The Snow Child

foltales of type 1362
and related stories about questionable paternity
translated and/or edited by

D. L. Ashliman

© 2010-16


  1. The Snow Child (Europe).

  2. Link to Modus Liebinc, in Latin, the oldest European version of the "Snow Child" story, from a tenth-century manuscript. Opens in a new window.

  3. The Child of Snow (France, Les cent nouvelles nouvelles).

  4. The Ice Child (Germany, Johannes Pauli).

  5. Link to Der Eyszapf, in German, by the Meistersinger Hans Sachs (1494-1576). Opens in a new window.

  6. The Snow Child (England, Thomas North).

  7. A Poor Mariner of Gaeta (Italy, Poggio Bracciolini).

  8. A Twelve-Month Child (Italy, Poggio Bracciolini).

  9. Ten Cradles (England, John Taylor).

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

The Snow Child


A merchant lived with his wife in their cottage by the shore. Their's was not an easy life, for his voyages kept him away from home many months at a time. One homecoming following a particularly long and arduous voyage, the merchant was greeted by his wife and an infant child. He was surprised, but not especially pleased, to see the newborn baby, as he had been at sea for nearly a year.

The wife countered the husband's inquiring look with an explanation.

"No, it is not your son," she admitted. "It's a miracle boy, a Snow Child!" She continued, "One winter's day while returning home from church I slipped on the ice and fell into a snow bank. Nine months later I gave birth to our Snow Child. Is he not a wonder!"

The husband had to admit that the child was a wonder, for he had no color. His hair and his skin were a bleached white. The merchant seemed to accept the new family member.

Many voyages and seasons later, it was on a hot summer's day, the merchant, announced to his wife that he would be going to market in the next village. "I'll take the Snow Child along for an outing," he said.

The merchant arrived back home that evening, but he was alone.

"Where is our son?" asked the anxious mother.

"Something terrible happened," responded the husband. "We were walking across a broad meadow in the hot sun, and he ...," the husband faltered. "And he melted."

The Child of Snow

France, Les cent nouvelles nouvelles

Of an English merchant whose wife had a child in his absence, and told him that it was his; and how he cleverly got rid of the child -- for his wife having asserted that it was born of the snow, he declared it had been melted by the sun.
Moved by a strong desire to see and know foreign countries, and to meet with adventures, a worthy and rich merchant of London left his fair and good wife, his children, relations, friends, estates, and the greater part of his possessions, and quitted the kingdom, well furnished with money and great abundance of merchandise, such as England can supply to foreign countries, and with many other things which, for the sake of brevity, I do not mention here.

On this first voyage, the good merchant wandered about for a space of five years, during which time his good wife looked after his property, disposed of much merchandise profitably, and managed so well that her husband, when he returned at the end of five years, greatly praised her, and loved her more than ever.

The merchant, not content with the many strange and wonderful things he had seen, or with the large fortune he had made, four or five months after his return, again set forth in quest of adventures in foreign lands, both Christian and pagan, and stayed there so long that ten years passed before his wife again saw him, but he often wrote to her, that she might know that he was still alive.

She was young and lusty, and wanted not any of the goods that God could give, except the presence of her husband. His long absence constrained her to provide herself with a lover, by whom shortly she had a fine boy.

This son was nourished and brought up with the others, his half-brothers, and, when the merchant returned, was about seven years old.

Great were the rejoicings between husband and wife when he came back, and whilst they were conversing pleasantly, the good woman, at the demand of her husband, caused to be brought all their children, not omitting the one who had been born during the absence of him whose name she bore.

The worthy merchant seeing all these children, and remembering perfectly how many there should be, found one over and above; at which he was much astonished and surprised, and he inquired of his wife who was this fair son, the youngest of their children?

"Who is he?" said she; "On my word, husband, he is our son! Who else should he be?"

"I do not know," he replied, "but, as I have never seen him before, is it strange that I should ask?"

"No, by St. John," said she; "but he is our son."

"How can that be?" said her husband. "You were not pregnant when I left."

"Truly I was not, so far as I know," she replied, "but I can swear that the child is yours, and that no other man but you has ever lain with me."

"I never said so," he answered, "but, at any rate, it is ten years since I left, and this child does not appear more than seven. How then can it be mine? Did you carry him longer than you did the others?"

"By my oath, I know not!" she said; "but what I tell you is true. Whether I carried it longer than the others I know not, and if you did not make it before you left, I do not know how it could have come, unless it was that, not long after your departure, I was one day in our garden, when suddenly there came upon me a longing and desire to eat a leaf of sorrel, which at that time was thickly covered with snow. I chose a large and fine leaf, as I thought, and ate it, but it was only a white and hard piece of snow. And no sooner had I eaten it than I felt myself to be in the same condition as I was before each of my other children was born. In fact, a certain time afterwards, I bore you this fair son."

The merchant saw at once that he was being fooled, but he pretended to believe the story his wife had told him, and replied;

"My dear, though what you tell me is hardly possible, and has never happened to anyone else, let God be praised for what He has sent us. If He has given us a child by a miracle, or by some secret method of which we are ignorant, He has not forgotten to provide us with the wherewithal to keep it."

When the good woman saw that her husband was willing to believe the tale she told him, she was greatly pleased. The merchant, who was both wise and prudent, stayed at home the next ten years, without making any other voyages, and in all that time breathed not a word to his wife to make her suspect he knew aught of her doings, so virtuous and patient was he.

But he was not yet tired of travelling, and wished to begin again. He told his wife, who was very dissatisfied thereat.

"Be at ease," he said, "and, if God and St. George so will, I will return shortly. And as our son, who was born during my last voyage, is now grown up, and capable of seeing and learning, I will, if it seem good to you, take him with me."

"On my word", said she "I hope you will, and you will do well."

"It shall be done," he said, and thereupon he started, and took with him the young man, of whom he was not the father, and for whom he felt no affection.

They had a good wind, and came to the port of Alexandria, where the good merchant sold the greater part of his merchandise very well. But he was not so foolish as to keep at his charge a child his wife had had by some other man, and who, after his death, would inherit like the other children, so he sold the youth as a slave, for good money paid down, and as the lad was young and strong, nearly a hundred ducats was paid for him.

When this was done, the merchant returned to London, safe and sound, thank God. And it need not be told how pleased his wife was to see him in good health, but when she saw her son was not there, she knew not what to think.

She could not conceal her feelings, and asked her husband what had become of their son?

"Ah, my dear," said he, "I will not conceal from you that a great misfortune has befallen him."

"Alas, what?" she asked. "Is he drowned?"

"No; but the truth is that the wind and waves wafted us to a country that was so hot that we nearly died from the great heat of the sun. And one day when we had all left the ship, in order that we each might dig a hole in which to shield ourselves from the heat, -- our dear son, who, as you know was made of snow, began to melt in the sun, and in our presence was turned into water, and ere you could have said one of the seven psalms, there was nothing left of him. Thus strangely did he come into the world, and thus suddenly did he leave it. I both was, and am, greatly vexed, and not one of all the marvels I have ever seen astonished me so greatly."

"Well!" said she. "Since it has pleased God to give and to take away, His name be praised."

As to whether she suspected anything or not, the history is silent and makes no mention, but perhaps she learned that her husband was not to be hoodwinked.

The Ice Child

Germany, Johannes Pauli

In Venice there was a merchant whose journeys kept him away from home for one or three years at a time. Once upon returning he found a good-looking boy running around in his house.

The man asked, "Whose good-looking boy is this?"

His wife said, "Husband, he is mine. Let me tell you how I came to have this child. In the winter I was walking in the garden, thinking about you with longing. Just then a ice cycle fell from the roof. I ate it, and the child grew out of it. As a sign of this, his name is Glacies."

The good man said nothing, not wanting to make to much of the situation, for if a man scolds his wife, he is only scolding himself. Furthermore, he thought, if you had been with her, this probably would not have happened. Just as you have broken foreign jugs while abroad, she has broken some pots here at home.

Glacies grew up and became large.

One day the man said to his wife, "What do you think if I took our Glacies with me, so he could learn the art of buying and selling, so in the future he will know whether or not he wants to become a merchant."

His wife said, "But you must take care of him."

The man took him along, and sold him overseas.

A long time later he returned home, but did not bring the child with him.

The woman said, "What have you done with our child Glacies?"

The man said, "A strange thing happened to him. One day while we were sailing on the sea it was terribly hot. I told him not to sit there bare-headed, but he did so anyway. The sun was so hot on hi head that he melted and ran into the sea. Just as he came from water, he became water once again.

The Snow Child

England, Thomas North

In Terra Stolida, in a place called Vallona, it is reported there dwelled a rich farmer, whose substance lay most in great cattle; and at certain times he drove them into other countries to pasture, where he abode with them many months.

His wife, that remained at home, was good and square, and plumb of body, her brawn as hard as a board, and that had her face before her as other women; so that a great rich man also of that country cast his eyes upon her, and entertained her in that time of vacation. And she that delighted not to be kept at the rack and manger, suffered her receipt to run at large, to fare more daintily. In so much as at the last (sinning in gluttony) her breasts grew big, and her belly rose, so when time came, she brought forth a goodly babe, which she carefully put forth to nurse and thus it grew; and in fine as her own in deed she brought it home and fostered it.

Her husband being come home that had been long absent, glad to see his wife and she (in seeming also) no less glad of his coming, (but Lord, what feast and joy in outward show between them) they sweetly kissed, and with loving words embraced each other.

"Oh my Conye, welcome," quoth she.

"Oh my dear Musse," said he, "gramercy to thee."

All wedlock ceremonies duly accomplished; her husband, casting his eyes about and seeing this fair little boy running about the house, "Musse," quoth he, "I pray thee whence is this little knave?"

"What knowest thou not, Conye," said she? "It is mine." (And this she told him as she that could cunningly handle him in his kind), and so followed on, preventing his tale: "Doest thou not remember that three years ago there fell a great snow. (Jesus, how cold it was), and at the same time I remember the ravens and crows fell down stark dead in the streets, and the little fish died in the wells. Oh what a cold it was, and I took it, in deed (God knoweth) with throwing of snowballs, the young maids of the country and I together; and I cannot tell how, I handled so many, but well I know, I came home fair with child, and I am sure it was no other but the snow, and that is seen by the boy, that is as fair and white as snow itself, and therefore I called his name White. And, because I know well enough ye men are of such metal, that even strait ye think all the evil of us poor women that can be, and for that I would not put any jealousy or toy in thy head, I sent him out of the doors to nurse, thinking afterwards at leisure, when thou hadst known thy good wife, to send for him, and so to have told thee even plainly from point to point how the matter went, and how I came by this good, pretty, sweet, fair, well-favored boy."

Her husband, though indeed he was but an ass and a dreamish fool, was not moved a whit at her ill-favored tale, nor once hung down his head for the matter, and made as though he believed her; but he knew strait the knavery of the foolish invention of his wife.

Howbeit what for the love he bare her (because she was worth the looking on ywis [for certain]), and for that he was but a rude fellow to behold, and thought himself scant worthy of her, and that he had married her, pining away for her sake; he thought it better to carry such things in his breast than in his head, and the rather peradventure because he doubted false measure, fearing his partner's ill will that farmed his ground at halves with him; in fine, he was contented to bite it in for the time, determining not to be at charges with other men's children.

So one day spying time and place, he carried out of the doors with him this little boy White; and such was his walk that the boy was never more heard of, nor seen after that. The woman looked and looked again to see her son return with her husband.

But seeing her husband come home without him, "Come," sayth she to him, "I pray thee, what hast thou done with my boy?"

Her husband that had bought his wit so dear, answered her: "A sweet Musse, the other day unadvisedly (I confess it) I carried him abroad with me, and we walked a great while in the sun together, and thou knowest how hot it was two days ago (alack that I should tell it thee); the heat of the sun hath quite dissolved him. And then I found thy words true which before I hardly believed. Alas, poor wretch, he suddenly turned all into water, that woe is me."

His Musse, hearing this, in a rage flung her away, and left Conye all alone, so he never after saw her.

A Poor Mariner of Gaeta

Italy, Poggio Bracciolini

The generality of the common people of Gaeta get their living on the sea. One of them, an extremely poor mariner, after wandering here and there to make a little money, came home after nearly five years absence; he had left behind a very young wife and a most humble stock of furniture. So soon as he had set foot on land, he rushed home to see his wife, who, in the interval, despairing of his re turn, had taken to living with another man. On crossing the threshold, he notices that his house has been partly put in good repair, beautified and enlarged; wondering, he enquires of his wife how it has come to pass that their cottage, formerly so ugly, has become tidy and neat.

"By the grace of God, who gives assistance to all men," replies the woman.

"God be blessed," quoth the man, "for such kindness conferred upon us!"

He next sees the bedroom, an elegant couch, and other furniture above his wife's condition, and again enquires where it all comes from.

"The grace of God," says she.

He returns anew thanks to the Lord for his great bounty. Other things meet his eyes, that are novel and unusual in his house; they also are the gift of God. He is at last feeling surprised at such favors lavished upon him, when a pretty little boy comes forward, more than three years old, who, infant-like, caresses his mother.

The husband looking at the child and inquiring whose it is, the wife answers it is hers. Amazed, he asks how he can have come by that offspring whilst away; his wife asserts that it is also by the grace of God.

Indignant at this superabundance of divine grace, which has gone the length of giving him heirs, "Indeed," says he, "I am under great obligations to God, who has taken such care of my interests!"

It seemed to him that God had been rather too considerate in providing him with children during his absence.

A Twelve-Month Child

Italy, Poggio Bracciolini

A woman's humorous answer to a man's enquiry whether his wife could be confined at the end of a twelve-month.

A Florentine, who had been abroad, came home after one year's absence, and found his wife in labor. He did not like it, suspecting some conjugal disloyalty. However, not being sure of the thing, he sought the advice of a neighbor, a clever gentlewoman, and asked her if a child could be born to him after twelve months.

The lady, seeing his silliness, at once comforted him: "To be sure," said she," for, if on the day she conceived, your wife happened to see a donkey, she will have borne a whole year, as asses do."

The husband took those words for gospel, and thanking God for having rid him of an ugly suspicion, and his wife of a grievous exposure, he acknowledged the child as his own.

Ten Cradles

England, John Taylor

A fellow, having been married but five weeks, perceived his wife to be great with child, wherefore she desired him to buy a cradle. Shortly after he went to a fair and bought ten cradles; and being demanded why he bought so many, he answered, that his wife would have use for them all in one year.

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Revised March 21, 2016.