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The Goose Girl’s Best Friend -- the Horse Head Trophy

Recurring dream c.1975-79?, sculpted 2000ish, by Mardi Storm


At first this seems to be a sculpture illustrating a famous folktale, not a recurring dream. But it is! Read on.

FALADA Horse head hung on bark; papier-mache dream sculpture by Mardi Storm.

In Grimm's folk tale The Goose Girl...

The young princess travels to her prince’s castle where she is to be wed, carrying a handkerchief for protection with three drops of her mother’s blood, riding her magical horse Falada, who can talk. Along the way, her handmaiden watches the handkerchief fall from her bosom and float downstream, and immediately orders her to exchange outfits, so she arrives as the princess. Without protection and with her life threatened by the handmaiden, the princess, aghast, does as she is commanded. When they arrive at the castle, the “princess” orders the talking horse executed immediately for being such a nasty beast. She discards the princess to the lowest position, to tend the geese. The goose girl begs the butcher to hang her horse’s head above the garden gate so she can see it.

Each day as she passes under the horse’s head with her flock of geese, they whisper to each other. “If your mother only knew, how her heart would break in two” is what the horse whispered back. Each day this strange behavior is witnessed by the goose boy. He is obsessed with her but whenever he gets too close, she whispers to the wind to blow his hat away. A couple weeks of this, the goose boy takes his complaints straight to the king – this new goose girl is nutters and needs to be removed at once. The goose boy explains some of the strange things that have been happening.

The king summons the goose girl, and asks her to tell her story. Because she is under oath, she cannot. So he tells her to go tell it to the old black stove downstairs just to get it off her chest. So she tells her story to the stove, all the while the king is upstairs listening at the stove pipe. He learns of her true identity!
Horse head hung on bark; papier-mache dream sculpture by Mardi Storm.

He has her bathed and clothed in the finest robes, and invites her to the dining table that night. At this table, the king asks the handmaiden-“princess" what should be done with a servant that turns against their lord and lady. She says such a servant should be stripped naked and placed in a barrel full of spikes pointing inward, and dragged around town behind a horse. And so this was done to the handmaiden.

Pretty gruesome tale! Perhaps it resonates with you in some way? Fairytales often resonate with collective unconscious energy, the parts of so many of us who feel we must mask our true identity to survive… wishing we’d be recognized for being special, our true selves, being invited to the feast. It describes a healing journey many of us go on, seeking how to find a way to be who we really are. Or at least that is one layer I see at the moment. Perhaps it means something entirely different for you.

The doubly strange aspect is that this scenario was featured in my dreams as a child, long before I remember reading of it in Grimm’s Fairytales. In a reference to my recurring dreams, the horse’s head was nailed to a tree, which is represented by the bark on this trophy mount.

--Mardi Storm


I grew up haunted by Falada's story too. And it was Falada's. The Goose Girl was bland and forgettable; Falada was not.

Decades later, I found a Tibetan version! It's in Tales of the Night, an animated film by Michel Ocelot (who also did Azur et Asmar, Kirikou and the Sorceress, and Princes and Princesses). In Tales, a boy and girl act out (in silhouette animation) six folktales, and one is The Boy who Never Lies, from Tibet. The girl who'll play the princess protests; she'll only play the princess if she can add a speech repenting at the end.
Horse head hung on bark; papier-mache dream sculpture by Mardi Storm.

The plot:

An honest boy tends a king's talking stallion, Melingeh. The neighboring king visits, bringing a singing mare, Tokida. The local king bets he can top even this wonder; he knows a boy who never lies!

The visiting princess dresses in rags and plays a sick starving girl who lies to the boy and stallion. She claims only Melingeh's heart will cure her.

On hearing this, Melingeh the stallion spends one blissful night with Tokida the mare-singer, then eats a poisonous herb, dying so the girl can have his heart. Which she doesn't need.

I see why the actress hated to play that princess. Even repentance is just a band-aid on a truly disturbing folktale! Tokida knows the princess and would warn Melingeh if he told her what he plans. But I guess he's the strong silent type! He gets Tokida pregnant, then dies to save the sick girl... who faked her illness, seemingly from sheer spite. In the Tales of the Night version, the princess repents and the boy then forgives and marries her. Whoa--would YOU trust her?

Melingeh's clearly related to Falada. Shared structures! A lying princess sets up a talking horse's death but never bloodies her own hands; a talking stallion gives his life to save a girl... But Melingeh, I think, is closer to the original tale: he makes (slightly) more sense in a culture believing in rebirth. He may be trusting he'll reincarnate as his own foal, or as the child of the human boy and girl.

I suspect Falada and Melingeh are both variants of an older horse-tale from the steppes between, full of horse-mad folk like the Mongols. Now they appreciate horses.

--Chris Wayan

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