Friday, October 3rd, 2008

The Peasant’s Clever Daughter

There was once a poor peasant who had no land and only a small little house and one daughter. One day the daughter said: “We should ask the King for a small piece of cultivatable land.” And the King heard of their poverty, and sent them not only the land, but also a small bit of grass. The peasant and his daughter strew this about, and wanted to sow a bit of corn and perhaps some grain with it. When they had sown through their field, they found a mortar of pure gold in the earth.

“Listen,” said the father to the girl, “because our King has been so gracious to us and has given us this field, we should give him this mortar in return.”

“Father, since we have the mortar but do not have the pestle, we must find the pestle. So please, don’t say anything.”

But he did not want to obey her, took the mortar, brought it to the King and said that he had found it in the heath, and asked him whether he would like to take it as a token of his reverence. The King took the mortar and asked him if he had found anything more.

“No,” answered the peasant.

Then the King said that he should bring him the pestle as well. The peasant that he had not found it; but that helped him as much as f he spoken it to the wind. He was thrown into prison and was to sit there until he hat brought forth the pestle. His attendants brought him water and bread daily, the like of which one gets in a prison, and then they would hear how he would cry “Oh, if only I had listened to my daughter! oh, oh, if only I had listened to my daughter!” and wanted nothing to eat or drink.

The attendants went to the King and told him how the prisoner cried incessantly “oh! If only I had listened to my daughter!” The King them commanded the attendants to bring the prisoner before him. And the King asked the prisoner why he was always crying “oh, if only I had listened to my daughter!”

“What, then, did your daughter say?”
“Well she told me that I should not bring you the mortar unless I could also find the pestle.”
“If your daughter is indeed this clever, then let her come here.”

So the girl had to come before the King who asked her if she was really all that clever and told her that he would give her a riddle and that, if she could solve it, he would marry her. She then said that yes, she would like to give it a try.

Then the King said: “Come to me neither dressed nor undressed, neither riding nor walking, neither on the road nor off of it, and if yo can do this, I will marry you.”

Then off she went, and took off all the clothing she had and was not clothed. Then she took a great fishing net and wrapped herself inside it, so that she was not naked. She borrowed a donkey and bound the fishing net to its tail so that it had to drag her after it; she was neither riding nor walking. The donkey dragged her in the ruts by the roadside, and she only touched the ground with her big toe; she was neither in the road nor out of it. And when she came before the King in this manner, the King said that she had solved his riddle and fulfilled his promise. He released her father from the prison, and took the girl as his bride and gave the good of the Kingdom into her care.

And so several years passed until one day the King was drilling his troops and it just so happened that several peasants in their wagons came before the palace. Some had been selling wood. Many had oxen, and many had horses. There was one peasant who had three horses, one of which had given birth to a filly, which ran off and lay itself down between two oxen that were before the wagons. When the peasants came together, they began to quarrel, to brawl and to raise noise. The oxen’s owner wanted to keep the filly and said that he oxen had borne it; the other said no, his horses had borne it, and it should be his. The quarrel came before the King, and he passed the sentence that the filly should remain where it had lain. And so the oxen’s owner took the filly, though it did not belong to him. And so the other peasant went away, cried and lamented over his filly. But he had heard of the graciousness of the Queen, since she also came from poor peasant-stock: he went to her and asked her if she could help him.

“Yes,” she said, “if you promise not to betray me, I will tell you the solution. Early tomorrow morning when the King is at the guards’ parade, place yourself in the middle of the street which he must come by. Take a great fishing net and act as though you are fishing. Keep fishing and shaking out the net as if it were full.” She also told him what he should say, should the King ask him questions.

And so the peasant stood there the next day and fished upon the dry land. When the King came by and saw this, he sent his messengers to ask what the foolish man thought he was doing. And the man answered: “I’m fishing.” The messengers asked him how he could fish where there was no water.

The peasant said: “I can fish on dry land as easily as two oxen can give birth to a filly.”

The messengers brought the King this answer. The King had the peasant brought before him and said it was impossible that he should have thought of this, who had he had it from, and that he would know it immediately. The peasant however did not want to admit to anything, and said only “God forbid! He had it from himself!” But then the lay him on a bushel of straw and hit him and exhorted him until he confessed that he had it from the Queen.

So when the King came home, he said to his wife: “How could you be so false with me? I do not want you for my wife any more: your time is up, go back to where you came from, to your peasant’s house.” But he did grant her one thing, that she could take the one thing from the palace that she loved best of all, and that was to be her parting gift. So she said “yes, my dear husband, as you command, so will I obey.”

Then she prepared a sleeping potion, and drank with him to her departure. The King took a great swallow, but she drank only a little. Soon he fell into a deep sleep, and when she saw this, she called an attendant, took a white sheet and wrapped the King in it. The attendant carried the King to a wagon in front of the door, and the Queen drove it to her tiny house. Then she lay him in her tiny bed, and he slept through the night and day together, and when he woke up, he looked around himself and said: “ah God! Where am I?” He called his attendants, but none were there.

Finally, his wife came before his bed and said “My dear King, you allowed me to take what I loved best from the palace with me, and I have nothing which I love better than you, and so I have brought you with me.”

Tears welled up in the King’s eyes, and he said: “My dear wife, you shall be mine and I shall be yours.” He took her back into the palace and married her anew; and there they live to this day.


This is one of my top ten fairy tales of all time, without a doubt. The equal positioning of man and woman, the respect for intelligence, and the real love that pervades it are all huge points in its favor.

That having been said, I know that the beginning can be a bit confusing. Namely: what the heck is up with that mortar and pestle deal? Why was it so important that the peasant bring the pestle with him? Answer: because if he did not have the complete set, the King would believe that he had stolen the mortar. After all, we are talking about a dirty, landless peasant here, and back in those days, class was life. Who would believe that a peasant simply *found* a solid gold mortar in his brand-new back yard? I mean, how ridiculous, right?

There’s an old version of this tale involving King David. The difference is that David’s son, the future King Solomon, was the one to set things right, and that the man was trying to sow cooked peas, instead of casting a net on dry land. There’s also another version of this story, a Slavic one called “Clever Menka.” The text of that can be found here.

Other than that, I just adore this love story. The feminist in me loves the part at the end where the King remarries the peasant girl, as if to say: “Look! We’re inaugurating a new era in our relationship! The era of equality, where I’ll respect your intelligence, and we’ll rule side by side!”

Also, as a parting note, every time someone goes off on a tirade about how all fairy tales are about air-headed princesses who do nothing but look pretty and cry, I want to shove this in their faces.

…now you can, too!

Translated directly from Die Kinder und Hausmärchen Grimm 1857 V2, die Brüder Grimm. 3 Bände. 7. Auflage. Göttingen 1857. Translation is original work by Dae Selcer. Feel free to use it, just give me credit, yo.