The White Snake
: Grimms' Fairy Tales
A long time ago there lived a king who was famed for his wisdom through
all the land. Nothing was hidden from him, and it seemed as if news of
the most secret things was brought to him through the air. But he had a
strange custom; every day after dinner, when the table was cleared,
and no one else was present, a trusty servant had to bring him one more
dish. It was covered, however, and even the servant did not know what
was in it, neither did anyone know, for the king never took off the
cover to eat of it until he was quite alone.
This had gone on for a long time, when one day the servant, who took
away the dish, was overcome with such curiosity that he could not help
carrying the dish into his room. When he had carefully locked the door,
he lifted up the cover, and saw a white snake lying on the dish. But
when he saw it he could not deny himself the pleasure of tasting it,
so he cut of a little bit and put it into his mouth. No sooner had it
touched his tongue than he heard a strange whispering of little voices
outside his window. He went and listened, and then noticed that it was
the sparrows who were chattering together, and telling one another of
all kinds of things which they had seen in the fields and woods. Eating
the snake had given him power of understanding the language of animals.
Now it so happened that on this very day the queen lost her most
beautiful ring, and suspicion of having stolen it fell upon this trusty
servant, who was allowed to go everywhere. The king ordered the man to
be brought before him, and threatened with angry words that unless he
could before the morrow point out the thief, he himself should be looked
upon as guilty and executed. In vain he declared his innocence; he was
dismissed with no better answer.
In his trouble and fear he went down into the courtyard and took thought
how to help himself out of his trouble. Now some ducks were sitting
together quietly by a brook and taking their rest; and, whilst they
were making their feathers smooth with their bills, they were having a
confidential conversation together. The servant stood by and listened.
They were telling one another of all the places where they had been
waddling about all the morning, and what good food they had found; and
one said in a pitiful tone: 'Something lies heavy on my stomach; as
I was eating in haste I swallowed a ring which lay under the queen's
window.' The servant at once seized her by the neck, carried her to the
kitchen, and said to the cook: 'Here is a fine duck; pray, kill her.'
'Yes,' said the cook, and weighed her in his hand; 'she has spared
no trouble to fatten herself, and has been waiting to be roasted long
enough.' So he cut off her head, and as she was being dressed for the
spit, the queen's ring was found inside her.
The servant could now easily prove his innocence; and the king, to make
amends for the wrong, allowed him to ask a favour, and promised him
the best place in the court that he could wish for. The servant refused
everything, and only asked for a horse and some money for travelling, as
he had a mind to see the world and go about a little. When his request
was granted he set out on his way, and one day came to a pond, where he
saw three fishes caught in the reeds and gasping for water. Now, though
it is said that fishes are dumb, he heard them lamenting that they must
perish so miserably, and, as he had a kind heart, he got off his
horse and put the three prisoners back into the water. They leapt with
delight, put out their heads, and cried to him: 'We will remember you
and repay you for saving us!'
He rode on, and after a while it seemed to him that he heard a voice in
the sand at his feet. He listened, and heard an ant-king complain: 'Why
cannot folks, with their clumsy beasts, keep off our bodies? That stupid
horse, with his heavy hoofs, has been treading down my people without
mercy!' So he turned on to a side path and the ant-king cried out to
him: 'We will remember you--one good turn deserves another!'
The path led him into a wood, and there he saw two old ravens standing
by their nest, and throwing out their young ones. 'Out with you, you
idle, good-for-nothing creatures!' cried they; 'we cannot find food for
you any longer; you are big enough, and can provide for yourselves.'
But the poor young ravens lay upon the ground, flapping their wings, and
crying: 'Oh, what helpless chicks we are! We must shift for ourselves,
and yet we cannot fly! What can we do, but lie here and starve?' So the
good young fellow alighted and killed his horse with his sword, and gave
it to them for food. Then they came hopping up to it, satisfied their
hunger, and cried: 'We will remember you--one good turn deserves
And now he had to use his own legs, and when he had walked a long
way, he came to a large city. There was a great noise and crowd in
the streets, and a man rode up on horseback, crying aloud: 'The king's
daughter wants a husband; but whoever seeks her hand must perform a hard
task, and if he does not succeed he will forfeit his life.' Many had
already made the attempt, but in vain; nevertheless when the youth
saw the king's daughter he was so overcome by her great beauty that he
forgot all danger, went before the king, and declared himself a suitor.
So he was led out to the sea, and a gold ring was thrown into it, before
his eyes; then the king ordered him to fetch this ring up from the
bottom of the sea, and added: 'If you come up again without it you will
be thrown in again and again until you perish amid the waves.' All the
people grieved for the handsome youth; then they went away, leaving him
alone by the sea.
He stood on the shore and considered what he should do, when suddenly
he saw three fishes come swimming towards him, and they were the very
fishes whose lives he had saved. The one in the middle held a mussel in
its mouth, which it laid on the shore at the youth's feet, and when he
had taken it up and opened it, there lay the gold ring in the shell.
Full of joy he took it to the king and expected that he would grant him
the promised reward.
But when the proud princess perceived that he was not her equal in
birth, she scorned him, and required him first to perform another
task. She went down into the garden and strewed with her own hands ten
sacksful of millet-seed on the grass; then she said: 'Tomorrow morning
before sunrise these must be picked up, and not a single grain be
The youth sat down in the garden and considered how it might be possible
to perform this task, but he could think of nothing, and there he sat
sorrowfully awaiting the break of day, when he should be led to death.
But as soon as the first rays of the sun shone into the garden he saw
all the ten sacks standing side by side, quite full, and not a single
grain was missing. The ant-king had come in the night with thousands
and thousands of ants, and the grateful creatures had by great industry
picked up all the millet-seed and gathered them into the sacks.
Presently the king's daughter herself came down into the garden, and was
amazed to see that the young man had done the task she had given him.
But she could not yet conquer her proud heart, and said: 'Although he
has performed both the tasks, he shall not be my husband until he had
brought me an apple from the Tree of Life.' The youth did not know where
the Tree of Life stood, but he set out, and would have gone on for ever,
as long as his legs would carry him, though he had no hope of finding
it. After he had wandered through three kingdoms, he came one evening to
a wood, and lay down under a tree to sleep. But he heard a rustling in
the branches, and a golden apple fell into his hand. At the same time
three ravens flew down to him, perched themselves upon his knee, and
said: 'We are the three young ravens whom you saved from starving; when
we had grown big, and heard that you were seeking the Golden Apple,
we flew over the sea to the end of the world, where the Tree of Life
stands, and have brought you the apple.' The youth, full of joy, set out
homewards, and took the Golden Apple to the king's beautiful daughter,
who had now no more excuses left to make. They cut the Apple of Life in
two and ate it together; and then her heart became full of love for him,
and they lived in undisturbed happiness to a great age.