Open Sesame!

folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 676
selected and edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2013-2022


  1. Link to Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1001 Nights).

  2. The Robbers Robbed (Kashmir, James Hinton Knowles).

  3. The Two Brothers and the Forty-Nine Dragons (Greece, Edmund Martin Geldart).

  4. The Two Brothers (Slavic, Alexander Chodzko).

  5. Dummburg Castle (Germany, Johann Gustav Gottlieb Büsching).

  6. Simeli Mountain (Germany, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).

  7. Open Simson! (Germany, Ernst Meier).

  8. Ali Baba and Kissem (Jamaica, Martha Warren Beckwith).

  9. How Black Snake Caught the Wolf (USA, Joel Chandler Harris).

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

The Robbers Robbed


In olden times there lived a great and wealthy king, whose greatness and wealth were the envy of the world. Many kings had assayed to fight with him and had been defeated, till at last he began to think that he was unconquerable, and became careless and indifferent as to the state of his army.

Meanwhile another powerful king had been carefully training his forces. He saw the condition of affairs, and determined to do battle with this king. The two armies met on a large plain, and fought bravely for several days. For some time the battle seemed to be equal, but at last the great and wealthy king was slain and his forces scattered. The strange king then entered the city and reigned in his stead. His first act was to banish the late king's wife and her two sons. They were sent out of the country without the least means of subsistence, so that the queen was obliged to pound rice for a ser of rice a day, while the two boys got what they could by begging.

One day the woman advised one of her sons to go to the jungle and cut some bundles of wood for sale. The eldest went; and while he was engaged in cutting wood he saw at a little distance a small caravan of loaded camels and mules attended by several men, who evidently were robbers. The boy was frightened, because he thought they would kill him if they knew he was there. So he climbed up into a tree to hide himself.

The caravan halted by a small hut in a part of the jungle near to this tree. He saw the men unload their beasts and place all the bundles inside the hut, the door of which opened and shut by itself at the mention of a certain charm that he heard quite plainly. He saw all this, and rememhered the words of the charm, and determined to enter the hut him self as soon as the robhers departed.

Accordingly on the morrow, when the robbers were well out of sight and hearing, he came down from the tree, went to the hut, and uttered the words of the charm that he had heard. The door immediately opened to him, and he entered. He found immense piles of valuable treasure in the place -- gold and silver, and precious stones, and sundry articles of curious workmanship were stored up there in abundance. He arranged as much of the treasure as he could place on a camel that he found grazing near, and then, repeating the charm, shut the door and went home. His mother was delighted to see the result of her son's day's work.

The following morning the younger prince thought that he also would visit this jungle and try his luck. So he quickly learnt the words of the charm and started. He arrived at the jungle, and climbed the same tree near the hut, and waited there patiently for the robbers' coming. Just before dark they appeared, bringing with them several loads of treasure. On reaching the hut they entered by means of the charm, as before. Great was their surprise and anger when they found that some person had been to the place and taken some of the things. They uttered such terrible oaths, and vowed such fearful vengeance on the offender, that the prince up in the tree trembled exceedingly, and began to repent his adventure.

In the morning the robbers again left; and as soon as they were well out of the way the boy descended the tree and went and repeated the charm whereby the door of the hut was opened. The door obeyed, and he entered. But, alas! the door closed as soon as he was inside, and would not open again, although the boy shouted till he was hoarse, and begged and prayed that he might be set free. Evidently the poor boy had omitted or added something to the words of the charm, and thus brought this misfortune on himself. Terrible must have been his feelings as he counted the hours to the robbers' return, and tried to imagine what they would do to him, when they saw him there! It was vain to hope for escape. He was shut up in a prison of his own making, and must bear the consequences.

Before nightfall sounds of approaching footsteps were heard, and presently the door opened and the robbers came in. A savage gleam of delight passed over their countenances as they saw the youngster crouching away in a corner and weeping.

"Oh! oh!" they exclaimed. "This is the thief that dares to intrude into our quarters, is it? We'll cut him into pieces and strew them about the place, that others may fear to follow in his steps."

This they really did, for they were bloodthirsty and had no feeling, and then went to sleep. The next day they started off on their marauding expeditions as usual, as if nothing had happened.

While they were absent the eldest prince arrived to see what had become of his brother, and to help him in carrying away the spoil. His grief was inexpressible when he saw the pieces of flesh strewn about the place.

"They shall rue this," he exclaimed, and caused the door of the hut to be opened by means of the charm and entered.

He collected the most valuable articles that he could lay hands on and put them into a sack. Afterwards he emptied the contents of another sack on the ground outside the hut, and placed the pieces of his brother's corpse in it. And then, having repeated the charm and shut the door, he took up the two sacks, threw them over his shoulder, and walked home. On reaching home he had the pieces sewed up in a cloth and buried.

When the robbers returned that evening and discovered what had happened they were very angry. They resolved to find the thief, and took an oath to rob no more until they had accomplished their desire. They went to the city, and lodged in different parts of the bázár, in order that they might ascertain if anyone was living there who had suddenly become rich.

One of the robbers happened to meet with the tailor who had made the grave-clothes for the young prince who had been so foully slaughtered, and heard from him that the mother and brother of the boy seemed to have got a lot of money lately, but how he could not say. Some people said that they were members of some royal family, but he did not know.

Accordingly the robber went and found out the house where the queen and prince were living. He marked it, so that he might know it again, and then hastened to inform the rest of the band. However, the prince had fortunately noticed the mark, and guessing what it meant, went and marked several of the adjoining houses in the same way. He thus thoroughly nonplussed the robbers.

"This plan will not do," they said. "One of us had better get to know through the tailor where these people live, and then go to the house and cultivate their friendship. An opportunity for despatching the prince would soon be afforded."

This was agreed to unanimously, and the leader of the robber band was voted to the work. He soon made friends with the young prince and his mother, and was received into the house at all times as a welcome guest.

One day, however, the woman observed a dagger hidden beneath his coat, and from this and one or two other things that she afterwards noticed, decided in her mind that the man was no friend, but an enemy and a robber. She wished to be rid of him. Consequently one evening she suggested to her son and his friend that she should dance before them, and they agreed. In her hand she had a sword, which she waved about most gracefully. Now she approached the robber, and now she receded slowly and smoothly, and accommodated her gestures to a song, till at length she saw her opportunity, and running against the robber, struck off his head.

"What have you done, mother?" exclaimed the prince, who was horror-struck.

"I have simply changed places with our friend," she replied. "Instead of him murdering you, I have murdered him. Look! Behold the dagger with which he would have slain you."

"O mother," said the prince, "how shall I ever he able to repay you for your watchfulness over me. I did not notice anything wrong about the man. I never saw his dagger before. This must be one of the robbers, come to wreak vengeance on me for taking some of their treasure."

When the robber band knew of the death of their leader they divided the spoil and retired to their different villages.

The young prince married, and became a banker and prospered exceedingly.

The Two Brothers and the Forty-Nine Dragons

Greece (Syros)

Once upon a time there were two brothers. One was very rich and had four children, the other was very poor and had seven children.

One day the poor man's wife went to the rich man and said to him, "I am very wretched, for I have not enough bread for my children. I take a little meal and I mix it with a great deal of bran and so manage to make bread. It is well nigh a year since my children have had any relish with their meals; they get nothing but bread and water."

He answered her: "And yet your children are so strong, while mine, with all their feeding and the comforts they enjoy, are always ailing!"

The poor woman said, "God has given us poverty and hunger, but thanks be to Heaven, our children are hale and hearty. Now, therefore, I have come to beg you, if you have any work, not to send for anyone but me, so may God send health to your children!" and as she spoke these words, the tears ran from her eyes like a river.

Then he called his wife and said to her: "Have we any work for her to come and do for us daily, so that she may not sit idle?"

His wife answered him: "Let her come twice a week and knead bread for us."

When she heard these words she was glad, for she thought at once, that when she kneaded that fine white bread they would give her some of it, and her poor children would eat and rejoice. So she rose to go away.

And they said to her: "Good-bye, and remember to come tomorrow morning."

Thus they bade her farewell without giving her a scrap of anything.

As she set off home she said to herself, "Would that I were rich, that I might open my cupboard, and bring forth a bit of cheese, or a piece of bread, or at least a little rice, or such like household store to gladden the hearts of the poor!" and lifting her hands to heaven she said: "Why, oh my God, hast thou made me so poor?"

And so she went weeping home where her children were waiting for her ever so eagerly, hoping she might bring them something.

But alas, poor thing, she came with empty hands.

The next day she went very early in the morning to the rich man's house to knead bread, and when she had kneaded it and ended her work, they bade her farewell and told her to be sure and come next time, without giving her so much as a cup of cold water.

As soon as she came home the children said to her: " Have you brought us anything, mother?"

"No!" she said. "Maybe, when they have done baking they will send us a bit of bread."

But in vain she waited, and when evening came not a loaf nor a plate of anything to eat appeared.

In two or three days they sent word for her to come and knead again, for they liked her kneading much. Then the poor woman arose and went again; and as she was kneading the thought came into her head, not to wash her hands till she got home, and then to wash them in a dish, and to give the wash to her children instead of plain water.

So as soon as she had done kneading, she hurried away, and when she got home she said to her children, "Wait till I give you a little milk-soup."

And washing her hands well of the dough, she filled a good dish, and gave each one a little to drink.

And they liked it so much that they said, "Mother, whenever you go to knead, mind you bring us some of that broth to drink."

A month passed while she went on at this work. And it seems that God blessed her children, for they grew fatter than ever.

One day as the rich man was passing by the poor man's house, he put his head in at the door and said, "How do you do here?"

Then he turns and looks at all the children, and is amazed to see how fat they seem; and going out at the door in a rage, he went home to his wife and called her: "Come here and tell me what you give to my sister-in-law who comes to knead for us."

Now she was frightened at the way he shouted at her and said, "I never gave her anything yet, because I am so afraid of giving her too much and your scolding me."

Says he, "You must have given her something, for her children are so fat they look as if they would burst."

Then she swore an oath and said, "She takes nothing away with her but her unwashed hands and she washes them at home, and gives the wash to her children to drink."

When he heard that he said, "Put a stop to that too."

So the next day when the woman went to knead, her mistress waited until she had finished, and when she had done, said to her, "Wash your hands well and then go."

When the poor woman heard that her countenance fell, and she quailed with grief to think how she should go to her children, and they would beg the milk-soup of her.

When she came to her house her children were gathered together awaiting her, and as soon as they saw her come in they all cried with one voice: "What have you got, mother?"

"Nothing, children; I forgot myself and washed my hands!"

All the children began to weep and to cry, "How could you so forget us, as not to bring us that beautiful broth?"

While they were thus weeping and wailing, the father entered the house and said, "What ails the children that they cry?"

Then she told him all that had happened, and he was sorely grieved, and made up his mind to kill himself, and so that his wife might not guess his purpose, he asked her for a bag to go to the hill and gather herbs. She gave it him, and he went away. And as he wandered about bewildered for a long while, he found himself at the top of a high crag, and there he made up his mind to fling himself down and die.

Then he spied facing the crag a great castle, and he said to himself, "Before I kill myself, I may as well go and see what that castle is like."

And drawing near he saw a tree, and he climbed up into it to see who lived in the castle. After a little while he looked, and behold, a number of dragons came out ! He counted them, and they were forty-nine. When the dragons were gone, they left the door open, for that was always their custom. So he climbed down from the tree and went into the castle and walked about it, and saw that it contained much treasure. Then he took his bag and filled it with as much as his back could carry, and went away at once, for he feared lest the dragons should catch him.

When they came back they perceived that a thief had been and stolen some of their money, and from henceforth they determined that one of them should always stay behind in the castle. The poor man returned to the town two days later, and found his wife weeping and refusing to be comforted, for she feared that his affliction had led him to go and kill himself. But when she saw him come back she praised God because he came alive.

Then said her husband to her, "Wife, God has taken pity on our children and on you, who made bread so long at my brother's house, though they never gave you a morsel to feed our little ones. See, here we have enough to live for some time." And opening his bag he showed her the coins.

She was a pious woman, so she said, "The first thing you must buy is some oil that we may light a lamp to our Lady, which we have not done for so long."

And her husband hearkened unto her and straightway went and bought oil, and when they had lighted the lamp they prayed with all their hearts and with tears in their eyes.

The next day her husband arose, and the first thing he did was to buy a house; and he moved into it with his homely furniture and his poor children.

On the first evening he said to his wife, "From day to day we will buy what we want for the house, but nothing more, for we must bear in mind how you used to give milk-soup to the children to drink, to save them from dying of hunger."

"Yes," said she, "I will never ask you for anything that we do not want."

Two months passed during which these people lived happily. They did nothing else but go to church and help the poor. One day, then, the wife of the rich man came to visit her poor kinswoman, for she had heard from many that she was now well off, and she herself had begun to suffer misfortune; all her sheep had died, her fields had brought forth no crops, the frost had bitten many of her trees, and she had met with many other mishaps.

When the poor woman saw her without being in the least affronted to think how little she had helped her in her own misery, she welcomed her joyfully, and gave her the best seat, and put before her the best things she had to eat in the house; whereas the other, when she went, had only received her in the kitchen, and never asked her to sit down!

After some time, she said, "Sister, pray tell me, where has your husband found work, that my husband may try and find some too, for we have fallen into great distress."

And the poor woman answered her, "My husband has not got any employment, but the day you made me wash my hands he went away -- " and then she told her all that had happened.

Then the rich woman asked her to take her husband and show him the dragons.

"Perhaps," said she, "we, too, may thus find succour."

And the poor one said to her, "When my husband comes this evening I will tell him, and your husband can go tomorrow, with a bag, along with him."

When the poor man came home at nightfall, his wife told him what had passed, and he said to her, "I will go and show him the place, but I will not go to gather more treasures for myself, for this which I have God blesses, and it grows from day to day."

Next morning the rich man came with his bag on his back, and said to him, "Good morrow, brother, how do you do? Are you well?" Whereas at other times, if he saw his brother in the way he would turn his back upon him, or take another road, so as not to hear him say that he wanted any help.

But when the poor man saw him he got up and kissed him, and said, "Welcome, brother; I daresay it's ten years since I had the happiness of seeing you enter my house."

"Yes," said the rich one, "but now I have fallen into distress, and know not what to do."

Says the poor man, "Let us go; perhaps you will have good luck yet, and get as rich as ever."

So they set off for the hill. And when they got there he showed him the tree, and said to him, "Go aloft and sit in the tree, and soon the dragons will come out. Count them. If there are forty-nine you can come down and enter the castle free from fear; but if, peradventure, they are but forty-eight, do not go in."

With these words he went away. In a little while the dragons came out, and he began to count them. But it seems he counted them wrong, and instead of saying forty-eight he said forty-nine. So he came down as fast as he could and went into the castle, and eagerly looked about to see where the treasure was, that he might fill his bag and be gone with all speed, and as he stood there he heard a voice saying, "So you are the thief, and have come back to steal more!"

And lo! out comes the dragon which had been watching in a room close by, and seizes him by the head and makes four quarters of him, and hangs them up at the four corners of the dwelling.

When the dragons came home, he said to them, "There's no need to keep watch any longer, for I have hung up the four quarters of the thief, and they will guard our castle for us!"

And from that day forward they determined, none of them to stay at home, but all of them to go out, and so they began to do.

When two days had passed away the wife of the rich man got restless, and went to the house of her brother-in-law to ask him what they had done with her husband.

But the poor man told her what directions he had given him, and said, "I don't know whether he has counted the dragons right, but I will go and see."

And off he went. When he came near to the castle, he got up into the tree, and when the dragons came out he counted them with great care, and they were forty-nine in all. Then he came down and went into the castle and looked right and left for his brother. And raising his eyes he looked aloft and beheld his brother hanging in four quarters, and he was sore amazed. Then he lost no time in taking him down, filling his bag with money and going away.

When he got home he felt very weary and sad, and said to his wife, "Send someone to my sister-in-law's to tell her to come and take charge of her husband."

And when she came she wept, and would not be comforted on beholding her husband cut into four quarters.

Then she said to the poor man, "You must find me a tailor to sew him together, for I cannot bury him like that in four pieces."

The poor man went out at once and got a tailor, who sewed him together.

When they had buried and bewailed him, the poor man opened the bag and gave his sister-in-law half the money, and said to her, "Go and get succour for yourself and your children, and if you are in want again, do not blush to come and ask me for what you need."

The widow went home with tears in her eyes. Let us leave them and return to the dragons.

When they reached their castle and found the dead man was gone, they all cried aloud, "So the thief has an accomplice!"

The next day, therefore, they went into the town and sought for a tailor to make them forty-nine coats and forty-nine pairs of shoes.

So they said to the tailor, "Mind you sew them well so that the stitches don't come out and that they fit us nicely!"

And they said it over and over again till the tailor got angry and said to them, "Here's a fuss! Why yesterday I had to sew a dead man, who was in four bits, together, and they were quite satisfied with the job, though it was out of my line, and you with your coats are like to craze me!"

Then they said to him, "Pray do you know the man who brought you the dead man to sew?"

Said he, "Of course I do, he lives quite close, and if you like I will show you his house, so that you can go and ask him, whether the dead man was well sewed or not."

So he took a dragon with him, and after walking twenty good paces, he showed them the shop.

Then they went away to a joiner's, and ordered forty-eight chests, just big enough for them to get into. When they were finished, the forty-eight dragons got inside, and the forty-ninth remained outside. And in the morning the dragon went to the poor man's place, and said to him, "I have had forty-eight chests sent me and I want you to be so kind as to let me leave them here for the night."

"Not for one night only," he answered, "but let them stay as long as you like, and until it suits you to take them away."

And he got porters to bring them in. Then the children of the poor man began to get upon the chests, and jump about, and play on them; and the dragons who were inside, from time to time, groaned and said, "Ah, would it were dark that we might eat them all."

One of the children was playing hide-and-seek with the rest, and he heard these words and these groanings. So he ran to his father and said: "Those chests are bewitched; they are talking."

Then the father thought a moment, and said, "Forty-eight! and the one that brought them makes forty-nine."

And he went close up to the chests, and put his ear at the key-hole, and he, too, heard the groaning. So he said to himself, "Now, monsters, I'll make sure of you, now that I have got you in my power."

So off he set at once, and went and bought forty-eight spits, and lighted his kitchen fire, and put them in, and made them red hot, and took them one by one, and thrust them into all the chests.

Then he said to his servant, "Look here, my man, they have played us a trick, and put a dragon in a chest, and if we had not killed it, it would have eaten us all up."

The servant was angry, and said to his master, "Give it me, and let me go sink it by the sea shore?"

And he took it on his back, and threw it on to the beach. While he was on his way back, his master made ready another one, and said, "You did not throw it far enough out to sea, and it has come back."

And as often as he returned he did the same with all, and threw them into the sea. But when he got to the last one he grew tired of always coming back and finding one there again, so he walked right into the sea, and plunged it in deep, and when he got back to the shop he called out: "Master, is it back again?"

And his master answered, "No, no, it has not come back. You must have thrown it in very deep."

"Aye, master," said he, "I went right into the sea, and plunged it in, and left it."

In the morning the dragon came to see what had become of the chests, and the merchant cunningly told him that one chest was found open, "and I don't know," says he, "what you had inside."

He was seized with fear, and went to look at the chests, which were in the back part of the shop. And he found the chest was indeed open, and he trembled. The merchant lost no time, but seized him and flung him into the chest, and made it fast forthwith, and straightway spitted him, and so they were all done for.

And the man himself inherited the dragon's castle, and lived there as happy as a prince, and may we live happier still.

The Two Brothers


Once upon a time there were two brothers whose father had left them but a small fortune. The eldest grew very rich, but at the same time cruel and wicked, whereas there was nowhere a more honest or kinder man than the younger. But he remained poor, and had many children, so that at times they could scarcely get bread to eat. At last, one day there was not even this in the house, so he went to his rich brother and asked him for a loaf of bread. Waste of time! His rich brother only called him beggar and vagabond, and slammed the door in his face.

The poor fellow, after this brutal reception, did not know which way to turn. Hungry, scantily clad, shivering with cold, his legs could scarcely carry him along. He had not the heart to go home, with nothing for the children, so he went towards the mountain forest. But all he found there were some wild pears that had fallen to the ground. He had to content himself with eating these, though they set his teeth on edge. But what was he to do to warm himself, for the east wind with its chill blast pierced him through and through.

"Where shall I go?" he said; "what will become of us in the cottage? There is neither food nor fire, and my brother has driven me from his door."

It was just then he remembered having heard that the top of the mountain in front of him was made of crystal, and had a fire for ever burning upon it. "I will try and find it," he said, "and then I may be able to warm myself a little."

So he went on climbing higher and higher till he reached the top, when he was startled to see twelve strange beings sitting round a huge fire. He stopped for a moment, but then said to himself, "What have I to lose? Why should I fear? God is with me. Courage!"

So he advanced towards the fire, and bowing respectfully, said: "Good people, take pity on my distress. I am very poor, no one cares for me, I have not even a fire in my cottage; will you let me warm myself at yours?"

They all looked kindly at him, and one of them said: "My son, come sit down with us and warm yourself."

So he sat down, and felt warm directly he was near them. But he dared not speak while they were silent. What astonished him most was that they changed seats one after another, and in such a way that each one passed round the fire and came back to his own place.

When he drew near the fire an old man with long white beard and bald head arose from the flames and spoke to him thus: "Man, waste not thy life here; return to thy cottage, work, and live honestly. Take as many embers as thou wilt, we have more than we need."

And having said this he disappeared. Then the twelve filled a large sack with embers, and, putting it on the poor man's shoulders, advised him to hasten home.

Humbly thanking them, he set off. As he went he wondered why the embers did not feel hot, and why they should weigh no more than a sack of paper. He was thankful that he should be able to have a fire, but imagine his astonishment when on arriving home he found the sack to contain as many gold pieces as there had been embers; he almost went out of his mind with joy at the possession of so much money. With all his heart he thanked those who had been so ready to help him in his need. He was now rich, and rejoiced to be able to provide for his family.

Being curious to find out how many gold pieces there were, and not knowing how to count, he sent his wife to his rich brother for the loan of a quart measure. This time the brother was in a better temper, so he lent what was asked of him, but said mockingly, "What can such beggars as you have to measure?"

The wife replied, "Our neighbour owes us some wheat; we want to be sure he returns us the right quantity."

The rich brother was puzzled, and suspecting something he, unknown to his sister-in-law, put some grease inside the measure. The trick succeeded, for on getting it back he found a piece of gold sticking to it. Filled with astonishment, he could only suppose his brother had joined a band of robbers; so he hurried to his brother's cottage, and threatened to bring him before the Justice of the Peace if he did not confess where the gold came from.

The poor man was troubled, and, dreading to offend his brother, told the story of his journey to the Crystal Mountain.

Now the elder brother had plenty of money for himself, yet he was envious of the brother's good fortune, and be came greatly displeased when he found that his brother won every one's esteem by the good use he made of his wealth.

At last he determined to visit the Crystal Mountain himself. "I may meet with as good luck as my brother," said he to himself.

Upon reaching the Crystal Mountain he found the twelve seated round the fire as before, and thus addressed them: "I beg of you, good people, to let me warm myself, for it is bitterly cold, and I am poor and homeless."

But one of them replied, "My son, the hour of thy birth was favourable; thou art rich, but a miser; thou art wicked, for thou hast dared to lie to us. Well dost thou deserve thy punishment."

Amazed and terrified he stood silent, not daring to speak. Meanwhile the twelve changed places one after another, each at last returning to his own seat.

Then from the midst of the flames arose the white-bearded old man and spoke thus sternly to the rich man: "Woe unto the wilful! Thy brother is virtuous, therefore have I blessed him. As for thee, thou art wicked, and so shall not escape our vengeance."

At these words the twelve arose. The first seized the unfortunate man, struck him, and passed him on to the second; the second also struck him and passed him on to the third; and so did they all in their turn, until he was given up to the old man, who disappeared with him into the fire.

Days, weeks, months went by, but the rich man never returned, and none knew what had become of him. I think, between you and me, the younger brother had his suspicions but he very wisely kept them to himself.

Dummburg Castle


With dread the wanderer approaches the ruins of the Dummburg. Terror seizes him if night overtakes him in its vicinity; for when the sun goes down and he treads on the site of the castle, he hears from beneath hollow moans and the clank of chains. At midnight he sees in the moonlight the spectres of knights of former days, who ruled the land with an iron sceptre. In solemn procession twelve tall white figures rise from amid the rocky fragments, bearing a large open coffin, which they place on the top of the hill, and then vanish. The skulls also move about, that lie scattered under the rock.

For many years the Dummburg was the abode of robbers, who slew the passing travellers and merchants, whom they perceived on the road from Leipsig [Leipzig] to Brunswick [Braunschweig], and heaped together the treasures of the plundered churches and the surrounding country, which they concealed in subterranean caverns. Deep wells were choked up with their murdered victims; and in the frightful castle-dungeon, many miserable beings perished by the slower death of hunger.

Long did this lurking-place of banditti continue undiscovered. At length the vengeance of the confederated princes reached them. The hoards of gold, silver, and precious stones still remain piled up in the ruined cellars and vaults of the Dummburg; but it is seldom granted to the wanderer to find the doors, even if here and there he may discover ruined entrances. Spectres in the form of monks, and also living monks, are often seen descending into the rock.

A poor wood-cutter, who was about to fell a beech at the back of the scattered ruins, seeing a monk approach slowly through the forest, hid himself behind a tree. The monk passed by, and went among the rocks. The wood-cutter stole cautiously after him, and saw that he stopped at a small door, which had never been discovered by any of the villagers.

The monk knocked gently and cried: "Little door, open!" -- and the door sprang open.

"Little door, shut!" he also heard him cry, and the door was closed.

Trembling in every limb, the wood-cutter marked the crooked path with twigs and heaps of stones. But from that time he could neither eat nor drink, nor sleep, so anxious was he to know what was contained in the cellars to which this wonderful door gave entrance.

The following Saturday evening he fasted, and on the Sunday, rising with the sun, he took his rosary and proceeded to the rock. He now stood before the door, and his teeth chattered with fear, as he expected to see a spectre in the form of a monk -- but no spectre appeared. Trembling he approached the door; he listened long and heard nothing.

In the anxiety of his heart he prayed to all the saints and to the Virgin, and then, without reflecting, tapped on the door, at the same time saying in a low tremulous voice: "Little door, open!" and the door opened, when he saw before him a narrow dim passage. He entered tottering, and found that it led into a spacious and rather light vault.

"Little door, shut!" said he, almost unconsciously, and the door closed behind him.

With fear he now walked forward, and found large open vessels and sacks full of old dollars and fine guilders, together with heavy gold pieces. Here were also many beautiful caskets filled with jewels and pearls, costly shrines, and decorated images of saints, which lay about or stood on tables of silver in the corners of the vault. The wood-cutter crossed himself, and wished himself a thousand miles from the enchanted spot, yet could not withstand the desire of taking some of the useless treasures, to enable him to clothe his wife and eight children more comfortably, as they had long been in rags.

Shuddering, and with averted eyes, he stretched out his hand towards the sack that stood nearest to him, and took out a few guilders. Feeling now somewhat more composed, with less tremor and half closing his eyes he then took a few dollars, also a handful or two of the small copper coins, and again crossing himself, tottered back to the door.

"Come again!" cried a hollow voice from the depth of the vault.

As everything about him seemed to whirl round, he could scarcely stammer out: "Little door, open!"

The door sprang open. In a livelier and louder voice he now cried out: "Little door, shut!" and it closed behind him.

He ran home with the utmost speed, but uttered not a syllable about the treasures he had found; then went into the conventual church and offered up, for the church and for the poor, two-tenths of all that he had taken in the vault. The next day he went to the town, and bought some clothes for his wife and children. He had, he said, found an old dollar and a few guilders under the roots of the beech that he had felled.

The following Sunday he went with firmer steps to the door in the rock, did as he had done the first time, and supplied himself better than on the former occasion; still with moderation and discretion.

"Come again!" cried the same hollow voice.

And he went on the third Sunday, and filled his pockets as before. He was now in his own estimation a rich man, but what could he do with his riches? He gave to the church and to the poor two-tenths of all he had, the rest he resolved to bury in his cellar, and from time to time fetch some as he required it. Yet he could not resist the desire first to measure his money; for as to counting it, that was an art he had never learned.

He accordingly went to his neighbour, a very rich man, but who starved himself in the midst of his wealth. He hoarded up corn, deprived the labourer of his hire, extorted from the widow and orphan, and lent money on pledges. He had no children. From this man the wood-cutter borrowed a measure, measured his money, buried it, and returned the measure to its owner.

The measure had some long cracks in it, through which the corn-dealer, when selling to the poor labourer, always shook some grains back to his own heap. In one of these cracks two or three of the small copper coins had lodged, which the wood-cutter, in throwing out the money, had not observed. But they did not so easily escape the vulture-eyes of his rich neighbour. He went in search of the wood-cutter, and asked him what he had been measuring.

"Pine-cones and beans," answered he confusedly. The usurer shook his head, and showed him the copper coins, threatened him with the law, the torture, and, lastly, promised to give him all he could possibly wish for, if he would tell him the truth. Thus he extorted the secret out of the poor man, and learned from him the powerful words.

The whole week the rich usurer employed in forming plans how he might at once get possession of all the treasures in the vault, as well as of those he thought might be concealed in the neighbouring vaults, or buried under the earth. He reckoned beforehand, that if he could get together all this money, he could by degrees, either purchase at a cheap rate from his neighbours, or extort from them. by false accusations and false witnesses, one acre and one hide of land after another, and thus make himself lord of the whole village, and, perhaps, of several of the neighbouring villages; then get ennobled by the emperor; and, as a robber-knight, lay the country around under contribution.

It did not please the wood-cutter that his evil-disposed neighbour should visit the castle-vaults. He prayed him to desist from his purpose, and represented to him the fate of many luckless treasure-seekers. But who ever held back a miser from an open sack of gold?

By threats and entreaties the wood-cutter was at length prevailed on to accompany him to the door; he was only to receive the sacks, which the miser would himself drag out, and conceal them among the bushes. For this service he was to have the half of all the treasure, and the church a tenth; all the poor also in the village should be newly clothed. So spake the usurer.

In his heart he had resolved, when he no longer required his aid, to throw the wood-cutter headlong into a deep well which was near the castle, to give nothing to the poor, and to the church only a few copper coins.

The following Sunday the extortioner, accompanied by the wood-cutter, set off before sunrise to the Dummburg. On his shoulder he carried a sack, which contained three bushels, into which he put twenty smaller ones, and in his hand a spade and a large axe. The wood-cutter warned him most strongly against covetousness, but in vain; he recommended him to offer up prayers to the saints for protection, but he would not. Muttering and gnashing his teeth, he walked on.

They now arrived at the door. The wood-cutter, who did not feel very easy in the affair, but was held back by the fear of the torture, stood at some distance to receive the sacks.

"Little door, open!" cried the miser in a hurried tone, and trembling with eagerness. The door then opened, and he entered.

"Little door, shut!" cried he, and it closed after him.

No sooner was he in the vault and saw all the vessels and sacks full of gold, and caskets of precious stones and pearls, and shining money, than he devoured them all with his eyes; then with trembling hands pulled the twenty sacks out of the large one, and began filling them.

At this moment there came slowly from the depth of the vault a great black dog with fire-darting eyes, and laid himself on all the full sacks, and then on the money.

"Away with thee, miser!" cried the dog, grinning fiercely at him.

Trembling, the usurer fell to the ground, and crept on hands and knees to the door; but in his fear he forgot the words, "Little door, open," and continued calling out, "Little door, shut," and the door continued closed.

The wood-cutter waited long with beating heart; at length he approached the door. It seemed to him that he heard groans and moaning and the hollow howl of a dog, and then all was silent. He now heard the sound of the mass-bell at the convent, and counted his beads; then gently knocked at the door, saying: "Little door, open!"

The door opened, and there lay the bleeding body of his wicked neighbour stretched on his sacks; but the vessels of gold and silver, and diamonds and pearls, sank deeper and deeper before his eyes into the earth, till all had completely vanished.

Simeli Mountain


There were two brothers; one was rich, the other poor. However, the rich one gave nothing to the poor one, who barely made a living as a grain dealer. Things often went so badly for him that he had no bread for his wife and children.

One day he was pushing his cart through the forest when off to the side he saw a large bare mountain. He had never seen it before, so he stopped and looked at it with amazement. While he was standing there he saw twelve tall wild men approaching. Thinking that they were robbers, he pushed his cart into the thicket, climbed up a tree, and waited to see what would happen.

The twelve men went to the mountain and cried out, "Mount Semsi, Mount Semsi, open up." The barren mountain immediately separated down the middle. The twelve men walked into it, and as soon as they were inside it shut.

A little while later it opened again, and the men came out carrying heavy sacks on their backs. As soon as they were all back in the daylight they said, "Mount Semsi, Mount Semsi, close." Then the mountain went back together, and the entrance could no longer be seen. Then the twelve men went away.

When they were completely out of sight, the poor man climbed down from the tree. He was curious to know what secret was hidden in the mountain, so he went up to it and said, "Mount Semsi, Mount Semsi, open up," and the mountain opened up for him as well.

He went inside, and the entire mountain was a cavern full of silver and gold, and in the back of the cavern there lay great piles of pearls and sparkling jewels, piled up like grain. The poor man did not know what he should do, whether or not he could take any of these treasures for himself. At last he filled his pockets with gold, but he left the pearls and precious stones lying where they were.

Upon leaving he too said, "Mount Semsi, Mount Semsi, close," and the mountain closed. Then he went home with his cart.

He no longer had any cares, for with his gold he could buy bread for his wife and children, and wine as well. He lived happily and honestly, gave to the poor, and did good for everyone. When he ran out of money he went to his brother, borrowed a bushel, and got some more money, but did not touch any of the very valuable things. When he wanted to get some more money for the third time he again borrowed the bushel from his brother. However, the rich man had long been envious of his brother's wealth and of the fine household that he had furnished for himself. He could not understand where the riches came from, and what his brother wanted with the bushel. Then he thought of a trap. He covered the bottom of the bushel with pitch, and when he got the bushel back a gold coin was sticking to it.

He at once went to his brother and asked him, "What have you been measuring in the bushel?"

"Wheat and barley," said the poor brother.

Then he showed him the gold coin and threatened that if he did not tell the truth he would bring charges against him before the court. Then the poor man then told him everything that had happened to him. The rich man immediately had his wagon hitched up and drove away, intending to do better than his brother had done, and to bring back with him quite different treasures.

When he came to the mountain he cried out, "Mount Semsi, Mount Semsi, open up."

The mountain opened, and he went inside. There lay the riches all before him, and for a long time he did not know what he should take hold of first. Finally took as many precious stones as he could carry. He wanted to carry his load outside, but as his heart and soul were entirely occupied with the treasures, he had forgotten the name of the mountain, and cried out, "Mount Simeli, Mount Simeli, open up."

But that was not the right name, and the mountain did not move, remaining closed instead. He became frightened, and the longer he thought about it the more he became confused, and all of the treasures were of no use to him.

In the evening the mountain opened up, and the twelve robbers came inside. When they saw him they laughed and cried out, "Bird, we have you at last. Did you think we did not notice that you came here twice? We could not catch you then, this third time you shall not get out again."

He cried out, "I wasn't the one. It was my brother!"

But however much he begged for his life, and in spite of everything that he said, they cut off his head.

Open Simson!


Once upon a time there were seven robbers who lived inside a mountain, and with them there was an enchanted prince who had to do all the lowest work. He had to carry wood, fetch coal, and tend the fire, and everything that a kitchen-maid ordinarily would do. The robbers called him "Hans Dunsele."

One day the robbers brought into the mountain a princess whom they had abducted. Once while she was silently sitting in a corner she heard the enchanted prince singing to himself at his work:

If only the queen knew
That I am called Hans Dunsele!
One day as the robbers were leaving, the princess hid herself and heard one of them call out: "Open Simson!"

Then the mountain opened up, they went out, and the mountain closed itself again.

She immediately told this to the prince, and the two of them decided to escape. They made preparations, and one day when the robbers were away, the princess said, "Open Simson!"

The mountain opened up, and they could freely leave. They went far, far into the woods, which became thicker and thicker, until they could no longer find a pathway.

Then the prince uttered the saying that he had so often sung to himself:

If only the queen knew
That I am called Hans Dunsele!
Now the queen, his mother, had set forth in search of her enchanted son, and she just happened to be nearby while he was singing, and thus she learned the name that he had had with the robbers.

She called out loudly and cheerfully: "Hans Dunsele!"

With that the spell was broken; the woods thinned out, and they found the pathway homeward.

Afterward he married the princess who had helped him escape from the mountain and had fled together with him, and he lived happily with her until he died.

Ali Baba and Kissem


Ali Baba was the brother of Kissem, but Ali Baba was a poor man and Kissem was a rich man. Ali Baba had two donkeys and an ox, -- all his living.

Ali Baba was cutting wood one day, he heard a company of horse coming afar. Took his donkeys and hid them in the bush, hid himself in a tree. Forty men were coming on; the head man came right to the cave where he was. Name of the cave was "Sesame." This cave was shut, would open by the word "Open, Sesame." And they brought forty bags of gold an' put in. Shut without word. Ali Baba saw them from the tree-top.

When gone, Ali Baba came down to the cave, said, "Open, Sesame, open!"

Ali Baba took all the money he could, loaded it on the donkey. Must measure the money, but didn't have any measure.

Brother said, "What Ali Baba got to measure?"

Took stuck the measure. Ali Baba measure, measure, measure, measure thousands of dollars. One piece stuck on the bottom.

Brother aska; Ali Baba tells all about it, teaches brother, "Open, Sesame, open."

Next day, Kissem took wagon, oxen, servants, went to the place, said, "Open, Sesame, open!"

When he went inside, cave shut. When he went on, saw all the money, he forgot the word, said, "Open, kem! Open, wem! Open, rim! Open, sim!"

Forgot that word entirely, can't get out. The men came back; "Open, Sesame, open!" Find Kissem. "How came you here?" No answer. Cut Kissem up in five pieces, hung them up in the cave.

Kissem's wife went to Ali Baba, said, "Kissem no come here yet!"

Ali Baba went next day to the place. "Open, Sesame, open!" Finds the five pieces, takes them down, gets a cobbler to sew the five pieces up into a body. Robber comes back, finds body gone. Who took away that body, signifies some one knows the place; must find out who that is. Goes about town, finds a cobbler who said he joined five pieces into a body. Cobbler shows the house. He gets jars, puts a robber in each jar; one jar has oil.

Takes the jars to Ali Baba, says will he buy oil. Ali Baba says yes.

He makes sport for the great governor. Ali Baba had a maid by the name of Margiana, and she was very wittified, -- discovered the whole thing, but she didn't say anything. She danced so well, danced up to the governor to give her something. He put his hand in his pocket to get her something; Margiana get one dagger, killed the governor dead. Margiana got the oil red-hot, poured into all the jars that got men.

Ali Baba said, "Well, Margiana, you saved my life and you shall have my son and as much money as you want, and as much money as will put you in heaven!"

How Black Snake Caught the Wolf


"One time," said Uncle Remus, putting the "noses" of the chunks together with his cane, so as to make a light in his cabin:
Brer Rabbit en ole Brer Wolf wuz gwine down de road terge'er, en Brer Wolf, he 'low dat times wuz mighty hard en money skace. Brer Rabbit, he 'gree 'long wid 'im, he did, dat times wuz mighty tight, en he up en say dat 't wuz in about much ez he kin do fer ter make bofe en's meet.

He 'low, he did: "Brer Wolf, you er gittin' mighty ga'nt, en't won't be so mighty long 'fo' we'll hatten be tuck up en put in de po'-house. Wat make dis?" says Brer Rabbit, sezee: "I be bless ef I kin tell, kaze yer er all de creeturs gittin' ga'nt w'iles all de reptules is a-gittin' seal fat. No longer'n yistiddy, I wuz comin' along throo de woods, w'en who should I meet but ole Brer Snake, en he wuz dat put dat he ain't kin skacely pull he tail 'long atter he head. I 'low ter mese'f, I did, dat dish yer country gittin' in a mighty bad way w'en de creeturs is got ter go 'roun' wid der ribs growin' terge'er w'iles de reptules layin' up in de sun des nat' ally fattenin' on der own laziness. Yessar, dat w'at I 'lowed."

Brer Wolf, he say, he did, dat if de reptules wuz gittin' de 'vantage er de creeturs dat away, dat hit wuz 'bout time fer ter clean out de reptules er leaf de country, en he 'low, fuddermo', dat he wuz ready fur ter jine in wid de patter-rollers en drive um out.

But Brer Rabbit, he 'low, he did, dat de bes' way fer ter git 'long wuz ter fin' out whar'bouts de reptules hed der smoke-'house en go in dar en git some er de vittles w'at by good rights b'long'd ter de creeturs.

Brer Wolf say maybe dis de bes' way, kaze ef de reptules git word dat de patter-rollers is a-comin' dey'll take en hide de ginger-cakes, en der simmon beer, en der w'atzisnames, so dat de creeturs can't git um. By dis time dey come ter de forks er de road, en Brer Rabbit he went one way, en Brer Wolf he went de yuther.

Uncle Remus went on, with increasing gravity:
Whar Brer Wolf went, de goodness knows, but Brer Rabbit, he went on down de road todes he own house, en w'iles he wuz lippitin' long, nibblin' a bite yer en a bite dar, he year a mighty kuse fuss in de woods. He lay low, Brer Rabbit did, en lissen. He look sharp, he did, en bimeby he ketch a glimp' er ole Mr. Black Snake gwine 'long thoo de grass. Brer Rabbit, he lay low en watch 'im. Mr. Black Snake crope 'long, he did, des like he wuz greased.

Brer Rabbit say ter hisse'f: "Hi! dar goes one er de reptules, en ez she slips she slides 'long."

Yit, still he lay low en watch. Mr. Black Snake crope 'long, he did, en bimeby he come whar dey wuz a great big poplar-tree. Brer Rabbit, he crope on his belly en follow 'long atter.

Mr. Black Snake tuck 'n circle all 'roun' de tree, en den he stop en sing out:

Watsilla, watsilla,
Consario wo!
Watsilla, watsilla,
Consario wo!
En den, mos' 'fo' Brer Rabbit kin wink he eye, a door w'at wuz in de tree flew'd open, en Mr. Black Snake tuck 'n crawl in.

Brer Rabbit 'low, he did: "Ah-yi! Dar whar you stay! Dar whar you keeps yo' simmon beer! Dar whar you hides yo' backbone en spar' ribs. Ah-yi!"

W'en Mr. Black Snake went in de house, Brer Rabbit crope up, he did, en lissen fer ter see w'at he kin year gwine on in dar. But he ain't year nothin'. Bimeby, w'iles he settin' 'roun' dar, he year de same song:

Watsilla, watsilla,
Consario wo!
Watsilla, watsilla,
Consario wo!
En mos' 'fo' Brer Rabbit kin hide in de weeds, de door hit flew'd open, en out Mr. Black Snake slid. He slid out, he did, en slid off, en atter he git out er sight, Brer Rabbit, he tuck 'n went back ter de poplar-tree fer ter see ef he kin git in dar. He hunt 'roun' en he hunt 'roun', en yit ain't fin' no door.

Den he sat up on he behin' legs, ole Brer Rabbit did, en low: "Hey! w'at kinder contrapshun dish yer? I seed a door dar des now, but dey ain't no door dar now."

Ole Brer Rabbit scratch he head, he did, en bimeby hit come inter he min' dat maybe de song got sump'n 'n'er ter do wid it, en wid dat he chuned up, he did, en sing:

Watsilla, watsilla,
Bandario, wo-haw!
Time he say fus' part, de door sorter open, but w'en he say de las' part hit slammed shet ag'in. Den he chune up some mo':
Watsilla, watsilla,
Bandario, wo-haw!
Time he say de fus' part de door open little ways, but time he say de las' part hit slammed shet ag'in.

Den Brer Rabbit 'low he 'd hang 'roun' dar en fin' out w'at kind er hinges dat er door wuz a-swingin' on. So he stays 'roun' dar, he did, twel bimeby Mr. Black Snake came 'long back. Brer Rabbit crope up, he did, en he year 'im sing de song:

Watsilla, watsilla,
Consario wo!
Watsilla, watsilla,
Consario wo!
Den de door open, en Mr. Black Snake, he slid in, en Brer Rabbit, he lipped off in de bushes en sung de song by hisse'f. Den he went home en tuck some res', en nex' day he went back; en w'en Mr. Black Snake come out en went off, Brer Rabbit, he tuck 'n sing de song, en de door flewed open, en in he went. He went in, he did, en w'en he got in dar, he fin' lots er goodies. He fin' cakes en sausages, en all sort er nice doin's. Den he come out, en de nex' day he went he tole Ole Brer Wolf, en Brer Wolf, he 'low dat, bein' ez times is hard, he b'lieve he 'll go 'long en sample some er Mr. Black Snake's doin's.

Dey went, dey did, en soon ez dey fin' dat Mr. Black Snake is gone, Brer Rabbit he sing de song, en de door open, en in he went. He went in dar, he did, en he gobbled up his belly ful, en w'iles he doin' dis Brer Wolf he gallop 'roun' en 'roun', tryin' fer ter git in. But de door done slam shet, en Brer Wolf ain't know de song. Bimeby Brer Rabbit he come out, he did, lickin' he chops en wipin' he mustash, en Brer Wolf ax 'im w'at de name er goodness is de reason he ain't let 'im go in 'long wid 'im.

Brer Rabbit, he vow, he did, dat he 'spected any gump 'ud know dat somebody got ter stay outside en watch w'iles de yuther one wuz on de inside. Brer Wolf say he ain't thunk er dat, en den he ax Brer Rabbit fer ter let 'im in, en please be so good ez ter stay out dar en watch w'iles he git some er de goodies.

Wid dat Brer Rabbit, he sung de song:

Watsilla, watsilla,
Consario wo!
Watsilla, watsilla,
Consario wo!
He sung de song, he did, en de door flew'd open, en Brer Wolf he lipt in, en gun ter gobble up de goodies. Brer Rabbit, he stayed outside, en make like he gwine ter watch. Brer Wolf, he e't en e't, en he keep on a-eatin'. Brer Rabbit, he tuck en stan' off in de bushes, en bimeby he year Mr. Black Snake a-slidin' thoo de grass. Brer Rabbit, he ain't say nothin'. He 'low ter hisse'f, he did, dat he was dar ter watch, en dat w'at he gwine ter do ef de good Lord spar' 'im. So he set dar en watch, en Mr. Black Snake, he come a-slidin' up ter de house en sing de song, en den de door flew'd open en in he went.
Watsilla, watsilla,
Consario wo!
Watsilla, watsilla,
Consario wo!
Brer Rabbit set dar en watch so hard, he did, dat it look like he eyes gwine to pop out. 'T want long 'fo' he year sump'n 'n'er like a scuffle gwine on in de poplar-tree, en, fus' news you know, Brer Wolf come tumberlin' out. He come tumberlin' out, he did, en down he fell, kaze Mr. Black Snake got 'im tie hard en fas' so he ain't kin run.

Den, atter so long a time, Mr. Black Snake tuck 'n tie Brer Wolf up ter a lim', en dar dat creetur swung 'twixt de hevin en de yeth. He swung en swayed, en eve'y time he swung Mr. Black Snake tuck 'n lash 'im wid he tail, en eve'y time he lash 'im Brer Rabbit holler out, he did: "'Sarve 'im right! sarve 'im right!"

"En I let you know," said the old man, refilling his pipe, "dat w'en Mr. Black Snake git thoo wid dat creetur, he ain't want no mo' goodies."

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

Revised January 27, 2022.