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The Donkey
Grimm Märchen

The Donkey - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 10 min

Once on a time there lived a King and a Queen, who were rich, and had everything they wanted, but no children. The Queen lamented over this day and night, and said, „I am like a field on which nothing grows.“ At last God gave her her wish, but when the child came into the world, it did not look like a human child, but was a little donkey. When the mother saw that, her lamentations and outcries began in real earnest. She said she would far rather have had no child at all than have a donkey, and that they were to throw it into the water that the fishes might devour it. But the King said, „No, since God has sent him he shall be my son and heir, and after my death sit on the royal throne, and wear the kingly crown.“ The donkey, therefore, was brought up and grew bigger, and his ears grew up beautifully high and straight. He was, however, of a merry disposition, jumped about, played and had especial pleasure in music, so that he went to a celebrated musician and said, „Teach me thine art, that I may play the lute as well as thou dost.“ – „Ah, dear little master,“ answered the musician, „that would come very hard to you, your fingers are certainly not suited to it, and are far too big. I am afraid the strings would not last.“ No excuses were of any use. The donkey was determined to play the lute. He was persevering and industrious, and at last learnt to do it as well as the master himself. The young lordling once went out walking full of thought and came to a well, he looked into it and in the mirror-clear water saw his donkey’s form. He was so distressed about it, that he went out into the wide world and only took with him one faithful companion. They travelled up and down, and at last they came into a kingdom where an old King reigned who had an only but wonderfully beautiful daughter. The donkey said, „Here we will stay,“ knocked at the gate, and cried, „A guest is without open, that he may enter.“ As, however, the gate was not opened, he sat down, took his lute and played it in the most delightful manner with his two fore-feet. Then the door-keeper opened his eyes most wonderfully wide, and ran to the King and said, „Outside by the gate sits a young donkey which plays the lute as well as an experienced master!“ – „Then let the musician come to me,“ said the King. When, however, a donkey came in, every one began to laugh at the lute-player. And now the donkey was asked to sit down and eat with the servants. He, however, was unwilling, and said, „I am no common stable-ass, I am a noble one.“ Then they said, „If that is what thou art, seat thyself with the men of war.“ – „No,“ said he, „I will sit by the King.“ The King smiled, and said good-humouredly, „Yes, it shall be as thou wilt, little ass, come here to me.“ Then he asked, „Little ass, how does my daughter please thee?“

The donkey Fairy Tale

The donkey turned his head towards her, looked at her, nodded and said, „I like her above measure, I have never yet seen anyone so beautiful as she is.“ – „Well, then, thou shalt sit next her too,“ said the King. „That is exactly what I wish,“ said the donkey, and he placed himself by her side, ate and drank, and knew how to behave himself daintily and cleanly. When the noble beast had stayed a long time at the King’s court, he thought, „What good does all this do me, I shall still have to go home again?“ let his head hang sadly, and went to the King and asked for his dismissal. But the King had grown fond of him, and said, „Little ass, what ails thee? Thou lookest as sour as a jug of vinegar, I will give thee what thou wantest. Dost thou want gold?“ – „No,“ said the donkey, and shook his head. „Dost thou want jewels and rich dress?“ – „No.“ – „Dost thou wish for half my kingdom?“ – „Indeed, no.“ Then said the King, if I did but know what would make thee content. Wilt thou have my pretty daughter to wife?“ – „Ah, yes,“ said the ass, „I should indeed like her,“ and all at once he became quite merry and full of happiness, for that was exactly what he was wishing for. So a great and splendid wedding was held. In the evening, when the bride and bridegroom were led into their bed-room, the King wanted to know if the ass would behave well, and ordered a servant to hide himself there. When they were both within, the bridegroom bolted the door, looked around, and as he believed that they were quite alone, he suddenly threw off his ass’s skin, and stood there in the form of a handsome royal youth. „Now,“ said he, „thou seest who I am, and seest also that I am not unworthy of thee.“ Then the bride was glad, and kissed him, and loved him dearly. When morning came, he jumped up, put his animal’s skin on again, and no one could have guessed what kind of a form was hidden beneath it. Soon came the old King, „Ah,“ cried he, „is the little ass merry? But surely thou art sad?“ said he to his daughter, „that thou hast not got a proper man for thy husband?“ – „Oh, no, dear father, I love him as well as if he were the handsomest in the world, and I will keep him as long as I live.“ The King was surprised, but the servant who had concealed himself came and revealed everything to him. The King said, „That cannot be true.“ – „Then watch yourself the next night, and you will see it with your own eyes; and hark you, lord King, if you were to take his skin away and throw it in the fire, he would be forced to show himself in his true shape.“ – „Thy advice is good,“ said the King, and at night when they were asleep, he stole in, and when he got to the bed he saw by the light of the moon a noble-looking youth lying there, and the skin lay stretched on the ground. So he took it away, and had a great fire lighted outside, and threw the skin into it, and remained by it himself until it was all burnt to ashes. As, however, he was anxious to know how the robbed man would behave himself, he stayed awake the whole night and watched. When the youth had slept his sleep out, he got up by the first light of morning, and wanted to put on the ass’s skin, but it was not to be found. On this he was alarmed, and, full of grief and anxiety, said, „Now I shall have to contrive to escape.“ But when he went out, there stood the King, who said, „My son, whither away in such haste? what hast thou in mind? Stay here, thou art such a handsome man, thou shalt not go away from me. I will now give thee half my kingdom, and after my death thou shalt have the whole of it.“ – „Then I hope that what begins so well may end well, and I will stay with you,“ said the youth. And the old man gave him half the kingdom, and in a year’s time, when he died, the youth had the whole, and after the death of his father he had another kingdom as well, and lived in all magnificence.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The donkey“

„The Donkey,“ also known as „The Donkey Cabbage“ or „The Donkey Lettuce,“ is a fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their famous anthology, „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ (or „Children’s and Household Tales“), numbered as KHM 144. Like many of the tales in the collection, „The Donkey“ has its roots in the rich tradition of European oral storytelling.

The story involves a young huntsman who rescues a beautiful princess from a witch’s enchantment. The witch has transformed the princess into a donkey, and the huntsman must use his cunning and resourcefulness to outsmart the witch and restore the princess to her human form. Along the way, the huntsman encounters magical items such as the titular donkey cabbage, which has the power to transform people into animals and back again.

The Brothers Grimm collected this story, along with many others, as part of their efforts to preserve traditional European folktales that were in danger of disappearing due to the rapid cultural changes brought about by industrialization and urbanization. These tales often reflected the values, customs, and moral lessons important to the people of their time and were passed down through generations as part of an oral tradition.

„The Donkey“ is a tale of magic, transformation, and the triumph of good over evil. It serves as an entertaining and engaging story that showcases the creativity and imagination found in European folklore, and it highlights the importance of bravery, cleverness, and determination in the face of adversity.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The donkey“

„The Donkey,“ also known as „The Donkey Cabbage“ or „The Donkey Lettuce,“ is a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm that contains several themes and moral lessons. Here are some interpretations of the story:

Good vs. Evil: The tale features a classic struggle between good and evil, with the brave huntsman representing the force of good, and the witch symbolizing evil. The story shows that, ultimately, good can triumph over evil through bravery, resourcefulness, and determination.

Cleverness and resourcefulness: The huntsman’s success in rescuing the princess and outsmarting the witch demonstrates the importance of being clever and resourceful in difficult situations. The story highlights the value of using one’s wits and intelligence to overcome challenges.

Transformation and identity: The story involves several magical transformations, including the princess being turned into a donkey and the huntsman using the donkey cabbage to transform others. These transformations can be seen as a metaphor for personal growth and the changes we undergo in life, as well as a reminder that appearances can be deceiving.

The power of love: The huntsman’s love for the princess drives him to face numerous challenges and risk his own safety to rescue her. This illustrates the power of love and the lengths one might go to in order to protect and care for their loved ones.

Persistence and determination: The huntsman does not give up on his quest to rescue the princess, despite the challenges and setbacks he encounters. This perseverance highlights the importance of determination and the power of never giving up in the face of adversity.

Overall, „The Donkey“ is an engaging and imaginative fairy tale that teaches valuable lessons about courage, resourcefulness, love, and determination. Through its fantastical narrative, the story offers timeless moral lessons and explores themes that continue to resonate with readers today.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The donkey“

„The Donkey“ is not as well-known or widely adapted as some other Brothers Grimm fairy tales. However, it has inspired some adaptations and reinterpretations in different formats:

Illustrated Children’s Books: The story of „The Donkey“ has been adapted into illustrated children’s books that feature vivid illustrations, bringing the magical tale and its characters to life. These books provide a visual representation of the story and make it more accessible and engaging for young readers.

Theater and Puppet Shows: The tale has been adapted into plays and puppet shows for children and families, emphasizing the themes of bravery, resourcefulness, and the triumph of good over evil. These performances bring the tale to life, providing an entertaining and educational experience for audiences of all ages.

Animated Shorts: „The Donkey“ has been adapted into animated shorts that depict the story’s narrative and the adventures of the huntsman and the princess. These adaptations often use colorful and expressive animation to emphasize the magical and fantastical elements of the story.

Modern Retellings: Some authors and storytellers have taken inspiration from „The Donkey“ and created their own stories based on the themes and ideas presented in the original tale. These reinterpretations might feature updated settings, new characters, or alternative plotlines while still maintaining the core message of bravery, resourcefulness, and determination.

Educational Applications: The story of „The Donkey“ has been used in educational settings as a way to teach children about the importance of courage, determination, and problem-solving. Teachers and parents may share the story as a means of encouraging children to think about the importance of working hard and overcoming challenges.

While „The Donkey“ may not have as many direct adaptations as some other Grimm fairy tales, its engaging narrative and themes continue to inspire creative reinterpretations and adaptations. The story’s focus on bravery, resourcefulness, and the triumph of good over evil offers an entertaining and educational tale for readers and audiences of all ages.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The donkey“

„The Donkey“ is a popular fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection that has inspired several adaptations in various forms of media. Here are a few examples:

Animated films: „The Donkey“ has been adapted into several animated films, including „The Donkey and the Cabbage“ (1965), a Soviet animated short film, and „The Donkey King“ (2018), a Pakistani animated film.

Children’s books: The story has been adapted into many children’s books, such as „The Donkey and the Cabbage“ by Eric A. Kimmel and „The Donkey in the Living Room“ by Sarah Cunningham.

Puppetry: The story has also been adapted into puppet shows, such as „The Donkey and the Cabbage“ by the Czech puppeteer Josef Skupa.

Stage plays: „The Donkey“ has been adapted into stage plays, such as „The Donkey and the Cabbage“ by the National Theater of Greece.

Opera: The story has been adapted into an opera titled „Der Esel“ by the German composer Manfred Trojahn.

TV shows: The story has also been adapted into television shows, such as an episode of the British television series „Jim Henson’s The Storyteller“ and an episode of the Japanese anime series „Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics“.

These adaptations have helped to keep the story of „The Donkey“ alive and relevant to new generations of audiences.

Summary of the plot

„The Donkey,“ also known as „The Donkey Cabbage“ or „The Donkey Lettuce,“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. The story follows a young huntsman who embarks on a quest to save a beautiful princess who has been turned into a donkey by a wicked witch.

In the tale, the huntsman encounters the witch and learns that she has transformed the princess into a donkey. The witch agrees to undo the enchantment if the huntsman can bring her a magical item called the donkey cabbage. The huntsman discovers the location of the donkey cabbage and uses it to transform himself and the princess back into their human forms. However, the witch tries to trick the huntsman by turning herself into the princess and the real princess back into a donkey.

The huntsman, suspecting the witch’s trickery, uses the donkey cabbage to turn the witch into a donkey, while transforming the real princess back into her human form. In the end, the huntsman and the princess are reunited, and the witch is defeated.

„The Donkey“ is an enchanting tale of magic, transformation, and the triumph of good over evil. It highlights the importance of bravery, resourcefulness, and determination in overcoming challenges and emphasizes the power of love and persistence in the face of adversity.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The donkey“

„The Donkey“ is a fairy tale collected and published by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, in their famous anthology „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ (originally titled „Children’s and Household Tales“ or „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ in German). The first edition of this anthology was published in 1812, and it contained 86 stories. The final edition, published in 1857, included 210 stories. The Brothers Grimm were German academics, linguists, and cultural researchers who collected and published these tales as part of their efforts to preserve and study German folklore and culture.

The fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm are known for their often dark and moralistic themes, in contrast to the lighter and more romantic tales written by authors such as Hans Christian Andersen. The stories have been adapted, translated, and reimagined countless times over the years, becoming a significant part of the Western literary canon and popular culture.

„The Donkey“ is less well-known compared to some other Grimm’s fairy tales like „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ or „Hansel and Gretel.“ However, its themes of acceptance, perseverance, inner beauty, and transformation make it a meaningful and thought-provoking story that continues to resonate with readers today.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The donkey“

„The Donkey“ can be interpreted in several ways, touching on themes such as acceptance, perseverance, inner beauty, and transformation.

Acceptance: The king’s decision to raise the donkey as his heir despite its unusual appearance demonstrates the importance of accepting others for who they are. The king’s unconditional love and support help the donkey to thrive and grow up with a strong sense of self-worth.

Perseverance: The donkey’s determination to learn the lute, despite the challenges posed by his physical form, showcases the power of perseverance. His dedication to mastering the instrument ultimately leads to his success and recognition, proving that hard work and determination can overcome obstacles.

Inner Beauty: The tale emphasizes the importance of inner beauty, as the donkey is able to win the heart of the princess despite his outward appearance. The princess sees past the donkey’s exterior and recognizes his true nature, demonstrating that love and compassion are not based on superficial qualities.

Transformation: The story is also a tale of personal transformation, as the donkey must learn to embrace his true identity in order to find happiness. The prince is forced to confront his insecurities and shed the donkey skin that has defined him for so long. Through this process, he discovers that he is worthy of love and respect, ultimately leading to his acceptance and success.

Deception and Revelation: The story features elements of deception, as the donkey hides his true identity from others. This deception is eventually revealed, and the consequences of hiding one’s true self are explored. The story suggests that embracing one’s true identity is essential for achieving happiness and fulfillment.

Summary of the plot

„The Donkey“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm about a king and queen who long for a child. When their wish is granted, the child is born as a donkey. Despite the queen’s initial desire to abandon the child, the king insists on raising the donkey as his heir. The donkey grows up with a love for music and becomes a skilled lute player. Feeling unhappy with his appearance, the donkey sets out on a journey with a faithful companion, eventually arriving at a kingdom ruled by an old king with a beautiful daughter.

The donkey decides to stay in this kingdom, impressing everyone with his musical skills. The king takes a liking to the donkey, and despite the donkey’s strange appearance, he allows him to marry his daughter. On their wedding night, the donkey reveals his true form as a handsome prince, but only to his bride. The bride’s father, the king, learns of the prince’s true identity from a servant, and decides to burn the donkey skin so that the prince cannot change back.

Once the skin is destroyed, the prince is left with no choice but to reveal his true form to everyone. The old king, impressed by the prince’s character and appearance, gives him half his kingdom and promises him the other half upon his death. The prince goes on to inherit another kingdom from his own father and lives a life of wealth and happiness.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 144
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 430
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, FR, PT, HU, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson28.8
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index83.5
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level6.4
Gunning Fog Index9.4
Coleman–Liau Index7.1
SMOG Index8.3
Automated Readability Index6.6
Character Count6.707
Letter Count5.065
Sentence Count67
Word Count1.304
Average Words per Sentence19,46
Words with more than 6 letters122
Percentage of long words9.4%
Number of Syllables1.596
Average Syllables per Word1,22
Words with three Syllables52
Percentage Words with three Syllables4%
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