Shannon Hale. The Goose Girl. Scholastic, 2004.
Have you ever spent so long reaching for a goal you didn’t really want in the first place, that when it’s suddenly taken away, you feel more shame than relief? How do you define yourself afterwards?
This is the question at the center of Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl, an adaptation of the Brothers Grimm story.
What makes a fairy tale adaptation like The Goose Girl so effective is that, although it follows the basic plot of the original story, it’s not so predictable that the reader is simply waiting for the characters to do what they’re supposed to do. The novel doesn’t read like a mere repetition of the Grimms’ tale, if they’d only fleshed it out more. Beyond the basic elements of the original “Goose Girl,” Hale’s Goose Girl is her own unique fairy tale.
Hale’s story follows the title character through three major changes in her identity. She begins as Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree. For the first few years of her life, the princess is sheltered from the stifling expectations of her title. Her parents, busy caring for their next few children, leave the first-born to the care of her aunt. For those first few years, the girl is simply Ani, and is almost free to develop the ancient speaking gifts her aunt tells her of.
But soon the other Kildenreans grow suspicious — for they fear anything “outside the common” — and Ani finds herself more and more restricted until she is a mere pawn in her mother’s political games.
Of course, those who know the Grimms’ tale know what must happen next. But in the journey from princess to goose girl, it’s the how and why that matter, and that make Ani’s story fresh.
Hale’s language, too, makes the story feel even more enchanting than the original. She makes the events of the Grimms’ tale more understandable, and yet more haunting. And like Kathi Appelt, Hale ties all of nature together, describing it not simply as setting, but as a speaker and participant in the story: “The upper branches wrestled with the high forest wind. Below, the rumor of the river answered. Ani felt that she moved in the middle of a great conversation between sky and earth” (pp. 68 – 69).