Hansel and Gretel by Jessie Wilcox Smith

Household Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm translated by Margaret Hunt

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by John Hassall

Grimm's Household Tales with the
Author's Notes
translated by Margaret Hunt

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The Three Feathers

THERE was once on a time a King who had three sons, of whom two were clever and wise, but the third did not speak much, and was simple, and was called the Simpleton. When the King had become old and weak, and was thinking of his end, he did not know which of his sons should inherit the kingdom after him. Then he said to them, "Go forth, and he who brings me the most beautiful carpet shall be King after my death." And that there should be no dispute amongst them, he took them outside his castle, blew three feathers in the air, and said, "You shall go as they fly." One feather flew to the east, the other to the west, but the third flew straight up and did not fly far, but soon fell to the ground. And now one brother went to the right, and the other to the left, and they mocked Simpleton, who was forced to stay where the third feather had fallen. He sat down and was sad, then all at once he saw that there was a trap-door close by the feather. He raised it up, found some steps, and went down them, and then he came to another door, knocked at it, and heard somebody inside calling ,

"Little green maiden small,
Hopping hither and thither;
Hop to the door,
And quickly see who is there."

The door opened, and he saw a great, fat toad sitting, and round about her a crowd of little toads. The fat toad asked what he wanted? He answered, "I should like to have the prettiest and finest carpet in the world." Then she called a young one and said,

"Little green maiden small,
Hopping hither and thither,
Hop quickly and bring me
The great box here."

The young toad brought the box, and the fat toad opened it, and gave Simpleton a carpet out of it, so beautiful and so fine, that on the earth above, none could have been woven like it. Then he thanked her, and ascended again. The two others had, however, looked on their youngest brother as so stupid that they believed he would find and bring nothing at all. "Why should we give ourselves a great deal of trouble to search?" said they, and got some coarse handkerchiefs from the first shepherds' wives whom they met, and carried them home to the King. At the same time Simpleton also came back, and brought his beautiful carpet, and when the King saw it he was astonished, and said, "If justice be done, the kingdom belongs to the youngest." But the two others let their father have no peace, and said that it was impossible that Simpleton, who in everything lacked understanding, should be King, and entreated him to make a new agreement with them. Then the father said, "He who brings me the most beautiful ring shall inherit the kingdom," and led the three brothers out, and blew into the air three feathers, which they were to follow. Those of the two eldest again went east and west, and Simpleton's feather flew straight up, and fell down near the door into the earth. Then he went down again to the fat toad, and told her that he wanted the most beautiful ring. She at once ordered her great box to be brought, and gave him a ring out of it, which sparkled with jewels, and was so beautiful that no goldsmith on earth would have been able to make it. The two eldest laughed at Simpleton for going to seek a golden ring. They gave themselves no trouble, but knocked the nails out of an old carriage-ring, and took it to the King; but when Simpleton produced his golden ring, his father again said, "The kingdom belongs to him." The two eldest did not cease from tormenting the King until he made a third condition, and declared that the one who brought the most beautiful woman home, should have the kingdom. He again blew the three feathers into the air, and they flew as before.

Then Simpleton without more ado went down to the fat toad, and said, "I am to take home the most beautiful woman!" "Oh," answered the toad, "the most beautiful woman! She is not at hand at the moment, but still thou shalt have her." She gave him a yellow turnip which had been hollowed out, to which six mice were harnessed. Then Simpleton said quite mournfully, "What am I to do with that?" The toad answered, "Just put one of my little toads into it." Then he seized one at random out of the circle, and put her into the yellow coach, but hardly was she seated inside it than she turned into a wonderfully beautiful maiden, and the turnip into a coach, and the six mice into horses. So he kissed her, and drove off quickly with the horses, and took her to the King. His brothers came afterwards; they had given themselves no trouble at all to seek beautiful girls, but had brought with them the first peasant women they chanced to meet. When the King saw them he said, "After my death the kingdom belongs to my youngest son." But the two eldest deafened the King's ears afresh with their clamour, "We cannot consent to Simpleton's being King," and demanded that the one whose wife could leap through a ring which hung in the centre of the hall should have the preference. They thought, "The peasant women can do that easily; they are strong enough, but the delicate maiden will jump herself to death." The aged King agreed likewise to this. Then the two peasant women jumped, and jumped through the ring, but were so stout that they fell, and their coarse arms and legs broke in two. And then the pretty maiden whom Simpleton had brought with him, sprang, and sprang through as lightly as a deer, and all opposition had to cease. So he received the crown, and has ruled wisely for a length of time.

Next Tale:
The Golden Goose

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Household Tales. Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884, 1892. 2 volumes.


From Zwehrn; but we have frequently heard the story in Hesse, and there are usually variations in the three tasks which are set. Thus the finest linen yarn is demanded, which is given to Dummling (Simpleton) by a spinning-maiden in a subterranean cavern; the most beautiful carpet, which she also weaves for him; and, finally, the most beautiful woman. Dummling has to take a frog and leap into the water with it, on which it changes into the most beautiful girl. Or else a toad is given him, which he has to place on the bench by him as his wife. From thence it springs on to the table, then on the plate, and then, to the horror of all who are dining with him, into the dish. It will only sit quietly when on the salad. Then Dummling has to take hold of it, and lay it in a bed, and then cut it straight through its heart with a sharp sword; something cracks, and a beautiful maiden is lying there, who far surpasses the brides of the brothers in beauty. Afterwards the father gives each of his three sons an apple, and the one who throws it the farthest is to inherit the kingdom. The youngest son's apple flies the farthest, but as he is quite too stupid, the father will not let him have the power, and demands twenty score yards of linen in a nutshell. The eldest travels to Holland, the second to Schleswig, where fine linen was said to be, the third and stupid one goes into the forest, where a nutshell falls from a tree, and in it is the linen. Afterwards the father asks for a dog small enough to jump through his wedding-ring, and then for three hanks of yarn which will go through the eye of a needle, all of which Dummling brings. Or else it is that the one shall inherit the kingdom who brings back with him the most delightful perfume. The stupid one comes to a house where a cat is sitting outside the door, which asks "Why art thou so sad?" "Alas, thou canst not help me!" 'Come, let me hear! Tell me what thou art in need of?" The cat procures the best scent for him. The opening of the story is manifold-the father drives stupid Hans away, because he is too stupid for anything. He goes to the sea-shore, sits down, and weeps. Then comes the toad, who is an enchanted maiden; at her bidding he leaps with her into the water, struggles with her, and wins himself the kingdom, whilst she thus regains her beautiful human form. The Snake maiden in the Deutsche Sagen (i. 13) should be compared with this. The story is to be found, pp. 271-286, in the Brunswick Collection. In Büsching's, p. 268, Von der Padde. In Zingerle, p. 348. In D'Aulnoy, La Chatte Blanche, No. 19. It is also told in Swedish, in Cavallius, p. 300 (see further on). In Norwegian, in Asbjörnsen, p. 160. In Polish, Lewestam, p. 101. In Albanian, in Hahn, 2. 166, 167. In Servian, in Wuk, No. 11.

For blowing feathers, which are to be followed, the Altd. Wälder, 1. 91, should be seen. Aventin, in the Bavarian Chronicle, p. 98b, says, "There is a common proverb, which is generally used by such as wish, or are obliged, to till strange lands. 'I will blow a feather, and where it flies, I will follow.'" Indeed, at this very day, people in Hesse say, "Which way will that man blow his feather? Whither will he go?" Compare also Völundurs Lied, where one brother goes east, the second south, and the third stays at home. A similar custom was observed by the discontented Norwegians who left their fatherland under Harald Harfager, and emigrated to Iceland. It frequently happened that on approaching the island the captain threw overboard a piece of a chair which usually stood in the place of honour in the house. This fragment was adorned with a carving of the head of Thor or some other god, and the leader chose the place where it drifted to shore as the central point of the tract of land of which he was about to possess himself. But in the Persian Firdusi something of the same kind can be traced (Görres, i. 136). Sal went to descry the position of the enemy. He shot one arrow straight up towards heaven; he fixed spears in three places; and he shot three arrows across the stream, to serve as signs to the army where to assemble and make the attack.

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