The Three Little Men in the Woods

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

There was a man whose wife died, and a woman whose husband died. The man had a daughter, and the woman also had a daughter. The girls were acquainted with each other and went for a walk together. Afterwards they came to the woman in her house.

The woman said to the man's daughter, "Listen, tell your father that I would like to marry him, and then you shall wash yourself in milk every morning and drink wine, but my own daughter shall wash herself in water and drink water."

The girl went home and told her father what the woman had said.

The man said, "What shall I do? Marriage is a joy, but also a torment."

Finally, being unable to reach a decision, he pulled off his boot and said, "Take this boot. It has a hole in its sole. Take it to the attic, hang it on the big nail, and then pour water into it. If it holds the water, then I shall again take a wife, but if the water runs through it, then I shall not."

The girl did as she was told, but the water pulled the hole shut, and the boot filled up to the top. She told her father what had happened. Then he himself went up, and when he saw that she was right, he went to the widow and wooed her, and the wedding was held.

The next morning when the two girls got up, there was milk for the man's daughter to wash in and wine for her to drink, but there was water for the woman's daughter to wash herself with and water for her to drink. On the second morning there was water for washing and water to drink for the man's daughter as well as for the woman's daughter. And on the third morning there was water for washing and water to drink for the man's daughter, and milk for washing and wine to drink for the woman's daughter, and so it continued.

The woman became her stepdaughter's worst enemy, and from one day to the next she did whatever she could to make the stepdaughter's life more miserable. Furthermore, she was envious because her stepdaughter was beautiful and kind, while her own daughter was ugly and disgusting.

Once in winter, when everything was frozen as hard as a stone, and the hills and valleys were covered with snow, the woman made a dress of paper, called her stepdaughter, and said, "Here, put this dress on and go out into the woods and fetch me a basketful of strawberries. I have a longing for some."

"Good heaven." said the girl. "Strawberries don't grow in the winter. The ground is frozen, and furthermore the snow has covered everything. And why am I to go out in this paper dress? It is so cold outside that one's breath freezes. The wind will blow through the dress, and the thorns will tear it from my body."

"Will you contradict me?" said the stepmother. "Be on your way, and do not let me see you again until you have the basketful of strawberries." Then she gave her a little piece of hard bread and said, "You can eat from this all day," while thinking, "You will freeze and starve to death out there, and I shall never see you again."

The girl obeyed and put on the paper dress and went out with the basket. There was nothing but snow far and wide, and not a green blade was to be seen. After coming into the woods she saw a small house. Three little dwarfs peeped out. She greeted them and gently knocked on the door.

They shouted, "Come in," and she went into the room and sat down on the bench by the stove to warm herself and eat her breakfast.

The dwarfs said, "Give us some of it, too."

"Gladly," she said, and broke her piece of bread in two, giving them half."

They asked, "What are you doing here in the woods in the wintertime and in your thin dress."

"Oh," she answered, "I am supposed to gather a basketful of strawberries, and am not allowed to go home until I have them."

When she had eaten her bread they gave her a broom and said, "Sweep away the snow next to the back door."

Once she was outside, the three little men said to one another, "What shall we give her for being so polite and good and sharing her bread with us."

The first one said, "I grant her that every day she shall grow more beautiful."

The second one said, "I grant her that gold pieces shall fall from her mouth every time she speaks a word."

The third one said, "I grant her that a king shall come and take her to wife."

The girl did what the dwarfs told her to, and with the broom she swept the snow away from behind the little house, and what do you think she found? Nothing other than ripe strawberries, which came up out of the snow quite dark red. Joyfully she gathered her basketful, thanked the little men, shook hands with each of them, then ran home to take her stepmother what she had demanded.

Upon entering she said, "Good-evening," and a piece of gold fell out of her mouth. Then she told what had happened to her in the woods, but with every word she spoke gold pieces fell from her mouth, and soon the whole room was covered with them.

"Just look at her arrogance," shouted the stepsister, "to throw gold about in such a manner." But she was secretly envious, and she too wanted to go into the woods to look for strawberries.

The mother said, "No, my dear little daughter, it is too cold. You could freeze to death."

However, her daughter gave no peace, so finally the mother gave in. She sewed a magnificent fur coat for her and had her put it on. She gave her buttered bread and cake for her journey.

The girl went into the woods and straight up to the little house. The three little dwarfs peeped out again, but she did not greet them. Without looking at them and without greeting them, she stumbled into the room, sat down by the stove, and began to eat her buttered bread and cake.

"Give us some of it," shouted the little men.

She replied, "There is not enough for me myself. How can I give some of it to others?"

When she was finished eating they said, "Here is a broom for you. Sweep in front of the back door."

"Sweep for yourselves," she answered. "I am not your maid."

Seeing that they were not going to give her anything, she walked out the door.

Then the little men said to one another, "What shall we give her for being so impolite and having a wicked and envious heart that will never let her give a thing to anyone?"

The first one said, "I grant that every day she shall grow uglier."

The second one said, "I grant that a toad shall jump out of her mouth with every word she says."

The third one said, "I grant that she shall die an unfortunate death."

The girl looked outside for strawberries, but finding none, she went home angrily. And when she opened her mouth to tell her mother what had happened to her in the woods, a toad jumped out of her mouth with every word she said, so that everyone was repulsed by her.

The stepmother now became even more angry, and she could think of nothing else but how she could torment the man's daughter, who nonetheless grew more beautiful every day. Finally she took a kettle, set it on the fire, and boiled yarn in it. When it was boiled, she hung it on the poor girl's shoulder, gave her an ax, and told her to go to the frozen river, chop a hole in the ice, and rinse the yarn. She obeyed, went to the river and chopped a hole in the ice. While she was chopping, a splendid carriage approached, with the king seated inside.

The carriage stopped, and the king asked, "My child, who are you, and what are you doing here?"

"I am a poor girl, and I am rinsing yarn."

The king felt compassion, and when he saw how very beautiful she was, he said to her, "Will you ride with me?"

"Gladly," she answered, for she was happy to get away from the mother and sister.

So she got into the carriage and rode away with the king. When they arrived at his palace their wedding was celebrated with great pomp, just as the little men had promised the girl.

A year later the young queen gave birth to a son, and when the stepmother heard of her good fortune, she came with her daughter to the palace, pretending that she wanted to pay her a visit. But when the king went out, and no one else was present, the wicked woman seized the queen by the head, and her daughter seized her by the feet, and lifting her out of her bed, they threw her out the window into the stream that flowed by.

After that the ugly daughter lay down in the bed, and the old woman covered her up over her head. When the king returned and wanted to speak to his wife, the old woman said, "Quiet. Quiet. You cannot talk to her now. She has a very high fever. You must let her rest today."

The king suspected no evil, and did not return until the next morning. As he then talked with his wife, and she answered him, a toad jumped out with every word, whereas previously a piece of gold had fallen out. When he asked what was the matter, the old woman said that it came from her high fever, and that she would soon lose it.

During the night the kitchen boy saw a duck swimming along the gutter, and it said, "King, what are you doing? Are you awake or are you asleep?"

Receiving no answer, it said, "What are my guests doing?"

Then the kitchen boy answered, "They are fast asleep."

She asked further, "What is my little baby doing?"

He answered, "He is sound asleep in his cradle."

Then, in the form of the queen, she went upstairs, nursed the baby, fluffed up his cover, tucked him in, and then she swam off through the gutter as a duck.

She came in the same manner for two nights. On the third night, she said to the kitchen boy, "Go and tell the king to take his sword and on the threshold to swing it over me three times."

The kitchen boy ran and told this to the king, who came with his sword and swung it over the spirit three times, and after the third time, his wife was standing before him, vigorous, alive, and healthy, as she had been before.

The king was elated, but he kept the queen hidden in a room until the Sunday when the baby was to be baptized. At the baptism he said, "What does a person deserve who drags someone out of bed and throws him into the water?"

The old woman answered, "The scoundrel deserves nothing better than to be put into a barrel stuck full of nails, and then rolled downhill into the water."

Then the king said, "You have pronounced your own sentence."

He ordered such a barrel to be brought. The old woman and her daughter were put into it, and the top was hammered shut. Then the barrel was rolled downhill until it fell into the river.

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Revised January 18, 2003