Fairy Tale Facts: The Princess Who Never Smiled

For today’s installment of Fairy Tale Facts, we’re headed for a different part of the world. Specifically, Russia. Between 1855 and 1863, Russian writer Alexander Afanasyev collected and published over 600 Russian fairy tales and folk tales. This is tale number 297, and if you’re interested, you can read the whole thing here.

Setting the Scene

One of the main characters of this tale is a princess who, I’m sure it will surprise no one to discover, doesn’t smile. She was surrounded by beauty and had everything she could possibly desire, but she never smiled, never laughed, never seemed to feel joy. Her father, the Tsar, was unhappy with her unhappiness and declared that any man, no matter who he was, who could make her smile would win the right to marry her. For years, people came from far and wide to try and cheer her up, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, on the other end of town, we meet a young man. He’s a laborer, described as honorable and honest. He is a hard worker, and his boss, a rich man, recognizes that. For three years, he rewards the worker. He puts a bag of money in the room before leaving, telling the worker to take as much as he desires. The worker is torn: he doesn’t want to appear ungrateful, but he also doesn’t want to be selfish. He finally decides to take a single coin, which he soon loses down a well. Rather than bemoan his plight, the worker reasons that it’s his own fault for being careless with his belongings and resolves to do better.

Photo by Poul Cariov on Unsplash

Off on an Adventure!

The second year of rewards matches the first, but the third year has a different outcome. The worker has learned to keep tight hold of his coin around the well. Rather than dropping his new coin in, he’s pleasantly surprised to find that the two coins he dropped in years past have floated to the top. He takes this to mean that he has learned his lesson and should take his reward to explore the wider world.

Along the way, the worker comes across three creatures; a mouse, a beetle, and a fish. Each asks a coin of him, promising a favor in return. Though what animals plan to do with a coin, I couldn’t say. The worker gladly makes the trade.

The Joke

A short time later, the worker finds himself near the princess’s residence. He sees her looking out of a window, looking straight at him. He’s so overwhelmed by her attention that he falls over into the mud. The mouse, beetle, and fish immediately rush to his aid, helping to clean him off. This bizarre scene takes the princess so off-guard that she begins smiling. Her father is overjoyed and immediately has the two marry. And voila! Happily ever after.

If You’re Interested. . .

I don’t actually have a recommendation for this story. I’d never heard of it before, and I can’t think of anything I’ve read that may have been based on it. But I’ve spent a lot of time talking about tales I know, and I’m trying to expand my horizons by exploring new stories. So if you have any recommendations based on this folktale, I’d love to know!

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