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The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs
Grimms Fairy Tales and German Folklore
There was once a poor woman who gave birth to a little son,
and as he came into the world with a caul on, it was predicted
that in his fourteenth year he would have the king's daughter
for his wife. It happened that soon afterwards the king
came into the village, and no one knew that he was the king,
and when he asked the people what news there was, they answered,
a child has just been born with a caul on, whatever anyone so
born undertakes turns out well. It is prophesied, too, that
in his fourteenth year he will have the king's daughter for his
The king, who had a bad heart, and was angry about the prophecy,
went to the parents, and, seeming quite friendly, said, you poor
people, let me have your child, and I will take care of it. At
first they refused, but when the stranger offered them a large
amount of gold for it, and they thought, it is a child of good
fortune, and everything must turn out well for it, they at last
consented, and gave him the child.
The king put it in a box and rode away with it until he came to
a deep piece of water, then he threw the box into it and thought,
I have freed my daughter from her undesired suitor.
The box, however, did not sink, but floated like a boat, and not
a drop of water made its way into it. And it floated to within
two miles of the king's chief city, where there was a mill, and
it came to a halt at the mill-dam. A miller's boy, who by good
luck was standing there, noticed it and pulled it out with a hook,
thinking that he had found a great treasure, but when he opened
it there lay a pretty boy inside, quite fresh and lively. He
took him to the miller and his wife, and as they had no children
they were glad, and said, "God has given him to us." They took
great care of the foundling, and he grew up in all goodness.
It happened that once in a storm, the king went into the mill, and
asked the mill-folk if the tall youth were their son. No,
answered they, he's a foundling. Fourteen years ago he floated
down to the mill-dam in a box, and the mill-boy pulled him out
of the water.
Then the king knew that it was none other than the child of
good fortune which he had thrown into the water, and he said,
my good people, could not the youth take a letter to the queen.
I will give him two gold pieces as a reward. Just as the king
commands, answered they, and they told the boy to hold himself
in readiness. Then the king wrote a letter to the queen, wherein
he said, as soon as the boy arrives with this letter, let him be
killed and buried, and all must be done before I come home.
The boy set out with this letter, but he lost his way, and in the
evening came to a large forest. In the darkness he saw a small
light, he went towards it and reached a cottage. When he went in,
an old woman was sitting by the fire quite alone. She started
when she saw the boy, and said, whence do you come, and whither
are you going. I come from the mill, he answered, and wish
to go to the queen, to whom I am taking a letter, but as I have
lost my way in the forest I should like to stay here over night.
You poor boy, said the woman, you have come into a den of thieves,
and when they come home they will kill you. Let them come,
said the boy, I am not afraid, but I am so tired that I cannot go
any farther. And he stretched himself upon a bench and fell
Soon afterwards the robbers came, and angrily asked what strange
boy was lying there. Ah, said the old woman, it is an innocent
child who has lost himself in the forest, and out of pity I have
let him come in, he has to take a letter to the queen. The robbers
opened the letter and read it, and in it was written that the
boy as soon as he arrived should be put to death. Then the
hardhearted robbers felt pity, and their leader tore up the letter
and wrote another, saying, that as soon as the boy came, he should
be married at once to the king's daughter. Then they let him lie
quietly on the bench until the next morning, and when he awoke
they gave him the letter, and showed him the right way.
And the queen, when she had received the letter and read it,
did as was written in it, and had a splendid wedding-feast
prepared, and the king's daughter was married to the child of
good fortune, and as the youth was handsome and friendly she lived
with him in joy and contentment.
After some time the king returned to his palace and saw that
the prophecy was fulfilled, and the child married to his daughter.
How has that come to pass, said he, I gave quite another order
in my letter.
So the queen gave him the letter, and said that he might see for
himself what was written in it. The king read the letter and
saw quite well that it had been exchanged for the other. He
asked the youth what had become of the letter entrusted to him,
and why he had brought another instead of it. I know nothing
about it, answered he, it must have been changed in the night,
when I slept in the forest. The king said in a passion, you shall
not have everything quite so much your own way, whosoever marries
my daughter must fetch me from hell three golden hairs from
the head of the devil, bring me what I want, and you shall keep
my daughter. In this way the king hoped to be rid of him for ever.
But the child of good fortune answered, I will fetch the golden
hairs, I am not afraid of the devil. Whereupon he took leave of
them and began his journey.
The road led him to a large town, where the watchman by the gates
asked him what his trade was, and what he knew. I know
everything, answered the child of good fortune. Then you can do us
a favor, said the watchman, if you will tell us why our market
fountain, which once flowed with wine has become dry, and no
longer gives even water. That you shall know, answered he, only
wait until I come back.
Then he went farther and came to another town, and there also the
gatekeeper asked him what was his trade, and what he knew.
I know everything, answered he. Then you can do us a favor and
tell us why a tree in our town which once bore golden apples now
does not even put forth leaves. You shall know that, answered he,
only wait until I come back.
Then he went on and came to a wide river over which he must cross.
The ferryman asked him what his trade was, and what he knew. I
know everything, answered he. Then you can do me a favor, said
the ferryman, and tell me why I must always be rowing backwards
and forwards, and am never set free. You shall know that,
answered he, only wait until I come back.
When he had crossed the water he found the entrance to hell. It
was black and sooty within, and the devil was not at home, but
his grandmother was sitting in a large arm-chair. What do you
want, said she to him, but she did not look so very wicked. I
should like to have three golden hairs from the devil's head,
answered he, else I cannot keep my wife. That is a good deal
to ask for, said she, if the devil comes home and finds you, it
will cost you your life, but as I pity you, I will see if I cannot
She changed him into an ant and said, creep into the folds of my
dress, you will be safe there. Yes, answered he, so far, so good,
but there are three things besides that I want to know - why a
fountain which once flowed with wine has become dry, and no
longer gives even water, why a tree which once bore golden apples
does not even put forth leaves, and why a ferryman must always be
going backwards and forwards, and is never set free.
Those are difficult questions, answered she, but just be silent
and quiet and pay attention to what the devil says when I pull out
the three golden hairs.
As the evening came on, the devil returned home. No sooner had he
entered than he noticed that the air was not pure. I smell man's
flesh, said he, all is not right here. Then he pried into
every corner, and searched, but could not find anything. His
grandmother scolded him. It has just been swept, said she, and
everything put in order, and now you are upsetting it again, you
have always got man's flesh in your nose. Sit down and eat your
When he had eaten and drunk he was tired, and laid his head in
his grandmother's lap, and told her she should louse him a little.
It was not long before he was fast asleep, snoring and breathing
heavily. Then the old woman took hold of a golden hair, pulled
it out, and laid it down beside her. Oh, cried the devil,
what are you doing. I have had a bad dream, answered the
grandmother, so I seized hold of your hair. What did you dream
then, said the devil. I dreamt that a fountain in a market-place
from which wine once flowed was dried up, and not even water
would flow out of it - what is the cause of it. Oh, ho, if they
did but know it, answered the devil, there is a toad sitting
under a stone in the well - if they killed it, the wine would flow
The grandmother loused him again until he went to sleep and
snored so that the windows shook. Then she pulled the second hair
out. Ha, what are you doing, cried the devil angrily. Do not
take it ill, said she, I did it in a dream. What have you dreamt
this time, asked he. I dreamt that in a certain kingdom there
stood an apple-tree which had once borne golden apples, but now
would not even bear leaves. What, think you, was the reason.
Oh, if they did but know, answered the devil. A mouse is
gnawing at the root - if they killed it they would have golden
apples again, but if it gnaws much longer the tree will wither
altogether. But I have had enough of your dreams, if you disturb
me in my sleep again you will get a box on the ear.
The grandmother spoke gently to him and picked his lice once
more until he fell asleep and snored. Then she took hold of the
third golden hair and pulled it out. The devil jumped up,
roared out, and would have treated her ill if she had not
quieted him again and said, who can help bad dreams. What
was the dream, then, asked he, and was quite curious. I dreamt
of a ferryman who complained that he must always ferry from
one side to the other, and was never released. What is the
cause of it. Ah, the fool, answered the devil, when anyone
comes and wants to go across he must put the oar in his hand,
and the other man will have
to ferry and he will be free. As the grandmother had plucked
out the three golden hairs, and the three questions were
answered, she let the old devil alone, and he slept until
When the devil had gone out again the old woman took the ant
out of the folds of her dress, and gave the child of good
fortune his human shape again. There are the three golden
hairs for you, said she. What the devil said to your three
questions, I suppose you heard. Yes, answered he, I heard, and
will take care to remember. You have what you want, said she,
and now you can go your way. He thanked the old woman for
helping him in his need, and left hell well content that
everything had turned out so fortunately.
When he came to the ferryman he was expected to give the
promised answer. Ferry me across first, said the child of good
fortune, and then I will tell you how you can be set free, and
when he reached the opposite shore he gave him the devil's advice.
Next time anyone comes, who wants to be ferried over, just put the
oar in his hand.
He went on and came to the town wherein stood the unfruitful
tree, and there too the watchman wanted an answer. So he
told him what he had heard from the devil. Kill the mouse
which is gnawing at its root, and it will again bear golden
apples. Then the watchman thanked him, and gave him as a reward
two asses laden with gold, which followed him.
Finally, he came to the town whose well was dry. He told the
watchman what the devil had said, a toad is in the well beneath
a stone, you must find it and kill it, and the well will again
give wine in plenty. The watchman thanked him, and also
gave him two asses laden with gold.
At last the child of good fortune got home to his wife, who
was heartily glad to see him again, and to hear how well he had
prospered in everything. To the king he took what he had asked
for, the devil's three golden hairs, and when the king saw the
four asses laden with gold he was quite content, and said, now
all the conditions are fulfilled, and you can keep my daughter.
me, dear son-in-law, where did all that gold come from - this
is tremendous wealth. I was rowed across a river, answered he,
and got it there, it lies on the shore instead of sand. Can I
too fetch some of it, said the king, and he was quite eager
about it. As much as you like, answered he. There is a
ferryman on the river, let him ferry you over, and you can fill
your sacks on the other side. The greedy king set out in all
haste, and when he came to the river he beckoned to the ferryman
to put him across. The ferryman came and bade him get in,
and when they got to the other shore he put the oar in his
hand and sprang over. But from this time forth the king had to
ferry, as a punishment for his sins. Perhaps he is ferrying
still. If he is, it is because no one has taken the oar from