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The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs
Grimm Märchen

The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 18 min

There was once a poor woman who gave birth to a little son; and as he came into the world with a caul on, it was predicted that in his fourteenth year he would have the King’s daughter for his wife. It happened that soon afterwards the King came into the village, and no one knew that he was the King, and when he asked the people what news there was, they answered, „A child has just been born with a caul on. Whatever any one so born undertakes turns out well. It is prophesied, too, that in his fourteenth year he will have the King’s daughter for his wife.“

The King, who had a bad heart, and was angry about the prophecy, went to the parents, and, seeming quite friendly, said, „You poor people, let me have your child, and I will take care of it.“ At first they refused, but when the stranger offered them a large amount of gold for it, and they thought, „It is a luck-child, and everything must turn out well for it,“ they at last consented, and gave him the child. The King put it in a box and rode away with it until he came to a deep piece of water. Then he threw the box into it and thought, „I have freed my daughter from her unlooked-for suitor.“

The box, however, did not sink, but floated like a boat, and not a drop of water made its way into it. And it floated to within two miles of the King’s chief city, where there was a mill, and it came to a stand-still at the mill-dam. A miller’s boy, who by good luck was standing there, noticed it and pulled it out with a hook, thinking that he had found a great treasure, but when he opened it there lay a pretty boy inside, quite fresh and lively. He took him to the miller and his wife, and as they had no children they were glad, and said, „God has given him to us.“ They took great care of the foundling, and he grew up in all goodness.

It happened that once in a storm, the King went into the mill, and he asked the mill-folk if the tall youth was their son. „No,“ answered they, „he’s a foundling. Fourteen years ago he floated down to the mill-dam in a box, and the mill-boy pulled him out of the water.“ Then the King knew that it was none other than the luck-child which he had thrown into the water, and he said, „My good people, could not the youth take a letter to the Queen. I will give him two gold pieces as a reward?“ – „Just as the King commands,“ answered they, and they told the boy to hold himself in readiness.

Then the King wrote a letter to the Queen, wherein he said, „As soon as the boy arrives with this letter, let him be killed and buried, and all must be done before I come home.“ The boy set out with this letter; but he lost his way, and in the evening came to a large forest. In the darkness he saw a small light. He went towards it and reached a cottage. When he went in, an old woman was sitting by the fire quite alone. She started when she saw the boy, and said, „Whence do you come, and whither are you going?“

„I come from the mill,“ he answered, „and wish to go to the Queen, to whom I am taking a letter; but as I have lost my way in the forest I should like to stay here over night.“ – „You poor boy,“ said the woman, „you have come into a den of thieves, and when they come home they will kill you.“ – „Let them come,“ said the boy, „I am not afraid; but I am so tired that I cannot go any farther:“ and he stretched himself upon a bench and fell asleep. Soon afterwards the robbers came, and angrily asked what strange boy was lying there?

„Ah,“ said the old woman, „it is an innocent child who has lost himself in the forest, and out of pity I have let him come in. He has to take a letter to the Queen.“ The robbers opened the letter and read it, and in it was written that the boy as soon as he arrived should be put to death. Then the hard-hearted robbers felt pity, and their leader tore up the letter and wrote another, saying, that as soon as the boy came, he should be married at once to the King’s daughter. Then they let him lie quietly on the bench until the next morning, and when he awoke they gave him the letter, and showed him the right way.

And the Queen, when she had received the letter and read it, did as was written in it, and had a splendid wedding-feast prepared, and the King’s daughter was married to the luck-child, and as the youth was handsome and agreeable she lived with him in joy and contentment. After some time the King returned to his palace and saw that the prophecy was fulfilled, and the luck-child married to his daughter. „How has that come to pass?“ said he. „I gave quite another order in my letter.“ So the Queen gave him the letter, and said that he might see for himself what was written in it.

The King read the letter and saw quite well that it had been exchanged for the other. He asked the youth what had become of the letter entrusted to him, and why he had brought another instead of it. „I know nothing about it,“ answered he. „It must have been changed in the night, when I slept in the forest.“ The King said in a passion, „You shall not have everything quite so much your own way. Whosoever marries my daughter must fetch me from hell three golden hairs from the head of the devil. Bring me what I want, and you shall keep my daughter.“

In this way the King hoped to be rid of him for ever. But the luck-child answered, „I will fetch the golden hairs, I am not afraid of the Devil.“ Thereupon he took leave of them and began his journey. The road led him to a large town, where the watchman by the gates asked him what his trade was, and what he knew. „I know everything,“ answered the luck-child. „Then you can do us a favour,“ said the watchman, „if you will tell us why our market-fountain, which once flowed with wine has become dry, and no longer gives even water?“

„That you shall know,“ answered he. „Only wait until I come back.“ Then he went farther and came to another town, and there also the gatekeeper asked him what was his trade, and what he knew. „I know everything,“ answered he. „Then you can do us a favour and tell us why a tree in our town which once bore golden apples now does not even put forth leaves?“ – „You shall know that,“ answered he. „Only wait until I come back.“ Then he went on and came to a wide river over which he must go. The ferryman asked him what his trade was, and what he knew. „I know everything,“ answered he.

„Then you can do me a favour,“ said the ferryman, „and tell me why I must always be rowing backwards and forwards, and am never set free?“ – „You shall know that,“ answered he. „Only wait until I come back.“ When he had crossed the water he found the entrance to Hell. It was black and sooty within, and the Devil was not at home, but his grandmother was sitting in a large arm-chair. „What do you want?“ said she to him, but she did not look so very wicked. „I should like to have three golden hairs from the devil’s head,“ answered he, „else I cannot keep my wife.“

„That is a good deal to ask for,“ said she. „If the devil comes home and finds you, it will cost you your life; but as I pity you, I will see if I cannot help you.“ She changed him into an ant and said, „Creep into the folds of my dress, you will be safe there.“ – „Yes,“ answered he, „so far, so good; but there are three things besides that I want to know: Why a fountain which once flowed with wine has become dry, and no longer gives even water. Why a tree which once bore golden apples does not even put forth leaves. And why a ferry-man must always be going backwards and forwards, and is never set free?“

„Those are difficult questions,“ answered she, „but only be silent and quiet and pay attention to what the devil says when I pull out the three golden hairs.“ As the evening came on, the devil returned home. No sooner had he entered than he noticed that the air was not pure. „I smell man’s flesh,“ said he. „All is not right here.“ Then he pried into every corner, and searched, but could not find anything. His grandmother scolded him. „It has just been swept,“ said she, „and everything put in order, and now you are upsetting it again. You have always got man’s flesh in your nose. Sit down and eat your supper.“

When he had eaten and drunk he was tired, and laid his head in his grandmother’s lap, and before long he was fast asleep, snoring and breathing heavily. Then the old woman took hold of a golden hair, pulled it out, and laid it down near her. „Oh!“ cried the devil, „what are you doing?“ – „I have had a bad dream,“ answered the grandmother, „so I seized hold of your hair.“ – „What did you dream then?“ said the devil. „I dreamed that a fountain in a market-place from which wine once flowed was dried up, and not even water would flow out of it. What is the cause of it?“

„Oh, ho! if they did but know it,“ answered the devil. „there is a toad sitting under a stone in the well. If they killed it, the wine would flow again.“ He went to sleep again and snored until the windows shook. Then she pulled the second hair out. „Ha! what are you doing?“ cried the devil angrily. „Do not take it ill,“ said she, „I did it in a dream.“ – „What have you dreamt this time?“ asked he. „I dreamt that in a certain kingdom there stood an apple-tree which had once borne golden apples, but now would not even bear leaves. What, think you, was the reason?“

„Oh! if they did but know,“ answered the devil. „A mouse is gnawing at the root. If they killed this they would have golden apples again, but if it gnaws much longer the tree will wither altogether. But leave me alone with your dreams: if you disturb me in my sleep again you will get a box on the ear.“ The grandmother spoke gently to him until he fell asleep again and snored. Then she took hold of the third golden hair and pulled it out. The devil jumped up, roared out, and would have treated her ill if she had not quieted him once more and said, „Who can help bad dreams?“

„What was the dream, then?“ asked he, and was quite curious. „I dreamt of a ferry-man who complained that he must always ferry from one side to the other, and was never released. What is the cause of it?“ – „Ah! the fool,“ answered the devil. „When any one comes and wants to go across he must put the oar in his hand, and the other man will have to ferry and he will be free.“ As the grandmother had plucked out the three golden hairs, and the three questions were answered, she let the old serpent alone, and he slept until daybreak.

When the devil had gone out again the old woman took the ant out of the folds of her dress, and gave the luck-child his human shape again. „There are the three golden hairs for you,“ said she. „What the Devil said to your three questions, I suppose you heard?“ – „Yes,“ answered he, „I heard, and will take care to remember.“ – „You have what you want,“ said she, „and now you can go your way.“ He thanked the old woman for helping him in his need, and left hell well content that everything had turned out so fortunately. When he came to the ferry-man he was expected to give the promised answer.

„Ferry me across first,“ said the luck-child, „and then I will tell you how you can be set free,“ and when he reached the opposite shore he gave him the devil’s advice: „Next time any one comes, who wants to be ferried over, just put the oar in his hand.“ He went on and came to the town wherein stood the unfruitful tree, and there too the watchman wanted an answer. So he told him what he had heard from the devil: „Kill the mouse which is gnawing at its root, and it will again bear golden apples.“ Then the watchman thanked him, and gave him as a reward two asses laden with gold, which followed him.

At last he came to the town whose well was dry. He told the watchman what the devil had said: „A toad is in the well beneath a stone. You must find it and kill it, and the well will again give wine in plenty.“ The watchman thanked him, and also gave him two asses laden with gold. At last the luck-child got home to his wife, who was heartily glad to see him again, and to hear how well he had prospered in everything. To the King he took what he had asked for, the devil’s three golden hairs, and when the King saw the four asses laden with gold he was quite content, and said, „Now all the conditions are fulfilled, and you can keep my daughter. But tell me, dear son-in-law, where did all that gold come from? this is tremendous wealth!“

„I was rowed across a river,“ answered he, „and got it there. It lies on the shore instead of sand.“ – „Can I too fetch some of it?“ said the King. And he was quite eager about it. „As much as you like,“ answered he. „There is a ferry-man on the river. Let him ferry you over, and you can fill your sacks on the other side.“ The greedy King set out in all haste, and when he came to the river he beckoned to the ferry-man to put him across. The ferry-man came and bade him get in, and when they got to the other shore he put the oar in his hand and sprang out. But from this time forth the King had to ferry, as a punishment for his sins. Perhaps he is ferrying still? If he is, it is because no one has taken the oar from him.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs“

„The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their famous compilation, „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ (originally published in 1812 as „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“). The story is classified as Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 461, which is characterized by a hero’s quest to obtain three objects or achieve three tasks in order to win the hand of a princess or achieve a similar goal. The tale has its roots in European oral tradition, with multiple variants of the story existing across the continent. The Brothers Grimm collected and recorded the version they heard, which has since become one of the most well-known iterations of the tale.

In this story, a poor boy is born with a prophecy that he will marry the king’s daughter. The king, displeased by this, tries to get rid of the boy by sending him on various dangerous missions. The final task requires the boy to fetch three golden hairs from the devil’s head. Along the way, the boy encounters three challenges in different towns, each of which he promises to solve with the devil’s help. Once he reaches the devil’s house, the devil’s grandmother helps him obtain the hairs by transforming him into an ant and asking the devil about the solutions to the challenges when he is asleep.

After successfully obtaining the three golden hairs and the answers to the challenges, the boy returns to the king, who is forced to accept the marriage between his daughter and the boy. The story concludes with the boy using his wit and cleverness to triumph over adversity and gain a happy ending. The tale’s background lies in the European oral storytelling tradition, emphasizing themes of prophecy, fate, intelligence, and resourcefulness. These elements can be found in various forms across different European cultures, highlighting the universality of these themes in human experience.

The story teaches several valuable lessons, including the importance of being kind, resourceful, and the dangers of greed. It also highlights that one can learn from unexpected sources and that compassion can transform people’s lives.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs“

„The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs“ has been interpreted in various ways throughout the years. Some common interpretations and themes include:

Overcoming obstacles and adversity: The protagonist faces numerous challenges throughout the story, including the king’s ill intentions and the seemingly impossible task of obtaining the three golden hairs from the devil. However, he uses his intelligence and resourcefulness to overcome each obstacle, demonstrating the importance of determination and perseverance in the face of adversity. The protagonist, the luck-child, faces numerous challenges throughout the story. However, he remains brave and steadfast in the face of adversity, showing that one’s fate cannot be easily altered or suppressed.

The power of prophecy and fate: The story begins with a prophecy that the poor boy will marry the king’s daughter. Despite the king’s efforts to prevent this outcome, fate ultimately prevails. This theme serves as a reminder that destiny cannot be altered, regardless of the efforts made to change it.

The triumph of the underdog: The protagonist, a poor boy, is an unlikely hero who defies expectations by outwitting powerful adversaries such as the king and the devil. This theme is common in many fairy tales, illustrating that even the most humble and unlikely individuals can achieve greatness and find happiness. The story follows a poor boy who is prophesied at birth to marry the king’s daughter when he turns 14. Fearful and jealous, the king attempts to eliminate the child to prevent the prophecy from coming true. However, fate has other plans for the boy, and he survives the king’s attempts. As a final test, the king sends the boy, now a young man, on a seemingly impossible quest to bring him three golden hairs from the Devil’s head.

The value of intelligence and cunning: The protagonist’s wit and cleverness enable him to succeed in his quest. He is able to obtain the devil’s golden hairs and solve the challenges of the townspeople by using his ingenuity and resourcefulness. This theme emphasizes the importance of intelligence and quick thinking in overcoming difficulties. Throughout the tale, the protagonist encounters various obstacles, including dangerous situations and magical beings. He overcomes these challenges through his cleverness, kindness, and resourcefulness. The boy not only succeeds in his quest but also helps the people he meets along the way, ultimately proving that destiny cannot be thwarted and that one’s true nature cannot be suppressed.

The role of female figures: The devil’s grandmother plays a crucial role in helping the protagonist complete his quest. She not only protects him from the devil but also obtains the answers he needs to solve the townspeople’s problems. This highlights the significance of female characters in fairy tales, often providing essential support and wisdom.

The consequences of greed and power: The king’s desire to maintain his power and wealth leads him to try and sabotage the protagonist’s destiny. However, his attempts ultimately fail, and he must accept the marriage between his daughter and the poor boy. This theme serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of excessive greed and the importance of accepting one’s fate. The King, motivated by greed and jealousy, continuously attempts to hinder the luck-child’s progress. Ultimately, his greed leads to his own demise as he becomes trapped, forced to ferry passengers across the river. This serves as a cautionary tale against the dangers of excessive greed and the value of being content with what one has.

The value of kindness and wisdom: The luck-child’s kindness and wisdom enable him to win allies throughout his journey, such as the old woman (the Devil’s grandmother), who helps him obtain the three golden hairs. The story illustrates that kind-heartedness and resourcefulness can bring great rewards and pave the way for success.

Unexpected sources of knowledge: The luck-child learns the answers to the three questions from the Devil himself. This demonstrates that knowledge can be found in the most unexpected places, and one should be open to learning from all sources.

The transformative power of compassion: The robbers, who are initially portrayed as cruel and heartless, show compassion for the luck-child, changing the King’s letter and ultimately saving his life. This highlights the potential for change and the importance of empathy and understanding in the face of adversity.

Overall, „The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs“ contains a rich tapestry of themes and interpretations, reflecting the complexity of human experience and the timeless appeal of fairy tales as vehicles for conveying essential life lessons.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The devil with the three golden hairs“

„The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their compilation of folk stories called „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales.“ The tale is also known as „Der Teufel mit den drei goldenen Haaren“ in German. It is classified as ATU 461, „Three Hairs from the Devil“ in the Aarne-Thompson-Uther classification system, a widely-used system for organizing and analyzing folktales. Various adaptations of „The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs“ from the Brothers Grimm have been created over the years, including stage plays, films, and reinterpretations in different formats. Some specific examples include:

Radio play: In 1955, a German radio play adaptation titled „Der Teufel mit den drei goldenen Haaren“ was produced by Bayerischer Rundfunk, with narration by Fritz Eichler. This adaptation stayed true to the original story while leveraging the auditory medium to create an immersive experience for listeners.

Films: „Der Teufel mit den drei goldenen Haaren“ (1949): This East German film adaptation of the fairy tale was directed by Johannes Meyer and starred Jochen Thomas, Margot Hielscher, and Werner Hinz. „The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs“ (2013): This German film adaptation, directed by Maria von Heland, stars Robert Wieckiewicz, Katarzyna Warnke, and Daniel Drewes.

Animation: A Czechoslovakian animated short film called „Čertovo zlato“ (The Devil’s Gold) was created in 1966 by director Jaromír Fiala. This adaptation utilized the visual power of animation to bring the story and its characters to life in a new way. „The Golden Goose“ (1965): This episode of the animated television series „Fractured Fairy Tales“ retells the story with a comedic twist, in which the devil is replaced by a giant golden goose.

Television: In 2009, German television released a live-action adaptation titled „Der Teufel mit den drei goldenen Haaren“ as part of the series „Sechs auf einen Streich“ (Six at One Blow). Directed by Hans-Günther Bücking, the adaptation starred Paul Eilert as the boy and Ursula Strauss as the devil’s grandmother. „Once Upon a Time“ (2015): This episode of the American television series features an adaptation of „The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs“ as part of its storyline, with the character of Rumplestiltskin playing the role of the devil.

Musical adaptation: A musical stage adaptation of the fairy tale, „Der Teufel mit den drei goldenen Haaren: Das Musical“ by Christian Berg and Michael Schanze, premiered in Germany in 2011. This adaptation added songs and musical elements to the story, adding a new layer of entertainment and engagement for audiences.

Literature: Various authors have reinterpreted the story in different ways, often as part of a collection of retold fairy tales. For example, in „A Tale Dark & Grimm“ (2010) by Adam Gidwitz, the story is incorporated into a larger narrative that features characters from other Grimm fairy tales, creating an interconnected world of familiar stories with new twists.

Adaptations for younger audiences: The story has also been adapted into various formats designed for children, such as picture books, audiobooks, and animated shorts. These adaptations often simplify the story and focus on its moral lessons, making it accessible and engaging for young readers and viewers.

„The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs“ has been adapted in various forms of media, including literature, film, and television. These adaptations demonstrate the enduring appeal of „The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs“ and its themes, as well as the versatility of the fairy tale format in different artistic mediums.

Abstract

„The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs“ is a fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm about a poor boy born with a prophecy that he will marry the king’s daughter. Unhappy with the prophecy, the king tries to get rid of the boy by sending him on dangerous missions. The final task requires the boy to fetch three golden hairs from the devil’s head.

On his journey, the boy encounters three challenges in different towns, which he promises to solve with the devil’s help. When he reaches the devil’s house, the devil’s grandmother aids him in obtaining the hairs by turning him into an ant and asking the devil about the solutions to the challenges when he is asleep.

After successfully obtaining the three golden hairs and the answers to the challenges, the boy returns to the king, who is forced to accept the marriage between his daughter and the boy. The story concludes with the boy using his wit and resourcefulness to triumph over adversity and achieve a happy ending.

Summary of the plot

„The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm that tells the story of a luck-child who, at birth, is prophesied to marry the King’s daughter when he turns fourteen. The King, angered by the prophecy, buys the child from his poor parents and throws him into a river in a box, hoping to end his life. Miraculously, the boy survives and is raised by a miller and his wife.

Years later, the King visits the mill, recognizes the luck-child, and sends him on a dangerous quest to fetch three golden hairs from the Devil’s head. On his journey, the luck-child encounters townspeople with questions about their town’s misfortunes: a dry fountain that once flowed with wine, a tree that once bore golden apples, and a ferryman trapped in eternal servitude. He promises to find answers for them on his journey.

In Hell, the Devil’s grandmother helps the luck-child by hiding him in her dress and obtaining the golden hairs and answers to the townspeople’s questions. The Devil reveals that a toad is blocking the fountain, a mouse is gnawing the tree’s roots, and the ferryman can be freed by passing the oar to another person.

Upon returning, the luck-child shares the solutions with the townspeople, who reward him with gold. He delivers the three golden hairs to the King and marries the princess. Greedy for gold, the King tries to visit the river where the luck-child gained his fortune, only to become the new ferryman, eternally trapped in his punishment.

Informations for scientific analysis


Fairy tale statistics
Value
NumberKHM 29
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 461
Translations DE, EN, EL, DA, ES, FR, PT, HU, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH,
Readability Index by Björnsson25.1
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index87.6
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level5.1
Gunning Fog Index7.6
Coleman–Liau Index6.9
SMOG Index7
Automated Readability Index4.8
Character Count13.120
Letter Count9.889
Sentence Count158
Word Count2.568
Average Words per Sentence16,25
Words with more than 6 letters227
Percentage of long words8.8%
Number of Syllables3.118
Average Syllables per Word1,21
Words with three Syllables69
Percentage Words with three Syllables2.7%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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