a tale that clearly doesn’t read like a regular romance or novel. We have to pay attention to the sentences in each sub-plot.

Structures of the psyche: here we take the characters of the tale (e.g. a soldier) and translate them into structures of the psyche (e.g. the ego). This is where the whole activity of the interpretation begins to make sense. As we translate a character into a psychic structure, we are then able to make sense of the psychodynamics that are being described, hence, what is happening in terms of the individuation process.

Tasks: we then need to understand what the actions are in the work – who does what, where, when and why.

Successes and failures: this section deals with how the characters meet with a challenge or a task – are they able to stay awake long enough to meet the princess? Can they evade the drugged wine without getting caught?

Knots and sudden changes: as the characters work their way through their tasks, sudden reversals of fortune may occur, or something dramatic appears at just the right moment. In our tale, the poor soldier who has no form of living encounters the old woman who tells him exactly what he needs to know.

Motifs and archetypal situations: we need to identify what archetypal images exist in the tale (in the form not only of characters, but of objects) and then what motifs are being represented (in our tale descent is a powerful motif). Identifying these issues assist in working through the psychodynamics of the individuation process that the tale is dealing with.

Turning point in the tale: at some stage, a dramatic change occurs, usually when things start to really work out for the better (and, in some cases, for the worse).

Does the end resolve the beginning: this is an individuation question. When we know what was missing initially (through analyzing the first paragraph) and compare that situation with the end of the tale, we can see if the psyche was able to progress in terms of individuation. Sometimes, a tale will have a regressive change occurring in which, by the end of the story, things are worse. In our tale, very little change has occurred by the end of the arduous work, so in terms of a statement about individuation, we can guess that the problems in the psyche are really only just beginning.

Symbols in the tale: this is where we methodically work through our own associations to the tale’s symbols and then delve into symbol dictionaries for any additional amplifications.

Parallels with other tales: here we try to see if there are commonalities between the symbols and motifs of this tale and others.

Psychodynamic interpretation of the tale: finally, we draw all this material together and try to represent the work in terms of psychodynamic explications of individuation based on the tale.

Let’s get to work……


The title (The Shoes That Were Danced To Pieces) serves as a wonderful synopsis of what happens in the tale. Shoes are danced to pieces, not worn out, not scuffed or made dirty, but reduced to pieces. And not by honest walking, mind you, but by dancing……Dancing!? – you gasp. Yes! Dancing! And, worse still – (as we soon find out) – dancing in the underground with the bewitched.

It is in the naming of a thing that we bring it to life. The title names our tale, telling us something of what happens. Let’s slowly unravel the mystery by amplifying two crucial ideas – that of shoes, and of dancing.

The shoe covers the foot. One may imagine that the feet and legs represent one’s stance, one’s perspective or viewpoint, therefore a conscious attitude. The shoe then is integral to this conscious attitude and so reflects the same to a certain degree.

Von Franz describes the shoe in fairy tales in the following manner:

“If we start from the hypothesis that the shoe is simply the article of clothing for covering the foot and that with it we stand on the earth, then the shoe is the standpoint, or attitude toward reality. There is much evidence for this. The Germans say when someone becomes adult that he “takes off his childish shoes,” and we say that the son “steps into his father’s shoes” or  “follows in his father’s footsteps” – he takes on the same attitude. There is also a connection with the power complex, for one “puts one’s foot down” if one wishes to assert power…” (1995, page 24)

We know that people take their shoes off when on sacred ground – Moses and the burning bush from the Bible is a good example, but also footwear is removed before entering a mosque or sacred ground. Some feel that this is to show respect (to walk barefoot on sacred ground shows we have nothing between us the sacred) or may have another origin – to throw one’s shoe onto a piece or ground or to walk with shoes on a piece of ground was an ancient way of claiming ownership of that ground. So, the remove one’s shoes before one enters sacred ground shows that no claim of ownership is being made. As sacred ground belongs to God or the gods, no human may own it.

Does this material help us in amplifying the symbol as it pertains to the fairy tale? Yes, the idea of the shoe’s connection to the conscious attitude does. The idea of the shoe and sacred ground really doesn’t, so we can drop this. This is a good example of an amplification which is quite correct, but that doesn’t demonstrate how the symbol is used in the tale. Taking the idea further, we relate the shoe amplification to the title.

Remember we start an interpretation with working through the title first. So, in the title “The shoes that were danced to pieces” we could say that there is something about the conscious attitude that is being focused on here – the title is making a statement about some aspect of the individuation process. The conscious attitude of the wearer of the shoes is the issue. Something about the conscious attitude is being worn down, or reduced each and every night by an action. That action, we know very early on the tale, is the descent into the underground. So we already have something of value here in amplifying the first symbol of the shoes. What of the symbol of dancing?

A common amplification of dance is the idea of the creative aspect of the cosmos – things are danced into being, danced into reality. The article from the November 2008 edition of the Mandala showed how Lord Shiva dances and in so doing creates and destroys, a movement in and out of the eternal life/death/renewal cycle. This is a powerful idea but how does it relate to our fairy tale? This amplification doesn’t really add to the tale in any way in that nothing is brought to our interpretation by this amplification. In fact, it directly opposes what we are trying to work out.

We need to go to the basics – and ask ourselves what happens in a dance? The nightly dancing that the princesses engage in does not create anything, other than worn out shoes, so dancing in this case is more about being frivolous, being carefree, being playful. With this idea we can begin to link the two symbols of shoes and dances. With this carefree, playful (but non-productive) activity of dancing we have a statement being made about the wastefulness of a nightly descent into unconsciousness and dancing the evening away. Nothing comes of the action – no progress is made in the overall psychodynamics of the psyche. It feels wasteful, but more importantly, it feels sterile. There is no psychic movement, no generativity, and no change in overall status. The conscious attitude of therefore one that results in sterility and lack of progress, so our individuation process is stalled.

So there we have some crucial ideas from the title of the tale. But, this work then should create questions in us. Why are the shoes danced to pieces? What is the point of dancing each night? What’s missing in the title that could give us some sense of a problem being that needs to be resolved?


Let’s examine the text of the beginning of the tale again:

“There was once upon a time a king who had twelve daughters, each one more beautiful than the other. They all slept together in one chamber, in which their beds stood side by side, and every night when they were in them the king locked the door, and bolted it. But in the morning when he unlocked the door, he saw that their shoes were worn out with dancing, and no one could find out how that had come to pass. Then the king caused it to be proclaimed that whosoever could discover where they danced at night, should choose one of them for his wife and be king after his death, but that whosoever came forward and had not discovered it within three days and nights, should have forfeited his life.”

We start by asking ourselves ‘What’s missing in the beginning of the tale?’ To answer this question we rely on (traditional) cultural ideas of a family. A queen is missing. Male children are missing. But aren’t you struck by the fact that we have twelve daughters – that feels a little too much. So we have this huge amount of feminine energy and little masculine to balance it. Or so that may seem – as we delve deeper into our tale, we note that the king exerts authority over these twelve children, but he is still the sole male initially in the tale.

The girls all sleep in the same room, which is securely locked and bolted each night. So the girls are imprisoned in their own bedroom. Doesn’t that strike you as a little too much in the parental authority department? Apart from there being no queen and no masculine siblings, the king exerts authority over the twelve yet even so, is incapable of determining the central problem that is alluded to in the title – each morning their shoes, all twenty four of them, are worn out by dancing. So the twelve do escape the king’s power in some way and their crime is to have danced the night away, thereby wearing out their shoes. One issue that may catch some of you with strong sensate functions is the numbering – twelve girls plus one king makes for thirteen. You could also do some work around the number thirteen if you wanted to (lucky for some).

The girls are described as each more beautiful than the other, but they are really just twelve pretty females – there is no real differentiation between them – we have no sense of distinct identities amongst the twelve at all. So another thought here is that some form of differentiation needs to occur in our tale. Possibly, the individuation issue that is being addressed is that of further psychic differentiation and individuation, from twelve females to twelve distinct personalities? We also need to see that there is a powerful force at play here – that of the king. I am sure that you can guess by now that we could see the king as representing a father complex – in this case, the negative pole of the complex – rigid, over-controlling. He imprisons his daughters, restricting them. They find a way out from under this authoritarian complex, through dancing the night away. The tale could also be attempting to demonstrate how the individuation process needs a working through of the father complex. In addition, there is no maternal in the initial setting. There is no queen, no mother, no-one to help these twelve girls to grow into functioning women.

With this idea of ‘what’s missing’ we are then in a position to see if the tale does answer the initial problem by its conclusion. We would hope that to resolves this we need the king with a queen and the twelve with princes, thereby bringing some semblance of balance to the situation. The initial paragraph begins this process by introducing the way in which the shoes question can be resolved. The king says whoever solves the riddle gets a princess as bride and becomes king on his death. If you don’t solve it in three nights, you die. So there we have it – we know what that problem is and now we know how it can be resolved. The rest of the tale is simply that – an attempt to resolve the problem stated at the outset.

Do you see how critical this part of the work is? We need to find out what the tale is trying to show is being resolved. What is the initial problem and is it resolved in this tale? The answer lies ahead.


Who appears in the tale? It is important to list the characters in the tale as we interpret it because these are clues to the structures of the psyche that we have to include in a psychodynamic explanation of the form of individuation process that the tale is demonstrating.

We encounter the king; twelve daughters; a king’s son (who dies trying); a poor soldier; an old woman; twelve princes; the youngest and eldest of the twelve princesses.

Remember how the characters were introduced to us, as this gives us some sense of their possible structure in the psychodynamics of the individuation process that the tale attempts to demonstrate.

King and twelve princesses : “There was once upon a time a king who had twelve daughters.” The king simply is there in the tale. He doesn’t appear through some action – he is simply the king. This may help us to see his sense of authority over the situation, particularly his daughters.

King’s son: “It was not long before a king’s son presented himself, and offered to undertake the enterprise” “…and then his head was struck off without mercy.” So someone of noble birth attempts to find the answer, but dies trying. This is an important idea, because if the king’s son did work the riddle out, we could feel that one has to be of royal blood to be able to solve a royal problem. Importantly, his royalty doesn’t save him from the executioner’s axe.

Poor soldier : “Now it came to pass that a poor soldier, who had a wound, and could serve no longer, found himself on the road to the town where the king lived.” Here we have a wonderful counterpoint to the king’s son. Our hero, is just a soldier, and a wounded one at that. He is a hero who doesn’t even have a living as he can no longer serve as a soldier due to his wound.

Old woman : “There he met an old woman, who asked him where he was going.” Another key sentence in that we aren’t introduced to a queen, or some powerful status person, simply an old woman, one who, from a fairy tale perspective, is often wiser than we can fathom.

Twelve princes : “They went on and came to a great lake whereon stood twelve little boats, and in every boat sat a handsome prince.” We hear very little of the princes other than they are the ferrymen and then the dancing partners of the princesses.

Youngest princess : Only the youngest said, “I know not how it is, you are very happy, but I feel very strange, some misfortune is certainly about to befall us.” This is a small differentiation issue. We immediately wonder why it is the youngest that calls an alarm? What is it about her age that enables her to be sensitive to the world in ways that her older sisters cannot be? Maybe, as she has spent the least time in the underground, she is less influenced by the goings-on of that realm?

Eldest princess : “He was conducted that evening at bed-time into the antechamber, and as he was about to go to bed, the eldest came and brought him a cup of wine, but he had tied a sponge under his chin, and let the wine run down into it, without drinking a drop.” It is the eldest princess that causes the suitors to be drugged (and hence executed after three days.) It is also her bed that hides the secret portal. We could imagine that as she has been doing the underground dancing the longest, she has the greatest power.

We are now faced with a very important task in the work. Recall that we are dealing with a fairy tale that demonstrates an individuation process of one psyche. So, we have to translate from fairy tale character to psychic structure. Our first challenge is to decide on whether we should view the psyche as belonging to a man or to a woman. The simple reason for this is that as you all well know, the individuation process relies to a large extent, on the contrasexual other in us, i.e. the anima in a man and the animus in a woman. You can’t have both anima and animus. If we speak of an anima then the psyche in question must be that of a man. If we speak of an animus, then the psyche must be of a woman.

If you have difficulties with this issue or feel that this is gender stereotyping, then this is the time to stop work on the fairy tale interpretation using this particular approach. It just doesn’t work out psychodynamically if you avoid this central question. Now, one may argue that both archetypal positions can be used, separately i.e. one may interpret the tale from the perspective of a masculine psyche, and then turn round and repeat the work for a feminine psyche. Overall this works well. There are a few tales that are exceptions to this idea.

This fairy tale will be interpreted from the perspective of a male psyche, meaning that female figures may be considered from a perspective of the anima.


Another important aspect to our work is paying close attention to the numbering patters that appear in the tale. These give us ideas about how the tale attempts to resolve the problem stated in the beginning. What is the numbering pattern at the beginning, as compared to the number at the end? Does this resolve the initial problem?

We start with twelve princesses and one king (12+1=13). A soldier encounters an old woman (1+1=2). Twelve princes danced with twelve princesses (12+12=24). At the end of the tale e have the soldier marrying a princess with the eleven sisters and the father present ((1+1)+11+1=14). So, back to our question – what is the change in the numbering pattern? Very little has changed. We just have the addition of one single male figure. We do have a union (soldier and princess), a union that was lacking in the initial situation (king with no queen) but we still have the preponderance of feminine energy in the form of eleven unmarried daughters.


Key sentences in the tale tell us where things changed or shifted. They also give us clues to the knots and progressions in the tale. One of the most important sentences is one that we find in the exposition or initial paragraph of the tale. But there are others we should pay attention to. I am going to list key sentences (deliberately choosing a few too many) and then justify whether these sentences are ones we should be paying close attention to.

“But in the morning when he unlocked the door, he saw that their shoes were worn out with dancing, and no one could find out how that had come to pass.”

Here we have one of the core problems in the tale – something is happening at night that cannot be explained. This problem serves as the basic reason for the tale.

“Many others came after this and undertook the enterprise, but all forfeited their lives”

The king’s challenge to all to solve the riddle of the worn out shoes is answered by many, but none succeed. We also note that the price of failure is death. This tells us that whatever the problem is, it is not a simple issue, nor should it be dealt with in a simple fashion. It is deadly.

“you must not drink the wine which will be brought to you at night, and must pretend to be sound asleep.”

Here we have the first of two good forms of help that the old woman provides the poor soldier. To drink the wine means to be given wine with a sleeping draught in it, resulting in loss of consciousness. Symbolically then, the eldest princess drugs the men to prevent their solving the riddle, and in so doing, sentences them to their deaths.

“If you wear this, you will be invisible, and then you can steal after the twelve.”

This is the second good form of help the old woman gives. The poor soldier receives a magic object, a common sub-plot within fairy tales. To descend into the unconscious with the twelve, the poor soldier has to be invisible i.e. not seen in that place.

“Only the youngest said, “I know not how it is, you are very happy, but I feel very strange, some misfortune is certainly about to befall us.””

As mentioned earlier, it may be because the youngest has been least exposed to the bewitching effects of the underground that she is more perceptive of the risks they undertake each night.

“Something is wrong, did you hear the crack?” But the eldest said, “It is a gun fired for joy, because we have got rid of our prince so quickly.”

Here again the youngest is aware of something amiss. It is important that the eldest simply attributes the sound to a gunshot of joy, some form of celebration. We see in this sentence how the eldest is so smitten by her nightly experiences, so much so, that she doesn’t even recognize danger when it occurs. We could imagine that owing to her lengthy exposure to the underground realm of the unconscious, she no longer has effective discriminatory ability.

“They rowed there, entered, and each prince danced with the girl he loved, but the soldier danced with them unseen, and when one of them had a cup of wine in her hand he drank it up, so that the cup was empty when she carried it to her mouth, the youngest was alarmed at this, but the eldest always silenced her.”

The same theme of the youngest being most aware is carried though in this sentence.

“In an underground castle with twelve princes,” and related how it had come to pass, and brought out the tokens.”

The poor soldier tells the story of what the answer to the worn out shoes riddle, and proves the story with physical evidence.

“I am no longer young, so give me the eldest.”

This is an intriguing sentence. The issue is that the soldier could have chosen any of the princesses, and, in true fairy tale style, he could have chosen the youngest, but he doesn’t. He chooses the eldest of the twelve. This is something that needs to be addressed later in our work.

“But the princes were bewitched for as many days as they had danced nights with the twelve.”

Finally, we have the sentence that tells us that the princes became bewitched by their contact with the twelve. So, a number of questions arise – where were the twelve men from? How did they enter the underground kingdom? Did they have a kingly father who imprisoned them each night, only to find in exasperation, that his twelve son’s shoes were also worn out?

My sense of the tale is that there are a few key sentences. The following are critical to the development of the tale.

“But in the morning when he unlocked the door, he saw that their shoes were worn out with dancing, and no one could find out how that had come to pass.”

“you must not drink the wine which will be brought to you at night, and must pretend to be sound asleep.”

“If you wear this, you will be invisible, and then you can steal after the twelve.”

“Only the youngest said, “I know not how it is, you are very happy, but I feel very strange, some misfortune is certainly about to befall us.””

“I am no longer young, so give me the eldest.”


It would help us at this stage to begin to weave our tale between two extremes – that of the structure of the tale in the form of the characters and what they do, and at the other, the structures of the psyche and see how they interact psychodynamically. The challenge is to keep these two extremes separate. We have to do a great deal more work on the structures in the tale, but as we do so, we then gain a deeper sense of the psychodynamic situation. Tricky business!

Recall the dramatis personae? Well here is where we translate those characters into psychodynamic structures.

The soldier is the ego. He acts as the hero in the tale. Heroes and heroines in tales are usually seen as the ego as they are called to do something, called into action.

The king is the father or authority complex. I prefer the father complex. He rules the kingdom but also his twelve daughters, locking them into their bed chamber at night.

The twelve princesses are the anima, in a quite undifferentiated state in the beginning of the tale. But wait! You say…How can you have twelve animas? Well, you can’t. Think of the twelve as ONE anima with twelve facets, only two of which (eldest and youngest) are differentiated.

The old woman is the wise old woman archetype. She provides the crucial information for the success of the hero’s progress.

The twelve princes are the shadow, again, as with their royal counterparts, largely undifferentiated.

The twelve princesses and the twelve princes are unusual structures to deal with in fairy tales. We often have seven brothers or twelve sisters, but having both genders is a little unusual. This is a tricky issue. It would have been so much easier for there to have been one princess, one prince and one soldier, then the roles of the anima, shadow and ego would have been so much clearer. However, we have to deal with the tale as we read it.


Many fairy tales have the hero engaged in tasks. These can be to find the fairest maiden in the land, or to solve a riddle, or to rescue a princess, amongst others. What the task shows is what the challenge to the developing psyche is. In our tale, the hero has three days and nights to solve the riddle of where the princesses go each night that results in their shoes being danced to pieces. As with many such challenges in fairy tales, the tasks happen in threes. The hero has to stay awake each night for three nights to solve the riddle. The same type of task exists in Grimm’s “The Raven,” for example, where the hero has to stay awake and await the arrival of a bewitched woman.


We need to see where the hero runs into difficulties and where he manages to do well. This gives us insight into the progression or regression of the individuation process as contained in the fairy tale.

The successes are (1) meeting the old woman and gaining valuable information and the cloak of invisibility; (2) avoiding the drugged wine using the old woman’s advice; (3) collecting the three twigs and the cup as evidence of the underground experiences; (4) avoiding detection in the underground; (5) being able to tell the king and not being beheaded; and (6) marrying the eldest princess.

There is one failure that we need to note and that is the failure of the king’s son.


Knots in the tale are those situations in which something can go either way – if it succeeds, all is well, if there is failure, there is some regression. The core knots in the tale are those surrounding narrowly avoiding detection, first in the descent when the hero stands on the youngest princess’ dress; then the cracking of the twigs which is re-interpreted as a gun salute; then the weighing down of the rowboat, and finally the theft of the contents of the wine cup.

The sudden changes are situations in the tale where there is an abrupt transition between one state or condition and another. The major one that we need to pay attention to is the sudden descent from the bed-chamber to the underground dancing kingdom.


Here is where we need to put our thinking caps on – we have to comb through the tale to determine if there are any clear archetypal situations that arise and to note archetypal motifs. This does require some knowledge of analytical psychology, but I am sure that you know the motifs and situations yourself even before you are able to label them using Jungian terms. Here they are: the wise old woman archetype; marriage motif; dumbling archetype; descent motif; the magic cloak motif.


The tale takes a sudden turn when the poor soldier doesn’t drink the wine drugged with a sleeping draught. This permits him to secretly follow the princesses and discover their secret.


We are still trying to see how the tale speaks about an individuation process. Earlier on in this essay, I showed what the initial problem was – too much father complex, no maternal quality, over-abundance of undifferentiated feminine. One would hope that by the end of the tale, some of these probe s have been resolved. Well, where they? I don’t think they were. We still have the king ruling the kingdom, so the dominance of the father complex is still there, albeit shared by the sole other masculine in the tale, the poor soldier. We still have eleven of the princesses in the same state they were in initially. All that has happened is that with the marriage, we have the beginnings of a union between the ego and the anima, but in a very dilute form.


Let’s list the symbols in the tale. Now, this is where we often can get bogged down. First, we attempt to amplify too many symbols. Second, we get lost in the amplification process and end up with arcane and disconnected amplifications. So, stick with basic amplifications and amplify only those symbols that are critical to the tale.

I am going to start with a list of all the symbols first.

King; the numbers twelve and three; shoes (already amplified); dancing (already amplified); soldier; wound; road to town; old woman; wine; cloak; cup; sponge; youngest princess; trees; silver; gold; diamonds; twelve princes; boats; great lake; and finally, castle.

The king is the ruler of a kingdom, thus associated with supreme authority in the temporal world. The ancient view that the king was God’s representative on earth is useful in our symbol amplification because one of the core values that the king stands for  in our tale is authority. But, we need to pay attention to how the king behaves. He does three actions – first he keeps his daughters locked up at night. Second, he issues a challenge to anyone to find the answer to the nocturnal dancing and has failed challengers executed, and third, he awards half his kingdom on his death to the poor soldier, with the hand of one of his daughters thrown in as well. The king is often associated with the masculine, the sun and gold. But the only crucial piece for us is the masculine and authority issue. The king becomes the epitome of power and masculine authority over the realm in general, but over his twelve daughters in particular. As the king may also be viewed as symbolic of the ultimate aim of ego development, i.e. attainment of union with the Self, we can also see that to solve the riddle also equates with ultimately becoming the king. But, and this is a very important but, our tale never progresses that far. We don’t know if the soldier figure becomes king, hence we cannot make any conclusive statements about the ego’s passage through the individuation process as arriving at the teleos of the work.

Numbers occur in fairy tales with great regularity.

“In most cultures and religions, numbers are carriers of symbolic meaning with often complicated significance.  Numbers were frequently regarded as expressions of the cosmic and human order or (for the Pythagoreans) of the harmony of the spheres.  The even numbers were generally understood as masculine, bright, or good, and the feminine numbers as dark, or evil.” (Herder, p.  )

The number twelve is a symbol we are quite familiar with. We find that there are twelve signs of the zodiac, hence months of the year. There are twelve hours of day and twelve of night, twelve fruits of the Cosmic Tree, Knights of the Round Table. This essay was begun close to Christmas and twelve features in that time as well –

“…the twelve days of return to chaos at the Winter Solstice, when the dead return, celebrated in the Saturnalia in Rome and the twelve days of Yuletide and Christmas.” (Cooper, 1993, p. 120).

But how does this relate to the tale? One useful amplification is the idea that there are twelve hours of night and twelve of day – it is during the night that the twelve princesses descend to the underground, always at night – and from this we can add another layer and that is the night, the dark. It is during the dark twelve hours that the princesses descend into unconsciousness. There are twelve princesses and twelve princes, together forming twenty four people. We could also see that the number twelve is the product of three (which we are going to amplify below) and four, which is a symbol of the quaternity or of wholeness.

We also need to examine the number three. This number is the set amount of days and nights that any challenger has to solve the riddle. Having three tasks or three days to complete tasks is common in fairy tales. If you consider that on the first night you find something out, the second you find what isn’t the answer and the third night you confirm the answer, or some variation on that theme. Doing it all in one night wouldn’t work because you may have made a mistake and have no way to dis/confirm it and either lose your head or get married and rich as a result. Three results from the interaction of unity (one) and duality (two). It is the first stable number and forms a stable geometric form (triangle). Many religious and philosophical systems have three principles (e.g. Christian virtues of faith, hope and love) or gods (e.g. Egyptian trinity of Horus, Isis & Osiris; Hinduism’s Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). Hegelian philosophy uses the notion of dialectical progress (thesis, antithesis, synthesis). So you can see that our number three is much favoured – but, so what? Is that relevant to our fairy tale? My sense is that most of it isn’t other than the earlier idea of testing out a theory over three nights (Hegel’s dialectic) and the fact that the number is so stable, thereby indicating some fulfillment or completion.

Next is the symbol of the hero in the form of the soldier. A soldier is given the task of fighting and killing on behalf of a state or the sovereign. He has little control over his lot and has a role that does not translate into the external world. The soldier is a sanctioned killer, and once he leaves the service, this sanction is withdrawn. This is why a discharged soldier is a strong symbol of someone with no craft or skill that can be used outside of war. But this is no simple soldier as he is described as poor and wounded. We assume his wound caused him to be discharged from the army. This is a powerful symbol – the wounded man. We need to take this idea in a very precise way. It would be all too easy from a Jungian perspective to start amplifying the wounded healer, relating to Chiron etc. But – the soldier is not a healer nor is he on the path to heal others. The whole tale revolves around the soldier healing himself. What then is the wound that the soldier carries? It is the wound of a frustrated or stalled individuation. This is similar to the wounded Grail King that Parsifal meets, and of whom he fails to ask the question – ‘What ails Thee, my King?’ This is the question we all have to ask ourselves.

The road to the town where the king lived is our next symbol, or rather, motif. The soldier is wandering through the world, and is heading towards a town, an urban centre, a place that represents consciousness and culture and awareness. Many of the fairy tales that you have encountered involved forays into the woods or the forest. This is the movement into the unconscious. The opposite then is the movement to the town. It is on this road to greater awareness that the poor soldier meets the first archetypal figure he needs, in other words, if the soldier is the ego in the psyche, the encounter with the archetype of the wise old woman is the beginning of the transformation of this psyche. And that is exactly what the old woman is – the wise old woman archetype, the epitome of the maternal, feminine wisdom of the psyche. The wise old woman may be associated with the darker, chthonic aspects of the feminine, but usually with wisdom, natural knowledge and the maternal. Remember that all archetypes are bifurcated meaning there is a positive and a negative aspect to them. The wise old woman simply asks the poor soldier where he is going, i.e. what is that path of individuation you are seeking. He doesn’t know and jokes about the princesses and the shoes. The wise old woman then gives him critical advice about the wine. Without the intervention of this archetype, the ego would stay in its dismal peregrination, so we could argue that the wise old woman provides the necessary psychic energy for the beginning of a transformation.

The wise old woman’s advice is about not drinking the wine. Amplifying this symbol is one of those I feel may lead us to nowhere. The wine is simply the means for administering the sleeping draught to the challengers by the eldest princess. It is the magic object that she gives to the poor soldier that is the second necessary change needed by the soldier (hence the ego). To cloak yourself in invisibility means to disappear from view. Important here is the fact that from a psychic structure point of view, the ego is reduced in the visit to the underground. The ego is always partly in the unconscious, but for the ego to become completely unconscious (i.e. in sleep) is what is alluded to here by the cloak of invisibility.

The cup as symbol in the tale plays a role, but not one that is too significant. I think that we could make associations to ‘being in his cups’ (drunk) but beyond that, the cup is not significant. Similarly with the sponge, which is simply a device to absorb the wine to prevent being drugged.

I have made mention of the fact that it is the youngest that is most sensitive to the goings on in the tale. We could try to make a link between the youngest and the dumbling, or the dummy, a common theme in fairy tales, but the youngest doesn’t act out of naiveté, rather she is more sensitive than the others because she has spent less time in the unconscious world below.

The avenues of silver, gold and diamond trees are important in the tale. Let’s start by amplifying the two metals and the diamonds and then linking them to the symbol of the tree. Silver is usually associated with the feminine, the queen and the moon. Its shiny surface is associated with purity. Gold is associated with the sun, the king and the masculine.

Diamonds are viewed as the most valued of the precious stones, even so far as to be called ‘Regina gemmarum’ or the queen of gems. They are seen as symbols of purity and perfection. Their ability to reflect light (owing to a finished diamonds facets) may be seen as an ability to entrap the light of the sun. What of the tree? Amplification of the tree are enormous in our world, so we need to take care not to stray too far from the tree in the tale. The tree connects the underground world with the heavens (roots, trunk, leaves). The world tree or Cosmic tree is a common mythological motif. But before we continue, we need to link the symbol of the tree with the noble metals and the diamond. What does an avenue of trees with leaves of silver, the gold, then diamonds mean? My sense is that the avenues of trees are stages of development or work in the unconscious, each stage becoming more valuable than the previous one. So, they walk through trees with leaves of silver, feminine, the queen and associated with lunar qualities. Then, through trees with leaves of gold, associated with solar, masculine and the king; and finally, through trees with leaves of diamonds, perfection and purity. So the troupe of dancers and their lone, invisible hero, moves through successive states of being until they reach the great lake where their ferrymen await.

The boats that cross the great lake, each powered by a prince show another powerful symbolic issue – that of traveling across the great divide. To row from one side of a lake to another is to cross from one state of being to another. The end point of the journey, from descent down to stairs, through the trees, across the lake, is the castle – the royal palace, where all festivities occur, an allusion to the Self.

The underground world replicates the world above with a major difference, the underground kingdom lacks the autocratic Father King that lives above.

There are also a few important motifs that we should pay attention to. These were mentioned earlier : marriage; descent.

Marriage means a great deal more than a union between two people. Cooper’s amplification of the term is a great place to start.

“The reconciliation, interaction and union of the opposites; relationship between the divinity and the world; the hieros gamos, the sacred marriage between god and goddess, priest and priestess, king and queen, representing the mystic union of heaven and earth, sun and moon, the solar bull and the lunar cow, on which the vital forces of the sky and earth and the fertility of the cattle and crops depend. It also symbolizes spiritual union, attaining perfection and completion by the union of the opposites in both life and death, each partner giving up to the other, but with the death forming the new life.” (Cooper, 1993, p. )

The end of the tale involves such a union, a hieros gamos. Symbolically, this union is between the ego and an aspect of the anima (in a male), indicating a progression in the individuation process. But, we can’t ignore the issue that in the tale the soldier, feeling he is getting on in years himself, chooses the eldest princess. More on this later.

The descent motif is crucial to our tale. An obvious association with descent and the resultant change is the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone (more about this in the next section). Descent into the underground is a classic symbolic expression of a descent into the unconscious. Making this descent implies a contact with the contents of the unconscious and, when we interpret these encounters, a change not only in the stance of the ego, but also in the overall psyche. Our hero descends into the underground kingdom and look what he encounters and learns down there. He finds the answer to the riddle of the worn out shoes, encounters riches beyond his wildest dreams (the avenues of silver, gold and diamond-leaved tree), but most importantly, encounters aspects of the unconscious that are vital for his progress (princesses, princes, the castle etc.) Remember, the whole point of the tale is the hero’s journey.


One of the reasons why Jungian’s interpret fairy tales is that they provide very clear examples of the collective unconscious in humankind. This is especially so when you begin to compare fairy tales, and myths, from very separate cultures that all attempt to deal with the same issue or motif. So, in our tale, which is from Grimm’s and more than likely is a German fairy tale, we have specific motifs and archetypal situations that we find in other fairy tales. The reason why very distinct cultures tell the same style of tale is an example of the evidence for a collective unconscious. Let’s examine some of the tales.

The Russian fairy tale “The Secret Ball” from Afanas’ev’s collection is similar to the Grimm’s tale. The setting is the same, initial characters and numbering is the same, as is the king’s announcement of the challenge and prize, paralleling the Grimm’s tale. Rather than a poor soldier, the Russian hero is a needy nobleman. Interestingly, the Russian version stays with the idea of poverty. So both tales use the idea of lack. The needy nobleman encounters the same old woman who gives him the same advice and cloak. He fakes unconsciousness in the same way and ends up in the magic kingdom, invisible to the princesses. He picks a golden flower rather than a golden leaf. The ending has a variation in it though – the king has the passage to the underground walled up and the needy nobleman marries the youngest, not eldest daughter. The result of this variation is slight in terms of the tale’s statement about individuation. In marrying the youngest princess, we get a more optimistic outlook than the Grimm’s. We can phantasize that there would be children in this marriage as well.

In Lang’s Red Book of Fairy Tales, we read of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Although the sequence of the tale is different in many respects to the Grimm’s version, the same motif of the twelve princesses, all locked up at night, who dance their shoes to pieces, and no-one, especially the king, knows how. Instead of a king we have the Duke of Beloeil. There is no mention of his wife, so one assumes that this is a group of motherless daughters. The young hero is not described as having parents, yet, he looks different to the other locals, appearing to have finer features than the farming stock. This variation uses the idea that the person who solves the riddle, and thereby gains the hand of a princess, has something special about him.

The tale emphasizes the royal blood of the princesses, something that the neither the Grimm’s nor the Russian tale does. When challengers fail to solve the riddle, they don’t lose their heads or get thrown into prison (as in the Russian tale) but disappear, in other words, remain in the underground kingdom. The young hero in the Lang’s tale, known as Star Gazer, does have help from the feminine, but she appears in his dreams and is described as the lady in the golden dress rather than an old woman. The magic objects in the dream sequence are laurel trees, that when cared for correctly, grow into objects that can grant wishes. Importantly, the hero has to wait for these trees to grow. The hero does not have to deal with the drugged wine as he starts his whole detective work as an invisible person who spies on the princesses to see what they do at night. It is the eldest princess in Lang that opens the portal and reassures the youngest, named as Princess Lina, that nothing unusual is happening. The same sequence with the three avenues of trees, the twelve rowing princess and the lake all happen in Lang as in the Grimm’s version. The young hero is given the hand of the youngest princess as in the Russian version, but she wisely finds out about the laurel tree, cuts them at the root and throws them into the fire.

A Punjabi fairy tale called “Dorani” has the dancing motif. In this tale a beautiful girl cuts off her hair as it is too heavy, wraps the hair in a leaf and throws it in the river. The hair is found by a prince who, after some struggle finds and marries the girl. She insists on a condition to the marriage, that she stays by day in the palace and by night at her old home. This comes to pass and the young prince is saddened by the fact that during the day his new bride is completely unresponsive and immobile. An old man gives the prince packets of powder that, when sprinkled on his body, make him invisible. So rather than old woman we have old man, and rather than a cloak, we have magic powder. Each night the woman, with her fairy friend, flies to Indra’s palace and sings to him. The young prince tells her he has found her secret. She asks him to stay at home tonight when she is away. She then asks Indra for the magic lute that plays while they sing. He gives it to her with a heavy heart, telling her she can never come back again because there is no gift that can equal the value of the magic lute. She returns to her husband and never sees Indra again. Although the motif of the descent into the underworld is the same in this tale, what is critical is to see how other motifs (the helper older person, invisibility etc.) are repeated in Dorani as in the other tales mentioned above. The tale uses the listless and immobile daily state of the woman to indicate the psychic drain of energy excessive contact with the unconscious causes.

A Romanian version of the dancing princess motif exists. What is important is that the Romanian tale is very similar in structure to the Lang’s Red Book tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” It too starts out with a description of an absent-minded, marginalized young person (without father or mother) that eventually solves the riddle and wins the hand of the princess. The guide in this tale is a dream image of a fairy. The same challenge to solve the riddle is issued by the king. Unsuccessful suitors end up disappearing as in the Lang tale. As with the Lang version, laurel trees are given by a lady in a dream. The princely rowers are similar to the Lang tale but these are described as the lost sons of an Emperor. When the identity of their spy is made clear, the sisters suggest that he be stabbed and thrown into a cave. The youngest, Princess Lina, saves the hero from being forever enchanted and destined to live out his days in the underground kingdom by preventing him from drinking from a massive golden cup. With this, the spell was broken and each lost Emperor’s son takes the hand of the princess he has been dancing the nights away. The hero marries Lina, who, wisely, destroys the laurel trees.

The Portuguese tale “the Seven Iron Slippers” uses the same motif of the dance that wears out shoes, but has a few significant differences to the Grimm’s, Lang, Punjabi and Romanian versions. The initial situation in the Portuguese tale is that of a king and queen with their princess daughter, so the lack that is prevalent in the other versions is not in this one. The princess in the Romanian tale wears out seven pairs of iron slippers each night. The hero, again the soldier, gains the necessary objects to ensure he is able to solve the riddle, by tricking a pair of thieves out of their cap of invisibility, and, later, a pair of thieves out of their instant travel boots. The king proclaims the same challenge (with death for failure). The soldier manages to solve the riddle, but only after realizing after the first night that the princess drugged him, manages to avoid the sleeping draught. Through his cap of invisibility he travels with the princess to her lover and dance partner, a giant. The king decides that the soldier has failed so orders his execution. The soldier’s last wish is granted, that being to have the princess present at the ordeal. He asks the princess as series of challenging questions about her nocturnal behaviours, finally getting her to admit to the dancing with the giant. The soldier marries the princess.

There is another version along the same motif as our tale, however, this one has an interesting reversal – it is a king’s son that is the dancer, and a young woman the hero. The version is the English fairy tale called “Katie Crackernuts.” The tension in the beginning is that of step-parent antipathy. The tale starts with a king and a queen, the king daughter Anne and the queen’s daughter Kate. Another king has two sons, one of who is wasting away and no-one can determine why this is so. Each night, the sickly son goes and dances himself to exhaustion with the fairies. Rather than an old man or woman giving her good advice, she overhears fairies discussing magic, which Kate then uses. In the end, each sister marries one of the sons and all live happily everafter.

From the world of myth, the notion of the descent into the underground or the unconscious if we consider the motif psychodynamically, is central to our tale. The famous descent that many of you will recall is that of Persephone’s stay in the underworld, and Demeter’s resultant desperate quest to find her daughter. The myth of Demeter and Persephone is one of the love of a mother for her daughter, but also the harm done to the earth and the seasons as a result of a god coveting/abducting another. Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, is also the goddess who manipulates the seasons and causes us to have winter, a time of little or no growth. Her daughter, Persephone, had been picking flowers when the ground beneath her opened up and she was swallowed into the earth, into the underworld, by the power of Hades. Demeter’s grief knew no bounds and she stopped all growth on earth. Zeus sends Hermes, the messenger, to Hades to allow Persephone to be reunited with her mother. Just before her return, Persephone eats six pomegranate seeds, resulting in her having to return to the underworld for six months of the year, a time when no growth occurs on earth. (Now you know why it snows in Winter).


In this section I want to review certain issues that crop up in the tale and that should be addressed. Hopefully, after you have read the tale and this essay, you’ll be able to derive your own answers to the issues. In answering these questions we are also generating a psychodynamic model of the individuation process that is described by the tale.

Here are the questions:

Why were the beds all side-by-side, all in one chamber, with the door bolted and locked each night?

Why should unsuccessful challengers die after three nights?

Why does the wounded soldier not know where he is going?

Why is the youngest scared?

Why is the eldest princess’ bed the portal to the underground?

Why does the eldest interpret the cracking twigs as salutes?

What is the meaning of the heavy boat requiring the prince to row with all his strength?

Why were the beds all side-by-side, all in one chamber, with the door bolted and locked each night?

This shows the rigid, authoritarian quality of the Father Complex. The situation has become ‘locked’ in the same way that the single bedchamber contains the twelve girls each night. They are locked in at night, the time of witching, of the dark, of evil, of the otherworld.

Why should unsuccessful challengers die after three nights?

The number three is a common fairy tale number, especially when it comes to tasks. The first try is one or unity, the second two or binary, and the third a stable trinity. The situation is stable after three attempts. It is significant that the soldier continues on the quest on the second and third nights even after he has found the answer to the riddle. If a suitor fails after three attempts it is clear that they cannot solve the riddle. To lose their head means that they sink back into the unconscious from whence they came.

Why does the wounded soldier not know where he is going?

This situation is the same in the start of the Grimm’s tale “The Devil’s Sooty Brother.” This is one of the core reasons that we are interpreting this tale from the perspective of a masculine psyche. The ego has no direction, it has no path, no teleos. This is a statement about a psyche that is foundering. It is important that the soldier was making his way to town i.e. moving from the woodlands or forests of the unconscious to the more conscious urban area.

Why is the youngest scared?

This is an aspect of a dumbling motif (although the youngest princess is by no means the naieve one). We need to go beyond this idea – the youngest is the most innocent, most vulnerable.  Psychodynamically then, this aspect of the anima is most conscious, most aware and available to relate to the ego.

Why is the eldest princess’ bed the portal to the underground?

In terms of the fairy tale, the eldest is the most experienced princess, as well as through having the lengthiest contact with the underground, she is most influenced by it. In terms of the individuation process, this aspect of the anima is most unconscious, or most desirous of staying unconscious, hence least available to relate to the ego.

Why does the eldest interpret the cracking twigs as salutes?

Here we have again the tension between the youngest, innocent aspect of the princess’ and the eldest princess. The eldest cannot imagine there to be any threat in the underground kingdom. Psychodynamically, we can imagine that when we are in the unconscious we see no threat, we are in phantasy, in dreamland. Nothing would interfere with our pleasure. I am sure you know of someone who daydreams to escape reality, and they are quite resistant to staying in present-day reality. This is the case with the eldest – she wants to stay in the land of pleasure, of make-believe, whereas the youngest is unsure and is scared she’ll be caught out in her nocturnal visits. This is a significant issue, because in the end of the tale, the poor soldier marries this most unconscious aspect, or the eldest princess.

What is the meaning of the heavy boat requiring the prince to row with all his strength?

The simple answer is that the unseen soldier is weighing down the rowboat. Symbolically, we can imagine that the encounter between the ego and an aspect of the anima is ‘weighing things down’ in the unconscious. More psychic energy is required to make the lake crossing. More psychic energy is required by the shadow figure.


I’m going to lave this section to you, the reader. How could you relate the tale to a psychodynamic interpretation? Submit your ideas to The Mandala and they’ll be published in the next edition.


Cooper, J.C. (1993) Dictionary of Symbols.

Papadopoulos, R. (Ed.) (2006) The Handbook of Analytical Psychology.

Stein, M. (2006) Individuation. In Papadopoulos, R. (Ed.) (2006) The Handbook of Analytical Psychology.

Von Franz, Marie-Louise (1995) Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales. Shambhala, Boston & London.



There was once upon a time a king who had twelve daughters, each one more beautiful than the other. They all slept together in one chamber, in which their beds stood side by side, and every night when they were in them the king locked the door, and bolted it. But in the morning when he unlocked the door, he saw that their shoes were worn out with dancing, and no one could find out how that had come to pass. Then the king caused it to be proclaimed that whosoever could discover where they danced at night, should choose one of them for his wife and be king after his death, but that whosoever came forward and had not discovered it within three days and nights, should have forfeited his life.

It was not long before a king’s son presented himself, and offered to undertake the enterprise. He was well received, and in the evening was led into a room adjoining the princesses, sleeping-chamber. His bed was placed there, and he was to observe where they went and danced, and in order that they might do nothing secretly or go away to some other place, the door of their room was left open. But the eyelids of the prince grew heavy as lead, and he fell asleep, and when he awoke in the morning, all twelve had been to the dance, for their shoes were standing there with holes in the soles. On the second and third nights there was no difference, and then his head was struck off without mercy.

Many others came after this and undertook the enterprise, but all forfeited their lives. Now it came to pass that a poor soldier, who had a wound, and could serve no longer, found himself on the road to the town where the king lived. There he met an old woman, who asked him where he was going. “I hardly know myself,” answered he, and added in jest, “I had half a mind to discover where the princesses danced their shoes into holes, and thus become king.” “That is not so difficult,” said the old woman, “you must not drink the wine which will be brought to you at night, and must pretend to be sound asleep.” With that she gave him a little cloak, and said, “If you wear this, you will be invisible, and then you can steal after the twelve.” When the soldier had received this good advice, he fell to in earnest, took heart, went to the king, and announced himself as a suitor. He was as well received as the others, and royal garments were put upon him. He was conducted that evening at bed-time into the antechamber, and as he was about to go to bed, the eldest came and brought him a cup of wine, but he had tied a sponge under his chin, and let the wine run down into it, without drinking a drop.

Then he lay down and when he had lain a while, he began to snore, as if in the deepest sleep. The twelve princesses heard that, and laughed, and the eldest said, “He, too, might as well have saved his life.” With that they got up, opened wardrobes, presses, cupboards, and brought out pretty dresses, dressed themselves before the mirrors, sprang about, and rejoiced at the prospect of the dance. Only the youngest said, “I know not how it is, you are very happy, but I feel very strange, some misfortune is certainly about to befall us.” “You are a goose, who are always frightened,” said the eldest. “Have you forgotten how many kings’ sons have already come here in vain. I had hardly any need to give the soldier a sleeping-draught, the booby would not have awakened anyway.”

When they were all ready they looked carefully at the soldier, but he had closed his eyes and did not move or stir, so they felt themselves safe enough. The eldest then went to her bed and tapped it, whereupon it immediately sank into the earth, and one after the other they descended through the opening, the eldest going first. The soldier, who had watched everything, tarried no longer, put on his little cloak, and went down last with the youngest. Half-way down the steps, he just trod a little on her dress, she was terrified at that, and cried out, “What is that? Who is pulling my dress?” “Don’t be so silly,” said the eldest, “you have caught it on a nail.”

Then they went all the way down, and when they were at the bottom, they were standing in a wonderfully pretty avenue of trees, all the leaves of which were of silver, and shone and glistened. The soldier thought, “I must carry a token away with me,” and broke off a twig from one of them, on which the tree cracked with a loud report. The youngest cried out again. “Something is wrong, did you hear the crack?” But the eldest said, “It is a gun fired for joy, because we have got rid of our prince so quickly.” After that they came into an avenue where all the leaves were of gold, and lastly into a third where they were of bright diamonds, he broke off a twig from each, which made such a crack each time that the youngest started back in terror, but the eldest still maintained that they were salutes.

They went on and came to a great lake whereon stood twelve little boats, and in every boat sat a handsome prince, all of whom were waiting for the twelve, and each took one of them with him, but the soldier seated himself by the youngest. Then her prince said, “I wonder why the boat is so much heavier to-day. I shall have to row with all my strength, if I am to get it across.” “What should cause that,” said the youngest, “but the warm weather?” “I feel very warm too.” On the opposite side of the lake stood a splendid, brightly-lit castle, from whence resounded the joyous music of trumpets and kettle-drums. They rowed there, entered, and each prince danced with the girl he loved, but the soldier danced with them unseen, and when one of them had a cup of wine in her hand he drank it up, so that the cup was empty when she carried it to her mouth, the youngest was alarmed at this, but the eldest always silenced her. They danced there till three o’clock in the morning when all the shoes were danced into holes, and they were forced to leave off, the princes rowed them back again over the lake, and this time the soldier seated himself by the eldest.

On the shore they took leave of their princes, and promised to return the following night. When they reached the stairs the soldier ran on in front and lay down in his bed, and when the twelve had come up slowly and wearily, he was already snoring so loudly that they could all hear him, and they said, “So far as he is concerned, we are safe.” They took off their beautiful dresses, laid them away, put the worn-out shoes under the bed, and lay down. Next morning the soldier was resolved not to speak, but to watch the wonderful goings-on, and again went with them a second and a third night.

Then everything was just as it had been the first time, and each time they danced until their shoes were worn to pieces. But the third time he took a cup away with him as a token. When the hour had arrived for him to give his answer, he took the three twigs and the cup, and went to the king, but the twelve stood behind the door, and listened for what he was going to say. When the king put the question, “Where have my twelve daughters danced their shoes to pieces in the night?” He answered, “In an underground castle with twelve princes,” and related how it had come to pass, and brought out the tokens. The king then summoned his daughters, and asked them if the soldier had told the truth, and when they saw that they were betrayed, and that falsehood would be of no avail, they were obliged to confess all. Thereupon the king asked which of them he would have to wife. He answered, “I am no longer young, so give me the eldest.” Then the wedding was celebrated on the self-same day, and the kingdom was promised him after the king’s death. But the princes were bewitched for as many days as they had danced nights with the twelve.