Snake and Serpent Husbands
in Folktales

translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1998-2014


  1. The Enchanted Brahman's Son (India, The Panchatantra).

  2. The Caterpillar Boy (India, Cecil Hanry Bompas).

  3. The River Snake (India, Cecil Henry Bompas).

  4. The Snake Who Became the King's Son-in-Law (Romanian-Gypsy, Francis Hindes Groome).

  5. The Water Snake (Russia, A. A. Erlenvein).

  6. Transformation into a Nightingale and a Cuckoo (Russia, P. Kulish).

  7. The Snake and the Princess (Russia, P. Kulish).

  8. The Girl and the Snake (Sweden).

  9. King Lindorm (Denmark, Swen Grundtvig).

  10. The Silk Spinster (Germany, A. Kuhn and W. Schwartz).

  11. The Snake (Germany, Ignaz and Joseph Zingerle).

  12. The Serpent (Germany, Ignaz and Joseph Zingerle).

  13. Oda and the Snake (Germany, Ludwig Bechstein).

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

The Enchanted Brahman's Son

India. The Panchatantra

In the city of Radschagriha there lived a Brahman by the name of Devasarman. His childless wife wept bitterly whenever she saw the neighbors' children. One day the Brahman said to her, "Dear one, stop your grieving. Behold, I was offering a sacrifice for the birth of a son when an invisible being said to me in the clearest words, 'Brahman, you shall be granted this son, and he shall surpass all men in beauty and virtue, and good fortune shall be his.'"

After hearing this, the Brahman's wife was overjoyed, and she said, "Such promises must come true." In the course of time she became pregnant and gave birth to a snake. When her attendants saw it, they all cried out, "Throw it away!" However, she paid no attention to them, but instead picked it up, had it bathed, and -- filled with a mother's love toward her son -- laid it in a large, clean container, fed it milk, fresh butter, and the like, so that within a few days it had reached its full growth.

Once when the Brahman's wife witnessed the wedding feast of a neighbor's son, her eyes clouded over with tears, and she said to her husband, "You treat me with contempt, because you are not making any effort at all to arrange a wedding for my dear child!"

When he heard this, the Brahman said, "Honored one! To achieve that I would have to go to the depths of hell and beseech Pasuki, the King of Snakes, for who else, you fool, would give his daughter in marriage to a snake?"

Having said this, he looked at his wife with her exceedingly sad face, and -- for the sake of her love and in order to pacify her -- he took some travel provisions and departed for a foreign land. After traveling about for several months he came to a place by the name of Kukutanagara. There, as evening fell, he was received by an acquaintance, a member of his caste. He was given a bath, food, and every necessity, and he spent the night there.

The next morning he took leave and was preparing to set forth once again, when his host said, "What brought you to this place, and where are you going now?"

The Brahman answered, "I have come to seek an appropriate bride for my son."

After hearing this, the host said, "If that is the case, then I have a very appropriate daughter. I have only respect for you. Take her for your son!" Acting upon these words, the Brahman took the girl, together with her servants, and returned to his home city. However, when the inhabitants of this region saw the girl, who was beautiful, gifted, and charming beyond comparison, they opened their eyes wide with love for her, and said to her attendants, "How could you deliver such a jewel of a girl to a snake?"

After hearing this, all of her companions were horrified, and they said, "She must be rescued from the murderer set up by this old Brahman."

Hearing this, the maiden said, "Spare me from such deception, for behold:

Kings speak but once. The virtuous speak but once. A girl is promised in marriage but once. These three things happen but once.

And further:

Not even wise men and gods can change the decrees of fate.

And moreover, my father shall not be reproached for his daughter's falseness."

Having said that, and with the permission of her attendants, she married the snake. She showed him proper respect, and served him milk and similar things.

One night the snake left his large basket, which was kept in the bedroom, and climbed into his wife's bed. She cried out, "Who is this creature, shaped like a man?"

Thinking it was a strange man, she jumped up. Shaking all over, she tore open the door and wanted to rush away, when the snake said, "Dear one! Stay here! I am your husband!" To convince her of this, he once again entered the body that he had left in the basket, then left it again. He was wearing a magnificent diadem, rings, bands, and bracelets on his upper and lower arms. His wife fell at his feet. Then together they partook of the joys of love.

His father, the Brahman, had arisen earlier than his son, and saw everything. He took the snake skin, which was lying in the basket, and burned it in the fire, saying, "He shall not enter it again." Later that morning, filled with joy, he presented his son to his family. Vitalized by unending love, he became an ideal son.

The Caterpillar Boy


Once there was an old woman who lived on the grain she could collect from other people's threshing floors. One day as she swept up a threshing floor she found a caterpillar among the paddy; she threw it away but it came crawling back again.

She threw it away again, but it said, "Do not throw me away, take me home with you and you will prosper."

So she let it stay and that day she found that she collected a whole basketful of rice; at this she was delighted, and put the caterpillar on the top of her basket and took it home. There she asked the caterpillar what work it would do, and it said that it would watch the paddy, when it was spread out to dry after being boiled, and prevent the fowls and pigs from eating it.

So the caterpillar used to watch the paddy while the old woman went out looking for food; and every day she brought back a full basket of rice, and so she soon became rich. It got whispered about that the old woman was so prosperous; because she had a caterpillar boy in her house.

One day the caterpillar said that he wanted to go and bathe, so he went to the river and took off his caterpillar skin, and bathed, and as he rubbed his head, one or two hairs came out, and these he wrapped up in a leaf and set the packet to float down the stream.

Lower down the stream a princess was bathing and when she saw the packet come floating down, she had it fished out, and when she opened it she saw the hairs inside and she measured them and found them to be twelve fathoms long; then the princess vowed that she would not eat rice, till she found the man to whom the hairs belonged. And she went home and shut herself in her room and refused to eat.

At this her father and mother were much distressed, and when they heard what had happened the raja said, "Well she wants a husband, I will find him for her." And he sent a notice throughout his kingdom saying that he would give his daughter and half his kingdom to the man who had hair twelve fathoms long.

Everyone who heard this came with his sons and the princess was told to look at them and choose whom she liked; but none had hair twelve fathoms long, and she would take none of them. Then the raja asked whether everyone in the kingdom had come, and he was told that there was a caterpillar boy, who lived with an old woman, who had not come, so the raja sent to fetch him, but he said that he had no arms or legs and could not go; so they sent a palki for him and he was brought in that. And when the palki was set on the ground, the caterpillar boy rolled out and the princess said that he should be her husband.

At this her father and mother were much ashamed and remonstrated with her, but she persisted in her fancy, so the marriage took place. They sent the newly married pair to live in a house at the outskirts of the village and only one maidservant accompanied the princess.

Every night the caterpillar boy used to take off his skin and go out to dance, and one night the maidservant saw him and told her mistress. And they agreed to watch him, so the next night they pretended to go to sleep, but when the caterpillar boy went out, they took his skin and burnt it on the fire; and when he came back, he looked for it, but could not find it. Then the princess got up and caught him in her arms, and he retained his human form, and he was as handsome as a god.

In the morning the caterpillar boy and his wife stayed inside the house, and the raja sent some children to see what had happened, and the children brought back word that there was a being in the house, but whether human or divine they could not say.

Then the raja went and fetched his son-in-law to the palace, but the caterpillar was not pleased and said to his wife, "They treat me very well now that they see that I am a man, but what did they do before?" However he stayed in his father-in-law's palace.

Presently the raja said that his kingdom was too small to give half of it to his son-in-law, so he proposed that they should go and conquer fresh territory, and carve out a kingdom for the caterpillar boy. So they went to war and attacked another raja, but they were defeated and their army cut to pieces. Then the son-in-law said that he would fight himself; so he drew his sword and brandished it and it flashed like lightning and dazzled the eyes of the enemy and his shield clanged on his thigh with a noise like thunder; and he defeated the other raja and took his kingdom and carried off all his wealth.

But the raja thought that as his son-in-law was so strong, he would one day kill him also and take his kingdom, so he resolved to find a means to kill him. On their way back from the war they found no water on the road and were distressed with thirst. One day they came to a large tank and found it dry. So they made a sacrifice in the hopes that water would flow. First they sacrificed goats and sang:

Tank, we are giving goats
Trickle out water!
Tank, we are giving goats
Flow, water!
But no water came. Then in succession they sacrificed sheep, and oxen and buffaloes, and horses and elephants, but all in vain; and after each failure the raja said, "Son-in-law, it is your turn," and at last his son-in-law said, "Well, let it be me;" and he armed himself and mounted his horse and went and stood in the middle of the tank, and he sang:
Up to my knees the water, father,
The water, father, has oozed out.
And the raja answered, "Do you, my son, remain standing there."

And as he sang the water welled out up to his horse's knee and then to its belly; and he still sang and the water rose to the horse's back and then to his own waist, and to his chest, and he still sang, and it reached his mouth and then he was completely submerged and the tank was full.

Then they all drank their fill and the raja said to his men, "We have sacrificed this Saru Prince. I will kill any of you who tells my daughter what has happened" and they promised not to tell, but they forgot that there were two dogs with them.

And when they got home each man's wife brought out water and welcomed him and the princess asked where her husband, the Saru Prince, was, and no one answered; then she sang:

Oh Father, my father; How far away
Is the Saru Prince, the Gindu Raja?
And the raja answered, "My daughter, my darling, the Saru Prince, the Gindu Raja is very far away, amusing himself with hunting."

And she sang to them all, but no one told her anything, and then she sang to the two dogs, who were named Chaura and Bhaura:

Oh Chaura, oh Bhaura,
How far away
Is the Saru Prince, the Gindu Raja?"
And they answered:
Oh sister, oh Rani!
Your father has sacrificed him
In the big tank.
Thereupon she began to cry, and every day she sat and cried on the bank of the tank.

Now the two daughters of the Snake King and Queen had received the Saru Prince as he disappeared under the water, and when they heard the princess crying every day they had pity on her; she used to sing:

Oh husband! Oh raja!
My father has sacrificed you
In the big tank.
Oh husband! Oh raja,
Take me with you too.
So the daughters of the Snake King and Queen took pity on her and told their frog chowkidar [watchman or gatekeeper] to restore the Saru Prince to his wife; and the prince and his wife went home together.

When the raja and his wife saw their son-in-law again, they were terrified, but he said nothing to reproach them. The princess however could not forgive them for trying to kill her husband and always looked angrily at them; then the raja and the rani took counsel together and agreed that they had done wrong to the prince, and that he must be a magician; and they thought that their daughter must also be a magician, as she had recognized the prince when he was a caterpillar, and she could not even see his long hair; so they were afraid and thought it best to make over the kingdom to their son-in-law, and they abdicated in his favor, and he took the kingdom.

The River Snake

India, Cecil Henry Bompas

Once upon a time a certain woman had been on a visit to a distant village. As she was going home she reached the bank of a flooded river. She tried to wade across but soon found that the water was too deep and the current too strong. She looked about but could see no signs of a boat or any means of crossing. It began to grow dark, and the woman was in great distress at the thought that she would not be able to reach her home.

While she thus stood in doubt, suddenly out of the river came a great snake and said to her, "Woman, what will you give me if I ferry you across the river?"

She answered, "Snake, I have nothing to give you."

The snake said, "I cannot take you across the river unless you promise to give me something."

Now the woman at the time was pregnant and not knowing what else to do, she promised that when her child was born, if it were a daughter she would marry her to the river snake, and if it were a son that, when the boy grew up he should become the juri or "name friend" of the snake. The woman swore to do this with an oath, and the snake took her on his back and bore her safely across the flooded stream.

The woman safely reached her home, and in a little time a daughter was born to her.

Years passed away, and the woman forgot all about the snake and her oath. One day she went to the river to fetch water, and the snake came out of the stream and said to her, "Woman, where is the wife whom you promised to me?"

The woman then remembered her oath, and going back to her house she returned to the river with her daughter. When the girl came to the bank of the river, the snake seized her and drew her underneath the water, and her mother saw her no more. The girl lived with the snake at the bottom of the river, and in the course of years bore him four snake sons.

Afterwards the girl remembered her home, and one day she went to visit her mother. Her brothers when they came home were astonished to see her and said, "Sister, we thought that you were drowned in the river."

She answered, "No, I was not drowned, but I am married and have children."

The brothers said, "Where is this brother-in-law of ours?"

Their sister said, "Go to the river and call him."

So they went to the river and called, and the snake came up out of the water and went to their house with them. Then they welcomed the snake and gave him great quantities of rice beer to drink. After drinking this the snake became sleepy and coiling himself in great coils went to sleep. Then the brothers who did not like a snake brother-in-law took their axes and cut off the head of the snake while he slept, and afterwards their sister lived in their house.

The Snake Who Became the King's Son-in-Law


There were an old man and an old woman. From their youth up to their old age they had never had any, children (lit. "made any children of their bones"). So the old women was always scolding with the old man -- what can they do, for there they are old, old people?

The old woman said, "Who will look after us when we grow older still?"

"Well, what am I to do, old woman?"

"Go you, old man, and find a son for us."

So the old man arose in the morning, and took his axe in his hand, and departed and journeyed till midday, and came into a forest, and sought three days and found nothing. Then the old man could do no more for hunger. He set out to return home. So as he was coming back, he found a little snake and put it in a handkerchief, and carried it home. And he brought up the snake on sweet milk. The snake grew a week and two days, and he put it in a jar. The time came when the snake grew as big as the jar.

The snake talked with his father, "My time has come to marry me. Go, father, to the king, and ask his daughter for me."

When the old man heard that the snake wants the king's daughter, he smote himself with his hands. "Woe is me, darling! How can I go to the king? For the king will kill me."

What said he? "Go, father, and fear not. For what he wants of you, that will I give him."

The old man went to the king. "All hail, O king!"

"Thank you, old man."

"King, I am come to form an alliance by marriage."

"An alliance by marriage!" said the king. "You are a peasant, and I am a king."

"That matters not, O king. If you will give me your daughter, I will give you whatever you want."

What said the king? "Old man, if that be so, see this great forest. Fell it all, and make it a level field; and plough it for me, and break up all the earth; and sow it with millet by tomorrow. And mark well what I tell you: you must bring me a cake made with sweet milk. Then will I give you the maiden."

Said the old man, "All right, O king."

The old man went weeping to the snake.

When the snake saw his father weeping he said, "Why weepest thou, father?"

"How should I not weep, darling? For see what the king said, that I must fell this great forest, and sow millet; and it must grow up by tomorrow, and be ripe. And I must make a cake with sweet milk and give it him. Then he will give me his daughter."

What said the snake? "Father, don't fear for that, for I will do what you have told me."

The old man: "All right, darling, if you can manage it."

The old man went off to bed. What did the snake? He arose and made the forest a level plain, and sowed millet, and thought and thought, and it was grown up by daybreak. When the old man got up, he finds a sack of millet, and he made a cake with sweet milk.

The old man took the cake and went to the king. "Here, O king, I have done your bidding."

When the king saw that, he marveled. "My old fellow, hearken to me. I have one thing more for you to do. Make me a golden bridge from my palace to your house, and let golden apple trees and pear trees grow on the side of this bridge. Then will I give you my daughter."

When the old man heard that, he began to weep, and went home.

What said the snake? "Why weepest thou, father?"

The old man said, "I am weeping, darling, for the miseries which God sends me. The king wants a golden bridge from his palace to our house, and apple and pear trees on the side of this bridge."

The snake said, "Fear not, father, for I will do as the king said."

Then the snake thought and thought, and the golden bridge was made as the king had said. The snake did that in the nighttime. The king arose at midnight; he thought the sun was at meat (i.e. it was noon). He scolded the servants for not having called him in the morning.

The servants said, "King, it is night, not day"; and, seeing that, the king marveled.

In the morning the old man came. "Good-day, father-in- law."

"Thank you, father-in-law. Go, father-in-law, and bring your son, that we may hold the wedding."

He, when he went, said, "Hearken, what says the king? You are to go there for the king to see you."

What said the snake? "My father, if that be so, fetch the cart, and put in the horses, and I will get into it to go to the king."

No sooner said, no sooner done. He got into the cart and drove to the king. When the king saw him, he trembled with all his lords.

One lord older than the rest, said, "Fly not, O king, it were not well of you. For he did what you told him; and shall not you do what you promised? He will kill us all. Give him your daughter, and hold the marriage as you promised."

What said the king?" My old man, here is the maiden whom you demand. Take her to you."

And he gave him also a house by itself for her to live in with her husband. She, the bride, trembled at him.

The snake said, "Fear not, my wife, for I am no snake as you see me. Behold me as I am."

He turned a somersault, and became a golden youth, in armor clad; he had but to wish to get anything.

The maiden, when she saw that, took him in her arms and kissed him, and said, "Live, my king, many years. I thought you would eat me."

The king sent a man to see how it fares with his daughter. When the king's servant came, what does he see? The maiden fairer, lovelier than before.

He went back to the king. "O king, your daughter is safe and sound."

"As God wills with her," said the king.

Then he called many people and held the marriage; and they kept it up three days and three nights, and the marriage was consummated. And I came away and told the story.

The Water Snake

Russia, A. A. Erlenvein

There was once an old woman who had a daughter; and her daughter went down to the pond one day to bathe with the other girls. They all stripped off their shifts, and went into the water. Then there came a snake out of the water, and glided on to the daughter's shift. After a time the girls all came out, and began to put on their shifts, and the old woman's daughter wanted to put on hers, but there was the snake lying on it. She tried to drive him away, but there he stuck and would not move. Then the snake said, "If you'll marry me, I'll give you back your shift."

Now she wasn't at all inclined to marry him, but the other girls said, "As if it were possible for you to be married to him! Say you will!"

So she said, "Very well, I will." Then the snake glided off from the shift, and went straight into the water. The girl dressed and went home. And as soon as she got there, she said to her mother, "Mammie, mammie, thus and thus, a snake got upon my shift, and says he, 'Marry me or I won't let you have your shift;' and I said, 'I will.'"

"What nonsense are you talking, you little fool! as if one could marry a snake!" And so they remained just as they were, and forgot all about the matter.

A week passed by, and one day they saw ever so many snakes, a huge troop of them, wriggling up to their cottage. "Ah, mammie, save me, save me!" cried the girl, and her mother slammed the door and barred the entrance as quickly as possible. The snakes would have rushed in at the door, but the door was shut; they would have rushed into the passage, but the passage was closed. Then in a moment they rolled themselves into a ball, flung themselves at the window, smashed it to pieces, and glided in a body into the room. The girl got upon the stove, but they followed her, pulled her down, and bore her out of the room and out of doors. Her mother accompanied her, crying like anything.

They took the girl down to the pond, and dived right into the water with her. And there they turned into men and women. The mother remained for some time on the dike, wailed a little, and then went home.

Three years went by. The girl lived down there, and had two children, a son and a daughter. Now she often entreated her husband to let her go to see her mother. So at last one day he took her up to the surface of the water, and brought her ashore. But she asked him before leaving him, "What am I to call out when I want you?"

"Call out to me, 'Osip, [Joseph] Osip, come here!' and I will come," he replied.

Then he dived under water again, and she went to her mother's carrying her little girl on one arm, and leading her boy by the hand. Out came her mother to meet her. She was so delighted to see her!

"Good day, mother!" said the daughter.

"Have you been doing well while you were living down there?" asked her mother.

"Very well indeed, mother. My life there is better than yours here."

They sat down for a bit and chatted. Her mother got dinner ready for her, and she dined. "What's your husband's name?" asked her mother.

"Osip," she replied.

"And how are you to get home?"

"I shall go to the dike, and call out, 'Osip, Osip, come here!' and he'll come."

"Lie down, daughter, and rest a bit," said the mother.

So the daughter lay down and went to sleep. The mother immediately took an axe and sharpened it, and went down to the dike with it. And when she came to the dike, she began calling out, "Osip, Osip, come here!"

No sooner had Osip shown his head than the old woman lifted her axe and chopped it off. And the water in the pond became dark with blood.

The old woman went home. And when she got home her daughter awoke. "Ah! mother," says she, "I'm getting tired of being here; I'll go home."

"Do sleep here tonight, daughter; perhaps you won't have another chance of being with me."

So the daughter stayed and spent the night there. In the morning she got up and her mother got breakfast ready for her; she breakfasted, and then she said good-bye to her mother and went away, carrying her little girl in her arms, while her boy followed behind her. She came to the dike, and called out, "Osip, Osip, come here!"

She called and called, but he did not come. Then she looked into the water, and there she saw a head floating about. Then she guessed what had happened.

"Alas! my mother has killed him!" she cried.

There on the bank she wept and wailed. And then to her girl she cried, "Fly about as a wren, henceforth and evermore!"

And to her boy she cried, "Fly about as a nightingale, my boy, henceforth and evermore!"

"But I," she said, "will fly about as a cuckoo, crying 'Cuckoo!' henceforth and evermore!"

Transformation into a Nightingale and a Cuckoo


A damsel fell in love with a snake, and was also beloved by him. He took her to wife. His dwelling was of pure glass, all crystal. This dwelling was situated underground, in a kind of mound, or something of the sort.

Well, it is said that her old mother at first grieved over her. How could she help doing so?

Well, when the time came, the snake's wife became the mother of twins, a boy and a girl. They looked, as they lay by their mother, as if they were made of wax. And she was herself as beautiful as a flower.

Well, God having given her children, she said, "Now, then, since they have been born as human beings, let us christen them among human beings."

She took her seat in a golden carriage, laid the children on her knees, and drove off to the village to the pope [orthodox priest]. The carriage had not got into the open country, when sadness was brought to the mother. The old woman had made an outcry in the whole village, seized a sickle, and rushed into the country.

She [the young mother] saw she had manifest death before her, when she called to her children, and went on to say, "Fly, my children, as birds about the world. You, my little son, as a nightingale, and you, my daughter, as a cuckoo."

Out flew a nightingale from the carriage by the right-hand, and a cuckoo by the left-hand window. What became of the carriage and horses and all, nobody knows. Nor did their mistress remain, only a dead nettle sprang up by the roadside.

The Snake and the Princess


There was an emperor and empress who had three daughters. The emperor fell ill, and sent his eldest daughter for water.

She went to fetch it, when a snake said, "Come! Will you marry me?"

The princess replied, "No, I won't."

"Then," said he, "I won't give you any water."

Then the second daughter said, "I'll go. He'll give me some."

She went. The snake said to her, "Come! Will you marry me?"

"No," she said, "I won't." He gave her no water.

She returned and said, "He gave me no water. He said, 'If you will marry me I will give it.'"

The youngest said, "I will go. He will give me some."

She went, and the snake said to her, "Come! Will you marry me?"

"I will," she said. Then he drew her water from the very bottom, cold and fresh. She brought it home, gave it her father to drink, and her father recovered.

Then on Sunday a carriage came, and those with it said:

Open the door,
Why did the dear one love?
Why draw water from the ford,

She was terrified, wept, and went and opened the door. Then they said again:

Open the door,
Why did the dear one love?
Why draw water from the ford,

Then they came into the house and placed the snake in a plate on the table. There he lay, just as if he were of gold! They went out of the house, and said:

Sit in the carriage,
Why did the dear one love?
Why draw water from the ford,

They drove off with her to the snake's abode. There they lived, and had a daughter born to them. They also took a godmother to live with them, but she was a wicked woman. The child soon died, and the mother died soon after it. The godmother went in the night to the place where she was buried, and cut off her hands. Then she came home, and heated water-gruel, scalded the hands, and took off the gold rings.

Then the princess -- such was the ordinance of God -- came to her for the hands, and said:

The fowls are asleep, the geese are asleep,
Only my godmother does not sleep.
She scalds white hands in water-gruel,
She takes off golden rings.

The godmother concealed herself under the stove. She said again:

The fowls are asleep, the geese are asleep,
Only my godmother does not sleep.
She scalds white hands in water-gruel,
She takes off golden rings.

The next day they came and found the godmother dead under the stove. They didn't give her proper burial, but threw her into a hole.

The Girl and the Snake


Once upon a time there was a girl who was supposed to go into the woods and bring home the cattle, but she could not find the herd. She got lost and came to a large mountain with gates and doors. She went inside. A table was standing there, set with all kinds of things to eat. There was also a bed there, and a large snake was lying on it.

It said to the girl, "Have a seat, if you want to. Come and lie down in this bed, if you want to! But if you don't want to, it's all right!"

The girl did not do any of this.

Finally the snake said, "People are coming now who want to dance with you, but don't go with them."

Soon afterward people did come, and they wanted to dance with the girl, but she would have nothing to do with them. Then they began to eat and drink. The girl left the mountain and went home again. The next day she went into the woods again to look for her herd, but she could not find what she was looking for. Instead, she got lost again and came to the same mountain. She went inside again and found everything the same as the first time: a set table and the bed with the snake.

It said to her, as the time before, "Have a seat, if you want to! Eat, if you want to! Come and lie down in this bed, if you want to! But if you don't want to, it's all right. Now a lot more people are coming who want to dance with you, but do not go with them."

The snake had barely finished talking when a lot more people came, and they began to dance and to eat and drink. The girl had nothing to do with them, but instead left the mountain and went home.

On the third day she went into the woods again, and the same thing happened to her as on the previous days. The snake invited her to eat and drink, which she did with a good appetite. After that the snake asked her to lie down next to it, and the girl did that as well.

Then the snake said, "Hold me in your arm!"

She did it.

"Kiss me!" said the snake. "If you are afraid, just put your apron between us!"

The girl did it, and in that instant the snake turned into a handsome young man. In reality he was a prince who had been bewitched into this form through magic, but the girl's courage had saved him. Of course, the two of them went away, and since then they have never been heard from again.

King Lindorm

Denmark, Swen Grundtvig

Once upon a time there was a king who had a beautiful queen. On the first night of their marriage, nothing was written on their bed when they retired, but when they got up the next day, they read there that they would have no children. The king was very sad about this, and the queen even more so. She found it most unfortunate that there would be no heir for their kingdom.

One day, while deep in thought, she wandered to a remote spot. There she met an old woman who asked her why she was so sad. The queen looked up and said, "Oh, telling you will do no good. You can't help me."

"But perhaps I can," said the old woman, and asked the queen to tell her story. So the queen agreed, and told how on their wedding night a message had appeared on their bed that they would have no children. This was why she was so sad. The old woman told her that she could help her have children. That evening at sunset she should place a platter upside down in the northwest corner of the garden. The next morning at sunrise she should take it away. Beneath it she would find two roses, a red one and a white one. "Take the red one and eat it, and you shall have a boy; take the white one and it will be a girl. But do not eat them both," said the old woman.

The queen returned home and did what the old woman had told her to do. The next morning, just as the sun was coming up, she went to the garden and picked up the platter. There were two roses, a red one and a white one. Now she did not know which of the two she should take. If it were the red one, she would have a boy, and he might have to go to war and be killed, and then again she would have no child. So she decided to take the white one; then it would be a girl who would stay at home with her, and then get married and become queen in another kingdom. Thus she picked up the white rose and ate it. But it tasted so good that she picked up the red rose and ate it as well.

Now it so happened that at this time the king was away at war. When the queen noticed that she was pregnant she wrote to him to let him know, and he was very pleased. When the time for her delivery came, she gave birth to a lindorm. As soon as he was born, he crawled under the bed in the bedroom, and stayed there. Sometime later a letter arrived from the king announcing that he soon would return home. When his carriage pulled up in front of the castle and the queen came out to receive him, the lindorm came too and wanted to greet him. He jumped up into the carriage, calling out, "Welcome home, father!"

"What!," said the king. "Am I your father?"

"Yes, and if you will not be my father, I shall destroy you and the castle as well!"

The king had to agree. They went into the castle together, and the queen had to confess what had happened between her and the old woman. Some days later the council and all the important people in the kingdom assembled to welcome the king back home and to congratulate him on the victory over his enemies. The lindorm came as well and said, "Father, it is time for me to get married!"

"What are you thinking? Who would have you?" said the king.

"If you do not find a wife for me, be she young or old, large or small, rich or poor, then I shall destroy you and the entire castle as well."

So the king wrote to all the kingdoms, asking if someone would not marry his son. A beautiful princess responded, but it seemed strange to her that she was not allowed to see her future husband before entering the hall where the wedding was to take place. Only then did the lindorm make his appearance, taking his place beside her. The wedding day came to an end, and it was time for them to retire to the bedroom. They were scarcely inside, when he ate her alive.

Sometime later, the king's birthday arrived. They were all seated at the dinner table when the lindorm appeared and said, "Father, I want to get married!"

"What kind of a woman would have you?" asked the king.

"If you do not find a wife for me, whoever she may be, I shall eat you up, and the entire castle as well!"

So the king wrote to all the kingdoms, asking if someone would not marry his son. Once again a beautiful princess came from far away. She too was not allowed to see her groom until she was in the hall where they were to be married. The lindorm entered and took his place beside her. When the wedding day was over and they went into the bedroom, the lindorm killed her.

Sometime later, on the queen's birthday, they were all seated at the dinner table when the lindorm came in and said once again, "Father, I want to get married!"

"I cannot get you another wife," answered the king. "The two kings whose daughters I gave to you are now waging war against me. What am I to do?"

"Just let them come! As long as I am on your side, just let them come, and even if there were ten of them! But if you do not find a wife for me, be she young or old, large or small, rich or poor, then I shall destroy you and the castle as well!"

The king had to give in, but he was not happy about it. Now one of the king's shepherds, an old man who lived in a little house in the woods, had a daughter. The king went to him and said, "Listen, my dear man. Won't you give your daughter in marriage to my son?"

"No, I can't do that. I have only the one child to care for me when I am older, and further, if the prince can't take care of beautiful princesses he will not take care of my daughter, and that would be a sin." But the king insisted on having her, and the old man had to give in.

The old shepherd went home and told his daughter everything. She became very sad and, deep in thought, took a walk in the woods. There she met an old woman who had gone into the woods to pick berries and wild apples. She was wearing a red skirt and a blue jacket. "Why are you so sad?" she asked.

"I have every reason to be sad, but there is no purpose in my telling you about it, because you can't help me."

"But perhaps I can," she said. "Just tell me!"

"Well, I am supposed to marry the king's son, but he is a lindorm and has already killed two princesses, and I know for sure that he will kill me as well."

"If you just listen to me, I can help you," said the old woman.

The girl was eager to hear her advice. "When you go to the bedroom following the ceremony, you must have ten nightshirts on. If you don't have that many, then you must borrow some. Ask for a bucketful of lye water, a bucketful of sweet milk, and an armful of switches. All these things must be taken to the bedroom. When he comes in, he will say, 'Beautiful maiden, take off your nightshirt!' Then you must say, 'King Lindorm, take off your skin!' You will say that to each other until you have taken off nine nightshirts and he has taken off nine skins. By then he will not have another skin, but you will still have on a nightshirt. Then you must take hold of him. He will be nothing more than a clump of bloody meat. Dip the switches into the lye water and beat him with them until he has almost fallen to pieces. Then you must bathe him in the sweet milk, wrap him in the nine nightshirts, and hold him on your arm. You will then fall asleep, but only for a short time."

The girl thanked her for the good advice, but she was still afraid, for this was indeed a dangerous undertaking with such a sinister animal.

The wedding day arrived. A large and splendid carriage brought two ladies who prepared the girl for the wedding. Then she was taken to the castle and led into the hall. The lindorm appeared, took his place next to her, and they were married. When evening arrived, and it was time for them to go to bed, the bride asked for a bucketful of lye water, a bucketful of sweet milk, and an armful of switches. The men all laughed at her, saying that it was some kind of a peasant superstition and all in her imagination. But the king said that she should have what she asked for, and they brought it to her. Before going into the bedroom, she put nine nightshirts over the one she was already wearing.

When they both were in the bedroom the lindorm said, "Beautiful maiden, take off your nightshirt!"

She answered, "King Lindorm, take off your skin!"

And thus it continued until she had taken off nine nightshirts and he had taken off nine skins. She found new courage, for he was now lying and the floor with blood flowing freely from him and barely able to move. Then she took the switches, dipped them into the lye water, and beat him as hard as she could until there was scarcely a twig left among the sticks. Then she dipped him into the sweet milk and laid him on her arm. She fell asleep, for it was late, and when she awoke, she was lying in the arms of a handsome prince.

Morning came, and no one dared to look into the bedroom, because they all believed that the same thing had happened to her as to the two others. Finally the king wanted to look, and as he opened the door she called out, "Do come in! Everything is all right!" He went in and was filled with joy. He fetched the queen and the others, and there was a great celebration about the bridal bed unlike any that had ever been seen before. The bridal couple got up and went into another room where they got dressed, because the bedroom was in a horrible mess. Then the wedding was celebrated anew with pomp and joy. The king and queen liked the young queen very much. They could not treat her too well, for she had redeemed their lindorm.

Sometime later she became pregnant. There was another war, and the old king and King Lindorm had gone to the battlefield. Her time arrived, and she gave birth to two beautiful boys. At this time the Red Knight was at court. They asked him to take the king a letter announcing the birth of the two beautiful boys. He rode away a short distance and opened the letter, then changed it to read that she had given birth to two young dogs. The king received the letter and was very sad. He found it unbelievable that she had given birth to young dogs, although it would have not surprised him if it had been a lindorm or something like that. He wrote back that the creatures should be allowed to live until he returned home, that is if they could be kept alive at all. The Red Knight was to deliver this letter, but a short distance away he opened it as well and wrote that the queen and her children were to be burned alive.

The old queen was greatly saddened by this letter, for she liked the young queen very much. Soon thereafter another letter arrived, announcing the king's return home. The queen became frightened and did not know what to do. She could not bring herself to have them burned. She sent the two children to live with a wet nurse, for she hoped that the king might change his mind once he was back home. She gave the young queen some money and food and sent her into the forest.

She wandered about in the woods for two days and was in great need. She came to a high mountain, which she climbed without stopping. At the top there were three benches. She sat down on the middle one and squeezed the milk from her breasts, for she was in great distress, not having her children with her. Then two large birds, a swan and a crane, flew down and sat on either side of her, and she pressed her milk into their beaks. They were that close to her. And even as they sat there, they turned into the two most handsome princes that one can imagine, and the mountain turned into the most beautiful royal castle, with servants and animals and gold and silver and everything that there should be. They had been enchanted, and the spell would never have been broken if they had not drunk the milk from a queen who had just given birth to two boys. She went with them, with King Swan and King Crane. Each one wanted to marry her, for she had redeemed them both.

Meanwhile King Lindorm arrived home and asked about the queen. "Indeed!" Said the old queen. "You should be asking about her! Who do you think that you are! You paid no attention to the fact that she redeemed you from your curse. You just went ahead and wrote to me that she and the children should be burned alive. For shame!"

"No!" answered King Lindorm. "You wrote to me that she had given birth to two young dogs. And I wrote back that you should let the creatures live until I returned home."

They talked back and forth for a long time and finally realized that the Red Knight had been behind the treachery. He was captured, and he had to confess. They locked him in a barrel studded with nails, hitched it to four horses, and they ran with him over mountains and valleys.

The king was full of despair about his wife and children, when he discovered that they were two beautiful boys. The old queen said to him, "Don't worry, the boys are well cared for. They are staying with wet nurses, but I do not know how she is faring. I gave her some food and money and sent her into the woods, but since then we have heard nothing from her."

The king ordered that the children be brought back. Then he took some food and some money and went into the woods to look for her. He wandered about for two, then three days looking for her, but he could not find her. Finally he came to the castle in the woods. He asked if the people there had not seen a strange maiden in the woods, but they had not seen anyone. Then he wanted to enter the castle to see what kind of royalty lived there. He went inside. Just as he entered he saw her, but she was afraid, for she thought that he had come to burn her alive, and she ran away.

The two princes came in. They talked together and became good friends. They invited him to stay for dinner. He mentioned the beautiful maiden and asked where she was from. They answered that she was a lovely person and that she had freed them both. He wanted to know what she had freed them from, and they told him the entire story. Then he said that he liked her very much and asked them if they could not come to an agreement concerning her. He proposed that her dinner should be over salted, and that the person she would ask to drink to her health should receive her. The princes agreed to this arrangement, for this would enable them to determine which of the two of them would have her, for they did not believe that she would ask a stranger to drink to her health.

They went to dinner, and she said:

The food is too salty for me,
King Swan sits next to me,
King Crane is good to me,
King Lindorm drinks with me.

He picked up the silver tankard and drank to her health. The others drank to their own health, but then they had to drink to her health as well, even though they were not satisfied with the outcome. Then King Lindorm told how she had redeemed him before she had redeemed them. Therefore he was the closest one to her. After hearing this, the two princes stated that if he had told them this in the first place, they would have given her to him. But he said that he could not have known that for sure.

Then King Lindorm returned home with the queen. Meanwhile the children had also been taken back home. King Swan kept the castle in the woods and married a princess from another kingdom. And King Crane went to a different country where he got married. Thus each one of them had something. King Lindorm and his queen stood in high honor as long as they lived. They were very happy and had many children.

When I was there the last time, they offered me a tin sandwich in a sieve.

The Silk Spinster

Germany, A. Kuhn and W. Schwartz

Once upon a time there was a peasant. He worked in the woods and took his oldest daughter along to help him. When the day grew hot he took off his jacket and laid it in the grass. When his work was finished, he asked his daughter to fetch it for him. She went to it, but there was a worm lying on it. She did not want to pick it up, so she ran back to her father and asked him what she should do. He told her not to be afraid of the worm. She should just throw it aside and bring him his jacket. She did this, and they went home.

The next day the peasant again went to work in the woods, taking his second daughter along. Everything happened as before, and in the end she threw the worm aside, and she and her father returned home together.

On the third day, the first daughter was to go along again, but the third daughter asked the father to take her. She wanted to help out like the others. They laughed at her, and asked her just how she would be able to help. They had a low opinion of her and kept her at home like a Cinderella. But she begged her father so earnestly, that he finally said she might come along. When it was time to go home, her father told her to fetch his jacket. She went to it and found the worm on it. But she said to it, "Dear little worm, would you like a soft place to lie?"

The worm looked at her with bright and friendly eyes, as though it wanted to say "yes!" Therefore she gathered together some moss and made him a nice soft nest. As soon as she laid him in it, the worm began to speak, and asked her, "Would you like to enter my service? All you have to do is carry me about a few hours each day. For this you will receive a good wage and food and drink as well. If you do this for three years, I will be redeemed, because I am an enchanted prince, and then I will marry you!"

The girl said that she would do it, and the worm said, "Then come here tomorrow at the same time."

After that she went home with her father. Then she said, "I have lived at home long enough. I am going try my luck out in the world."

They all laughed at her, saying, "You, Cinderella, who would have any use for you?"

The girl replied, "I already have a position," and asked her father to allow her to leave. He did not want to give his permission, because even if she did not understand very much, she was still a good worker. Finally he gave in to her begging, and the next day she set forth.

She went into the woods and soon found the worm. He was very pleased that she had come, and he told her that she should now carry him around a little. That she did, and when the time was up, a splendid castle suddenly appeared. In the castle there was a great hall with a large table all decked out with food and drink, more beautiful than anything she had ever seen in her entire lifetime. She ate and drank her fill, and then went to bed. Every day she carried the worm about for an hour or two and then went to the castle, where everything was prepared for her, and where she was splendidly provided for.

After a year had passed she asked the worm for permission to visit her father. He agreed on the condition that she return promptly. She took gold and other precious things for her father and her sisters and went home. When she arrived with her treasures, her sisters wanted to know where she had gotten it all, and who her master was. But she told them nothing, for the worm had forbidden her to do so. They beat her and scolded her, but she said nothing.

The next day she went back into the woods to the worm, and again carried it about for an hour or two each day. At the end of the second year she once again visited her father and her sisters, and also at the end of the third year. When she left the worm, he ordered her also this last time to return promptly, and she promised to do so.

Her father and her sisters insisted that she tell them who her master was and where she worked, and they refused to let her go. Finally she tore herself away with force. When she returned to the woods, it was too late. The worm was no longer there. Sadly she looked everywhere, but that castle had disappeared, and the worm as well, for while she was away, his spell had lapsed, and he had turned back into a king, and he was now back at home in his own kingdom.

The girl decided to search for him throughout the world. On her way she came to a hut in the forest where an old woman lived, whom she asked for shelter for the night. The old woman received her in a friendly manner, and the next morning when she was about the leave, she gave her three apples. She told her there was a golden spindle in the first one, a golden yarn reel in the second one, and a golden spinning wheel in the third one, and told her whom she would meet and what she should do. The girl kindly thanked the friendly old woman and set forth.

Many days later and after she had walked a great distance, she came to a glass mountain. She did not know how she could cross over it, because it was so smooth that she always slid back down. Finally she saw a smithy not far away. She went there and had horseshoes attached to her hands and knees, and climbed over the mountain.

She came to a great city. This was where the king lived who had been the worm that she had carried about every day. He was already married. He had a beautiful wife and had long since forgotten the girl.

She disguised herself and went to the castle where she hired herself out as a silk spinster. On the first day she opened the first apple that the old woman in the woods had given her. She took out the golden spindle. When the queen saw it, she liked it very much and wanted to buy it from the girl. "No," she said. "It is not for sale, but I will give it to you if you will let me sleep with the king one night."

"Why not?," thought the queen, and gave her promise. As evening approached she gave the king a sleeping potion, and when he was fast asleep, she sent for the silk spinster and led her into the king's bedroom.

She sat next to his bed and cried bitterly, "Now I know that thanklessness is the way of the world," she said. "Three years I carried you about as a worm. For your sake I received blows and harsh words from my father and sisters. I had horseshoes attached to my hands and knees in order to climb over the glass mountain. Now you have forgotten everything and taken another wife." But the king was so fast asleep that he did not understand a thing. At dawn the queen came and led the silk spinster out again.

Sadly she took the second apple, broke it open, and took out the golden yarn reel. When the queen saw it, she admired it greatly and asked the girl to sell it to her. Once again she said that it was not for sale, but it could be earned if she were allowed to sleep with the king for another night. The queen gave her promise, and everything happened as during the first night. The king lay in knee-deep sleep, and no amount of crying and complaining could awaken him. However, one of the king's servants had seen the queen bring the spinster into the king's bedroom. He was curious, and listened to everything that the silk spinster said. The next day he told the king what he had seen and heard.

But that morning the queen had once again led the silk spinster out of the king's bedroom. In desperation, the girl opened her last apple, the one with the golden spinning wheel. When the queen saw it, she said she would let her sleep with the king yet another night, if she would give her the golden spinning wheel. The girl agreed, and that evening the queen once again gave her husband a sleeping potion, but he only pretended to drink it. He secretly poured it out, then lay down and pretended to be asleep. Then the queen fetched the silk spinster and led her into the king's bedroom. The girl sat sadly next to the king's bed and cried bitterly, "Now I know that thanklessness is the way of the world," she said. "Three years I carried you about as a worm. For your sake I received blows and harsh words from my father and sisters. I had horseshoes attached to my hands and knees in order to climb over the glass mountain. And you have forgotten everything and taken another wife."

The king listened silently to every word, but pretended to be asleep. The next day he ordered a large festive meal, and he invited the silk spinster to take her place at his right side. When everyone was seated, he said, "I want to present all of you with a question, and ask for your honest and open answer. Many years ago I lost the key to my chest, and therefore had a new one made. But now I have found the old one. Which one should I use from now on?"

"The old one," they all said as with one voice. "The old one always fits better."

"Now," said the king, "the silk spinster who is sitting here at my right side took care of me for three years while I was an enchanted worm. She suffered greatly on my behalf. Therefore, I would like to leave my wife for as long as the first one is alive, and marry her." And that is what he did. And thus the silk spinster became queen.

The Snake

Germany, Ignaz and Joseph Zingerle

 In olden times, when the castle was still standing on the hill over there, a count lived there with his wife. They had possessions in abundance, and they would have been the happiest couple, if they had had a child and domestic peace.

From the earliest morning until late in the evening the count and the countess quarreled and squabbled, and he never called his wife anything but a slimy snake.

Thus it continued for many long years, and the count became worse than ever, until his wife unexpectedly became pregnant. Then the cruel lord turned more friendly and rejoiced in his future heir. This continued for several weeks, and everyone thought that peace had come to the castle forever, but then it turned worse than ever, for when the countess's time came, she gave birth to a snake.

When the count saw his sweet hopes thus shattered he became angrier than ever. He ranted and raged like a wild animal, accused his wife of being a wicked witch in league with the devil, and wanted to kill the snake without further ado. The countess pled so long and fervently that her child be allowed to live at least long enough to see what would become of it, that he finally relented, and did not kill the snake. But he remained angry from then on, and finally went his own way, paying no more heed to his wife or his child.

The countess, on the other hand, loved the snake as much as if it had been the most beautiful boy and stood next to its cradle day and night. The worm grew and grew, and the countess loved it more and more, caring for it like her own child. Thus it continued for twenty years, and the snake had not yet left its room.

After turning twenty years of age, and with the countess seated next to it in its room, the snake one evening suddenly opened its mouth and began to speak. "My dear mother," it said, "I am now twenty years old and would like to get married. I therefore ask you to find me a bride."

The countess was very surprised to hear her child speak, and even more so to hear what it had said. She promised to fulfill its wish and began seeking a bride for her snake. But that was a difficult match, for even the most marriage-crazy girls wanted nothing to do with such an arrangement.

The snake repeated its wish every day, and the countess looked ever more frantically for a bride for her child, but she could not find one.

Finally she thought of the hen girl, who was a sweet and obedient child. The countess thought she certainly would accept the proposal and consider it a stroke of good luck to thus become a countess. But the mother calculated badly, because the hen girl wanted nothing at all to do with the proposal when it was presented to her. The girl thought that if she behaved well she would get along in the world, and that she could never love a snake. She would rather remain a poor hen girl and eat black bread than to lead the richest life at the side of such an uncanny animal.

Upon hearing this the countess grew angry with the poor girl and said, "If you reject your good fortune, I'll find someone else."

But that was not to be, for the countess came away with a long face from every place that she sought a bride for her child.

Recognizing the situation she returned to the dear, pious hen girl and addressed her with sweet and kind words. "Please don't stupidly stand in the way of your own happiness," she said. "If you marry my child you will become countess and will be taken care of as long as you live. What opportunities will you have if you remain as you are now? You will have to feed the hens and will remain a lowly servant. But if you follow my advice, honor and wealth will smile upon you."

Thus argued the countess until the poor girl felt like she had a mill wheel turning back and forth in her head, and she did not know what she should do. Seeing the girl's indecision, the countess pressed still harder, until finally the girl -- in order to free herself from the noblewoman -- asked for three days' time to think about it. The countess was satisfied with this and left the child alone.

However, she returned the very next day and asked the child for her decision. She did the same thing the second day. The child did not know how to help herself and thought, "If heaven does not advise me, I do not know what to do. If I do not marry the snake, I'll never have any peace, for this woman is so persistent, but I do not want to marry it."

Burdened with these doubts the girl went out into the castle passageway where there stood in the corner a beautiful statue of the Mother of God. The pious girl had a special devotion to this statue and had often found solace there on other occasions. Therefore every time she passed it she said an Ave Maria and always felt better and stronger. This time she knelt down before the Mother of God and prayed most fervently for advice as to what she should do in this case.

After praying for a long time, the girl thought that the Mother of God should either nod a yes or shake a no, when the miraculous statue suddenly began to speak, saying, "Your prayer has been heard. Marry the countess's child, for you have been chosen to redeem it. It is a snake because of the sinful life of its parents, but you can give it a human form. So listen to me! On your wedding night when you and the snake are alone in the bridal chamber it will say to you, 'Get undressed!' Then you must answer, 'You get undressed first,' and the snake will take off a skin. Then it will say again, 'Get undressed,' and you must again answer him, 'You get undressed first.' Then the snake will take off another skin. This must happen seven times, and when you say for the seventh time, 'You get undressed first,' the snake will take off its seventh skin, and the count's son will be redeemed and will stand before you as a handsome youth."

Thus spoke the statue, and then remained silent.

The distressed girl was now much relieved, and she felt at peace with herself. Thanking heaven for helping her, she went to the countess and told her that she wanted to marry the snake. The countess was overjoyed. She called the hen girl her daughter and hugged her. Then she went to her child and introduced his bride to him.

Fearing that the girl might change her mind, the countess wanted to see the couple married that very day. Thus she gave the bride jewelry and clothing and told her to dress herself festively. As soon as the girl came back into the room -- now washed, dressed, and bejeweled -- the countess sent for the chaplain, who married the couple. The countess was very happy and wished the bridal couple good luck. The snake too was in good spirits, caressing the bride in a manner that made one wonder.

In the meanwhile evening came, and the stars appeared in the sky. The countess took leave of her children and left them alone.

As soon as the snake saw that it was alone in the room with its bride it said, "Get undressed."

The bride replied, "You get undressed first."

The snake seemed to be happy with this answer and immediately peeled off a skin. Then it said again, "Get undressed."

The bride replied, "You get undressed first," and the snake pulled off another skin.

Then it said again, "Get undressed."

Once again the bride answered as she had the first two times. And thus it continued seven times, and when the bride said for the seventh time, "You get undressed first," the snake pulled off its seventh and last skin, and behold, instead of a snake, there stood before her a marvelously handsome youth, better looking than any knight she had ever seen.

He rushed toward her, embraced her and caressed her and called her his dearly beloved bride and his redeemer. Then they climbed into the high bridal bed and slept blissfully until morning dawned and people began scurrying about the courtyard.

After daybreak when the handsome couple came out of the bedroom, the countess was already standing at their door, for she was very curious how their wedding night had progressed. To her great surprise she saw the most handsome man there instead of an ugly snake. At first she could almost not believe her eyes. But when the handsome knight called her mother and kissed her hand she recognized that he was indeed her transformed son, and her joy knew no bounds.

The wedding was now celebrated with jubilation and joy like in the next life. But their happiness did not last forever. When the old countess looked at her son and saw how handsome he was, it seemed to her that he was too good for the hen girl, and she was envious of her daughter-in-law for her husband. She became ever more out of sorts and jealous, and she tried to talk her son into rejecting his wife. The young count, however, loved his wife tenderly. He did not listen to his mother's advice and remained true to his wife.

When his mother again reproached him and tried to convince him to reject his wife, he said, "I have my wife to thank for my redemption. Therefore I will always be thankful and true to her."

After hearing this the countess recognized that her attempts were in vain, and she put a good face on her evil game. And the young couple lived happily for a long, long time.

(Orally from Absam)

The Serpent

Germany, Ignaz and Joseph Zingerle

Once upon a time there was a hunter who had a wife and many children, but only a meager existence. He had many difficulties with his work. He would have gladly done all the men's work both at home and away from home, but he was not able to, so although he had only a small income, he still had to hire a helper.

He had about the same luck at hunting that others have. Today he got something, tomorrow nothing, and many an evening he came home with an empty bag after spending the whole day traipsing himself tired.

Not far from his house there was a high mountain. This was his favorite place to hunt, and he went there often, for this was the easiest place to spot game. One day while hunting on this mountain he saw a human lying in the footpath. His dog ran ahead then raced around the person who was lying there, all the time barking loudly. The dog was so wild that it seemed he wanted to tear the person to pieces. With difficulty the hunter held him back. It was strange that the dog was attacking this person with such fury, because normally he would do no harm to anyone.

With the dog barking at him, the person lying there raised himself a little and said to the hunter, "Be so good as to sell this dog to me."

"No," said the hunter, "I need this dog myself and cannot give him to you. But I have another one at home that you can have, if what you want is a dog."

"That's good," said the man lying there. "Let my buy the other one. But you must bring it here at exactly this time tomorrow, and we will close the deal. Did you hear? Exactly at this time."

The hunter gave his word, went away with his dog, and hunted awhile longer on the mountain. Finding no game, he gave up his traipsing about and made his way toward home. He arrived home, and after greeting his wife he told her that he had sold the dog that he never took hunting.

The wife was glad to hear this and said, "You should have sold the other one as well. We would be better off giving the bread to our children that we use feeding the dogs."

The next day, as the appointed time approached, the hunter said, "I have to leave now with the dog, for the man might not wait, and then the deal would be broken."

He lured the promised dog to come to him and was about to leave when his thirteen-year-old daughter came up to him and cried out, "Oh, father, let me come along too!"

"Why do want to go with me today?" asked the hunter.

The girl did not have an answer, but still would not cease asking to be allowed to go with her father. In the meantime the hunter's wife came by and took the girl's side, so in the end the father gave in and allowed her to go.

They went to the mountain, coming finally to the path where the person had been lying the day before. But today a wild serpent was lying there. The frightened hunter immediately realized that there had been something uncanny about the person whom the dog had barked at the day before. Taking his daughter by the hand, he said, "Let's go. We have to turn back. Yesterday I knew there was something not right about that man, and now today there is a serpent lying there in his place."

The girl too was afraid, took his hand, and wanted to go. Then the dragon moved, shot toward the girl, wrapped his tail around her, and disappeared into the mountain with her. The hunter, paralyzed with fear, stared after the monster.

Now he was sorry that he had not brought his rifle. If he had been armed he at least could have peppered the dragon's skin a bit. However, staring after them did no good, and finally he had to decide to go home and report the sad news. Upon his arrival, his wife saw his distorted face and said immediately, "Where did you leave the girl? Why isn't she with you?"

Tears came to the hunter's eyes and, crying, he told her what had happened. After hearing this the hunter's wife was horrified and ran about crying, "We did not bless the child enough, otherwise this evil would not have happened to her."

The next day the hunter returned to the mountain and combed back and forth and up and down hoping to find some trace of his child. But he did not find as much as a scrap of her clothing, and that evening he had to return home empty-handed. Undaunted, he returned often, looking in every corner and hole. His thoughts were always with his daughter, even while hunting game. But his searching was all in vain, and seven years passed without his discovering even the slightest trace of the girl.

After the seven years had passed it happened one day that the hunter and his helper went to the mountain to hunt. They saw a beautiful game animal and began to track it, thinking it would soon be theirs. However, the animal stayed just far enough ahead of them so they could not get a shot at it, although they never lost it completely from their eyes. They were determined to get the animal, whatever it might do. Thus they pursued it long and hard, but all for naught, and did not notice that it was getting dark. They did not stop until night had fallen, and finally the hunter said to his helper, "It is late. Night has come, and we are not going to make it back home."

"I don't care," said the helper. "It isn't cold, and we can sleep here on the ground just as well as at home in bed."

"No, said the hunter, "I am not going to lie on the ground here. It is exactly seven years since the serpent carried my daughter away, and if we were to lie down on the ground here it could also happen to us that a serpent or some other beast might attack us and tear us to pieces."

"Wait a bit," answered the helper. "I'll climb a tree and look around to see if there is a house nearby."

The hunter laughed at him, saying, "Yes indeed, a house nearby! I know this entire mountain from top to bottom and know for certain that there is no house nearby."

But the helper would not be dissuaded, and he climbed the tree and looked around. "Look!" he suddenly called out. "I can see a light just a little above us. There is certainly a house up there where we can spend the night."

The hunter did not know what to think of this, because he knew full well that no one lived around here far and wide. The helper climbed quickly down the tree and said, "Let's go up to the light and see if there are people there who will give us shelter."

The hunter had no desire to go along, but the helper would not give in, and ridiculed him, so he finally agreed to go, and the two of them climbed up the mountain. They had not gone far when a light glistened brightly through the tree branches, and the hunter saw that the helper had been right. But he was all the more fearful, for he knew that there never had been a house around here. His fear became even greater when, after advancing a few paces, there appeared before them a magnificent castle, from which the light was beaming.

The helper stopped and said, "Now you can see which of us was right. I knew right away that if there was a light on the mountain there must be a house there as well. Let's go in and ask the people for shelter."

The hunter cautioned him, saying, "I have been at this spot many times, but never in my lifetime has there been a castle standing here. Believe you me, there is something not right about this. We would be better off to turn back and spend the night in a tree."

But the helper would not be dissuaded, and he said that he would go inside, come what may.

"Then I'll have to go too," thought the hunter to himself, and climbed up to the door with his helper. They went inside, with the helper bravely leading the way and the hunter timidly following.

A most beautiful maiden came up to them and asked them what they wanted.

The servant spoke first, saying, "Nightfall caught us in the woods and we were not able to make our way home. May we ask you for shelter for the night?"

"Oh, yes," replied the maiden. "You can spend the night here, but I have to tell you one thing: You must show neither fear nor disgust."

"If there is nothing more than that," said the helper, "then we can well spend the night here, for we never show fear nor disgust."

The helper was speaking for himself, for the hunter thought something quite different, but he kept his mouth shut and surrendered himself to fate.

The maiden led the two up to a room. Inviting them to be seated, she went into the kitchen and brought them something to eat. They ate heartily and felt no disgust.

While they were eating, the maiden fetched a tub and placed it in the room. Then she went for water, and carried water inside until the tub was full. The two did not know why she was doing this, and the hunter was still secretly afraid.

Then suddenly a disgusting serpent came in the door and fell into the tub, splashing the water high. The hunter was now even more frightened, because as far as he could determine, this was the same serpent that seven years earlier had abducted his daughter.

The maiden then went to the tub and began vigorously to wash the serpent. The longer she washed, the redder the water became, until finally it was so red that there appeared to be nothing but blood in the container. The two at the table had to take hold of themselves to keep their hearts from fluttering like a lamb's tail.

After the maiden had washed the serpent clean she helped him out of the tub. Then he began to speak, saying, "Maiden, would you not like to marry me?"

"No," she said, "I cannot do that. You are a serpent and I am a human."

He asked her again, "Maiden, won't you marry me?"

She said again, "No, I cannot do that. You are a serpent and I am a human."

Then he asked for the third time, "Maiden, are you sure that you won't marry me?"

She could no longer refuse him. She felt sorry for him and said, "Because you won't give in, I will accept you. I have been washing you for seven years, so for a while I will continue to be able to wash you."

She had hardly said this when the serpent disappeared, and a wonderfully handsome youth stood there in its place. As her bridegroom he extended his hand to her and said, "You have now redeemed me. As thanks for this I will indeed take you as my wife and secure a happy life for you. In this castle we have possessions enough, and the castle itself will no longer be enchanted, as it was until now."

The he led the maiden to the hunter and asked him, "Do you know her?"

"Why should I know her?" said the hunter.

"Look at her carefully," said the youth, and tell me if this is not your daughter. I was banished seven years before she was born. Then I had to wait thirteen years before bringing her to my castle. For seven years she has had to wash me every day. Now the magic has been broken, and I will take her to be my wife. The rest of you no longer must suffer from poverty. My wealth would be sufficient to care for you even if you had more children than you actually have."

The hunter did not know what was happening to him as he heard this. He looked first at the maiden and then at the youth, and could not fully believe that the woman was his child and the man his future son-in-law. But if he could trust in his own eyes then he had to believe that this was really his daughter standing before him, and he did not know why he should not believe the youth. Beside himself with joy, he jumped up and embraced them both, and then for a long time expressed thanks that everything had concluded so well.

The next day they all went together to the hunter's house and introduced themselves to the hunter's wife, telling her the whole story. It cannot be stated how happy she was, and she hurriedly began preparations for the wedding. When everything was ready the wedding was celebrated with great splendor. From this time forth the hunter's family had the best possible life with the daughter's husband. And they all lived happily together until the end of their lives.

(Heard in Meran)

Oda and the Snake


Once upon a time there was a man who had three daughters. The youngest one was named Oda.

One day the father wanted to go the market, and he asked his daughters what he should bring back to them. The oldest asked for a golden spinning wheel, the second for a golden ring, but Oda said, "Bring me that which runs away from beneath your carriage when you are about to return."

At the market the father bought what the older girls had wished for themselves, then set off toward home, and behold, a snake ran from beneath his carriage. The man caught it and brought it along for Oda. He threw it into the bottom of his carriage, then afterward in front of the house door, and left it lying there.

When Oda entered the door the snake began speaking, "Oda! Dear Oda! Can't I come inside?"

"What?" said Oda. "My father brought you up to the front door, and now you want to come inside?" But she gave in.

Then Oda went to her bedroom, and the snake called after her, "Oda, dear Oda! Can't I rest in front of your bedroom door?"

"Look here," said Oda. "My father brought you up to the front door, and I let you come inside, and now you want to lie in front of my bedroom door? Well, let it be so."

When Oda was about to enter her bedroom and opened the bedroom door, the snake called out again, "Oh, Oda, dear Oda! Can't I come into your bedroom?"

"What," called Oda, "Didn't my father bring you up to the font door? Didn't I let you come inside and up to my bedroom door? And now you want to come into my bedroom with me? -- All right, if you will now be satisfied, come inside, but you must lie here quietly, I'm telling you!"

With that Oda let the snake come inside, and she began to get undressed. She was about to climb into her bed when the snake called out again, "Oh Oda, dearest Oda! Can't I get into bed with you?"

"This is too much!" cried Oda angrily. "My father brought you up to the front door, and I allowed you into my room, and now you want to get into bed with me? But you are freezing! All right, come here and get warm, you poor worm!"

Then good Oda stuck out her soft, warm hand and picked up the cold snake, who had been enchanted for a long time and who could only be redeemed if everything could happen just as it had now happened. He was transformed into a handsome young prince, and he immediately took Oda as his wife.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised July 17, 2014.