In a heart-wrenching tale by Grimm, The Maiden with the Beard, a beautiful nun’s life is threatened by the untoward attentions of a king. In her despair the girl petitions God to save her life through disfigurement. Her pleas are immediately answered and she spontaneously grows a beard.And so begins the fairy tale Allerleirauh. A king’s daughter intent on thwarting the improper advances of her father, dons a protective cloak of hair. In fact an apt translation of the title Allerleirauh could be The Hirsute Maiden. Finding protection in a coat of animal pelts, the maiden is able to begin a coarse new life covered in fur. She is, in a word, Allerleirauh or rough all over.
At the heart of this tale is an improper attraction of a king for his daughter, caused by a sort of supernatural magnetism emanating from the girl’s beautiful golden tresses. Hair is the root of the problem and hair must therefore be the girl’s deliverance.
Hair-as-protection is a common theme in fairy tales, see Child of Mary and Genofeva, for two examples on this website. In folk tradition, a protagonist who must resort to shielding-by-hair is particularly vulnerable and often the victim of sexual predation. And like a modern-day account of such abuse, hush-ups and silence follow. In Allerleirauhthe hairy coat the daughter is forced to wear is an apt metaphor for a community covering-up a situation it would rather not acknowledge. Silence is often the preferred way of coping for an audience unwilling to take action.
Victims of abuse are often urged to remain silent, but their reticence is often vexing to an outsider. As one reader of this blog, Genie of the Shell, writes:
“But in other stories, the ones about abused young girls (The Six Swans, Allerleirauh, The Goose Girl, etc.), the girl is victimized until the point at which she is able or willing to reveal the secret of the abuse or injustice done to her. Then, after telling the secret aloud, she is saved. “
I like the point this reader brings up: it is only by naming our deepest secrets that we are freed from their terror.
However, once Allerleirauh is ensconced in her hirsute coat, she begins to take action. No longer providing simple coverage, her animal skin now seems to be more like a shaman’s cloak . Her subsequent actions of placing powerful objects of attraction at the bottom of a soup bowl suggest she is no longer a mere victim but rather an enchantress intent on binding her lover to her through magic. Rings are employed as powerful symbols of attraction in fairy tales. Exerting a mysterious influence that defies all logic, the power of a ring (and other similar magic objects) cannot be overlooked in a fairy tale. The resulting attachment is often so puzzling to an onlooker, that only some hidden object or charm can explain the enchantment. See the legends of Charlemagne for more on this subject.
From hirsute maiden to wife of the king, Allerleirauh overcomes every obstacle placed in her path. Some would say she resorts to tricks or magic to regain her station in life. Others would say that the strength of the victim to overcome such adversity is in itself a wondrous deed similar to enchantment. Still others would say Allerleirauh relies on the truth to shape her destiny.
Further reading: http://www.fairytalechannel.com/2010/08/fairy-tale-of-allerleirauh-of-cover-ups.html