14-1 Home School

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        P R A E S I D I U M

A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

        14.1 (Winter 2014)




courtesy of artrenewal.org

Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Selections and Commentary

All human cultures are constantly changing, though for most of our species’ history such change has proceeded at a glacial rate imperceptible within a single fleeting lifetime.  Innovations and importations are generally swept up in this all-but-frozen tide so thoroughly that they appear within a mere generation or two to have participated in the culture’s infancy.  The African hero Sonjara seems always to have had his rifle: the Kiowa brave of legend seems always to have had his horse.  This process of absorption is called, paradoxically, homeostasis: that is, cultural life adapts to difference by “staying the same” and winning novelty over to fit previous rules.

Nevertheless, as generations cluster into centuries and even millennia, substantial change is inevitable—and, to the antiquarian, observable.  The literary historian (or archaeologist, we should perhaps say) becomes familiar with certain signs.  Myths that once rigidly divided the world of petty mortals from that of petulant gods—and dramatized the story of demigods tragically caught between the two—slowly bring everything down to earth.  Terrifyingly mysterious natural cycles are tamed by technology, or by the mere routine of successful habit.  Human concerns revolve less around unpredictable and devastating weather events or geological calamities (floods, droughts, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions) and more around socially indexed frustrations like injustice, oppression, and poverty in the midst of plenty.  This latter world is the post-tribal, neo-literate setting of an emerging market economy.  The old clan is dissolving into stratification.  Surplus crops, having been stored, are bartered, and later sold for currency.  Commerce breeds travel, travel generates both new dangers and new profits, cities arise, and the hinterlands grow relatively deserted.  The developing merchant class either invents or borrows some system of recording transactions accurately.  Writing is born.

Those who remain down on the farm, preserving the lifestyle of their great-grandfathers, lose wealth, respect, and relevance in this dynamic shift.  To stand still is to fall behind; and the illiterate husband of the soil and custodian of oral traditions begins rapidly (by the standards of cultural evolution) to fall behind now as his cousins not only learn how to churn out documents in the city’s highly artificial environment, but also how to seek pleasure, acquire fame, and worship the divine in that environment’s strange rhythms.  A chasm is opening.  The farmer’s old enemy-friends—the sun, the rain, crows, rodents, lions—remain forces to be reckoned with, as ever; but now a greater worry seems to loom in the person of landlords, jobbers, commercial middlemen, and wandering brigands no longer attached to any particular tribe.  The thunder and lightning of the old myths might well appear downright benign when compared to the dark hearts of these new adversaries.

Inherited lore, as noted already, starts to reflect this shift in anxiety as it becomes the next generation’s legacy.  What we have not yet noted here—and what scholarship generally has been rather slow to note—is the precise nature of the shift.  The process, to be sure, complicated.  Certain tales retain distinctly mythic elements.  The heroes are no longer demigods, but enterprising children of desperate paupers; and their enterprises are no longer nudged along by Olympian gods, but by benign fairies and elves.  The shaman’s ability to command the forces of nature becomes the lucky lad’s ability to ask three boons of a genie.  The traditions, though largely intact in terms of narrative structure, have suffered a kind of unilateral deflation in sublimity.  Everything seems much more within reach of the common man, and even the uncommonly oppressed man.

The first two selections below from the vast trove of popular tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm in the early nineteenth century clearly have roots that reach back at least a millennium.  Medieval Celtic matter as we find it in texts like the Welsh Mabinogion and the Lais of Marie de France was already an age-old bequest by the year 1100.  In the German folktales, it comes floating to the surface again without a great deal of alteration other than for setting.  That a banished child’s dominance over wild animals no longer signified shamanic powers to nineteenth-century peasantry and that a queen mysteriously retrieved from beyond the settlement’s pale no longer equated with a link to the spirit world is arguable.  Certainly the clarity of such mythic signifiers would have been a little scuffed up in the centuries that separated Marie from the Grimm Brothers.  Maybe this matter is now being retold to the charming cosmopolitan city-dwellers with their parchment and quill because it makes a good yarn—because its origins, being so vague, create an enticing fantasy.  Human beings of all eras like a bit of escapism.

Other tales approach the peasant’s alienation from post-tribal society more aggressively.  In these stories, the “hero” will be overtly disadvantaged.  The “Clever Hans” type is an especially prominent example in the Grimm collection.  Not only poor but also laughably dull, this oaf has nothing whatever going for him in any worldly sense… yet he triumphs, more often than not.  Such yarns seem to say that the city-slickers have outfoxed themselves—that a simpleton who tells blunt truths and goes straight at his objective ends up faring very well in their corrupt midst.  If the truth is otherwise, the proposition at least has a credible rationale and would be highly appealing to people who, in any case, have nowhere else to set their hopes.

Or if the Underdog does have recourse to one other weapon besides happy-go-lucky bluntness, it is fox-like cleverness.  In the selections below, the churl who is too foolish to fear anything naturally demonstrates the former virtue.  The latter one—if it may be called virtue at all—is displayed par excellence in the Little Peasant.  This disturbing fellow appears to have no scruples at all.  In his defense, he rarely seeks out his victims: they usually “self-select”, thrusting themselves onto his chessboard in acts of arrogance, egotism, and  exploitation.  Yet their sins, from the perspective of any higher ethic, do not always merit the degree of disaster that his craft visits upon them.  The “Bauerlein” would probably summarize his philosophy of life as follows: “If you’re stupid enough to fall for a trick, then you deserve whatever happens to you.”

These are scarcely the moral sentiments of a Solon or a Hesiod.  The tribal life’s keen sense of karma—of rough-but-fair play, hospitality, neighborliness, resignation, and humility below the Sun’s all-watching eye—has morphed into a survival-of-the-fittest creed.  It seems an uncomfortable trade, and perhaps even a departure from Eden.  If any solace is to be found in this Grave New World, it may be simply that the more fantastical, myth-based tales continue to be told by the same mouths and in the same setting.  The verdict appears to be split as to whether some benign force watches over the innocent—or whether, instead, nice guys finish last.

All of the selections have been drawn from Margaret Hunt’s translation at http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~spok/grimmtmp/.  Irregularities of punctuation are unfortunately numerous, and corrections have been minimal due to time constraints.  The interlinear insertions in red are of course editorial and not part of the original text.  I intend them in the manner of footnotes, and have used them only in the first two tales so as to emphasize connections to mythic (mostly Celtic) precedent.

~     John Harris



There were once upon a time two brothers, one rich and the other poor.  The rich one was a goldsmith and evil-hearted. The poor one supported himself by making brooms, and was good and honorable.  He had two children, who were twin brothers and as like each other as two drops of water.  The two boys went in and out of the rich house, and often got some of the scraps to eat.  It happened once when the poor man was going into the forest to fetch brush-wood, that he saw a bird which was quite golden and more beautiful than any he had ever chanced to meet with.  He picked up a small stone, threw it at it, and was lucky enough to hit it, but one golden feather only fell down, and the bird flew away.  The man took the feather and carried it to his brother, who looked at it and said, it is pure gold. And gave him a great deal of money for it.

Celtic parallel: Cú Chulainn’s frustrated stone-throwing at the two otherworldly birds in the Wasting Sickness who transform themselves into maidens and introduce him (by way of a trance) to the spirit princess Fand.  The motif is trebled below until supernatural knowledge is finally unlocked.

Next day the man climbed into a birch-tree, and was about to cut off a couple of branches when the same bird flew out, and when the man searched he found a nest, and an egg lay inside it, which was of gold.  He took the egg home with him, and carried it to his brother, who again said, it is pure gold, and gave him what it was worth.  At last the goldsmith said, I should indeed like to have the bird itself.

The poor man went into the forest for the third time, and again saw the golden bird sitting on the tree, so he took a stone and brought it down and carried it to his brother, who gave him a great heap of gold for it.  Now I can get on, thought he, and went contentedly home.

The goldsmith was crafty and cunning, and knew very well what kind of a bird it was.  He called his wife and said, roast me the gold bird, and take care that none of it is lost.  I have a fancy to eat it all myself.  The bird, however, was no common one, but of so wondrous a kind that whosoever ate its heart and liver found every morning a piece of gold beneath his pillow.  The woman prepared the bird, put it on the spit, and let it roast.

Now it happened that while it was on the fire, and the woman was forced to go out of the kitchen on account of some other work, the two children of the poor broom-maker ran in, stood by the spit and turned it round once or twice.  And as at that very moment two little bits of the bird fell down into the pan, one of the boys said, we will eat these two little bits.  I am so hungry, and no one will ever miss them.  Then the two ate the pieces, but the woman came into the kitchen and saw that they were eating something and said, what have you been eating.  Two little morsels which fell out of the bird, answered they.  That must have been the heart and the liver, said the woman, quite frightened, and in order that her husband might not miss them and be angry, she quickly killed a young cock, took out his heart and liver, and put them beside the golden bird.

Celtic parallel: Fionn MacCumhail’s burning his thumb on the roasting salmon whose first taste was destined to bestow prophetic wisdom.  The boy reflexively stuck his seared thumb into his mouth, accidentally acquired a minute taste of the mystical fish thereby, and ever after could foretell the future by sucking on his thumb.

When it was ready, she carried it to the goldsmith, who consumed it all alone, and left none of it.  Next morning, however, when he felt beneath his pillow, and expected to bring out the piece of gold, no more gold pieces were there than there had always been.

The two children did not know what a piece of good-fortune had fallen to their lot.  Next morning when they arose, something fell rattling to the ground, and when they picked it up there were two gold pieces. They took them to their father, who was astonished and said, how can that have happened.  When next morning they again found two, and so on daily, he went to his brother and told him the strange story.

The goldsmith at once knew how it had happened, and that the children had eaten the heart and liver of the golden bird, and in order to revenge himself, and because he was envious and hard-hearted, he said to the father, your children are in league with the evil one, do not take the gold, and do not suffer them to stay any longer in your house, for he has them in his power, and may ruin you likewise.

The wicked goldsmith is a rather more sinister incarnation of the legendary Irish poet Finnegas, who had instructed the boy Fionn to prepare for him the Salmon of Knowledge without tasting of it.

The father feared the evil one, and painful as it was to him, he nevertheless led the twins forth into the forest, and with a sad heart left them there.  And now the two children ran about the forest, and sought the way home again, but could not find it, and only lost themselves more and more.

At length they met with a huntsman, who asked, to whom do you children belong.  We are the poor broom-maker’s boys, they replied, and they told him that their father would not keep them any longer in the house because a piece of gold lay every morning under their pillows.  Come, said the huntsman, that is nothing so very bad, if at the same time you remain honest, and are not idle.  As the good man liked the children, and had none of his own, he took them home with him and said, I will be your father, and bring you up till you are big.  They learnt huntsmanship from him, and the piece of gold which each of them found when he awoke, was kept for them by him in case they should need it in the future.

When they were grown up, their foster-father one day took them into the forest with him, and said, to-day shall you make your trial shot, so that I may release you from your apprenticeship, and make you huntsmen.  They went with him to lie in wait and stayed there a long time, but no game appeared.  The huntsman, however, looked above him and saw a covey of wild geese flying in the form of a triangle, and said to one of them, shoot me down one from each corner.  He did it, and thus accomplished his trial shot.  Soon after another covey came flying by in the form of the figure two, and the huntsman bade the other also bring down one from each corner, and his trial shot was likewise successful.  Now, said the foster-father, I pronounce you out of your apprenticeship.  You are skilled huntsmen.

This fairly random scene appears to reprise the original stoning of the golden bird.  Here as there, we are probably witnessing a faint memory of a shamanic initiation (such as young Cú Chulainn’s in the Boyhood Deeds, when the heroic lad stuns several birds after slaying the three sons of Nechta).

Thereupon the two brothers went forth together into the forest, and took counsel with each other and planned something.  And in the evening when they had sat down to supper, they said to their foster-father, we will not touch food, or take one mouthful, until you have granted us a request.  Said he, what, then, is your request.  They replied, we have now finished learning, and we must prove ourselves in the world, so allow us to go away and travel. Then spoke the old man joyfully, you talk like brave huntsmen, that which you desire has been my wish.  Go forth, all will go well with you.  Thereupon they ate and drank joyously together.

When the appointed day came, their foster-father presented each of them with a good gun and a dog, and let each of them take as many of his saved-up gold pieces as he chose.  Then he accompanied them a part of the way, and when taking leave, he gave them a bright knife, and said, if ever you separate, stick this knife into a tree at the place where you part, and when one of you returns, he will be able to see how his absent brother is faring, for the side of the knife which is turned in the direction by which he went, will rust if he dies, but will remain bright as long as he is alive.

The two brothers have clearly completed a rite of passage and are ready to enter a new phase of life.  The prophetic knife is bound to have further analogues in Northwestern European mythology besides the Arthurian Sword in the Stone; your editor is still seeking them.

The two brothers went still farther onwards, and came to a forest which was so large that it was impossible for them to get out of it in one day. So they passed the night in it, and ate what they had put in their hunting-pouches, but they walked all the second day likewise, and still did not get out.  As they had nothing to eat, one of them said, we must shoot something for ourselves or we shall suffer from hunger, and loaded his gun, and looked about him.

And when an old hare came running up towards them, he laid his gun on his shoulder, but the hare cried, dear huntsman, do but let me live, two little ones to thee I’ll give, and sprang instantly into the thicket, and brought two young ones.  But the little creatures played so merrily, and were so pretty, that the huntsmen could not find it in their hearts to kill them.  They therefore kept them with them, and the little hares followed on foot.

The hard is a chthonic animal commonly appearing in folktales (i.e., like snakes, bats, foxes, and badgers, it passes part of its life above ground and part below, thus qualifying it to mediate between the world of the living and of the spirits).

Soon after this, a fox crept past.  They were just going to shoot it, but the fox cried, dear hunstman, do but let me live, two little ones to thee I’ll give.  He, too, brought two little foxes, and the huntsmen did not like to kill them either, but gave them to the hares for company, and they followed behind.  It was not long before a wolf strode out of the thicket.  The huntsmen made ready to shoot him, but the wolf cried, dear huntsman, do but let me live, two little ones to thee I’ll give.  The huntsman put the two wolves beside the other animals, and they followed behind them.  Then a bear came who wanted to trot about a little longer, and cried, dear huntsman, do but let me live, two little ones to thee I’ll give.  The two young bears were added to the others, and there were already eight of them.  Then who should come.  A lion came, and tossed his mane.  But the huntsmen did not let themselves be frightened and aimed at him likewise, but the lion also said, dear huntsman, do but let me live, two little ones to thee I’ll give.

Like the formidable one-eyed Dark Man in the Welsh romance Owein, the two brothers now command a virtually complete menagerie of wild creatures: they are shamanic Masters of the Hunt.

And he brought his little ones to them, and now the huntsmen had two lions, two bears, two wolves, two foxes, and two hares, who followed them and served them.  In the meantime their hunger was not appeased by this, and they said to the foxes, listen you sneakers, provide us with something to eat.  You are crafty and cunning.  They replied, not far from here lies a village, from which we have already brought many a fowl.  We will show you the way there.  So they went into the village, bought themselves something to eat, had some food given to their beasts, and then traveled onwards.  The foxes knew their way very well about the district and where the poultry-yards were, and were able to guide the huntsmen.

Now they traveled about for a while, but could find no situation where they could remain together, so they said, there is nothing else for it, we must part.  They divided the animals, so that each of them had a lion, a bear, a wolf, a fox, and a hare, then they took leave of each other, promised to love each other like brothers till their death, and stuck the knife which their foster-father had given them, into a tree, after which one went east and the other went west.

The division of the two twins—one headed toward his death, the other to a “safe zone” from which he will return to help his brother—is curious in the light of how many ancient myths similarly pair the shamanic hero with a tragically fated brother.  Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Achilles and Patroclus, Theseus and Peirithous, perhaps even Roland and Olivier or Fionn and Diarmuid… such duos suggest that this wrinkle of the fairy tale, too, is very old indeed.

The younger, however, arrived with his beasts in a town which was all hung with black crape.  He went into an inn, and asked the host if he could accommodate his animals.  The innkeeper gave him a stable, where there was a hole in the wall, and the hare crept out and fetched himself the head of a cabbage, and the fox fetched himself a hen, and when he had devoured it got the cock as well, but the wolf, the bear, and the lion could not get out because they were too big. Then the innkeeper let them be taken to a place where a cow happened to be lying on the grass, that they might eat till they were satisfied.

Owein/Yvain’s caring for his lion when received into the mournful earl’s castle leaps to mind here.  The earl, as well, has a daughter whom he is required to deliver to an ogre the next morning—the cause of the universal mourning.

And when the huntsman had taken care of his animals, he asked the innkeeper why the town was thus hung with black crape. Said the host, because our king’s only daughter is to die to-morrow. The huntsman inquired, is she sick unto death.  No, answered the host, she is vigorous and healthy, nevertheless she must die.  How is that, asked the huntsman.  There is a high hill without the town, whereon dwells a dragon who every year must have a pure virgin, or he lays the whole country waste, and now all the maidens have already been given to him, and there is no longer anyone left but the king’s daughter, yet there is no mercy for her.  She must be given up to him, and that is to be done to-morrow.  Said the huntsman, why is the dragon not killed. Ah, replied the host, so many knights have tried it, but it has cost all of them their lives.  The king has promised that he who conquers the dragon shall have his daughter to wife, and shall likewise govern the kingdom after his own death.

The huntsman said nothing more to this, but next morning took his animals, and with them ascended the dragon’s hill.  A little church stood at the top of it, and on the altar three full cups were standing, with the inscription.  Whosoever empties the cups will become the strongest man on earth, and will be able to wield the sword which is buried before the threshold of the door.  The huntsman did not drink, but went out and sought for the sword in the ground, but was unable to move it from its place.  Then he went in and emptied the cups, and now he was strong enough to take up the sword, and his hand could quite easily wield it.

As the hour came when the maiden was to be delivered over to the dragon, the king, the marshal, and courtiers accompanied her.  From afar she saw the huntsman on the dragon’s hill, and thought it was the dragon standing there waiting for her, and did not want to go up to him, but at last, because otherwise the whole town would have been destroyed, she was forced to take the fatal journey.  The king and courtiers returned home full of grief.  The king’s marshal, however, was to stand still, and see all from a distance.  When the king’s daughter got to the top of the hill, it was not the dragon which stood there, but the young huntsman, who comforted her, and said he would save her, led her into the church, and locked her in.

It was not long before the seven-headed dragon came thither with loud roaring.  When he perceived the huntsman, he was astonished and said, what business have you here on the hill.  The huntsman answered, I want to fight with you.  Said the dragon, many knights have left their lives here, I shall soon have made an end of you too, and he breathed fire out of seven jaws.  The fire was to have lighted the dry grass, and the huntsman was to have been suffocated in the heat and smoke, but the animals came running up and trampled out the fire.  Then the dragon rushed upon the huntsman, but he swung his sword until it sang through the air, and struck off three of his heads.  Then the dragon grew really furious, and rose up in the air, and spat out flames of fire over the huntsman, and was about to plunge down on him, but the huntsman once more drew out his sword, and again cut off three of his heads.  The monster became faint and sank down.  Nevertheless it was just able to rush upon the huntsman, when he with his last strength smote its tail off, and as he could fight no longer, called up his animals who tore it in pieces.

Of course, the combat between hero and monster over a sacrificial maiden has roots running much deeper than Owein/Yvain and the lion’s overpowering of a brutal ogre.  Perseus’s rescue of Andromeda is a starting point in classical mythic tradition.

When the struggle was ended, the huntsman unlocked the church, and found the king’s daughter lying on the floor, as she had lost her senses with anguish and terror during the contest.  He carried her out, and when she came to herself once more, and opened her eyes, he showed her the dragon all cut to pieces, and told her that she was now set free. She rejoiced and said, now you will be my dearest husband, for my father has promised me to him who kills the dragon.  Thereupon she took off her necklace of coral, and divided it amongst the animals in order to reward them, and the lion received the golden clasp.  Her pocket-handkerchief, however, on which was her name, she gave to the huntsman, who went and cut the tongues out of the dragons, seven heads, wrapped them in the handkerchief, and preserved them carefully.

That done, as he was so faint and weary with the fire and the battle, he said to the maiden, we are both faint and weary, we will sleep awhile.  Then she said, yes, and they lay down on the ground, and the huntsman said to the lion, you shall keep watch, that no one surprises us in our sleep, and both fell asleep.  The lion lay down beside them to watch, but he also was so weary with the fight, that he called to the bear and said, lie down near me, I must sleep a little.  If anything comes, waken me.  Then the bear lay down beside him, but he also was tired, and called the wolf and said, lie down by me, I must sleep a little, but if anything comes, waken me.  Then the wolf lay down by him, but he was tired likewise, and called the fox and said, lie down by me, I must sleep a little, if anything comes waken me.  Then the fox lay down beside him, but he too was weary, and called the hare and said, lie down near me, I must sleep a little, and if anything should come, waken me.  Then the hare sat down by him, but the poor hare was tired too, and had no one whom he could call there to keep watch, and fell asleep.

Sleep signals entry into the archetypal death-world where the shaman must travel to wring a precious life from the jealous spirits.  We will see momentarily that the huntsman’s death becomes more than symbolic.

And now the king’s daughter, the huntsman, the lion, the bear, the wolf, the fox, and the hare, were all sleeping a sound sleep.  The marshal, however, who was to look on from a distance, took courage when he did not see the dragon flying away with the maiden, and finding that all the hill had become quiet, ascended it.  There lay the dragon hacked and hewn to pieces on the ground, and not far from it were the king’s daughter and a huntsman with his animals, and all of them were sunk in a sound sleep.  And as he was wicked and godless he took his sword, cut off the huntsman’s head, and seized the maiden in his arms, and carried her down the hill.  Then she awoke and was terrified, but the marshal said, you are in my hands, you shall say that it was I who killed the dragon.  I cannot do that, she replied, for it was a huntsman with his animals who did it.  Then he drew his sword, and threatened to kill her if she did not obey him, and so compelled her that she promised it. Then he took her to the king, who did not know how to contain himself for joy when he once more looked on his dear child in life, whom he had believed to have been torn to pieces by the monster.  The marshal said to him, I have killed the dragon, and delivered the maiden and the whole kingdom as well, therefore I demand her as my wife, as was promised.  The king said to the maiden, is what he says true.  Ah, yes, she answered, it must indeed be true, but I will not consent to have the wedding celebrated until after a year and a day, for she thought in that time she should hear something of her dear huntsman.

The animals, however, were still lying sleeping beside their dead master on the dragon’s hill, and there came a great bumble-bee and lighted on the hare’s nose, but the hare wiped it off with his paw, and went on sleeping.  The bumble-bee came a second time, but the hare again rubbed it off and slept on.  Then it came for the third time, and stung his nose so that he awoke.  As soon as the hare was awake, he roused the fox, and the fox, the wolf, and the wolf the bear, and the bear the lion.  And when the lion awoke and saw that the maiden was gone, and his master was dead, he began to roar frightfully and cried, who has done that.  Bear, why did you not waken me.  The bear asked the wolf, why did you not waken me.  And the wolf the fox, why did you not waken me.  And the fox the hare, why did you not waken me.  The poor hare alone did not know what answer to make, and the blame rested with him.

Then they were just going to fall upon him, but he entreated them and said, kill me not, I will bring our master to life again.  I know a mountain on which a root grows which, when placed in the mouth of anyone, cures him of all illness and every wound.  But the mountain lies two hundred hours, journey from here.  The lion said, in four-and-twenty hours must you have run thither and have come back, and have brought the root with you. Then the hare sprang away, and in four-and-twenty hours he was back, and brought the root with him.  The lion put the huntsman’s head on again, and the hare placed the root in his mouth, and immediately everything united together again, and his heart beat, and life came back.

Scholars have often remarked that the miraculously resuscitative plant placed by a chthonic animal upon the lips of a corpse figures prominently in Marie de France’s Eliduc, a tale from the Celtic lore of Brittany.

Then the huntsman awoke, and was alarmed when he did not see the maiden, and thought, she must have gone away whilst I was sleeping, in order to get rid of me.  The lion in his great haste had put his master’s head on the wrong way round, but the huntsman did not observe it because of his melancholy thoughts about the king’s daughter.  But at noon, when he was going to eat something, he saw that his head was turned backwards and could not understand it, and asked the animals what had happened to him in his sleep.  Then the lion told him that they, too, had all fallen asleep from weariness, and on awaking, had found him dead with his head cut off, that the hare had brought the life-giving root, and that he, in his haste, had laid hold of the head the wrong way, but that he would repair his mistake.  Then he tore the huntsman’s head off again, turned it round, and the hare healed it with the root.

The huntsman, however, was sad at heart, and traveled about the world, and made his animals dance before people.  It came to pass that precisely at the end of one year he came back to the same town where he had rescued the king’s daughter from the dragon, and this time the town was gaily hung with red cloth.  Then he said to the host, what does this mean.  Last year the town was all hung with black crape, what means the red cloth to-day.  The host answered, last year our king’s daughter was to have been delivered over to the dragon, but the marshal fought with it and killed it, and so to-morrow their wedding is to be solemnized, and that is why the town was then hung with black crape for mourning, and is to-day covered with red cloth for joy.

Next day when the wedding was to take place, the huntsman said at mid-day to the inn-keeper, do you believe, sir host, that I while with you here to-day shall eat bread from the king’s own table.  Nay, said the host, I would bet a hundred pieces of gold that that will not come true.  The huntsman accepted the wager, and set against it a purse with just the same number of gold pieces. Then he called the hare and said, go, my dear runner, and fetch me some of the bread which the king is eating.  Now the little hare was the lowest of the animals, and could not transfer this order to any the others, but had to get on his legs himself.  Alas. Thought he, if I bound through the streets thus alone, the butchers, dogs will all be after me.  It happened as he expected, and the dogs came after him and wanted to make holes in his good skin.  But he sprang away, you have never seen the like, and sheltered himself in a sentry-box without the soldier being aware of it.  Then the dogs came and wanted to have him out, but the soldier did not understand a jest, and struck them with the butt-end of his gun, till they ran away yelling and howling.

As soon as the hare saw that the way was clear, he ran into the palace and straight to the king’s daughter, sat down under her chair, and scratched at her foot.  Then she said, will you get away, and thought it was her dog.  The hare scratched her foot for the second time, and she again said, will you get away, and thought it was her dog.  But the hare did not let itself be turned from its purpose, and scratched her for the third time.  Then she peeped down, and knew the hare by its collar.  She took him on her lap, carried him into her chamber, and said, dear hare, what do you want.  He answered, my master, who killed the dragon, is here, and has sent me to ask for a loaf of bread like that which the king eats.  Then she was full of joy and had the baker summoned, and ordered him to bring a loaf such as was eaten by the king.  The little hare said, but the baker must likewise carry it thither for me, that the butchers, dogs may do no harm to me.  The baker carried if for him as far as the door of the inn, and then the hare got on his hind legs, took the loaf in his front paws, and carried it to his master.

Then said the huntsman, behold, sir host, the hundred pieces of gold are mine.  The host was astonished, but the huntsman went on to say, yes, sir host, I have the bread, but now I will likewise have some of the king’s roast meat.  The host said, I should indeed like to see that, but he would make no more wagers.  The huntsman called the fox and said, my little fox, go and fetch me some roast meat, such as the king eats.  The red fox knew the byways better, and went by holes and corners without any dog seeing him, seated himself under the chair of the king’s daughter, and scratched her foot.  Then she looked down and recognized the fox by its collar, took him into her chamber with her and said, dear fox, what do you want.  He answered, my master, who killed the dragon, is here, and has sent me.  I am to ask for some roast meat such as the king is eating.  Then she made the cook come, who was obliged to prepare a roast joint, the same as was eaten by the king, and to carry it for the fox as far as the door.  Then the fox took the dish, waved away with his tail the flies which had settled on the meat, and then carried it to his master.

Behold, sir host, said the huntsman, bread and meat are here but now I will also have proper vegetables with it, such as are eaten by the king.  Then he called the wolf, and said, dear wolf, go thither and fetch me vegetables such as the king eats.  Then the wolf went straight to the palace, as he feared no one, and when he got to the king’s daughter’s parlor, he tugged at the back of her dress, so that she was forced to look round.  She recognized him by his collar, and took him into her chamber with her, and said, dear wolf, what do you want.  He answered, my master, who killed the dragon, is here, I am to ask for some vegetables, such as the king eats.  Then she made the cook come, and he had to make ready a dish of vegetables, such as the king ate, and had to carry it for the wolf as far as the door, and then the wolf took the dish from him, and carried it to his master.

Behold, sir host, said the huntsman, now I have bread and meat and vegetables, but I will also have some pastry to eat like that which the king eats.  He called the bear, and said, dear bear, you are fond of licking anything sweet, go and bring me some confectionery, such as the king eats.  Then the bear trotted to the palace, and everyone got out of his way, but when he went to the guard, they presented their muskets, and would not let him go into the royal palace.  But he got up on his hind legs, and gave them a few boxes on the ears, right and left, with his paws, so that the whole watch broke up, and then he went straight to the king’s daughter, placed himself behind her, and growled a little.  Then she looked behind her, knew the bear, and bade him go into her room with her, and said, dear bear, what do you want.  He answered, my master, who killed the dragon, is here, and I am to ask for some confectionery such as the king eats.  Then she summoned her confectioner, who had to bake confectionery such as the king ate, and carry it to the door for the bear.  Then the bear first licked up the comfits which had rolled down, and then he stood upright, took the dish, and carried it to his master.

Behold, sir host, said the huntsman, now I have bread, meat, vegetables and confectionery, but I will drink wine also, and such as the king drinks.  He called his lion to him and said, dear lion, you yourself like to drink till you are tipsy, go and fetch me some wine, such as is drunk by the king.  Then the lion strode through the streets, and the people fled from him, and when he came to the watch, they wanted to bar the way against him, but he did but roar once, and they all ran away.  Then the lion went to the royal apartment, and knocked at the door with his tail.  Then the king’s daughter came forth, and was almost afraid of the lion, but she knew him by the golden clasp of her necklace, and bade him go with her into her chamber, and said, dear lion, what will you have.  He answered, my master, who killed the dragon, is here, and I am to ask for some wine such as is drunk by the king. Then she bade the cup-bearer be called, who was to give the lion some wine like that which was drunk by the king.  The lion said, I will go with him, and see that I get the right wine.

Then he went down with the cup-bearer, and when they were below, the cup-bearer wanted to draw him some of the common wine that was drunk by the king’s servants, but the lion said, stop, I will taste the wine first, and he drew half a measure, and swallowed it down at one draught.  No, said he, that is not right.  The cup-bearer looked at him askance, but went on, and was about to give him some out of another barrel which was for the king’s marshal.  The lion said, stop, let me taste the wine first, and drew half a measure and drank it.  That is better, but still not right, said he.  Then the cup-bearer grew angry and said, how can a stupid animal like you understand wine.  But the lion gave him a blow behind the ears, which made him fall down by no means gently, and when he had got up again, he conducted the lion quite silently into a little cellar apart, where the king’s wine lay, from which no one ever drank.  The lion first drew half a measure and tried the wine, and then he said, that may possibly be the right sort, and bade the cup-bearer fill six bottles of it.  And now they went upstairs again, but when the lion came out of the cellar into the open air, he reeled here and there, and was rather drunk, and the cup-bearer was forced to carry the wine as far as the door for him, and then the lion took the handle of the basket in his mouth, and took it to his master.

The huntsman said, behold, sir host, here have I bread, meat, vegetables, confectionery and wine such as the king has, and now I will dine with my animals, and he sat down and ate and drank, and gave the hare, the fox, the wolf, the bear, and the lion also to eat and to drink, and was joyful, for he saw that the king’s daughter still loved him.  And when he had finished his dinner, he said, sir host, now have I eaten and drunk, as the king eats and drinks, and now I will go to the king’s court and marry the king’s daughter.  Said the host, how can that be, when she already has a betrothed husband, and when the wedding is to be solemnized to-day.  Then the huntsman drew forth the handkerchief which the king’s daughter had given him on the dragon’s hill, and in which were folded the monster’s seven tongues, and said, that which I hold in my hand shall help me to do it.  Then the innkeeper looked at the handkerchief, and said, whatever I believe, I do not believe that, and I am willing to stake my house and courtyard on it.  The huntsman, however, took a bag with a thousand gold pieces, put it on the table, and said, I stake that on it.

The game with the succession of talking animals sent as emissaries is perhaps just creative fun—but it may also have some obscure mythic connection to the shaman’s displaying his absolute mastery of the inhuman world.

Now the king said to his daughter, at the royal table, what did all the wild animals want, which have been coming to you, and going in and out of my palace.  She replied, I may not tell you, but send and have the master of these animals brought, and you will do well.  The king sent a servant to the inn, and invited the stranger, and the servant came just as the huntsman had laid his wager with the innkeeper.  Then said he, behold, sir host, now the king sends his servant and invites me, but I do not go in this way.  And he said to the servant, I request the lord king to send me royal clothing, and a carriage with six horses, and servants to attend me. When the king heard the answer, he said to his daughter, what shall I do.  She said, cause him to be fetched as he desires to be, and you will do well.  Then the king sent royal apparel, a carriage with six horses, and servants to wait on him.

When the huntsman saw them coming, he said, behold, sir host, now I am fetched as I desired to be, and he put on the royal garments, took the handkerchief with the dragon’s tongues with him, and drove off to the king.  When the king saw him coming, he said to his daughter, how shall I receive him. She answered, go to meet him and you will do well.  Then the king went to meet him and led him in, and his animals followed.  The king gave him a seat near himself and his daughter, and the marshal, as bridegroom, sat on the other side, but no longer knew the huntsman. And now at this very moment, the seven heads of the dragon were brought in as a spectacle, and the king said, the seven heads were cut off the dragon by the marshal, wherefore to-day I give him my daughter to wife.  Then the huntsman stood up, opened the seven mouths, and said, where are the seven tongues of the dragon.  Then was the marshal terrified, and grew pale and knew not what answer he should make, and at length in his anguish he said, dragons have no tongues.  The huntsman said, liars ought to have none, but the dragon’s tongues are the tokens of the victor, and he unfolded the handkerchief, and there lay all seven inside it.  And he put each tongue in the mouth to which it belonged, and it fitted exactly.

Then he took the handkerchief on which the name of the princess was embroidered, and showed it to the maiden, and asked to whom she had given it, and she replied, to him who killed the dragon. And then he called his animals, and took the collar off each of them and the golden clasp from the lion, and showed them to the maiden and asked to whom they belonged.  She answered, the necklace and golden clasp were mine, but I divided them among the animals who helped to conquer the dragon.  Then spoke the huntsman, when I, tired of the fight, was resting and sleeping, the marshal came and cut off my head.  Then he carried away the king’s daughter, and gave out that it was he who had killed the dragon, but that he lied I prove with the tongues, the handkerchief, and the necklace.  And then he related how his animals had healed him by means of a wonderful root, and how he had traveled about with them for one year, and had at length come there and had learnt the treachery of the marshal by the inn-keeper’s story.

Then the king asked his daughter, is it true that this man killed the dragon.  And she answered, yes, it is true.  Now can I reveal the wicked deed of the marshal, as it has come to light without my connivance, for he wrung from me a promise to be silent.  For this reason, however, did I make the condition that the marriage should not be solemnized for a year and a day.  Then the king bade twelve councillors be summoned who were to pronounce judgment on the marshal, and they sentenced him to be torn to pieces by four bulls.  The marshal was therefore executed, but the king gave his daughter to the huntsman, and named him his viceroy over the whole kingdom.

The wedding was celebrated with great joy, and the young king caused his father and his foster-father to be brought, and loaded them with treasures.  Neither did he forget the inn-keeper, but sent for him and said, behold, sir host, I have married the king’s daughter, and your house and yard are mine.  The host said, yes, according to justice it is so.  But the young king said, it shall be done according to mercy, and told him that he should keep his house and yard, and gave him the thousand pieces of gold as well.

And now the young king and queen were thoroughly happy, and lived in gladness together.  He often went out hunting because it was a delight to him, and the faithful animals had to accompany him.  In the neighborhood, however, there was a forest of which it was reported that it was haunted, and that whosoever did but enter it did not easily get out again.  But the young king had a great inclination to hunt in it, and let the old king have no peace until he allowed him to do so.  So he rode forth with a great following, and when he came to the forest, he saw a snow-white hind, and said to his men, wait here until I return, I want to hunt that beautiful creature, and he rode into the forest after it, followed only by his animals.  The attendants halted and waited until evening, but he did not return, so they rode home, and told the young queen that the young king had followed a white hind into the enchanted forest, and had not come back again.  Then she was in the greatest concern about him.

The white hind chased by the hunter futilely is a theme that recurs in many Arthurian tales.  It is also reminiscent of Rhiannon’s appearance to Pwyll on her white horse in the first Mabinogion story.  That animal, likewise, only draws farther away the harder he is chased.

He, however, had still continued to ride on and on after the beautiful wild animal, and had never been able to overtake it, when he thought he was near enough to aim, he instantly saw it bound away into the far distance, and at length it vanished altogether.  And now he perceived that he had penetrated deep into the forest, and blew his horn but he received no answer, for his attendants could not hear it. And as night was falling, he saw that he could not get home that day, so he dismounted from his horse, lighted himself a fire near a tree, and resolved to spend the night by it.  While he was sitting by the fire, and his animals also were lying down beside him, it seemed to him that he heard a human voice.  He looked round, but could perceived nothing.  Soon afterwards, he again heard a groan as if from above, and then he looked up, and saw an old woman sitting in the tree, who wailed unceasingly, oh, oh, oh, how cold I am.  Said he, come down, and warm yourself if you are cold.  But she said, no, your animals will bite me.  He answered, they will do you no harm, old mother, do come down.  She, however, was a witch, and said, I will throw down a wand from the tree, and if you strike them on the back with it, they will do me no harm.  Then she threw him a small wand, and he struck them with it, and instantly they lay still and were turned into stone.  And when the witch was safe from the animals, she leapt down and touched him also with a wand, and changed him to stone.  Thereupon she laughed, and dragged him and the animals into a vault, where many more such stones already lay.

In the Irish Adventure of Melora and Orlando, the gullible young Orlando is also transformed into a deathly state by a sorceress and left in a remote cave.

As the young king did not come back at all, the queen’s anguish and care grew constantly greater.  And it so happened that at this very time the other brother who had turned to the east when they separated, came into the kingdom.  He had sought a situation, and had found none, and had then traveled about here and there, and had made his animals dance.  Then it came into his mind that he would just go and look at the knife that they had thrust in the trunk of a tree at their parting, that he might learn how his brother was.  When he got there his brother’s side of the knife was half rusted, and half bright.  Then he was alarmed and thought, a great misfortune must have befallen my brother, but perhaps I can still save him, for half the knife is still bright.  He and his animals traveled towards the west, and when he entered the gate of the town, the guard came to meet him, and asked if he was to announce him to his consort the young queen, who had for a couple of days been in the greatest sorrow about his staying away, and was afraid he had been killed in the enchanted forest.  The sentries, indeed, thought no otherwise than that he was the young king himself, for he looked so like him, and had wild animals running behind him.  Then he saw that they were speaking of his brother, and thought, it will be better if I pass myself off for him, and then I can rescue him more easily.  So he allowed himself to be escorted into the castle by the guard, and was received with the greatest joy.

The young queen indeed thought that he was her husband, and asked him why he had stayed away so long.  He answered, I had lost myself in a forest, and could not find my way out again any sooner.  At night he was taken to the royal bed, but he laid a two-edged sword between him and the young queen, she did not know what that could mean, but did not venture to ask.

The correlation here with the year that Pwyll passes in disguise with Arawn’s wife, during which time he presents his back to her every night in bed, is remarkable.  The Welsh tale must certainly stem from the same mythic source as does this episode of our story.

He remained in the palace a couple of days, and in the meantime inquired into everything which related to the enchanted forest, and at last he said, I must hunt there once more.  The king and the young queen wanted to persuade him not to do it, but he stood out against them, and went forth with a larger following.

When he had got into the forest, it fared with him as with his brother, he saw a white hind and said to his men, stay here, and wait until I return, I want to chase the lovely wild beast, and then he rode into the forest and his animals ran after him.  But he could not overtake the hind, and got so deep into the forest that he was forced to pass the night there.  And when he had lighted a fire, he heard someone wailing above him, oh, oh, oh, how cold I am.  Then he looked up, and the self-same witch was sitting in the tree. Said he, if you are cold, come down, little old mother, and warm yourself.  She answered, no, your animals will bite me. But he said, they will not hurt you.  Then she cried, I will throw down a wand to you, and if you smite them with it they will do me no harm.  When the huntsman heard that, he had no confidence in the old woman, and said, I will not strike my animals.  Come down, or I will fetch you.  Then she cried, what do you want.  You shall not touch me.  But he replied, if you do not come, I will shoot you.  Said she, shoot away, I do not fear your bullets.  Then he aimed, and fired at her, but the witch was proof against all leaden bullets, and laughed shrilly and cried, you shall not hit me.

The huntsman knew what to do, tore three silver buttons off his coat, and loaded his gun with them, for against them her arts were useless, and when he fired she fell down at once with a scream.  Then he set his foot on her and said, old witch, if you do not instantly confess where my brother is, I will seize you with both my hands and throw you into the fire.  She was in a great fright, begged for mercy and said, he and his animals lie in a vault, turned to stone.  Then he compelled her to go thither with him, threatened her, and said, old sea-cat, now you shall make my brother and all the human beings lying here, alive again, or you shall go into the fire.  She took a wand and touched the stones, and then his brother with his animals came to life again, and many others, merchants, artisans, and shepherds, arose, thanked him for their deliverance, and went to their homes.

But when the twin brothers saw each other again, they kissed each other and rejoiced with all their hearts.  Then they seized the witch, bound her and laid her on the fire, and when she was burnt the forest opened of its own accord, and was light and clear, and the king’s palace could be seen at about the distance of a three hours, walk.  Thereupon the two brothers went home together, and on the way told each other their histories.  And when the younger said that he was ruler of the whole country in the king’s stead, the other observed, that I remarked very well, for when I came to the town, and was taken for you, all royal honors were paid me, the young queen looked on me as her husband, and I had to eat at her side, and sleep in your bed.

When the other heard that, he became so jealous and angry that he drew his sword, and struck off his brother’s head.  But when he saw him lying there dead, and saw his red blood flowing, he repented most violently, my brother delivered me, cried he, and I have killed him for it, and he bewailed him aloud.

Of course, the shaman’s slaughtering those nearest to him in a fit of blind rage is a staple of many mythic traditions.  Herakles slays his wife and children, Cú Chulainn kills his only son, and the Iranian Rostám also cuts down his son.  We have also numerous incidences of the shaman’s “blood brother” being killed as a kind of substitute for the hero himself (e.g., Enkidu and Patroclus).

Then his hare came and offered to go and bring some of the root of life, and bounded away and brought it while yet there was time, and the dead man was brought to life again, and knew nothing about the wound.  After this they journeyed onwards, and the younger said, you look like me, you have royal apparel on as I have, and the animals follow you as they do me, we will go in by opposite gates, and arrive at the same time from the two sides in the aged king’s presence.

So they separated, and at the same time came the watchmen from the one door and from the other, and announced that the young king and the animals had returned from the chase.  The king said, it is not possible, the gates lie quite a mile apart. In the meantime, however, the two brothers entered the courtyard of the palace from opposite sides, and both mounted the steps. Then the king said to the daughter, say which is your husband.  Each of them looks exactly like the other, I cannot tell.

Then she was in great distress, and could not tell, but at last she remembered the necklace which she had given to the animals, and she sought for and found her little golden clasp on the lion, and she cried in her delight, he who is followed by this lion is my true husband.  Then the young king laughed and said, yes, he is the right one, and they sat down together to table, and ate and drank, and were merry.

At night when the young king went to bed, his wife said, why have you for these last nights always laid a two-edged sword in our bed.  I thought you had a wish to kill me.  Then he knew how true his brother had been.


Hard by a great forest dwelt a wood-cutter with his wife, who had an only child, a little girl three years old.  They were so poor, however, that they no longer had daily bread, and did not know how to get food for her.  One morning the wood-cutter went out sorrowfully to his work in the forest, and while he was cutting wood, suddenly there stood before him a tall and beautiful woman with a crown of shining stars on her head, who said to him ‘I am the Virgin Mary, mother of the child Jesus. You are poor and needy, bring your child to me, I will take her with me and be her mother, and care for her.’

The wood-cutter obeyed, brought his child, and gave her to the Virgin Mary, who took her up to heaven with her.  There the child fared well, ate sugar-cakes, and drank sweet milk, and her clothes were of gold, and the little angels played with her.  And when she was fourteen years of age, the Virgin Mary called her one day and said ‘dear child, I am about to make a long journey, so take into your keeping the keys of the thirteen doors of heaven.  Twelve of these you may open, and behold the glory which is within them, but the thirteenth, to which this little key belongs, is forbidden you.  Take care not to open it, or you will be unhappy.’

The girl promised to be obedient, and when the Virgin Mary was gone, she began to examine the dwellings of the kingdom of heaven.  Each day she opened one of them, until she had made the round of the twelve. In each of them sat one of the apostles in the midst of a great light, and she rejoiced in all the magnificence and splendor, and the little angels who always accompanied her rejoiced with her. Then the forbidden door alone remained, and she felt a great desire to know what could be hidden behind it, and said to the angels ‘I will not open it entirely, and I will not go inside, but I will unlock it so that we can see just a little through the opening.’ ‘Oh, no,’ said the little angels,  ‘that would be a sin.  The Virgin Mary has forbidden it, and it might easily cause your unhappiness.’

Then she was silent, but the desire in her heart was not stilled, but gnawed there and tormented her, and let her have no rest.  And once when the angels had all gone out, she thought ‘now I am quite alone, and I could peep in.  If I do, no one will ever know.’ She sought out the key, and when she had got it in her hand, she put it in the lock, and when she had put it in, she turned it round as well.  Then the door sprang open, and she saw there the trinity sitting in fire and splendor.  She stayed there awhile, and looked at everything in amazement, then she touched the light a little with her finger, and her finger became quite golden. Immediately a great fear fell on her.

She shut the door violently, and ran from there.  But her terror would not quit her, let her do what she might, and her heart beat continually and would not be still; the gold too stayed on her finger, and would not go away, let her rub it and wash it never so much.

It was not long before the Virgin Mary came back from her journey. She called the girl before her, and asked to have the keys of heaven back. When the maiden gave her the bunch, the Virgin looked into her eyes and said, ‘Hast thou not opened the thirteenth door also?’ ‘No,’ she replied. Then she laid her hand on the girl’s heart, and felt how it beat and beat, and saw right well that she had disobeyed her order and had opened the door. Then she said once again, ‘Art thou certain that thou hast not done it?’ ‘Yes,’ said the girl, for the second time.  Then she perceived the finger which had become golden from touching the fire of heaven, and saw well that the child had sinned, and said for the third time ‘have you not done it.’ ‘No,’ said the girl for the third time.  Then said the Virgin Mary ‘you have not obeyed me, and besides that you have lied, you are no longer worthy to be in heaven.’

Then the girl fell into a deep sleep, and when she awoke she lay on the earth below, and in the midst of a wilderness.  She wanted to cry out, but she could bring forth no sound.  She sprang up and wanted to run away, but whithersoever she turned herself, she was continually held back by thick hedges of thorns through which she could not break.  In the desert, in which she was imprisoned, there stood an old hollow tree, and this had to be her dwelling-place.  Into this she crept when night came, and here she slept.  Here, too, she found a shelter from storm and rain, but it was a miserable life, and bitterly did she weep when she remembered how happy she had been in heaven, and how the angels had played with her. Roots and wild berries were her only food, and for these she sought as far as she could go. In the autumn she picked up the fallen nuts and leaves, and carried them into the hole. The nuts were her food in winter, and when snow and ice came, she crept amongst the leaves like a poor little animal that she might not freeze.  Before long her clothes were all torn, and one bit of them after another fell off her.  As soon, however, as the sun shone warm again, she went out and sat in front of the tree, and her long hair covered her on all sides like a mantle.  Thus she sat year after year, and felt the pain and the misery of the world.

This seems more than a coincidental resemblance to the motif common in Arthurian lore of the knight run amuck due to some maddening grief or misdeed (e.g., Owein/Yvain and Orlando).  The unfortunate lunatic lives wild among the forest beasts, eventually loses all his clothes, grazes on whatever nature provides, and grows so hairy that he can scarcely be recognized as human.  The maiden in our tale is of course far less repugnant in her wild appearance—but note that, like an animal, she has no power of speech.  Also like the medieval romance, this tale has tied the motif to Christian penitence.

One day, when the trees were once more clothed in fresh green, the king of the country was hunting in the forest, and followed a roe, and as it had fled into the thicket which shut in this part of the forest, he got off his horse, tore the bushes asunder, and cut himself a path with his sword.  When he had at last forced his way through, he saw a wonderfully beautiful maiden sitting under the tree, and she sat there and was entirely covered with her golden hair down to her very feet. He stood still and looked at her full of surprise, then he spoke to her and said ‘who are you.  Why are you sitting here in the wilderness.’ But she gave no answer, for she could not open her mouth.  The king continued ‘will you go with me to my castle.  Then she just nodded her head a little.  The king took her in his arms, carried her to his horse, and rode home with her, and when he reached the royal castle he caused her to be dressed in beautiful garments, and gave her all things in abundance.  Although she could not speak, she was still so beautiful and charming that he began to love her with all his heart, and it was not long before he married her.

After a year or so had passed, the queen brought a son into the world. Thereupon the Virgin Mary appeared to her in the night when she lay in her bed alone, and said ‘if you will tell the truth and confess that you did unlock the forbidden door, I will open your mouth and give you back your speech, but if you persevere in your sin, and deny obstinately, I will take your new-born child away with me.’ Then the queen was permitted to answer, but she remained hard, and said ‘no, I did not open the forbidden door, and the Virgin Mary took the new-born child from her arms, and vanished with it.

Next morning when the child was not to be found, it was whispered among the people that the queen was a man-eater, and had put her own child to death. She heard all this and could say nothing to the contrary, but the king would not believe it, for he loved her so much. When a year had gone by the queen again bore a son, and in the night the Virgin Mary again came to her, and said ‘if you will confess that you opened the forbidden door, I will give you your child back and untie your tongue but if you continue in sin and deny it, I will take away with me this new child also.’ Then the queen again said ‘no, I did not open the forbidden door.’ And the Virgin took the child out of her arms, and away with her to heaven.

The increasing influence of the king’s council reflects that of Prince Pwyll’s advisors when Rhiannon is falsely charged with having torn apart her infant son in madness.  In the Welsh tale, the queen is not executed, but a heavy penance is forced upon her until she is finally cleared of the deed.

Next morning, when this child also had disappeared, the people declared quite loudly that the queen had devoured it, and the king’s councillors demanded that she should be brought to justice.  The king however, loved her so dearly that he would not believe it, and commanded the councillors under pain of death not to say any more about it. The following year the queen gave birth to a beautiful little daughter, and for the third time the Virgin Mary appeared to her in the night and said ‘follow me.’ She took the queen by the hand and led her to heaven, and showed her there her two eldest children, who smiled at her, and were playing with the ball of the world.  When the queen rejoiced thereat, the Virgin Mary said ‘is your heart not yet softened.  If you will own that you opened the forbidden door, I will give you back your two little sons.’ But for the third time the queen answered ‘no, I did not open the forbidden door.’ Then the Virgin let her sink down to earth once more, and took from her likewise her third child.

Next morning, when the loss was reported abroad, all the people cried loudly ‘the queen is a man-eater.  She must be judged, and the king was no longer able to restrain his councillors. Thereupon a trial was held, and as she could not answer, and defend herself, she was condemned to be burnt at the stake. The wood was got together, and when she was fast bound to the stake, and the fire began to burn round about her, the hard ice of pride melted, her heart was moved by repentance, and she thought ‘if I could but confess before my death that I opened the door.’ Then her voice came back to her, and she cried out loudly ‘yes, Mary, I did it, and straight-way rain fell from the sky and extinguished the flames of fire, and a light broke forth above her, and the Virgin Mary descended with the two little sons by her side, and the new-born daughter in her arms.  She spoke kindly to her, and said ‘he who repents his sin and acknowledges it, is forgiven.’ Then she gave her the three children, untied her tongue, and granted her happiness for her whole life.



A certain father had two sons, the elder of whom was smart and sensible, and could do everything, but the younger was stupid and could neither learn nor understand anything, and when people saw him they said ‘there’s a fellow who will give his father some trouble.’ When anything had to be done, it was always the elder who was forced to do it, but if his father bade him fetch anything when it was late, or in the night-time, and the way led through the churchyard, or any other dismal place, he answered ‘oh, no, father, I’ll not go there, it makes me shudder.’ For he was afraid.  Or when stories were told by the fire at night which made the flesh creep, the listeners sometimes said ‘oh, it makes us shudder.’ The younger sat in a corner and listened with the rest of them, and could not imagine what they could mean.  ‘They are always saying ‘it makes me shudder, it makes me shudder,  it does not make me shudder,’ thought he.  ‘That, too, must be an art of which I understand nothing.’

Now it came to pass that his father said to him one day ‘hearken to me, you fellow in the corner there, you are growing tall and strong, and you too must learn something by which you can earn your bread. Look how your brother works, but you do not even earn your salt.’ ‘Well, father,’ he replied,  ‘I am quite willing to learn something – indeed, if it could but be managed, I should like to learn how to shudder.  I don’t understand that at all yet.’ The elder brother smiled when he heard that, and thought to himself ‘good God, what a blockhead that brother of mine is.  He will never be good for anything as long as he lives.  He who wants to be a sickle must bend himself betimes.’ The father sighed, and answered him ‘you shall soon learn what it is to shudder, but you will not earn your bread by that.’ Soon after this the sexton came to the house on a visit, and the father bewailed his trouble, and told him how his younger son was so backward in every respect that he knew nothing and learnt nothing. ‘Just think,’ said he,  ‘when I asked him how he was going to earn his bread, he actually wanted to learn to shudder.’ ‘If that be all,’ replied the sexton,  ‘he can learn that with me.  Send him to me, and I will soon polish him.’ The father was glad to do it, for he thought ‘it will train the boy a little.’

The sexton therefore took him into his house, and he had to ring the church bell.  After a day or two, the sexton awoke him at midnight, and bade him arise and go up into the church tower and ring the bell. ‘You shall soon learn what shuddering is,’ thought he, and secretly went there before him, and when the boy was at the top of the tower and turned round, and was just going to take hold of the bell rope, he saw a white figure standing on the stairs opposite the sounding hole.  ‘Who is there?’ cried he, but the figure made no reply, and did not move or stir. ‘Give an answer,’ cried the boy,  ‘or take yourself off, you have no business here at night.’  The sexton, however, remained standing motionless that the boy might think he was a ghost.  The boy cried a second time ‘what do you want here. – Speak if you are an honest fellow, or I will throw you down the steps.’ The sexton thought ‘he can’t mean to be as bad as his words,’ uttered no sound and stood as if he were made of stone.  Then the boy called to him for the third time, and as that was also to no purpose, he ran against him and pushed the ghost down the stairs, so that it fell down ten steps and remained lying there in a corner. Thereupon he rang the bell, went home, and without saying a word went to bed, and fell asleep.

The sexton’s wife waited a long time for her husband, but he did not come back.  At length she became uneasy, and wakened the boy, and asked ‘do you not know where my husband is. He climbed up the tower before you did.’ ‘No, I don’t know,’ replied the boy,  ‘but someone was standing by the sounding hole on the other side of the steps, and as he would neither give an answer nor go away, I took him for a scoundrel, and threw him downstairs.  Just go there and you will see if it was he.  I should be sorry if it were.’ The woman ran away and found her husband, who was lying moaning in the corner, and had broken his leg.  She carried him down, and then with loud screams she hastened to the boy’s father.  ‘Your boy,’ cried she,  ‘has been the cause of a great misfortune.  He has thrown my husband down the steps so that he broke his leg.  Take the good-for-nothing fellow out of our house.’

The father was terrified, and ran thither and scolded the boy.  ‘What wicked tricks are these,’ said he,  ‘the devil must have put them into your head.’ ‘Father,’ he replied, ‘do listen to me.  I am quite innocent.  He was standing there by night like one intent on doing evil.  I did not know who it was, and I entreated him three times either to speak or to go away.’ ‘Ah,’ said the father,  ‘I have nothing but unhappiness with you.  Go out of my sight.  I will see you no more.’  ‘Yes, father, right willingly, wait only until it is day.  Then will I go forth and learn how to shudder, and then I shall, at any rate, understand one art which will support me.’ ‘Learn what you will, spoke the father,  ‘it is all the same to me. Here are fifty talers for you.  Take these and go into the wide world, and tell no one from whence you come, and who is your father, for I have reason to be ashamed of you.’ ‘Yes, father, it shall be as you will.  If you desire nothing more than that, I can easily keep it in mind.’

When day dawned, therefore, the boy put his fifty talers into his pocket, and went forth on the great highway, and continually said to himself ‘if I could but shudder.  If I could but shudder.’ Then a man approached who heard this conversation which the youth was holding with himself, and when they had walked a little farther to where they could see the gallows, the man said to him ‘look, there is the tree where seven men have married the ropemaker’s daughter, and are now learning how to fly.  Sit down beneath it, and wait till night comes, and you will soon learn how to shudder.’ ‘If that is all that is wanted, answered the youth,  ‘it is easily done, but if I learn how to shudder as fast as that, you shall have my fifty talers.  Just come back to me early in the morning.’

Then the youth went to the gallows, sat down beneath it, and waited till evening came. And as he was cold, he lighted himself a fire, but at midnight the wind blew so sharply that in spite of his fire, he could not get warm.  And as the wind knocked the hanged men against each other, and they moved backwards and forwards, he thought to himself ‘if you shiver below by the fire, how those up above must freeze and suffer.’ And as he felt pity for them, he raised the ladder, and climbed up, unbound one of them after the other, and brought down all seven.  Then he stoked the fire, blew it, and set them all round it to warm themselves.  But they sat there and did not stir, and the fire caught their clothes. So he said ‘take care, or I will hang you up again.’ The dead men, however, did not hear, but were quite silent, and let their rags go on burning.  At this he grew angry, and said ‘if you will not take care, I cannot help you, I will not be burnt with you,’ and he hung them up again each in his turn.

Then he sat down by his fire and fell asleep, and the next morning the man came to him and wanted to have the fifty talers, and said ‘well, do you know how to shudder?’ ‘No, answered he,  ‘how should I know.  Those fellows up there did not open their mouths, and were so stupid that they let the few old rags which they had on their bodies get burnt.’ Then the man saw that he would not get the fifty talers that day, and went away saying ‘such a youth has never come my way before.’

The youth likewise went his way, and once more began to mutter to himself ‘ah, if I could but shudder. Ah, if I could but shudder.’ A waggoner who was striding behind him heard this and asked ‘who are you?’ ‘I don’t know,’ answered the youth.  Then the waggoner asked ‘from whence do you come?’ ‘I know not.’ ‘Who is your father?’ ‘That I may not tell you.’ ‘What is it that you are always muttering between your teeth?’ ‘Ah,’ replied the youth,  ‘I do so wish I could shudder, but no one can teach me how.’ ‘Enough of your foolish chatter,  said the waggoner.  ‘Come, go with me, I will see about a place for you.’

The youth went with the waggoner, and in the evening they arrived at an inn where they wished to pass the night.  Then at the entrance of the parlor the youth again said quite loudly ‘if I could but shudder.  If I could but shudder.’ The host who heard this, laughed and said ‘if that is your desire, there ought to be a good opportunity for you here.’ ‘Ah, be silent,’ said the hostess,  ‘so many prying persons have already lost their lives, it would be a pity and a shame if such beautiful eyes as these should never see the daylight again.’ But the youth said ‘however difficult it may be, I will learn it.  For this purpose indeed have I journeyed forth.’ He let the host have no rest, until the latter told him, that not far from thence stood a haunted castle where any one could very easily learn what shuddering was, if he would but watch in it for three nights.  The king had promised that he who would venture should have his daughter to wife, and she was the most beautiful maiden the sun shone on.  Likewise in the castle lay great treasures, which were guarded by evil spirits, and these treasures would then be freed, and would make a poor man rich enough. Already many men had gone into the castle, but as yet none had come out again.

Then the youth went next morning to the king and said ‘if it be allowed, I will willingly watch three nights in the haunted castle.’ The king looked at him, and as the youth pleased him, he said ‘you may ask for three things to take into the castle with you, but they must be things without life.’ Then he answered ‘then I ask for a fire, a turning lathe, and a cutting-board with the knife.’ The king had these things carried into the castle for him during the day. When night was drawing near, the youth went up and made himself a bright fire in one of the rooms, placed the cutting-board and knife beside it, and seated himself by the turning-lathe.  ‘Ah, if I could but shudder.’ Said he,  ‘but I shall not learn it here either.’ Towards midnight he was about to poke his fire, and as he was blowing it, something cried suddenly from one corner ‘au, miau.  How cold we are.’ ‘You fools.’ Cried he,  ‘what are you crying about.  If you are cold, come and take a seat by the fire and warm yourselves.’ And when he had said that, two great black cats came with one tremendous leap and sat down on each side of him, and looked savagely at him with their fiery eyes.  After a short time, when they had warmed themselves, they said ‘comrade, shall we have a game of cards.’ ‘Why not?’ he replied,  ‘but just show me your paws.’ Then they stretched out their claws.  ‘Oh,’ said he,  ‘what long nails you have.  Wait, I must first cut them for you.’ Thereupon he seized them by the throats, put them on the cutting-board and screwed their feet fast. ‘I have looked at your fingers,’ said he,  ‘and my fancy for card-playing has gone,’ and he struck them dead and threw them out into the water.

But when he had made away with these two, and was about to sit down again by his fire, out from every hole and corner came black cats and black dogs with red-hot chains, and more and more of them came until he could no longer move, and they yelled horribly, and got on his fire, pulled it to pieces, and tried to put it out. He watched them for a while quietly, but at last when they were going too far, he seized his cutting-knife, and cried ‘away with you, vermin,’ and began to cut them down. Some of them ran away, the others he killed, and threw out into the fish-pond.

When he came back he fanned the embers of his fire again and warmed himself.  And as he thus sat, his eyes would keep open no longer, and he felt a desire to sleep.  Then he looked round and saw a great bed in the corner. ‘That is the very thing for me,’ said he, and got into it.  When he was just going to shut his eyes, however, the bed began to move of its own accord, and went over the whole of the castle. ‘That’s right, said he,  ‘but go faster.’ Then the bed rolled on as if six horses were harnessed to it, up and down, over thresholds and stairs, but suddenly hop, hop, it turned over upside down, and lay on him like a mountain.  But he threw quilts and pillows up in the air, got out and said ‘now any one who likes, may drive, and lay down by his fire, and slept till it was day.

In the morning the king came, and when he saw him lying there on the ground, he thought the evil spirits had killed him and he was dead.  Then said he ‘after all it is a pity, — for so handsome a man.’ The youth heard it, got up, and said ‘it has not come to that yet.’ Then the king was astonished, but very glad, and asked how he had fared.  ‘Very well indeed,’ answered he,  ‘one night is past, the two others will pass likewise.’ Then he went to the innkeeper, who opened his eyes very wide, and said ‘I never expected to see you alive again.  Have you learnt how to shudder yet.’ ‘No,’ said he,  ‘it is all in vain.  If some one would but tell me.’

The second night he again went up into the old castle, sat down by the fire, and once more began his old song ‘if I could but shudder.’ When midnight came, an uproar and noise of tumbling about was heard, at first it was low, but it grew louder and louder.  Then it was quiet for a while, and at length with a loud scream, half a man came down the chimney and fell before him.  ‘Hullo,’ cried he,  ‘another half belongs to this.  This is not enough.’ Then the uproar began again, there was a roaring and howling, and the other half fell down likewise.  ‘Wait,’ said he,  ‘I will just stoke up the fire a little for you.’ When he had done that and looked round again, the two pieces were joined together, and a hideous man was sitting in his place. ‘That is no part of our bargain,’ said the youth, ‘the bench is mine.’ The man wanted to push him away, the youth, however, would not allow that, but thrust him off with all his strength, and seated himself again in his own place.

Then still more men fell down, one after the other, they brought nine dead men’s legs and two skulls, and set them up and played at nine-pins with them. The youth also wanted to play and said ‘listen you, can I join you?’ ‘Yes, if you have any money.’ Money enough,’ replied he,  ‘but your balls are not quite round.’ Then he took the skulls and put them in the lathe and turned them till they were round.  ‘There, now they will roll better,’ said he. ‘Hurrah.  Now we’ll have fun.’ He played with them and lost some of his money, but when it struck twelve, everything vanished from his sight.  He lay down and quietly fell asleep.

Next morning the king came to inquire after him.  ‘How has it fared with you this time?’ asked he.  ‘I have been playing at nine-pins,’ he answered, ‘and have lost a couple of farthings.’ ‘Have you not shuddered then?’ ‘What?’ said he.  ‘I have had a wonderful time.  If I did but know what it was to shudder.’

The third night he sat down again on his bench and said quite sadly ‘if I could but shudder.’ When it grew late, six tall men came in and brought a coffin.  Then said he ‘ha, ha, that is certainly my little cousin, who died only a few days ago,’ and he beckoned with his finger, and cried ‘come, little cousin, come.’ They placed the coffin on the ground, but he went to it and took the lid off, and a dead man lay therein. He felt his face, but it was cold as ice.  ‘Wait,’ said he,  ‘I will warm you a little,’ and went to the fire and warmed his hand and laid it on the dead man’s face, but he remained cold.  Then he took him out, and sat down by the fire and laid him on his breast and rubbed his arms that the blood might circulate again.  As this also did no good, he thought to himself ‘when two people lie in bed together, they warm each other, and carried him to the bed, covered him over and lay down by him.  After a short time the dead man became warm too, and began to move. Then said the youth,  ‘see, little cousin, have I not warmed you.’ The dead man, however, got up and cried ‘now will I strangle you.’ ‘What?’ said he.  ‘Is that the way you thank me?  You shall at once go into your coffin again,’ and he took him up, threw him into it, and shut the lid.

Then came the six men and carried him away again.  ‘I cannot manage to shudder, said he.  ‘I shall never learn it here as long as I live.’ Then a man entered who was taller than all others, and looked terrible.  He was old, however, and had a long white beard. ‘You wretch,’ cried he,  ‘you shall soon learn what it is to shudder, for you shall die.’ ‘Not so fast, replied the youth. ‘If I am to die, I shall have to have a say in it.’ ‘I will soon seize you,’ said the fiend.  ‘Softly, softly, do not talk so big.  I am as strong as you are, and perhaps even stronger.’ ‘We shall see, said the old man.  ‘If you are stronger, I will let you go – come, we will try.’

Then he led him by dark passages to a smith’s forge, took an axe, and with one blow struck an anvil into the ground.  ‘I can do better than that, said the youth, and went to the other anvil.  The old man placed himself near and wanted to look on, and his white beard hung down.  Then the youth seized the axe, split the anvil with one blow, and in it caught the old man’s beard.  ‘Now I have you,’ said the youth.  ‘Now it is your turn to die.’ Then he seized an iron bar and beat the old man till he moaned and entreated him to stop, when he would give him great riches. The youth drew out the axe and let him go.  The old man led him back into the castle, and in a cellar showed him three chests full of gold. ‘Of these, said he, ‘one part is for the poor, the other for the king, the third yours.’ In the meantime it struck twelve, and the spirit disappeared, so that the youth stood in darkness.  ‘I shall still be able to find my way out, said he and felt about, found the way into the room, and slept there by his fire.

Next morning the king came and said ‘now you must have learnt what shuddering is.’ ‘No, he answered ‘what can it be. My dead cousin was here, and a bearded man came and showed me a great deal of money down below, but no one told me what it was to shudder.’ ‘Then, said the king,  ‘you have saved the castle, and shall marry my daughter.’ ‘That is all very well, said he,  ‘but still I do not know what it is to shudder.’

Then the gold was brought up and the wedding celebrated, but howsoever much the young king loved his wife, and however happy he was, he still said always ‘if I could but shudder – if I could but shudder.’ And this at last angered her.  Her waiting-maid said ‘I will find a cure for him, he shall soon learn what it is to shudder.  She went out to the stream which flowed through the garden, and had a whole bucketful of gudgeons brought to her.  At night when the young king was sleeping, his wife was to draw the clothes off him and empty the bucketful of cold water with the gudgeons in it over him, so that the little fishes would sprawl about him.  Then he woke up and cried ‘oh, what makes me shudder so. – What makes me shudder so, dear wife?  Ah. Now I know what it is to shudder.’



There was a certain village wherein no one lived but really rich peasants, and just one poor one, whom they called the little peasant.  He had not even so much as a cow, and still less money to buy one, and yet he and his wife did so wish to have one.  One day he said to her, listen, I have a good idea, there is our gossip the carpenter, he shall make us a wooden calf, and paint it brown, so that it looks like any other, and in time it will certainly get big and be a cow.  The woman also liked the idea, and their gossip the carpenter cut and planed the calf, and painted it as it ought to be, and made it with its head hanging down as if it were eating.

Next morning when the cows were being driven out, the little peasant called the cow-herd and said, look, I have a little calf there, but it is still small and has to be carried.  The cow-herd said, all right, and took it in his arms and carried it to the pasture, and set it among the grass.  The little calf always remained standing like one which was eating, and the cow-herd said, it will soon run by itself, just look how it eats already.  At night when he was going to drive the herd home again, he said to the calf, if you can stand there and eat your fill, you can also go on your four legs.  I don’t care to drag you home again in my arms.

But the little peasant stood at his door, and waited for his little calf, and when the cow-herd drove the cows through the village, and the calf was missing, he inquired where it was.  The cow-herd answered, it is still standing out there eating.  It would not stop and come with us.  But the little peasant said, oh, but I must have my beast back again.  Then they went back to the meadow together, but someone had stolen the calf, and it was gone.  The cow-herd said, it must have run away.  The peasant, however, said, don’t tell me that, and led the cow-herd before the mayor, who for his carelessness condemned him to give the peasant a cow for the calf which had run away.

And now the little peasant and his wife had the cow for which they had so long wished, and they were heartily glad, but they had no food for it, and could give it nothing to eat, so it soon had to be killed.  They salted the flesh, and the peasant went into the town and wanted to sell the skin there, so that he might buy a new calf with the proceeds.  On the way he passed by a mill, and there sat a raven with broken wings, and out of pity he took him and wrapped him in the skin.  But as the weather grew so bad and there was a storm of rain and wind, he could go no farther, and turned back to the mill and begged for shelter.  The miller’s wife was alone in the house, and said to the peasant, lay yourself on the straw there, and gave him a slice of bread and cheese.  The peasant ate it, and lay down with his skin beside him, and the woman thought, he is tired and has gone to sleep.

In the meantime came the parson.  The miller’s wife received him well, and said, my husband is out, so we will have a feast.  The peasant listened, and when he heard them talk about feasting he was vexed that he had been forced to make shift with a slice of bread and cheese.  Then the woman served up four different things, roast meat, salad, cakes, and wine. Just as they were about to sit down and eat, there was a knocking outside.  The woman said, oh, heavens.  It is my husband.  She quickly hid the roast meat inside the tiled stove, the wine under the pillow, the salad on the bed, the cakes under it, and the parson in the closet on the porch.  Then she opened the door for her husband, and said, thank heaven, you are back again.  There is such a storm, it looks as if the world were coming to an end.

The miller saw the peasant lying on the straw, and asked, what is that fellow doing there.  Ah, said the wife, the poor knave came in the storm and rain, and begged for shelter, so I gave him a bit of bread and cheese, and showed him where the straw was.  The man said, I have no objection, but be quick and get me something to eat.  The woman said, but I have nothing but bread and cheese.  I am contented with anything, replied the husband, so far as I am concerned, bread and cheese will do, and looked at the peasant and said, come and eat some more with me.  The peasant did not require to be invited twice, but got up and ate.

After this the miller saw the skin in which the raven was, lying on the ground, and asked, what have you there.  The peasant answered, I have a soothsayer inside it.  Can he foretell anything to me, said the miller.  Why not, answered the peasant, but he only says four things, and the fifth he keeps to himself.  The miller was curious, and said, let him foretell something for once.  Then the peasant pinched the raven’s head, so that he croaked and made a noise like krr, krr.  The miller said, what did he say.  The peasant answered, in the first place, he says that there is some wine hidden under the pillow.  Bless me, cried the miller, and went there and found the wine.

Now go on, said he.  The peasant made the raven croak again, and said, in the second place, he says that there is some roast meat in the tiled stove.  Upon my word, cried the miller, and went thither, and found the roast meat.  The peasant made the raven prophesy still more, and said, thirdly, he says that there is some salad on the bed.  That would be a fine thing, cried the miller, and went there and found the salad.  At last the peasant pinched the raven once more till he croaked, and said, fourthly, he says that there are some cakes under the bed.  That would be a fine thing, cried the miller, and looked there, and found the cakes.

And now the two sat down to the table together, but the miller’s wife was frightened to death, and went to bed and took all the keys with her.  The miller would have liked much to know the fifth, but the little peasant said, first, we will quickly eat the four things, for the fifth is something bad.  So they ate, and after that they bargained how much the miller was to give for the fifth prophesy, until they agreed on three hundred talers.  Then the peasant once more pinched the raven’s head till he croaked loudly.  The miller asked, what did he say.  The peasant replied, he says that the devil is hiding outside there in the closet on the porch. The miller said, the devil must go out, and opened the house-door. Then the woman was forced to give up the keys, and the peasant unlocked the closet.  The parson ran out as fast as he could, and the miller said, it was true.  I saw the black rascal with my own eyes.  The peasant, however, made off next morning by daybreak with the three hundred talers.

At home the small peasant gradually launched out.  He built a beautiful house, and the peasants said, the small peasant has certainly been to the place where golden snow falls, and people carry the gold home in shovels.  Then the small peasant was brought before the mayor, and bidden to say from whence his wealth came.  He answered, I sold my cow’s skin in the town, for three hundred talers.  When the peasants heard that, they too wished to enjoy this great profit, and ran home, killed all their cows, and stripped off their skins in order to sell them in the town to the greatest advantage.  The mayor, however, said, but my servant must go first.  When she came to the merchant in the town, he did not give her more than two talers for a skin, and when the others came, he did not give them so much, and said, what can I do with all these skins.

Then the peasants were vexed that the small peasant should have thus outwitted them, wanted to take vengeance on him, and accused him of this treachery before the mayor.  The innocent little peasant was unanimously sentenced to death, and was to be rolled into the water, in a barrel pierced full of holes.  He was led forth, and a priest was brought who was to say a mass for his soul.  The others were all obliged to retire to a distance, and when the peasant looked at the priest, he recognized the man who had been with the miller’s wife.  He said to him, I set you free from the closet, set me free from the barrel.

At this same moment up came, with a flock of sheep, the very shepherd whom the peasant knew had long been wishing to be mayor, so he cried with all his might, no, I will not do it.  If the whole world insists on it, I will not do it.  The shepherd hearing that, came up to him, and asked, what are you about.  What is it that you will not do.  The peasant said, they want to make me mayor, if I will but put myself in the barrel, but I will not do it. The shepherd said, if nothing more than that is needful in order to be mayor, I would get into the barrel at once.  The peasant said, if you will get in, you will be mayor.  The shepherd was willing, and got in, and the peasant shut the top down on him. Then he took the shepherd’s flock for himself, and drove it away.

The parson went to the crowd, and declared that the mass had been said.  Then they came and rolled the barrel towards the water.  When the barrel began to roll, the shepherd cried, I am quite willing to be mayor.  They believed no otherwise than that it was the peasant who was saying this, and answered, that is what we intend, but first you shall look about you a little down below there, and they rolled the barrel down into the water.

After that the peasants went home, and as they were entering the village, the small peasant also came quietly in, driving a flock of sheep and looking quite contented.  Then the peasants were astonished, and said, peasant, from whence do you come. Have you come out of the water.  Yes, truly, replied the peasant, I sank deep, deep down, until at last I got to the bottom. I pushed the bottom out of the barrel, and crept out, and there were pretty meadows on which a number of lambs were feeding, and from thence I brought this flock away with me.  Said the peasants, are there any more.  Oh, yes, said he, more than I could want.

Then the peasants made up their minds that they too would fetch some sheep for themselves, a flock apiece, but the mayor said, I come first.  So they went to the water together, and just then there were some of the small fleecy clouds in the blue sky, which are called little lambs, and they were reflected in the water, whereupon the peasants cried, we already see the sheep down below.  The mayor pressed forward and said, I will go down first, and look about me, and if things promise well I’ll call you. So he jumped in.  Splash, went the water.  It sounded as if he were calling them, and the whole crowd plunged in after him as one man.

Then the entire village was dead, and the small peasant, as sole heir, became a rich man.


Dr. John Harris, founder and current president of The Center for Literate Values, is also Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Texas at Tyler

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