Catherine Deneuve as the disguised princess in a screenshot from the 1970 French film Peau d’âne. The film is know in English as Donkey Skin, Once Upon a Time and The Magic Donkey.

"Donkeyskin" (French: "Peau d'âne") is a French fairy tale. The most well-known version of the story was written in verse by Charles Perrault and first appeared in print in 1694. It was published again in 1697 as part of Perrault's anthology Histoires ou Contes du temps passé (Fairy Tales from Past Times with Morals or Mother Goose Tales). An English translation of "Donkeyskin" is included in The Grey Fairy Book, the 1900 anthology of fairy tales compiled by the Scottish folklorist Andrew Lang.

The story's title character and protagonist is a princess who becomes very distressed when her own father falls in love with her and declares that he wants to marry her. Following the advice of her fairy godmother, the princess tells her father that she will only marry him if he can provide her with certain gifts. The fairy godmother thinks that the gifts will be impossible for the king to obtain. The king, however, is able to provide his daughter with all of the gifts that she requests without much difficulty. The last gift which the princess asks for is the skin of a donkey that produces gold and silver coins instead of dung. When the king gives the princess the animal's skin, she runs away and takes refuge in a neighboring kingdom, She acquires the nickname Donkeyskin because of the hide that she always wears and finds work as a farm laborer. She lives a life of misery until she eventually attracts the attention of a prince.

Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales), the 1812 anthology of German folktales compiled by the Brothers Grimm, includes a fairy tale very similar to "Donkeyskin" which is called "Allerleirauh". The Brothers Grimm acknowledged the strong similarities between the two tales in their original footnotes to "Allerleirauh". Stories with very similar plots to that of "Donkeyskin" have also been documented in the folklore of England, Italy, Norway, Scotland and the United States. There are also obvious similarities between "Donkeyskin" and "Cinderella".

Films based on "Donkeyskin" were produced in France in 1904, 1908 and 1970 and in the Soviet Union in 1982. "Sapsparrow", the seventh episode of the British-American children's television series Jim Henson's The StoryTeller, is an adaptation of "Donkeyskin", "Allerlairauh" and other similar folktales. The episode first aired on NBC in the United States on July 30, 1989.

Due to the fact that it touches on the subject of incest and has some scatological elements, "Donkeyskin" is now rarely included in anthologies of fairy tales published in the English-speaking world. The story, however, remains popular in France.


1922 illustration for "Donkeyskin" by the Irish artist Harry Clarke.

There is a king who has one daughter and a wife whom he loves very much. The king also owns a magical donkey. Instead of producing dung, as other donkeys do, the donkey produces gold and silver coins. It is the source of all of the king's wealth.

The queen suddenly falls fatally ill. On her deathbed, she asks her husband to promise her that he will only remarry if he can find a woman who is more beautiful than she is. The king makes the promise, believing that he will never want to remarry. A few months after his wife's death, however, the king decides that he does want to marry again. He finds that the only woman who is more beautiful than his late wife is his own daughter. The king develops an unnatural lust for the young woman. much to the princess' distress.

The princess goes to her fairy godmother for help. Knowing that the king would be angered if his daughter flatly refused to marry him, the fairy godmother comes up with a plan. The fairy godmother says that the princess should say that she will marry her father if he will give her a dress the color of the weather. The fairy godmother believes that the princess will never have to marry her father because the king will never be able to obtain such a dress. The king, however, has no difficulty in providing the princess with a sky-blue dress. The fairy godmother then advises the princess to say that she will only marry her father if he will give her a dress the color of the moon and a dress the color of the sun. The king has slightly more difficulty obtaining such dresses but is able to provide them for his daughter.

Wax model of Donkeyskin in the Château de Breteuil, Yvelines, France.

The fairy godmother then tells the princess to say that she will only marry her father if he will give her the skin of the magical donkey that produces gold and silver coins instead of dung. The fairy godmother is certain that the king will never kill the donkey that provides him with all of his money. The king's lust for his daughter, however, is stronger than his love for gold and silver. He has the donkey killed and presents its skin to the princess. The fairy godmother can then only advise the princess to run away. She gives the princess her magic wand and a trunk. The fairy godmother tells the princess to pack all of her clothes and precious possessions in the trunk. The trunk will then magically follow the princess beneath the ground wherever she goes. Whenever she wants to take something out of the trunk, the princess simply has to tap on the ground with the wand and the trunk will appear to her. The fairy godmother also advises the princess to wear the donkey skin. Clothed in such a horrible way, nobody will suspect her of being a princess.

The princess clad in the donkey skin runs far away from her home. She arrives in another kingdom and finds work as a farm laborer. She becomes known as Donkeyskin because of the hide that she always wears. She is insulted and abused by everyone else in the farmhouse. The only day of the week when she is happy is Sunday. On Sunday, Donkeyskin has some time to herself in her bedroom. She makes her trunk magically appear and puts on her beautiful dresses. One Sunday, a prince spies her in one of her beautiful dresses through her bedroom window. He makes inquiries as to who the beautiful young lady in the farmhouse is. He is told that the only woman who lives in the farmhouse is the vile and disgusting Donkeyskin.

Monarchs from around the world come to attend the wedding of Donkeyskin and the prince. 1867 illustration by the French artist Gustave Doré.

Donkeyskin is told to make a cake for the prince. She prepares a delicious cake for him. An expensive-looking ring from Donkeyskin's finger gets baked into the cake. The ring may have accidentally dropped into the mixture or Donkeyskin may have put it there on purpose.

While eating the cake, the prince discovers the ring. He announces that he will marry whoever's finger fits the ring. The ring is tried on by all the young noblewomen. It does not fit any of them. Several women from the lowest levels of society also try on the ring before it is eventually brought to the lowly Donkeyskin. The ring fits her finger perfectly. Donkeyskin asks to be allowed to change her clothes before she is brought before the prince. She arrives at the palace in one of her beautiful dresses.

Kings and queens from all over the world attend the wedding of the prince and Donkeyskin, including Oriental potentates who arrive on gigantic elephants. Donkeyskin's father is one of the monarchs who is invited to the wedding. He does not, however, know who the bride is. Donkeyskin's fairy godmother appears at the wedding and explains everything. By this time, the king has stopped suffering from an unnatural lust for his daughter and feels nothing but paternal love for her. Donkeyskin and her father are reconciled.

According to Perrault, the moral of the story is that it is better to suffer great hardships than to do the wrong thing and virtue is always rewarded in the end.

External links

  • Versions of "Donkeyskin" in French and English on Wikisource.
  • Public domain audiobooks of "Donkeyskin" in French and English on YouTube.