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The Crystal Ball
Grimm Märchen

The Crystal Ball - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 9 min

There was once an enchantress, who had three sons who loved each other as brothers, but the old woman did not trust them, and thought they wanted to steal her power from her. So she changed the eldest into an eagle, which was forced to dwell in the rocky mountains, and was often seen sweeping in great circles in the sky. The second, she changed into a whale, which lived in the deep sea, and all that was seen of it was that it sometimes spouted up a great jet of water in the air. Each of them only bore his human form for only two hours daily. The third son, who was afraid she might change him into a raging wild beast a bear perhaps, or a wolf, went secretly away. He had heard that a King’s daughter who was bewitched, was imprisoned in the Castle of the Golden Sun, and was waiting for deliverance. Those, however, who tried to free her risked their lives; three-and-twenty youths had already died a miserable death, and now only one other might make the attempt, after which no more must come. And as his heart was without fear, he caught at the idea of seeking out the Castle of the Golden Sun. He had already travelled about for a long time without being able to find it, when he came by chance into a great forest, and did not know the way out of it. All at once he saw in the distance two giants, who made a sign to him with their hands, and when he came to them they said, „We are quarrelling about a cap, and which of us it is to belong to, and as we are equally strong, neither of us can get the better of the other. The small men are cleverer than we are, so we will leave the decision to thee.“ – „How can you dispute about an old cap?“ said the youth. „Thou dost not know what properties it has! It is a wishing-cap; whosoever puts it on, can wish himself away wherever he likes, and in an instant he will be there.“ – „Give me the cap,“ said the youth, „I will go a short distance off, and when I call you, you must run a race, and the cap shall belong to the one who gets first to me.“ He put it on and went away, and thought of the King’s daughter, forgot the giants, and walked continually onward. At length he sighed from the very bottom of his heart, and cried, „Ah, if I were but at the Castle of the Golden Sun,“ and hardly had the words passed his lips than he was standing on a high mountain before the gate of the castle. He entered and went through all the rooms, until in the last he found the King’s daughter. But how shocked he was when he saw her. She had an ashen-gray face full of wrinkles, blear eyes, and red hair. „Are you the King’s daughter, whose beauty the whole world praises?“ cried he. „Ah,“ she answered, „this is not my form; human eyes can only see me in this state of ugliness, but that thou mayst know what I am like, look in the mirror it does not let itself be misled it will show thee my image as it is in truth.“ She gave him the mirror in his hand, and he saw therein the likeness of the most beautiful maiden on earth, and saw, too, how the tears were rolling down her cheeks with grief. Then said he, „How canst thou be set free? I fear no danger.“ She said, „He who gets the crystal ball, and holds it before the enchanter, will destroy his power with it, and I shall resume my true shape. Ah,“ she added, „so many have already gone to meet death for this, and thou art so young. I grieve that thou shouldst encounter such great danger.“ – „Nothing can keep me from doing it,“ said he, „but tell me what I must do.“ – „Thou shalt know everything,“ said the King’s daughter; „when thou descendest the mountain on which the castle stands, a wild bull will stand below by a spring, and thou must fight with it, and if thou hast the luck to kill it, a fiery bird will spring out of it, which bears in its body a burning egg, and in the egg the crystal ball lies like a yolk. The bird will not, however, let the egg fall until forced to do so, and if it falls on the ground, it will flame up and burn everything that is near, and melt even ice itself, and with it the crystal ball, and then all thy trouble will have been in vain.“

The youth went down to the spring, where the bull snorted and bellowed at him. After a long struggle he plunged his sword in the animal’s body, and it fell down. Instantly a fiery bird arose from it, and was about to fly away, but the young man’s brother, the eagle, who was passing between the clouds, swooped down, hunted it away to the sea, and struck it with his beak until, in its extremity, it let the egg fall. The egg did not, however, fall into the sea, but on a fisherman’s hut which stood on the shore and the hut began at once to smoke and was about to break out in flames. Then arose in the sea waves as high as a house, they streamed over the hut, and subdued the fire. The other brother, the whale, had come swimming to them, and had driven the water up on high. When the fire was extinguished, the youth sought for the egg and happily found it. It was not yet melted, but the shell was broken by being so suddenly cooled with the water, and he could take out the crystal ball unhurt.

When the youth went to the enchanter and held it before him, the latter said, „My power is destroyed, and from this time forth thou art the King of the Castle of the Golden Sun. With this canst thou likewise give back to thy brothers their human form.“ Then the youth hastened to the King’s daughter, and when he entered the room, she was standing there in the full splendour of her beauty, and joyfully they exchanged rings with each other.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The crystal ball“

„The Crystal Ball“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, first published in their collection titled „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ (Children’s and Household Tales) in 1812. The story is of German origin and belongs to the Aarne-Thompson-Uther (ATU) classification system as type 552, „The Girls Who Married Animals.“ This type of tale generally involves a hero who has to rescue a princess or enchanted maiden from the clutches of a supernatural being, often a witch, wizard, or magical creature.

The Brothers Grimm collected and compiled folktales from various sources, including oral traditions, written texts, and personal accounts from friends and acquaintances. They aimed to preserve these stories as part of German cultural heritage and folklore. „The Crystal Ball“ is no exception and is part of the rich tapestry of German folklore they recorded.

As with many fairy tales, „The Crystal Ball“ shares themes and motifs with other stories from different cultures. The tale’s central theme of a hero going on a quest to rescue a princess or an enchanted maiden is common across many cultures, and variations of the story can be found worldwide. The use of magical objects (in this case, the crystal ball) is also a common motif in fairy tales, symbolizing the power of fate, destiny, or divine intervention.

While „The Crystal Ball“ may not be as well-known as some of the Brothers Grimm’s other tales, it still reflects the rich and diverse background of German folklore and the broader themes and motifs found in fairy tales from around the world.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The crystal ball“

„The Crystal Ball“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, but it still contains themes and motifs that offer various interpretations. Here are some interpretations of the story:

The hero’s journey: „The Crystal Ball“ follows the classic structure of the hero’s journey, where the protagonist faces challenges and undergoes a transformative experience to achieve his goal. In this case, the hero must rescue an enchanted princess, emphasizing the importance of courage, perseverance, and personal growth in overcoming obstacles.

The power of love: The story suggests that love has the power to overcome great obstacles, even magical enchantments. The hero’s love for the princess drives him to undertake a dangerous journey and face numerous challenges to rescue her, demonstrating the strength of love as a motivating force.

The role of fate and destiny: The crystal ball in the story represents fate and destiny, guiding the hero toward his ultimate goal. The hero’s journey is influenced by forces beyond his control, suggesting that some aspects of life are predetermined or guided by a higher power.

The importance of persistence: Throughout the tale, the hero faces various challenges and setbacks, but he never gives up. This perseverance ultimately leads to his success, emphasizing the value of determination and persistence in achieving one’s goals.

The transformative power of trials: The hero’s journey in „The Crystal Ball“ involves many trials and tribulations. These experiences change and strengthen him, allowing him to become the person capable of rescuing the princess. This highlights the idea that personal growth often occurs through adversity and struggle.

The significance of magical objects: The crystal ball itself is a magical object that plays a crucial role in the story. It symbolizes the power of fate, destiny, or divine intervention, suggesting that there are forces at work in the world beyond human understanding.

Overall, „The Crystal Ball“ may not be as well-known as other Brothers Grimm fairy tales, but it still offers valuable insights and interpretations that explore themes such as love, fate, persistence, and personal transformation.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The crystal ball“

„The Crystal Ball“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, and as a result, it has not been adapted as widely as some of their more famous tales. However, there are a few adaptations and works that have drawn inspiration from the story:

Children’s books: As with many other fairy tales, „The Crystal Ball“ has been retold and adapted in various children’s books, often with simplified language and illustrations to make the story more accessible to young readers. Some of these adaptations may take creative liberties with the plot or characters, but they generally retain the core themes and motifs of the original tale.

Fairy tale anthologies: „The Crystal Ball“ has been included in numerous fairy tale anthologies and collections, alongside other stories from the Brothers Grimm and other authors. These collections often contain retellings or adaptations of the original stories, sometimes with updated language or additional commentary to provide context and analysis.

Theater: Although there aren’t many mainstream theatrical adaptations of „The Crystal Ball,“ local and amateur theatre groups have occasionally performed adaptations of the story as part of a larger program of fairy tales or Brothers Grimm stories. These performances may include elements of pantomime, puppetry, or other theatrical techniques to bring the story to life on stage.

Inspired works: While not a direct adaptation, the theme of a hero seeking a magical object to rescue an enchanted princess can be found in various forms of media, such as novels, films, and television shows. For example, the popular video game series „The Legend of Zelda“ often features a hero embarking on a quest to save a princess, and the use of magical objects is central to the gameplay.

Although „The Crystal Ball“ hasn’t been adapted as widely as some other Brothers Grimm fairy tales, it still remains an interesting and engaging story that can be appreciated by audiences of all ages. The tale’s themes and motifs continue to inspire and influence other works, demonstrating its enduring appeal and relevance in the realm of folklore and storytelling.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The crystal ball“

„The Crystal Ball“ has inspired various adaptations over the years. Here are a few examples:

Stage adaptations: „The Crystal Ball“ has been adapted for the stage in various forms, including ballets, plays, and musicals. For example, the ballet „The Crystal Ball“ was first performed in 1967 by the Royal Ballet in London.

Film adaptations: „The Crystal Ball“ has been adapted for film several times, including the 1956 French film „La Belle et la Bête“ (Beauty and the Beast), which features a storyline similar to „The Crystal Ball“.

Novel adaptations: „The Crystal Ball“ has also inspired novels, such as Sibylle Bedford’s „Crystal Ball“ (1989), which reimagines the story in a modern setting.

TV adaptations: „The Crystal Ball“ has been adapted for television, such as in the episode „The Crystal Ball“ from the animated TV series „Faerie Tale Theater“ (1982), which retells the story with a few twists.

Interactive adaptations:0 „The Crystal Ball“ has also been adapted into interactive media, such as video games. For example, the game „Grim Legends 3: The Dark City“ (2014) is loosely based on the story of „The Crystal Ball“.

These adaptations have allowed audiences to experience „The Crystal Ball“ in new and different ways, while still capturing the essence of the original fairy tale.

Summary of the plot

„The Crystal Ball“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm. The story follows the journey of a young man who seeks to rescue an enchanted princess. Here is a summary of the plot:

A powerful sorceress has an enchanted princess in her possession, hidden away in a castle guarded by a dragon. The sorceress’s only son desires to marry the princess, but she refuses him. The son leaves the castle and encounters a young man in the forest, who turns out to be the son of a king. The king’s son learns about the enchanted princess and decides to rescue her.

The sorceress’s son, realizing the king’s son intends to save the princess, transforms himself into various animals to hinder the hero’s progress. In each encounter, the hero is aided by three mysterious beggars who help him overcome the obstacles. They provide him with a magical whip to defeat a lion, a pair of wings to fly over a wide sea, and a sword and loaf of bread to defeat a dragon guarding the castle.

Upon reaching the castle, the hero finds that the princess is locked away in a chamber made entirely of crystal. He is told that the only way to rescue her is by obtaining the crystal ball that holds the key to her chamber. The crystal ball lies in a well guarded by two enchanted ducks.

The hero overcomes the enchanted ducks and retrieves the crystal ball. He uses it to unlock the crystal chamber and free the princess. They escape the castle, and along the way, the hero returns the magical objects to the three beggars. In gratitude, the beggars reveal themselves to be the three long-lost brothers of the enchanted princess.

The king’s son and the princess return to the kingdom, where they are joyfully reunited with her brothers. The story concludes with their marriage and the celebration of their happiness.

In summary, „The Crystal Ball“ is a classic fairy tale that follows the hero’s journey of a young man who overcomes numerous obstacles to rescue an enchanted princess, with the help of magical objects and mysterious allies.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The crystal ball“

„The Crystal Ball“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, who were linguists, cultural researchers, and authors. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were born in the late 18th century and lived through the early 19th century in Germany. They are best known for their collection of fairy tales, which were part of a larger project to preserve Germanic folklore, literature, and traditions during a time when the country was undergoing significant cultural change.

The Brothers Grimm published their first volume of fairy tales, „Children’s and Household Tales“ (in German: „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“), in 1812. The book underwent multiple revisions, with new stories added and others removed, culminating in the final edition published in 1857. In total, the collection includes over 200 stories, featuring popular tales such as „Cinderella,“ „Hansel and Gretel,“ „Rapunzel,“ and „Snow White.“

„The Crystal Ball“ is among the lesser-known stories in the Brothers Grimm collection. Like many other Grimm fairy tales, it draws on oral storytelling traditions and earlier written sources. The story presents several familiar fairy tale themes, such as transformation, the quest for true love, trials and challenges, and the triumph of good over evil. Although the exact origins of „The Crystal Ball“ are uncertain, its narrative structure and motifs are consistent with many other European folktales and fairy tales.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The crystal ball“

„The Crystal Ball“ can be interpreted in several ways, with different themes and motifs emerging from the narrative:

Power and fear: The enchantress, fearing her sons might steal her power, transforms two of them into animals. Her actions illustrate the corrupting influence of power and the destructive nature of fear.

The quest for true love: The youngest son embarks on a dangerous journey to save the bewitched King’s daughter, despite the risks involved. This quest demonstrates the transformative power of love, as it inspires courage and selflessness in the protagonist.

Inner beauty and deception: The King’s daughter is seen by human eyes as old and ugly, but her true beauty is revealed through a mirror. This motif highlights the importance of looking beyond appearances to find the truth and the essence of a person’s character.

Trials and personal growth: The protagonist faces several trials in his quest, such as battling the bull and retrieving the crystal ball. Through these challenges, he grows stronger, more resilient, and gains the necessary wisdom to succeed in his mission.

The power of unity and cooperation: The protagonist’s brothers, the eagle and the whale, help him capture the egg and retrieve the crystal ball, despite their enchantress mother’s actions. This emphasizes the importance of family, unity, and teamwork in overcoming obstacles.

The reversal of fortunes: By defeating the enchantress and retrieving the crystal ball, the protagonist restores the King’s daughter’s beauty and his brothers‘ humanity. This turn of events exemplifies the possibility of redemption, transformation, and the triumph of good over evil.

Summary of the plot

„The Crystal Ball“ is a fairy tale by Brothers Grimm about an enchantress with three sons who, fearing her power might be stolen, turns two of them into animals while the third runs away. The youngest son hears of a bewitched King’s daughter imprisoned in the Castle of the Golden Sun, and decides to find the castle to save her. After many trials, he encounters two giants arguing over a magical wishing-cap, which they give to him after a clever trick. Using the cap, he finds the Castle of the Golden Sun and discovers the King’s daughter appears old and ugly, but her true beauty is shown in a mirror.

To break her curse, the youth must retrieve a crystal ball from inside a burning egg, which is inside a fiery bird, which arises from a wild bull. After a fierce battle, he kills the bull, and his brothers (an eagle and a whale) help him capture the egg and retrieve the crystal ball. Confronting the enchantress, he destroys her power with the crystal ball, becomes the King of the Castle of the Golden Sun, and restores his brothers‘ human forms. The King’s daughter regains her true beauty, and she and the youth happily exchange rings, uniting their fates.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 197
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 552A
TranslationsDE, EN, ES, PT, HU, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson34.5
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index77.4
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level8.6
Gunning Fog Index11.3
Coleman–Liau Index7.3
SMOG Index8.7
Automated Readability Index9.3
Character Count5.542
Letter Count4.242
Sentence Count44
Word Count1.083
Average Words per Sentence24,61
Words with more than 6 letters107
Percentage of long words9.9%
Number of Syllables1.337
Average Syllables per Word1,23
Words with three Syllables40
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.7%
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