A Treasury of Forgotten Fairy Tales: Part 4 – The Goose Girl to Kate Crackernuts

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Fairy tales have been among us for hundreds of years passing onto each generation. While it’s obvious to note that these stories are incredibly ancient, they come in several variants depending on region and culture. When it comes to fairy tales we read, the versions most familiar to us usually aren’t the ones initially written on the page. Often the earliest versions usually feature content that aren’t suited for kids. They may contain violence meant to scare the kids into behaving or sexual innuendo. In this installment, we’ll look at 10 more forgotten fairy tales. First, there are Grimm tales of a goose girl, a wild man, a hedgehog, and two star-crossed lovers. Second, we’ll look a Hungarian story about helpful animal friends. Third, we come to a Perrault tale on how a little boy tricks a giant into murdering his family. Next are 2 English stories about a giant killer and a prince who can’t stop dancing followed by a Scandinavian tale on a guy who herded rabbits. And finally, a Czech story on a guy going against some hostile witches.

31. The Goose Girl

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The Goose Girl is a Grimm fairy tale about a young princess who gets cheated by a maid and is compelled to work as a goose girl at the palace. But not to worry, she gets to socialize with a disembodied talking horse head on the castle’s wall.

From: Germany
Earliest Appearance: Collected by the Grimm brothers.
Best Known Version: Probably the Andrew Lang translation in The Blue Fairy Book.
Synopsis: A widowed queen sends her beautiful only daughter off to marry a prince she’s engaged to. But before leaving, the mom presents her with a small token providing magical protection along with a magical talking horse named Falada. However, the maid accompanying the princess treats her like utter crap. So when circumstances cause the princess to lose her token, the maid seizes the opportunity to force her into trading places. She makes the princess switch clothes with her and tries to ride Falada. But Falada isn’t having it so the evil maid has to keep using her ordinary horse instead. And to make it stick, the maid threatens to kill the real princess unless she vows never to tell any living soul what happened.

Arriving in the prince’s kingdom, the false princess says that Falada is an ill-tempered mount and demands that he be killed (so he can’t reveal the truth). Also, she wants the true princess nowhere near her and lets the king make her any servant he pleases. Grieving for Falada’s death, the true princess manages to convince the groom to have the horse’s head mounted above one of the palace gates where she can still see it every day. Since the true princess is too lovely and delicate for hard work, they send her out with the goose boy. In the morning and evening, she sighs over her horse’s head and it responds. When she tries combing her blonde hair which the goose boy thinks it’s real gold and tries to steal some, she says a little rhyme to summon the wind to blow the boy’s cap away, making him chase it and letting the princess comb her hair in peace.

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As a goose girl, the princess has a habit of combing her long blond hair to the goose boy’s annoyance. So much so that the goose boy thinks it’s real gold and tries stealing some.

After 3 days, the goose boy complains that he won’t work with the new goose girl anymore. When the king hears word of it (who’s not at all impressed by the false princess), he seeks her out. Unfortunately, she can’t speak of her misfortunes to any living creature. So he kindly suggests she spill her guts on the stove in the palace kitchen. When she does that, the king sneaks up to the roof and listens at the chimney in order to hear the truth. Now aware of the deception, he sends the true princess to the royal household to be dressed properly before bringing her to the great banquet. Her appearance is so fine that not even the false princess recognizes her. The king then asks the guests what would be a fitting punishment for someone who’s deceived everyone around them and proceeds to describe the situation without revealing anyone’s identity. He next turns to the false princess for her opinion and she recommends an exceptionally cruel and gruesome execution. So he condemns her to that very death she suggested, introduces the true princess to his son, and the young couple are delighted with each other that they marry the next day.

Other Versions: Token can be a lock of the mother’s hair or handkerchief with 3 drops of her blood on it, depending on version. Also, some versions have the mother as a fairy or other magical being who restores all the princess’ fortunes once she’s married, including resurrecting the dead horse. Andrew Lang also has a version in The Blue Fairy Book.
Adaptations: Retold in the Books of Bayern series by Shannon Hale.
Why Forgotten: Contains a magical talking horse head. Also doesn’t portray commoners in a positive light.
Trivia: During the 13th century, the tale was attached to Bertrada of Laon, mother of Charlemagne.

32. The Grateful Beasts
From: Hungary
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Herman Kletke
Best Known Version: Probably the Andrew Lang translation in The Yellow Fairy Book.
Synopsis: A poor couple sends their 3 sons out to find their fortunes. The youngest, Ferko is exceptionally handsome that his older brothers think everyone will like him, leaving them with no chance of success anywhere. So they trick Ferko into letting them break his legs and put out his eyes before abandoning him to his fate. However, he stumbles under a gallows tree where he overhears 2 ravens talking about the medicinal properties relating to the dew falling on the hill and the lake below it. Somehow, Ferko manages to make his way to the hill and uses the dew to heal his own injuries as well as save a wolf, a mouse, and a queen bee.

Ferko then finds his way to the royal court where his brothers have entered into service. Stunned of his well-being, the cruel brothers persuade the king that Ferko is an evil magician and recommend that he demand him to complete an impossible task and kill him if he fails. The king orders Ferko to build a castle more beautiful than his own. Ferko turns to the queen bee who arranges the castle’s construction. Ferko’s brothers then persuade the king to send him on a second impossible task, against the kindhearted princess’ wishes. Since she’s fallen in love with the guy. This time he must gather all the kingdom’s harvested grain and put it into the barns. The mouse summons all the kingdom’s mice and they do it all for him. More determined to see him fail, Ferko’s brothers incite the king to demand a third impossible task, which he does. He orders Ferko to summon all the kingdom’s wolves. When the princess bursts into tears and protests this demand, he locks her up in a tower. So she’s not there when Ferko’s wolf friend calls out all the kingdom’s wolves to convene upon the court, which they do. And when they come, they’re hungry. Let’s just say the encounter between the royal court and the wolves doesn’t go well for the court. Ferko releases the princess from the tower, marries her, and becomes king.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Well, it has a bunch of people eaten by wolves in the end.
Trivia: N/A

33. Hans the Hedgehog

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The Grimm fairy tale Hans the Hedgehog starts out as a charming tale about a humanoid hedgehog guy who plays the bagpipes and rides a rooster. Then it gets really dark real fast when the first princess rejects him.

From: Germany
Earliest Appearance: Collected by the Grimm Brothers.
Best Known Version: The Grimm version, naturally.
Synopsis: A wealthy peasant has one grief in life that he and his wife have no child. One day, he’s had enough of the other peasants mocking him that he declares, “I will have a child, even if it be a hedgehog.” Sure enough, his wife gives birth do a hedgehog-human hybrid, leaving the parents horrified. Christened as “Hans the Hedgehog,” he can’t be nursed because of his quills and receives a small bed behind a stove where he lounges around for 8 years. Until one day, he asks his dad to bring him a set of bagpipes from the fair. Hans then tells him to have a rooster shod at the blacksmith’s, promising to leave and never come back. His dad is only too happy to do so and Hans leaves riding his rooster, taking some pigs and donkeys with him. He next spends years in the woods, tending to his growing herd and making beautiful music on his bagpipes while perched on his rooster on a tree branch.

Time passes and 2 kings find their way into the woods. They both notice Hans the Hedgehog and ask him to show them a way out of the forest to their respective kingdoms. Before doing so, Hans has each king promise that they’ll give him the first thing they meet when they come home in exchange. As it happens, each king is greeted by his daughter on returning to the royal palace. The first king tells of his encounter with Hans the Hedgehog but assures her that he’s not going to uphold his empty promise. The princess is totally okay with it for she wouldn’t want to be with a mutant hedgehog man anyway. On the other hand, the second king is dismayed but his daughter tells him if Hans comes, she’ll go to him out of her love for her dad. Hans sets off to get his reward and you really don’t want to cross him.

The first king refuses to hand over his daughter. But Hans forces him to yield her, threatening to kill them both if he doesn’t. After the king outfitted the first princess for marriage, she leaves with Hans. However, after traveling a short distance from the city, Hans has her clothes taken off, pierced her with his quills until she bled all over, and sends her back to the kingdom in disgrace. The second king agrees to the marriage and the princess fells bound by her dad’s promise so Hans marries her. On their wedding night, he tells the king to build a fire and post guards at his door. Hans then sheds his hedgehog skin and has the guards throw it in the fire. After doctors clean him up, he’s shown to be a handsome young gentleman. After several years, Hans returns home to collect his parents and they live together in the kingdom.

Other Versions: Many versions usually leave out what Hans does to the princess who rejects him.
Adaptations: Adapted into a children’s book in 2012.
Why Forgotten: Its resolution is so crude, violent, and sexist that its original plot is essentially unusable for modern children’s books. Seriously, if it weren’t for that, he’d be a stuffed animal.
Trivia: N/A

34. Hop-o’-My-Thumb

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The French Hop o’ My Thumb is a tale about a small boy who is way smarter for his size. Still, that doesn’t stop his parents from sending him and his brothers in the woods.

From: France
Earliest Appearance: Written down by Charles Perrault in 1697.
Best Known Version: William Godwin’s 1804 version (funny, since his daughter wrote Frankenstein).
Synopsis: A poor woodchopper and his wife decide to abandon their 7 sons in the forest because they can’t feed them. The youngest is called “Hop-o’-My-Thumb.” Despite his small size, he’s very smart. When he hears about his parents’ plans, he goes outside to collect pebbles to put in his pocket. in the middle of the night. That way, when the parents take the boys to the woods, Hop-o’-My-Thumb throws a pebble trail so they can find their way back. He does the same thing when the parents abandon the kids a second time. But the third time, they lock the door and Hop-o’-My-Thumb can’t collect pebbles so he has to resort to bread crumbs. Yet, the birds eat everything.

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Hop o’ My Thumb and his brothers stop by at a giant’s house where they bunk for the night. But the giant has an appetite for human children so they can’t stay long.

When all hope is lost, Hop-o’-My-Thumb and his brothers and his brothers see a light in the distance. Walking towards it, they discover a house. After they knock, a woman opens the door but warns the children that her husband is a man-eating giant. Hop-o’-My-Thumb explains their situation resulting in the woman to take pity on them so she lets the kids in. When the giant arrives home, he discovers the children and plans to devour them. His wife convinces him to wait until the next morning to which the giant agrees. The woman brings the children to a bedroom where the giant’s 7 daughters also spend the night. That night, Hop-o’-My-Thumb fears the giant might come out and get them and he switches his brothers’ hats with the crowns on the giant’s daughters’ heads. As expected, the giant gets hungry and leaves his bed to kill the kids. But in the dark, he has to find them through touch. When he feels the crowns Hop-o’-My-Thumb placed on their heads, he mistakes them for his daughters and leaves them alone. Then he goes to his daughters, feels their hats and slits their throats in their sleep. After that, he unknowingly goes back to bed, planning to eat them the next morning.

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After tricking the giant into killing his kids, Hop o’ My Thumb takes off his “seven mile boots.” When all’s done, you have to feel bad for the giant’s wife.

Hop-o’-My-Thumb wakes up his brothers and they flee back into the forest. The next morning, the giant discovers he’s been tricked and starts chasing them with his magical “seven mile boots,” allowing the wearer to cross great distances within a short amount of time. Unable to find them, he decides to take a nap, right next to the tree where Hop-o’-My-Thumb and his brothers are hiding. During the giant’s rest, Hop-o’-My-Thumb tells the others to run back home while he steals the giant’s boots and runs back to the giant’s house. There, he tells the wife that robbers kidnapped her husband and that she should give Hop-o’-My-Thumb all of the giant’s treasure which he takes along with him.

Other Versions: Some accounts have Hop-o’-My-Thumb bring the treasure to the king and he serves as his messenger. Other accounts have Hop-o’-My-Thumb bringing the treasure directly to his family and everyone lives happily ever after.

Adaptations: Made into a Broadway musical and a Soviet cartoon.
Why Forgotten: It’s well known on the European continent, but not in the English-speaking world. Besides, Hop-o’-My-Thumb takes a woman’s kindness for granted, condemns 7 sleeping girls to death, steals, lies, steals some more, and leaves a poor woman to explain things when her murderous husband comes home.
Trivia: N/A

35. Iron Hans

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In the Grimms’ Iron Hans, a wild man is captured and put in a cage. Until a prince’s ball rolls into it and the wild man tricks the prince into setting him free.

From: Germany
Earliest Appearance: Collected by the Grimm Brothers.
Best Known Version: The Grimm version, obviously.
Synopsis: In a forest where no one who goes in ever comes out, a huntsman captures a wild man by draining a pool he was hiding in. The king keeps him in a cage and threatens to kill anyone who lets him out. Unfortunately, the prince’s ball falls into the cage and the wild man tricks the boy into getting the key and letting him out. He then carries him off to avoid punishment. In the forest, the wild man sets the prince to watch a well and make sure nothing falls into it, lest it become “polluted.” He fails 3 times. First, he sticks his finger in it, causing it to turn gold. Second, a hair from his head falls in, also turning into gold. Finally, he tries seeing his reflection in the water, causing his long hair to fall in and become completely gilded. The wild man sends him away, but tells him that if he calls his name “Iron Hans,” he will come to help him. Hiding his hair beneath a cap, the prince finds a menial court position. He ends up demoted from the kitchen to the garden when he claims to have a sore on his head to keep his hair concealed. One day, the princess glimpsed his hair and asks him to bring her a wreath of flowers. She then pulls of his cap and is certain it’s him.

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Whenever the prince is in need, he could always call on Iron Hans. When a king issues impossible tasks, he uses this promise to his advantage.

When the country is threatened with war, the prince calls upon Iron Hans who gives him a horse and a troop of soldiers. The prince secures the king’s victory but flees before he’s caught out. The king throws a feast in which his daughter will throw the golden apple in hopes that the strange knight will catch it. The prince calls upon Iron Hans, catches it on the horse he receives and rides off. This happens 3 times but he’s wounded in the third so they see his golden hair, giving away his identity as the gardener’s boy, and they bring him before the throne. After he’s revealed as a prince, he asks to marry the princess. At their wedding, a strange man appears who reveals himself as Iron Hans and an enchanted king. But the prince disenchanted him and will receive everything he owns for it.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: Retold in an Anne Sexton poem.
Why Forgotten: Well, it’s well known in Europe, Africa, and Asia. But it’s not among the mainstream.
Trivia: Inspired a mythopoetic men’s movement in the 1990s.

36. Jack the Giant Killer

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Based on an English chapbook, Jack the Giant Killer follows a young man who manages to slay a few giants. And yes, the old pictures look pretty graphic.

From: England
Earliest Appearance: As a chapbook printed as, “The History of Jack and the Giants” in 1711, fusing various other giant tales into one narrative (explaining why the story is longer and more episodic than a typical folktale). Might’ve appeared earlier in the History of the Kings of Britain where legendary Corineus fought giants and lent his name to Cornwall and the Cornish. Also a predecessor to “Jack and the Beanstalk” and variant of “The Brave Little Tailor.”
Best Known Version: The chapbook version.
Synopsis: Using a pick axe and a pit trap, Cornish Jack slays his first giant, gaining him a reputation amongst a nearby village. Following this, he sets off on a series of challenges, meeting a giant named Blunderbore who he strangles with a cord. His third encounter is with a Welsh giant who tries to kill Jack while he’s resting at his castle. Jack uses his invisibility coat, which he received in the giant’s first castle, to attack the third giant and his brother with impunity. The last encounter is with the giant Galligantus whom he scares with a magic trumpet blast before decapitating him and sending it to King Arthur. Arthur then rewards Jack with his daughter’s hand in marriage (wait, King Arthur has a daughter?).

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: Loosely adapted into a 1962 film.
Why Forgotten: Well, it’s replete with violence.
Trivia: Has little in common with Jack the Giant Slayer.

37. Jesper Who Herded the Hares
From: Scandinavia
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Andrew Lang in The Violet Fairy Book.
Best Known Version: Andrew Lang’s translation.
Synopsis: A king decided he’d marry his daughter to whoever who brought him 12 of the finest pearls he ever saw, and carried out certain tasks. Those who brought fake pearls were caught out while those who brought real ones failed. Now a fisherman had 3 sons named Peter, Paul, and Jesper who was the smartest even if the other 2 wouldn’t admit it. One day, he brought home 3 dozen oysters, each proving to have a beautiful pearl. Peter set out with a dozen and met the King of Ants, whose plea for air he scorned, and an old woman who asked what he was carrying. He told her it was cinders, which it was when he reached the castle. Paul did the same. But when Jesper set out, he helped the ants, received a promise of their aid, and then told the old woman he was carrying the pearls that would win the princess. When she asks for food, he gives her his lunch. She gives him a whistle that will bring back whatever he loses.

But when Jesper shows the pearls to the king, he’s displeased before sending him to sort a mixed heap of wheat, barley, oats, and rye. He summoned the ants to sort the grains for him. The next day, the king’s men had captured 100 hares and made it Jesper’s task to herd them all. They fled as soon as they were released, but the whistle brought them back. When news got back to the king, he sent the princess to beg one from him. He agreed if she kissed him. She did but he whistled it back. The queen came and Jesper made her walk and cackle like a hen, and whistled the hare back. The king came. Jesper made him stand on his head and whistled the hare back. The next day, the king told him he had to tell as many truths as needed to fill a tub as far as the king saw it. Jesper had told that the princess had come to him, then the queen, and finally started to tell about the king. The king declared the tub was full so Jesper and the princess married.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Herding hares doesn’t seem like a task as worthy of marrying a princess.
Trivia: N/A

38. The Jezinkas
From: Czech Republic
Earliest Appearance: Collected by A. H. Wratislaw in his Sixty Folk-Tales from Exclusively Slavonic Sources.
Best Known Version: Wraitslaw’s version obviously.
Synopsis: An orphan named Johnny looks for work but finds none. Until he sees a man with his eyes gouged out lamenting to his goats that he can’t pasture them. Johnny takes the job. But the old man warns him that if he takes the goats to a certain hill, the Jezinkas will gouge out his eyes. Alas, Johnny goes their anyway, taking along 3 brambles. And the Jezinkas come offering him an apple, a rose, and to comb his hair. He traps the last one with a bramble. The other 2 try to free her but he traps them as well. He demands they return his master’s eyes or he’ll throw them into a river to drown. They agree, but the first 2 give Johnny the wrong eyes which sees nothing but owls (or wolves) and he drowns them. The third initially gives him the wrong set that see nothing but pike. However, she begs and pleads before giving him the right one and troubles him no more whenever he pastures the goats on the hill.

Other Versions: Goes by “Grandfather’s Eyes” and “Johnny and the Witch Maidens.”
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: Contains eye gouging and drowning.
Trivia: N/A

39. Jorinde and Joringel

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The Grimms’ Jorinde and Joringel is about a pair of lovers who get separated by a witch. The woman’s turned into a bird while the guy is set free for plot-related reasons. Since we can’t have a hero turn into a statue.

From: Germany
Earliest Appearance: Collected by the Grimm Brothers.
Best Known Version: The Grimm version, obviously.
Synopsis: Two young lovers, Jorinde and Joringel go for a walk in the woods. Unbeknownst to them, the woods are home to a wicked witch who turns women into birds and men into statues in her castle. Of course, the two lovebirds become the next victims. However, she decides to set Joringel free after taking away Jorinde, content that the lovers will never see each other again. Some time later, he has a strange dream about a magic flower that can break the witch’s spells. He spends 9 days looking for it before returning to the witch’s castle. He’s immune to her petrification spell. When she tries fleeing with one specific nightingale, Joringel realizes it must be Jorinde. He touches the witch with the flower, taking away the witch’s magic. Then he breaks the spell on Jorinde then the several hundred women-turned-birds and men-turned-statues. While Jorinde and Joringel live happily ever after.

Other Versions: Has an American variant called “The Flower of Dew” collected by Marie Campbell.
Adaptations: N/A
Why Forgotten: I’m not exactly sure.
Trivia: N/A

40. Kate Crackernuts

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The English Kate Crackernuts is an unusual tale revolving around Kate and the weird things going around her. Like her stepsister having a sheep’s head and a prince who can’t stop dancing.

From: England
Earliest Appearance: Collected by Joseph Jacobs in English Fairy Tales.
Best Known Version: The Jacobs version.
Synopsis: Kate’s mother, who’s a queen marries Anne’s father, who’s a king. Anne is prettier than Kate so the queen consults a henwife, who after 2 tries manages to replace Anne’s head with a sheep’s one. When Kate discovers this, she wraps Anne’s head with a linen cloth and takes her by the hand to lead her as they go out to find their fortune. When they asked for lodging, they find a king’s castle where there were 2 princes. One was sick and anyone who stayed the night with him vanished. Kate took the job. The next night, the prince got up and rode off in the darkness. Kate jumped on the horse as well and when he announced who he was, she added herself. Eventually she found out it was the fairies who made him dance even when he was collapsing from exhaustion. The next 2 nights, she discovered a way to disenchant Anne and then the prince. Kate marries the prince while Anne ends up with his brother.

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Kate Crackernuts discovers the fairies behind the dancing curse on the prince. Still, Kate is an unconventional fairy tale princess since she’s proactive and gets along with her stepsister.

Other Versions: N/A
Adaptations: Adapted into a children’s novel by Katharine Mary Briggs as well as a stage play.
Why Forgotten: The fact a character has a sheep’s head for a good chunk of the story might have something to do with it. Also, “Crackernuts” might lead to unfortunate interpretations.
Trivia: N/A

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