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The Three Snake-Leaves
Grimm Märchen

The Three Snake-Leaves - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 11 min

There was once on a time a poor man, who could no longer support his only son. Then said the son, „Dear father, things go so badly with us that I am a burden to you. I would rather go away and see how I can earn my bread.“ So the father gave him his blessing, and with great sorrow took leave of him. At this time the King of a mighty empire was at war, and the youth took service with him, and with him went out to fight. And when he came before the enemy, there was a battle, and great danger, and it rained shot until his comrades fell on all sides, and when the leader also was killed, those left were about to take flight, but the youth stepped forth, spoke boldly to them, and cried, „We will not let our fatherland be ruined!“

Then the others followed him, and he pressed on and conquered the enemy. When the King heard that he owed the victory to him alone, he raised him above all the others, gave him great treasures, and made him the first in the kingdom. The King had a daughter who was very beautiful, but she was also very strange. She had made a vow to take no one as her lord and husband who did not promise to let himself be buried alive with her if she died first. „If he loves me with all his heart,“ said she, „of what use will life be to him afterwards?“

On her side she would do the same, and if he died first, would go down to the grave with him. This strange oath had up to this time frightened away all wooers, but the youth became so charmed with her beauty that he cared for nothing, but asked her father for her. „But dost thou know what thou must promise?“ said the King. „I must be buried with her,“ he replied, „if I outlive her, but my love is so great that I do not mind the danger.“ Then the King consented, and the wedding was solemnized with great splendour.

They lived now for a while happy and contented with each other, and then it befell that the young Queen was attacked by a severe illness, and no physician could save her. And as she lay there dead, the young King remembered what he had been obliged to promise, and was horrified at having to lie down alive in the grave, but there was no escape. The King had placed sentries at all the gates, and it was not possible to avoid his fate. When the day came when the corpse was to be buried, he was taken down into the royal vault with it and then the door was shut and bolted.

Near the coffin stood a table on which were four candles, four loaves of bread, and four bottles of wine, and when this provision came to an end, he would have to die of hunger. And now he sat there full of pain and grief, ate every day only a little piece of bread, drank only a mouthful of wine, and nevertheless saw death daily drawing nearer. Whilst he thus gazed before him, he saw a snake creep out of a corner of the vault and approach the dead body. And as he thought it came to gnaw at it, he drew his sword and said, „As long as I live, thou shalt not touch her,“ and hewed the snake in three pieces.

After a time a second snake crept out of the hole, and when it saw the other lying dead and cut in pieces, it went back, but soon came again with three green leaves in its mouth. Then it took the three pieces of the snake, laid them together, as they ought to go, and placed one of the leaves on each wound. Immediately the severed parts joined themselves together, the snake moved, and became alive again, and both of them hastened away together.

The leaves were left lying on the ground, and a desire came into the mind of the unhappy man who had been watching all this, to know if the wondrous power of the leaves which had brought the snake to life again, could not likewise be of service to a human being. So he picked up the leaves and laid one of them on the mouth of his dead wife, and the two others on her eyes. And hardly had he done this than the blood stirred in her veins, rose into her pale face, and coloured it again. Then she drew breath, opened her eyes, and said, „Ah, God, where am I?“ – „Thou art with me, dear wife,“ he answered, and told her how everything had happened, and how he had brought her back again to life.

Then he gave her some wine and bread, and when she had regained her strength, he raised her up and they went to the door and knocked, and called so loudly that the sentries heard it, and told the King. The King came down himself and opened the door, and there he found both strong and well, and rejoiced with them that now all sorrow was over. The young King, however, took the three snake-leaves with him, gave them to a servant and said, „Keep them for me carefully, and carry them constantly about thee. Who knows in what trouble they may yet be of service to us!“

A change had, however, taken place in his wife. After she had been restored to life, it seemed as if all love for her husband had gone out of her heart. After some time, when he wanted to make a voyage over the sea, to visit his old father, and they had gone on board a ship, she forgot the great love and fidelity which he had shown her, and which had been the means of rescuing her from death, and conceived a wicked inclination for the skipper. And once when the young King lay there asleep, she called in the skipper and seized the sleeper by the head, and the skipper took him by the feet, and thus they threw him down into the sea.

When the shameful deed was done, she said, „Now let us return home, and say that he died on the way. I will extol and praise thee so to my father that he will marry me to thee, and make thee the heir to his crown.“ But the faithful servant who had seen all that they did, unseen by them, unfastened a little boat from the ship, got into it, sailed after his master, and let the traitors go on their way. He fished up the dead body, and by the help of the three snake-leaves which he carried about with him, and laid on the eyes and mouth, he fortunately brought the young King back to life.

They both rowed with all their strength day and night, and their little boat flew so swiftly that they reached the old King before the others did. He was astonished when he saw them come alone, and asked what had happened to them. When he learnt the wickedness of his daughter he said, „I cannot believe that she has behaved so ill, but the truth will soon come to light,“ and bade both go into a secret chamber and keep themselves hidden from every one. Soon afterwards the great ship came sailing in, and the godless woman appeared before her father with a troubled countenance. He said, „Why dost thou come back alone? Where is thy husband?“

„Ah, dear father,“ she replied, „I come home again in great grief. During the voyage, my husband became suddenly ill and died, and if the good skipper had not given me his help, it would have gone ill with me. He was present at his death, and can tell you all.“ The King said, „I will make the dead alive again,“ and opened the chamber, and bade the two come out. When the woman saw her husband, she was thunderstruck, and fell on her knees and begged for mercy. The King said, „There is no mercy. He was ready to die with thee and restored thee to life again, but thou hast murdered him in his sleep, and shalt receive the reward that thou deservest.“ Then she was placed with her accomplice in a ship which had been pierced with holes, and sent out to sea, where they soon sank amid the waves.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Three Snake-Leaves“

„The Three Snake-Leaves“ is a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection, with various aspects contributing to its background:

Oral tradition: As with many other fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, „The Three Snake-Leaves“ originated from the oral tradition, with the story passed down through generations by word of mouth. The tale was eventually recorded and published by the Grimm brothers in their famous anthology.

German folklore: The story is an example of German folklore, featuring characters, settings, and themes that are typical of tales from the region. The Brothers Grimm sought to preserve the cultural heritage of Germany by collecting and publishing stories like „The Three Snake-Leaves.“ The Brothers Grimm collected the stories from various sources, including oral traditions, friends, and acquaintances, and adapted them into written form. As a result, the tales often reflect the cultural and social values of the time in which they were collected. „The Three Snake-Leaves“ is one such tale that showcases themes such as love, loyalty, betrayal, and the consequences of one’s actions, which were prevalent in the traditional European fairy tales of that era.

Folk motifs: „The Three Snake-Leaves“ contains several common folk motifs found in fairy tales across different cultures. These include the magical helper, the hero’s journey, the life-giving properties of a magical plant, and the theme of love transcending death. While the tale „The Three Snake-Leaves“ is not as widely known as some of the Brothers Grimm’s other stories, it remains a classic example of their storytelling style and their ability to convey moral lessons through engaging narratives.

The Brothers Grimm: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were German academics, linguists, and cultural researchers who dedicated themselves to collecting and preserving the folktales of their country. Their work was part of the broader Romantic movement, which aimed to reclaim and elevate traditional folk culture.

Influence of other tales: „The Three Snake-Leaves“ shares similarities with other folktales that feature magical plants, resurrection, and tests of loyalty. The exchange of stories between different cultures and regions may have influenced the development and evolution of these tales. Their collection of stories, which includes well-known tales such as „Cinderella,“ „Hansel and Gretel,“ „Rapunzel,“ and „Snow White,“ has had a significant impact on Western popular culture and the study of folklore. The tales were initially aimed at adults and children alike but later were seen as primarily children’s literature.

In summary, „The Three Snake-Leaves“ has its origins in the oral storytelling tradition and German folklore. Collected by the Brothers Grimm as part of their efforts to preserve the cultural history of their country, the story includes common folk motifs and shares elements with other tales, contributing to its rich background and enduring appeal.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Three Snake-Leaves“

„The Three Snake-Leaves“ is a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection that can be interpreted in various ways, offering readers different perspectives on its themes and messages:

The power of love and sacrifice: The young man’s love for the princess is so strong that he is willing to risk his life and agree to be buried alive with her if she dies first. This act of devotion and sacrifice ultimately saves them both, showing the power of love to overcome adversity.

The transformative nature of life and death: The magical snake-leaves have the power to bring the dead back to life, symbolizing the thin line between life and death. This theme is further emphasized by the young queen’s dramatic change in personality after her resurrection, as her love for her husband disappears.

The consequences of betrayal and deceit: The queen and the skipper’s treacherous actions lead to their own demise. Their lies and deceit are ultimately exposed, and they suffer a fitting punishment for their crimes.

Loyalty and faithfulness: The servant’s loyalty to the young king saves his life twice. By carrying the snake-leaves and reviving the young king, the servant demonstrates the importance of being loyal and true to those who are good and just.

The triumph of good over evil: The young king and his faithful servant ultimately prevail over the wicked queen and skipper. This reinforces the idea that good will always triumph over evil, even in the face of adversity and deception.

Love and loyalty: One of the central themes of the story is the concept of love and loyalty. The protagonist’s love for his wife leads him to search for a way to bring her back to life, but her betrayal later in the story illustrates the complexity and potential frailty of human relationships.

The power of magic: The tale features magical elements, such as the life-giving properties of the snake-leaves, which can be seen as a symbol of hope and the potential for transformation. The story explores the impact of magic on the characters and their lives, as well as its consequences.

The importance of gratitude: The protagonist saves the life of a snake, which later helps him by providing the magical leaves that revive his wife. This act of kindness and the resulting gratitude demonstrates the significance of being thankful and appreciating the help of others.

The consequences of greed and betrayal: The wife’s betrayal of her husband for the sake of wealth and status serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of greed and the potential consequences of disloyalty. In the end, she faces a fitting punishment for her actions, highlighting the theme of justice.

The hero’s journey: As with many fairy tales, „The Three Snake-Leaves“ follows the structure of the hero’s journey, with the protagonist embarking on a quest, facing challenges, and ultimately overcoming adversity. The story emphasizes the importance of courage, resilience, and determination in the face of obstacles.

The role of fate and destiny: The story also touches on the concepts of fate and destiny, as the protagonist’s life is shaped by chance encounters and seemingly random events. The tale suggests that destiny can be influenced by personal choices, as well as by external forces and circumstances.

Overall, „The Three Snake-Leaves“ offers a range of interpretations, exploring themes such as love and loyalty, the power of magic, the importance of gratitude, the consequences of greed and betrayal, the hero’s journey, and the role of fate and destiny.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Three Snake-Leaves“

„The Three Snake-Leaves“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their famous anthology „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ (also known as „Children’s and Household Tales“ or „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ in German) first published in 1812. The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, were German academics, linguists, cultural researchers, and authors who collected and published folklore during the 19th century. „The Three Snake-Leaves“ has been adapted in various forms across different media, including literature, film, and television. Although story may not be as popular or widely adapted as some other Grimm’s fairy tales, there are still several adaptations of the story in various formats:

Films: „The Three Snake-Leaves“ short film by Benjamin Kahlmeyer: This is a short film adaptation of the fairy tale that was released in 2011. It stays true to the original story, but with a darker and more atmospheric tone.

Books: The story has been adapted into illustrated children’s books, often simplifying the plot for a younger audience. One example is „The Three Snake-Leaves: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm“ by Philip Pullman, which retells the story and features illustrations by Peter Bailey. „The Snake Prince“: This is a retelling of the story by D.J. MacHale, which was published in the collection „The 9th Division.“ In this version, the protagonist is a soldier who must retrieve three hairs from the head of a serpent to save his beloved princess. „The Three Snake-Leaves“ by Gustav Meyrink: This is a retelling of the story by the Austrian author Gustav Meyrink. His version takes a more mystical and surrealistic approach, focusing on the symbolism of the snake and exploring themes of love and death. „The Serpent’s Tale“ by Annabel Pitcher: This is a young adult novel that reimagines the story in a contemporary setting. The protagonist is a teenage girl named Milla who must retrieve three items from the underworld to save her boyfriend.

Animated adaptations: The fairy tale has been adapted into animated shorts and TV episodes. One example is the 1980s German animated series „Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics,“ which retold various fairy tales, including „The Three Snake-Leaves,“ in a format suitable for children. „The Three Snake-Leaves“ episode of „Grimm“: This is an adaptation of the fairy tale in the television series „Grimm.“ The episode follows the basic plot of the original story, but with some changes, such as the location (set in present-day Portland, Oregon) and the nature of the snake-leaves.

Theater productions: „The Three Snake-Leaves“ has been adapted for the stage as a play or musical in some cases. It may be combined with other fairy tales to create a larger, more intricate performance or be part of a series of short plays focusing on the works of the Brothers Grimm.

Audio recordings: The story has been adapted into audio formats, such as audiobooks and radio dramas, making it accessible to those who prefer listening to stories. „The Three Snake-Leaves“ has been included in collections of Brothers Grimm stories, narrated by various voice actors.

Educational materials: „The Three Snake-Leaves“ can be found in educational materials focusing on teaching students about folktales, fairy tales, or the Brothers Grimm. These materials may include adaptations of the story, as well as related activities and lessons to help students explore the themes and messages of the tale.

While „The Three Snake-Leaves“ may not have been adapted as extensively as some of the more popular Grimm’s fairy tales, it still offers a unique and engaging narrative that has inspired various adaptations in books, animation, theatre, audio recordings, and educational materials. Overall, „The Three Snake-Leaves“ has been adapted and reinterpreted in many different ways, reflecting its enduring appeal as a powerful and timeless fairy tale.

Summary of the plot

„The Three Snake-Leaves“ is a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection, telling the story of a young man who brings his wife back to life with the help of magical leaves, only to face betrayal and a test of his loyalty.

The tale begins with a poor young man who enlists in the king’s army and distinguishes himself through his bravery. As a reward, the king offers the protagonist his daughter’s hand in marriage. However, the princess makes a peculiar demand: if one of them dies, the other must be buried alive with the deceased spouse. The young man, deeply in love with the princess, agrees to this condition.

Soon after their marriage, the princess falls ill and dies. The young man, true to his word, is locked in a tomb with his deceased wife. While in the tomb, he discovers a snake attempting to approach the princess’s body. He kills the snake, but another snake appears and brings three leaves, placing them on the first snake’s body. The dead snake comes back to life, and the two snakes slither away together.

Realizing the magical properties of the leaves, the young man places them on his wife’s body, and she returns to life. They escape the tomb and find a ship to take them back to their kingdom. However, during the journey, the wife falls in love with the ship’s captain, and together they conspire to throw the young man overboard, hoping to present the wife as a widow and claim the kingdom for themselves.

Miraculously, the young man is saved by a faithful servant who had witnessed the betrayal. The servant rescues him from the sea, and they both return to the kingdom ahead of the treacherous wife and captain. Upon their arrival, the king, overjoyed to see his son-in-law alive, listens to the young man’s account of the betrayal. The king punishes the disloyal wife and captain by setting them adrift in a boat without oars, leaving them to their fate. The young man goes on to rule the kingdom and lead a long and prosperous life.

„The Three Snake-Leaves“ explores themes of love, loyalty, betrayal, and the power of magical intervention while following the protagonist’s journey through trials and triumphs.


„The Three Snake-Leaves“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm about a poor young man who joins the King’s army and becomes a hero. He falls in love with the King’s beautiful but strange daughter, who vows only to marry someone who will agree to be buried alive with her if she dies first. The young man agrees, and they marry.

When the young queen falls ill and dies, the young king is forced to fulfill his promise and is buried alive with her. In the burial vault, he witnesses two snakes using magical leaves to bring a dead snake back to life. He uses the leaves to revive his wife, and they both return to the kingdom.

However, the young queen’s love for her husband has vanished. During a voyage, she and the ship’s skipper plot to murder the young king and take his place. A faithful servant, who possesses the magical snake-leaves, revives the king once more. Together, they return to the kingdom before the queen and the skipper.

The queen lies to her father about her husband’s death, but the truth is revealed when the young king appears. The queen and the skipper are punished for their treachery by being placed in a sinking ship, where they drown in the sea.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 16
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 612
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, FR, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson33.4
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index78.7
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level8.3
Gunning Fog Index10.9
Coleman–Liau Index7.5
SMOG Index8.1
Automated Readability Index9.4
Character Count7.402
Letter Count5.692
Sentence Count59
Word Count1.439
Average Words per Sentence24,39
Words with more than 6 letters130
Percentage of long words9%
Number of Syllables1.759
Average Syllables per Word1,22
Words with three Syllables42
Percentage Words with three Syllables2.9%
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