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Goose Girl: novel study

guide to study of the novel

Goose Girl

The Original Goose Girl

The Goose Girl is a retelling of the German fairy tale collected by the brothers Grimm.

Click here to read the original

The Brothers Grimm

Jacob (right) and Wilhelm Grimm. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Jacob (right) and Wilhelm Grimm. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Click here to find out about the Brothers Grimm

Grimm's Fairytales

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm  are famous for stories such as Snow White and Rapunzel. In fact, the stories existed long before the two men were born in Germany in the mid 1780s. The fairy tales were part of a rich oral tradition passed down from generation to generation and scholars, like Jacob and Wilhelm, began a quest to save the stories from extinction. They interviewed relatives and friends, collecting whatever tales they could.

Originally, Grimm’s Fairy Tales were not meant for children. The stories routinely included sex and violence, no illustrations and contained dark elements. In its original version, for example, Cinderella's stepsisters cut off their toes and heels to try to fit into the slipper. These sort of scenes (and many others) were eventually revised once the stories became popular among children.

Life in 16th Century Germany

Learn how children lived in the time the original Grimm's fairytale was written by clicking on the image

About the book

What do you get when you take a traditional fairy tale and mix it with a heroine who rescues herself? The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale! This heroine’s journey commences when the princess is betrayed by her lady-in-waiting who steals both her title and her future. Forced to hide her identity from those who would destroy her, Ani becomes a common goose girl in service to the prince she should marry. For the first time in her sheltered life, the princess learns what it is like to earn one’s place and make true friends. Ani masters her fear of people, discovers her magic with animals, and creates a future for herself.


Shannon Hale’s novel follows the basic plot of the original Goose Girl fable.

Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee (Ani, for short), the Crown Princess of Kildenree is different from her brothers and sister. She possesses the strange gift of animal-speech, and is encouraged by her aunt, the Queen’s sister. As Ani grows, however, and her strange talents become known to the court, the Queen is horrified and outraged – she banishes her sister from Ani’s presence, and forbids her daughter from ever using her gift. And so, Ani grows up in a world where she never really can be herself. All her life she tries to live up to her charismatic, powerful mother’s example, and as the Crown Princess due to inherit the throne of Kildenree one day, Ani struggles with the insurmountable weight of expectations.

When she turns sixteen, however, her world is dashed to pieces. Her father, the King of Kildenree and the only person besides her lost aunt who truly understood Ani, is killed in an accident and then the Queen breaks some harsh news to the grieving princess. Instead of taking the throne of Kildenree as her birthright, she is being shipped away to the fierce neighboring kingdom of Bayern to wed their prince in a gesture of peace..

Ani is crushed, but performs her duty and leaves Kildenree with only her horse Falada (whom she can talk to), her handmaid Selia, and a small group of armed men as her escort. As the procession nears Bayern, however, Selia’s true nature emerges as she reveals her plan to take over Ani’s identity as the princess, and seize power for herself. Those soldiers loyal to Ani are slaughtered by Selia’s men in the escort – for Selia possesses the dangerous magic of people-speech, and is able to convince and bend people to her will – and Ani is barely able to escape with her life. 

After days in the woods, Ani collapses in the garden of a Bayern woman named Gilsa. Gilsa says that she doesn't want to know Ani's story, preferring not to get mixed up in it. Then Ani assumes the identity of “Isi”, a forest-born who comes, along with others, to the Bayern capital to find work tending to animals in the capital. She tells stories to her fellow animal-workers. She tends to the geese, which she can communicate with, along with a boy named Conrad, and discovers that she also has the gift of nature-speaking, with the wind. Among the many she befriends is a Royal Guard named Geric, who she talks to while out in the fields.

However, her secret is discovered by her friend Enna, and later she is spotted in a festival by her erstwhile guards. Later, after literally being stabbed in the back by Ungolad she flees back to Gilsa, who fixes her up again and sends her back to the capital. In the time she was gone Enna was forced to reveal Ani’s secret, and as the wedding between the Prince and Selia, who had been leading the King of Bayern to believe that Kildenree was about to launch a surprise attack on the much stronger country of Bayern, and so the military is preparing to attack before Kildenree can, is about to take place, they ride to the castle it is to take place in. Ani confronts Selia and learns that the 'Guard' Geric is actually the Crown Prince, so the Bayern party retires and Selia and Ani talk. However, before Selia’s now-lover Ungolad can kill Ani, Geric and the King, who had been eavesdropping behind a curtain to figure out who the real princess was, intervene and a fight between Ani and the King’s supporters and Selia’s supporters ends in Geric and Ungolad fighting and both being stabbed, while Selia almost escapes.

Days later, after things quiet down and Geric recovers, Ani is called to prove that Kildenree is not planning an attack on Bayern. She quickly dismisses the “proof” they have and, smarting from the accusations, goes on to show them the injustice and segregation that she had witnessed while tending to the King’s geese, and leaves them astounded. Ani’s Forest friends are rejoicing on being finally recognized as official Bayerners.

Based on

Ani is later known as Isi. Her full name is Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee. 

Character Analysis

Ani doesn't really fit in her homeland of Kildenree. She's not a people-speaker like her mother, and instead she's an animal-speaker, so she just doesn't know how to act or what to do when it comes to playing her royal part.

Separation, Elevation, Delegation

Ani's mom might want her to live by the royal principle of separating, elevating, and delegating, but Ani can't seem to live up to her mom's example. No matter how hard she tries, being a princess just doesn't come easily to Ani—perhaps because she deep down doesn't want to be regal and separate from people. I.

Ani's so disinterested in royal affairs, in fact, that she doesn't even seem to care too much about having her "crown princess" title revoked—and definitely not nearly as much as Selia cares. When Selia finds out the news, she is annoyed at Ani:

"You cannot just allow her to take away what is rightfully yours." (3.2)

Though Ani isn't thrilled about being sent off to Bayern to be married, losing her crown princess title isn't what has upset her—the status just isn't all that important to her. While Selia might care about titles and crowns, Ani doesn't put much stock in them—instead she's bothered about being sent off to marry someone as part of what amounts to a royal business deal.

Seeing Ani in her home country helps us get an idea of what life's been like for her leading up to her fateful trip to Bayern. Being a princess might sound grand to other folks, but to Ani, it's nothing special.

It's not long after Ani becomes a goose girl that she starts feeling more comfortable just being herself. Coincidence? We think not. We also don't think the book is about what class she is or how many fancy clothes she has—it's about figuring out who she is and sticking to it. In Ani's case, it takes a forced change of scenery and having her identity stolen to really get comfortable in her own skin.

In Bayern, with Selia pretending to be Princess Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Ani finally gets to decide who she wants to be. No longer forced to play the part of princess, Ani—for the first time—gets to decide who she wants to be. Check out what she says after she's been succeeding as a goose girl for a while:

She was little like her mother, though that was all she had ever longed to be. She lacked the gift of people-speaking, that power to convince and control that laced every word her mother uttered. She did not possess that grace and beauty that all in a room turned to watch. But had the queen ever told a nursery story to a room of captivated listeners? Or handled fifty head of geese? Ani smiled at the thought, and then she surprised herself by feeling proud. I've done that much. What more can I do?(10.74)

Though Ani's always known she's not like her mother, here she realizes that this is totally okay—and she can create her own identity all by herself. Did you notice what she says here about comparing herself to her mother? Ani realizes that her mother has a lot of great skills that Ani doesn't, but Ani's got some things going for her that the queen doesn't have either. She's no longer defining herself in terms of what she isn't, and is starting to recognize all the different awesome things she is.

A Noble Noble

At first, Ani's pretty self-absorbed, and thinks her life is unfair because her mom is harsh and gives her a hard time about acting more princess-y. Even though Ani doesn't want to admit it though, her life is pretty grand, which she realizes once she's been living poor in Bayern. Despite realizing how cushy things were back at the palace, though, Ani isn't interested in taking back the crown that's rightfully hers at first—she only steps up once Selia has threatened a war against Kildenree.

This fact is super important to how we understand the princess. She doesn't return to her role as princess because she misses a soft bed and nice things—what drives her is the protection of her home. And because of this, though she may not like following the rigid rules for royalty, she shows herself to be a top notch leader, the kind motivated by collective good instead of personal gain. So while it takes Ani a while to reclaim her title, when she does, we understand that she won't abandon it again easily.


Selia - Ani's lady-in-waiting and former best friend, a people-speaker. Her mother is the key-mistress. She and most of Ani's guard betrayed Ani in the Forest. She tried to kill Ani during the journey to Bayern.

Traitor, imposter, wannabe—call her what you want, but we really don't care much for Selia because she takes stuff that isn't hers and hurts people in the process. Still, though, you can't deny that this is one girl who tells it like it she sees it. For instance, she says right to Ani's face:

"What a horrid title, lady-in-waiting. I have waited and waited until I thought my bones would crack and my muscles freeze and my mind shrivel like a raisin. And there you were, with horses and tutors and gowns and servants, and all you did was hide in your room." (4.37)

Now we're not saying we agree with her methods (mutiny in the middle of the woods isn't cool), but the girl sure does have a point here. Ani complains a lot about being a princess, and doesn't want her title or anything that goes along with the crown—and yet, from where Selia's sitting as her servant, being princess doesn't look half bad. In fact, it's pretty much all she's ever wanted.

And unlike Ani, Selia has not only the interest, but some of the relevant skills for being royalty too. Right from the beginning, we're told she—like Ani's mother, the queen—has the gift of people-speaking, which means she's quite good at getting other people to see things her way. Also unlike Ani, though, Selia doesn't use her power for good.

When it comes to manipulating people for what she wants, Selia will do whatever it takes, even if what is takes is killing people. Still, what Selia says about royalty might be worth considering. When she's decided that she'll be the princess from now on, she tells Talone, "'Royalty is not a right, Captain'" (4.133)—and sure enough, she acts as princess until Ani summons the courage to take this position away from her.

​Geric - Crown Prince of Bayern, initially disguised himself as a guard to the prince when he met Ani. He and Ani fall in love and marry, as they were already betrothed. When we (and Ani) first meet Geric, he's no prince. In fact, he's purposely posing as a guard so he doesn't have to get in to the whole royal thing. (Sound familiar? It should.) Needless to say, then, it's a huge surprise to Ani—and us—when it turns out the guy she's been keen on this whole time is actually her prince charming that she is slated to marry.

Ani can hardly believe it when her buddy from the pasture turns out to be the prince, but once it sinks in, Ani is pretty over the moon. Instead of being forced to marry some humdrum prince with whom she has nothing in common, the Kildenree princess is instead going to spend her life with a prince who shares her fondness for ditching royal entourages to have time alone alone sometimes, and also loves reading and chatting—just like Ani.

But just because Geric shares Ani's fondness for slipping away from all the fanfare of royal life doesn't mean that he—like Ani—won't step up to the plate when needed. So when Ani shows up at the castle claiming to be royalty, Geric's the one who convinces his dad—the king—to hide with him and listen in on Ani's conversation with Selia and Ungolad. And it's a good thing too, because by doing so, Selia exposes herself as a fraud, and order is returned to Bayern's future. As Geric says to Ani:

"I never imagined that I could marry a girl who was all those things and knew Bayern's needs better than I, who would truly be a partner on the throne. What this kingdom sorely misses is a queen, and you are exactly what they, and I, what we all need." (22.102)

The setting in The Goose Girl changes for each part of the book. At the beginning, the story takes place in a palace, where Ani is never allowed to leave this area. Ani can’t leave the palace under any circumstances. At the end of this part, Ani leaves the palace and goes into a smaller city, which is her first introduction to the city. She is only allowed to stay in hotels and not participate with the guards. For the second section, the story changes to a forest location. Ani begins her journey here, where she is then led to go into a different type of city. This city is larger and full of festivity. At the end of this section, the setting goes back to the forest. In the final section, Ani goes into the mountains. This is the final location for the story.

Themes in the Novel

A theme is a big idea or central topic of importance in a work.  It is often timeless and universal (like a concept), such as ‘love’ and ‘death’. Short stories often have just one theme, whereas novels usually have multiple themes. The theme of a story is woven all the way through the story, and the characters' actions, interactions, and motivations all reflect the story's theme.   The main themes in Goose Girl centre around Identity, Friendship, and Class issues.

All of this taken from

In The Goose Girl, Ani has a pretty epic identity crisis, and she spends a big part of the book wondering who she is and what she wants to do with her life.

Dissatisfied with the labels of princess and animal-speaker, Ani seeks an independence that is hard to come by for a royal. So though her journey takes her to a far away land and through a bunch of dangerous encounters (including one killer lady-in-waiting), ultimately it's really just about finding her true self.
Questions About Identity
Ani's mother claims she needs to act more regal to be a princess. Do you agree? How can we understand Ani's actions as proving her mother right or wrong?

Who does Ani decide she wants to be—someone like her mother, or the princess she is in the beginning of the book, or a combination of both? Do you think she makes the right choice?

What key moments in the novel are about Ani figuring out who she really is? At what point does pretending to be something she's not harm Ani?

Things to think about:

Even though Ani's mother is tough on her, she's right about Ani needing to grow up and act more maturely if she's going to rule a country.

Ani figures out that she doesn't have to be like her mother or other rulers she meets; she can just be herself and still be a great princess.

If there's one thing we can all agree on about The Goose Girl, it's that Selia is definitely a bad friend to Ani. Not only does she steal Ani's identity, clothes, and life, but she goes one giant step further and tries to kill her. We'd definitely say that goes on the list of don'ts when it comes to friends.

But even though we see some pretty horrible friends in the novel, we also get some examples of great friends. For Ani's forest buddies, friendship means being loyal to one another and even making sacrifices, and Enna, Conrad, Razo, and the whole gang are willing to risk their lives for Ani to get hers back. Now that's real friendship.

The question results: how can you tell if someone is a good friend? Ani believes she has a good friend in Selia, at least until she betrays her. This causes Ani to question Enna’s intentions in being her friend. The theme of friendship and loyalty is expanded upon as these two different relationships are compared. Loyalty also is shown through the character of Talone. He stands up for Ani both against Selia, as well as to the king of Bayern. Talone never falters, even though he has already been hurt. The theme of friendship can also be found as the character Geric enters Ani’s life. In Part 2, we believe that he is good and kind, until he suddenly breaks Ani’s heart without any real explanation. However, Hale allows us to see that he is a real friend and is loyal at the end of the novel, where he stands up to his father, the king, in favor of Ani. Geric finds a way to support Ani and eventually to save her life. This theme is found and allows us to gain our own impressions of friendship and loyalty. 

Questions About Friendship

  1. Why does Ani think Selia is a good friend? What attributes make her someone you might want to hang around?
  2. How are Ani's forest friends different from her palace friends? Why is this important to her understanding of friendship?
  3. Is Ani always a good friend? Are there ways in which she is not a good friend to Selia? The forest workers?

Think about this:

Friends are necessary for survival. Without friends, Ani would have been killed on the road to Bayern or in the palace, so it's a good thing she's got some good friends in her corner.

Selia could never be Ani's friend since Ani was her boss and, as such, always in a position of power over her. Ani mistook Selia doing her job for friendship.

Without manipulation and deceit, there wouldn't really be much of a story to tell in The Goose Girl. Think about it: If Selia couldn't coerce the guards into joining her in her plan to take over the world (or kingdom), the novel would not have gotten very far. And if Selia weren't so cunning, well, she wouldn't be much of a villain. And Ani pulls a fast one of her own on the forest workers by pretending to be someone she's not—yes, manipulation abounds in this book.

Questions About Manipulation

  1. How are Selia and Ani alike? In what ways do both gals use manipulation (of animals, nature, or people) to their advantage?
  2. Are we being manipulated in the book? Why or why not? Why are we more willing to go along with Ani's manipulation than Selia's?
  3. It's exciting (and page-turning) to watch Selia take over as princess, but does that make it right? Should we be okay with it?

Think about:

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Selia's scheme—though rooted in some big idea about social class and royalty—is really just mean-spirited and selfish. She might claim she has more of a right to a royal title than Ani, but Selia is really just manipulative to get what she wants.

What are you willing to do to gain social stature? The conflict in the story is brought upon by the character of Selia. She manipulates the army and attempts to overcome and kill Ani, her supposed friend. The reason for this is her desire to be the princess. Selia is tired of being the supportive lady-in-waiting. Therefore, she is willing to commit treachery in order to gain this status. At the end, we discover that Selia was even willing to cause a war in order to hide her deception. This question pertains also to the other guards who commit mutiny, as they strive to gain status regardless of the harm they are doing. Is it possible for the upper and lower classes to come together?

Ani believes that she is a regular girl throughout the beginning of the novel. She refers to Selia as her friend a countless number of times. However, we soon realize that Selia doesn’t believe that this is true. They never become true friends. Later in the novel, we see Ani blend into a group of forest people, who treat her as her equal. She is not their equal though because they don’t know her true identity. Ani ponders this question continually throughout the novel as she wonders who to trust and who will treat her differently

It is only at the end of the novel when we see the classes come together in battle, creating unity between all of the people. Does the format of a community cause class divisions? When Ani enters Bayern, she is forced to accept the reality that the people she is with are different from everyone else in the city. They are the lowest class, and the community helps to promote these distinctions. The forest people aren’t allowed to receive a javelin and shield like the city boys are; instead they are supposed to work with the animals and eventually go back to the forest. There is no question that they are less than everyone else in the community.

When Selia claims that royalty is something you've got to earn, it sends a shock down Ani's spine. How dare she—a lady in waiting—tell Ani about how to be a ruler when Ani is her princess? It's a pretty shocking moment as far as The Goose Girl is concerned, but is Selia right? Should royalty or leaders have to earn their places?

Questions About Society and Class

  1. Is Selia right that royalty should be earned and not expected? Why or why not? What happens in the book that supports your argument?
  2. How does Ani change after learning Selia's opinion about royalty? Does she earn her royal title back, or is it given to her simply because she's the real princess?
  3. Can anyone just become a princess in the book? Why or why not?
  4. How does the book comment on social class? Do you think you are judged because of where you are from, or who your parents are?

Things to think about

Selia's harsh dose of reality helps Ani learn how to think and behave like a ruler instead of a spoiled brat.

Ani grows up a lot, but the only reason she becomes princess at the end is because of the family she's been born into—so in the end, royalty is a birth right, not earned.

Dream Cast: movie of Goose Girl

About the author Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale is the New York Times best-selling author of fifteen children's and young adult novels, including the popular Ever After High trilogy and multiple award winners The Goose Girl, Book of a Thousand Days, and Newbery Honor recipient Princess Academy. She also penned three books for adults, beginning with Austenland, which is now a major motion picture starring Keri Russell. She co-wrote the hit graphic novels Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack and illustrated chapter book The Princess in Black with husband Dean Hale. They live with their four small children near Salt Lake City, Utah.

The inspiration for the novel

As an MFA candidate at the University of Montana, Shannon and her fantasy-loving friend challenged each other to write a book before the semester began. Shannon decide to write a novel from her favorite fairy tale, "The Goose Girl." 

In her own words: "When I was a kid, my sisters and I spent many hours with my mom’s mammoth book of fairytales. 'Cinderella' was the initial favorite on the basis of ball gowns. 'The Goose Girl,' by the Brothers Grimm, soon moved into the lead. We were completely captivated by the story alone. Even though it was my favorite, its strangeness and brevity always left me wanting more. Why did the princess let her lady-in-waiting steal her identity? How did she learn to command the wind? And what about the prince? I thought the story fairly begged to be written into a longer work. I'm thrilled that now, some three years later, it is." 

Shannon Hale's Website

Other books by Shannon Hale

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