Cor Hendriks – The Macaws (19): The Magic Horse ATU 531 (1)

The story of the stolen eyes can serve as the beginning of a new tale (ATU 531), in the German version ‘The Magic Horse’. A boy inherits from his father only a rusty sword, with which he sets out into the world. He comes in the service of an old, (almost) blind shepherd, who warns him for a certain forest, from which none of his comrades have ever returned. The boy sticks a while to this rule, but one day he goes, having faith in his sword, into the forest and soon he meets a three headed dragon, chops of the heads and takes them home, sticks them on the fence, telling the old man that they are goat heads. Despite another warning of the old man the boy goes the next day again to the forest, this time chopping of the heads of the six headed dragon, the day after that the heads of nine headed dragon and then of the twelve headed dragon; with these thirty heads the fence is full. The day after he goes even deeper in the forest and comes to the cabin of a very old woman, the Wood mother, who shows him the first room, where her youngest son is lying, the first dragon he killed. Thereafter she showed him the next three rooms with her other dragon sons and wants to push him in the fifth room. He strikes her to the ground, but is not able to wound her, how often he hits her. The old woman laughs jeering, but when he is getting tired and takes his sword in his other hand, she begs for mercy and tells him that under the roots of the tree behind the house there is a stone on which lies a toad he must use to rub the eyes of the shepherd three times and then smash it to pieces on his forehead; then he will see again. He decapitates the witch, digs up the toad from under the tree and cures the old man, whereby a little figure came out of the toad, that tells him that underneath the tree under the stone lies the treasure of the dragon-brothers. On the advice of the shepherd the boy leaves the treasure undisturbed and receives from him a magic horse that has eight legs, speaks and has great wisdom. It advises the boy on the way to pick up a copper, a silver and a golden feather. They come to a big city, where the boy is accepted by the king as stable boy. Because of his horse he is noticed during the hunt and the king favors him, also because he has given the king the three feathers. The other servants are jealous and whisper to the king that the boy can also deliver the three birds, and the king gives him three days (or else death). Miserably the boy goes to the stable, but the horse tells him to ask the king for a golden, silver and copper cage, which they take to the open field, where the boy summons all the birds of the world. At the end appear three late arrivals, all the way from the End of the World, where one has seen the copper dragon sung asleep by the copper bird, et cetera. They point the boy the way and he is there quick on his magic horse, beats the three dragons and captures the three birds. Now the king favors the boy even more and the jealous servants tell the king, that the boy has vaunted also to be able to bring the beautiful Sea-lady. Again the boy gets three days from the king and the promise of a marriage with the king’s sister and half the kingdom. The horse takes the boy with bread and wine to the beach, and he succeeds in capturing her with this bait. Against her will she is brought to the king, who wants to marry her immediately, but she demands to have her colt and mares; after that she wants the mares to be milked, after which the boy must bathe in the boiling milk; the horse blows the water lukewarm [he comes out much more beautiful]. The king also [wants to be rejuvenated] steps into the kettle and is burnt, after which the hero marries the king’s sister (while the Sea lady becomes the maid). [Zaunert 1964, 203-212 nº35.]

In most versions (of ATU 531) there is only one feather and the horse tells the boy not to pick it up, because he will regret it, sometimes adding that he will also be sorry if he doesn’t pick it up, so the boy picks it up, or picks it up anyway. In the Chilean version ‘The Clever Little Horse’, the golden feather is lying on the beach of the sea the hero has just crossed on his magic horse, called ‘the grey colt’. He gives it to the king, who then – whispered in his ear by an old woman – wants the golden bird. Distraught the boy comes to the horse (that has the repeated remark: ‘I told you so’, meaning he shouldn’t have picked up the feather), that takes him to the Green Mountain (the highest), exactly at 12 o’clock, when the snakes are asleep that guard the tree on which the bird is sitting. They steal the bird and flee, chased by the awakened snakes, who cannot keep up [as in the Bororo key myth]. Then the king (again on instigation of the old woman) wants the golden cage, that is in the same or comparable tree. And finally he has to bring the adducted daughter of the king and the seven mares from the other side of the sea (from the beginning of the story), but on the way the princess throws her ring in the sea. As reward the boy may marry the princess, but she wants her ring as wedding ring. The horse takes him to the middle of the sea to two rocks, changes himself into a seal and chases all the fish between the two rocks till the boy sees the fish that has swallowed the ring [Theseus and Minos’ ring; ring of Solomon, of Polycrates]. He brings it to the princess, who is in love with him, but now the king [the storyteller forgot he made an abducted daughter of the princess from the far away country: she is Medea as we will see] has fallen in love with her and wants to marry her himself and has the boy cuffed and thrown into an oven. As last request [which cannot be refused] the boy asks for a virginal bed sheet, that he soaks in the sweat of his horse and envelops round himself. Next morning the princess finds not his ashes but a beautiful boy and the king wants the same [rejuvenation, beautification] but the sweat of his horse doesn’t work and he burns, after which the wedding and the departure of the horse (an angel) [Pino-Saavedra 1974, 65-70].

In an Austrian version the boy sets out when he is 18 on a grey horse, sees something shining in the grass, a black [?] feather and the horse tells him to leave it. The boy looks the horse in the mouth and sees that it is an enchanted human, but still picks up the feather, whereupon the horse says: ‘Now you have to do what I say, but I must go where you go and eat what you eat.’ He goes with him into the inn. The innkeeper shouts: ‘This is not a horse-stable!’ But money changes his mind, and they eat roast, drink coffee, and go to sleep. The next day they arrive at a count, who takes Johannes as kitchen boy in his service. Once the boy vaunts to be able to do a better job as the old cook, whereupon the overhearing count orders him to prove it. Weeping he comes to the horse, who tells him what to do. Thereupon the count makes him chief cook, much to the sorrow of the old cook, who suggests to the count to make the boy supervisor of the newly bought estate. The boy rides with the cook to the estate and puts the feather on his hat. The cook notices the special shine and says to the count, that Johannes has said to be able to catch the bird. He is given three days, runs to the grey horse (‘I told you so!’), who tells him to get a birdcage of 40 by 20 cubit with 20 fathoms of silk ribbon and a trapdoor. The bird flies in it. Then the count dreams of a beautiful princess and the boy has to bring her within three days. The horse tells him to equip a ship, loaded with silk drapes; with it they abduct the princess, who when she notices it throws her game of checkers into the sea. On the way Johannes saves a soul and a fish who both promise to help. The princess only wants to marry with the count if she has her pleasure castle; again Johannes has three days and has to call the soul, as the horse says. The soul does it. Then she wants her game of checkers, which is brought by the fish. Finally Johannes has to bring the Waters of Life and of Youth. The horse says: ‘We have to go at 11 o’clock on a boat over the sea and before 12 be ready, because then the guards (lion and bear) of the Fountain are asleep.’ Hereafter the princess wants to test the Water and the count has in public his head chopped off. The princess asks the gathered princes if she will put it back. ‘No,’ they say, because they hope that she will marry one of them, but she takes Johannes. During the first toast at the wedding Johannes beheads on request the grey horse, and a human being appears [Haiding 1969, 185-187 nº166: ‘Johannes Ungeraten’, a name he received from his godfather, a stranger, his father met in the woods when he was out looking for a godfather. No connection is made between the godfather and the grey horse. Ungeraten means: gone astray -> degenerated; but here I think it means that the boy doesn’t want to listen to advice (Rat), specific the advice of not picking up the feather].

The Firebird and Princess Vasilisa (foto japaneseclass)
The Firebird and Princess Vasilisa (photo japaneseclass)

In the Russian version of ‘The Firebird and Princess Vasilisa’ a king has a huntsman with a valiant horse, who one day hunting in the woods sees on the broad path a golden feather of the Firebird, shining bright as a flame. The horse tells him not to pick it up for it will cause him trouble. But the youth thinks about the generous reward the king will give, and he brings it to the king, who then wants the firebird; if not, his head will fall. Weeping he goes to his horse (‘I told you so!’), who orders him to request from the king to have 100 measures of corn strewn on the open field, while the huntsman is waiting behind a tree until the firebird lands. With his hoof on a wing the horse holds the bird, so that the huntsman can bind it and bring it to the king, who promotes the huntsman to noble rank, and straightway charges him to bring him as bride Princess Vasilisa, who lives beyond the thrice ninth land at the very edge of the world, where the red sun goes up; if not, head off. Again the huntsman comes weeping to his horse, that says that the real trouble still has to come and orders him to ask the king for a tent of gold, food and drinks. Then they leave, ride much or little, arrive at the edge of the world, where the sun arises out of the blue sea and where Vasilisa is sailing in a silver boat rowed with golden oars. The huntsman pitches the golden tent and waits for Vasilisa to come. She spies the golden tent, sails to the shore, steps off her boat, and admires the tent. He invites her to taste his foreign wines, and as soon as she has drunk a glass of the wine, she falls asleep and is brought by the huntsman on his fast horse to the king, where Vasilisa awakes and starts to weep and grieve. The king wants to marry her, but she wants her wedding gown that is under a great stone in the middle of the deep blue sea. The huntsman has to bring it, goes weeping to his horse (et cetera), that brings him to the edge of the world and puts its hoof on a huge crab, who begs for his release and calls all the crabs together to get the wedding dress of Vasilisa from under the rock. When the huntsman arrives with it at the king, Vasilisa wants to marry the king only if he orders the huntsman to bathe in boiling water. The king has an iron cauldron filled with water and heated to the boiling point. The huntsman is brought and realizes that this is the trouble the horse has warned him for all along, has regrets about picking up the feather and not listening to the horse, and he asks if he may say farewell to his hors [a ‘last’ wish may never be refused]. The horse tells him not to fear, ‘charms’ him so the boiling water will not harm his white body [in other versions he is covered with the horse’s sweat!]. When he comes back from the stable, he is immediately seized and thrown into the cauldron. He ducks his head once or twice, jumps out of the cauldron and is turned into such a handsome man as no tale or pen can describe. When the king sees this, he too wants to bathe, plunges into the cauldron and is boiled on the spot. He is buried, and in his place the huntsman is enthroned, and marries Vasilisa [Bozoki 1978, 193-200 nº52: ‘L’oiseau de feu et la princesse Vassilissa’ (Afan. 169/103a) = Guterman 1975, 494-497 = Heemskerk 1964, 9-12; cf. Allan 1999b, 127-129, probably the same is the following picture].

Peter Ershoff - The Little Magic Horse, a Russian Tale (foto goodreads)
Peter Ershoff – The Little Magic Horse, a Russian Tale (foto goodreads)

In a another Russian version we see a familiar introduction: the grain harvest of a farmer is every night diminished by a mysterious thief and he sets his three sons to guard the field. A storm breaks out and the eldest run for cover, while the youngest catches the thief, a big white horse, that offers him her three young, two nice ones to sell and a little ugly one, that will bring him good luck, when he takes good care of it. In the morning his brothers turn out to be gone on the beautiful horses and the talking horse takes him to them and together they come into a town, where he gives the two horses to the king, who gives him a purse with money, that the boy gives to his brothers, while he himself is accepted in the service of the king as stable-boy. Then he finds the golden feather and soon the king discovers this and wants the bird. The horse takes him to the castle of the Moon princess, where the boy catches the bird. He gets a reward, but tells the other servants about the Moon princess; the king hears of her and wants her. Ivan is sent and takes on advice of the horse wonderful dishes from the palace with him and puts them along the way the princess takes every day on her walk. She sees the dishes, eats from them and Ivan jumps out and abducts her on his horse. The princess demands from the king her ring, that lies somewhere on the bottom of the sea, and the permission from her mother, the Moon. Again Ivan is sent, and is brought by the horse to the beach, where a whale lies in chains on command of the Moon and promises to do a good word for him. The Moon is easily convinced and Ivan may do a wish and asks for the release of the whale, the king of the sea. Moon has to keep her [rash] promise and the grateful whale sends out his subjects, who bring the ring to Ivan. Now the princess wants the king to rejuvenate himself and has three kettles set up, the first with boiling water with red powder, the second with boiling milk and white powder and the third with ice-cold water and yellow powder. The king doesn’t dare and says that the boy has to do it, and the boy jumps on his horse from kettle to kettle and comes out as a beautiful prince on a fierce warhorse. But when the king does the same thing, he dies miserably, after which Ivan is elected king and marries the Moon-princess [Marée I, nº4 (Het Wonderpaardje). The fact that the hero is called Ivan betrays that we have here a translation of a Russian fairytale. It is very close to a tale told by P. Jersjow, translated in Dutch by Theun de Vries, and called: ‘The hunchbacked little horse’ (P. Jersjow, Het Gebochelde Paardje, Moskou (1976?), 104 pp.)].

Another Russian version is ‘The Firebird and the Girl King’ from the collection of Afanassiev. An old childless couple adopts an orphan, who when he is grown is pressed by the villagers to leave his (foster) parents. Wandering around he meets an old man who gives him a bridle and sends him to a lake, where he has to climb in a tree and wait till 77 mares come drinking, grazing and resting; when they are gone a foal will come that he has to throw the bridle over the head. He does this and rides away on the foal, sees on the road something on a hill shining like fire; it turns out to be a shiny feather, that he wants to pick up, when the foal says: ‘Stop, brave fellow! Don’t take that feather, because it will bring you bad luck!’ He takes it anyway, comes in the service of a minister, does the work of 10 men, is noticed by the tsar, who praises him to the minister, who reveals that the boy has a shiny feather. The tsar has him show it and appoints the boy as his minister, much to the disagreement of the other ministers, who are together one day, when a drunk, who overhears their problems, advises them to go to the king with their noses on the ground and when he asks what is the matter to tell him that the young minister has vaunted to be able to catch the bird of the shiny feather. The tsar commands him to do that, whereupon the youth runs to his foal, falls on his knees before it, and the horse says (every time, except the last time: now the bad luck has come): ‘I told you so not to touch that feather if you don’t want bad luck. But come on, this is not bad luck, only half bad luck.’ And he orders him to ask the tsar for a cage that opens and closes by itself with in it two bowls with big and small pearls [as food for the bird!]. Then they go back to the tree [at the lake?] and catch the bird by putting the cage in the tree. Then the ministers whisper to the tsar that the young minister can bring him within three months the beautiful fiancée, whom he tries to marry already 33 years in vain. The horse advises to ask the tsar for a with red velvet draped sea-land-ship [see infra] full of gold, silver, and jewelry, with which they sail over sea and land to the kingdom of the Girl King. She is just busy preparing her wedding with a tsar and comes aboard to search out something and doesn’t notice that the ship sails away. But before she will marry she wants to have her suitcase, and the tsar sends the young minister, who is ordered by his horse to follow a footpath and not to eat anything. This way he spares the life of a lobster and of a pike lying in the sand, and both offer to serve him. Then he comes to a river and sees the lobster with a keychain, the pike with the suitcase, and brings these to the tsar. But now the princess wants her 77 mares. The foal tells the youth to have the tsar built stables with door that open and close by themselves, takes him to the tree and lures the mares with him, runs in the front of the stable and out the backdoor that closes behind him. Now the princess wants mare milk and the foal has the youth ask the tsar to make a cauldron for 77 buckets, after which the youth milks a bucket from each mare. Then the princess wants to have the milk boiled and dived into. The tsar gives the lead to the young minister, who is taken by the foal to the lake, where he makes a brew from the grass which the mares graze and smears himself with it [cf. the fireproof salve of Medea], jumps into the cauldron and comes out better than ever. When the king sees this, he also jumps into the milk and perishes. The princess declares that the youth is the one who fulfilled her tasks and wants to marry him, etc. [Gruel-apert 1988, 2, 52-55 nº76: ‘L’oiselle de feu et le Fille Roi’ (Afan. 170/103b)].

The Fire Bird (foto escuela4salto)
The Fire Bird (foto escuela4salto)

In a Jewish version from Greece, called ‘The Golden Feather’, the little horse says the boy to leave the feather where it is, but it is valuable and unique and the boy gives it to the king, who makes him commander of the palace guard, and the former commander whispers to the king, that the boy can also bring him the golden bird. The horse brings him (with a net) to a beautiful garden, where he catches the bird. The king promotes him to army commander and his predecessor whispers to the king that the bird needs a golden cage. The horse brings him – it looks like flying – to the same garden, where he takes a shabby cage that on the way changes into a golden one. Now he is made general and the former general points out to the king that the bird doesn’t sing. The king promises his daughter to the hero if he makes the bird sing. Again the horse takes him to the garden where he has to pluck two apples from the tree of life, and back in the palace he has to give one to the horse, that changes into an venerable rabbi (released from a spell), whom he, after he has let the bird sing, married the princess and become king, appoints to his first minister [Schwartz 1986, 115-124].

The boy was the youngest of the twelve sons of a rich man and this is also the case in a Norwegian version. While in the Greek the father has twelve colts from one mare, from which the boys may choose, so that the youngest has the ugliest, that turns after a clean-up into the most beautiful, the father in the Norwegian has twelve mares with each a colt, that the brothers leave all to the youngest. He notices that one of them is shinier and better looking than the others, and it tells him to kill the other colts. In the Chilean version the hero is in charge for a wealthy man over seven mares and seven colts. Before his departure the owner gives him a blanket: the colt that will roll on it he has to feed up for himself, and he must kill the other six. One of the colts is very beautiful, while the ‘roller’ is the most ugly and weakest, and the boy saves also the seven-colored colt, and therefore the weakest colt doesn’t get enough to eat and blames the hero afterwards repeatedly. In this case the boy does kill all the other colts, just like the two times twelve colts in the next two years, which makes the colt really formidable (also the Chilean colt is nourished for three years). On this horse the boy comes to the king, who hires him right away (as stable boy and groom) and favors him, whereupon the jealous fellow grooms tell the king that the boy claims to be able to bring back the long ago abducted daughter of the king. Despite his protests the boy is sent out and his colt wants to be equipped with shoes of twenty pounds of iron and twelve pounds of steel [cf. the stick of Strong Hans], on which the colt rides up the [glass] mountain, two times slips and tumbles down, but the third time reaches the top, whereupon they storm into the house of the troll, where the boy grabs the princess, and off they are, before the troll is able to get up. But the king, instigated by the jealous servants, doesn’t want him to marry his daughter and demands that he removes the mountain that obstructs his view [also in KHM 57: The Golden Bird]. The horse has to be shod again and stamps the mountain in the ground. The again incited king wants for the bride the same horse as the boy has [cf. ‘The Magic Horse’]. After this there are some hide and seek games [cf. ATU 329: Hiding from the Devil], that the boy all wins, and the king has to give him his daughter [Baars-Jelgersma 1944, 93-101].

In the Irish tale ‘The Bird of the Golden Land’ we can see all the types (ATU 301, 551 and 531) rolled into one sequence. First there is ATU 551: A bird comes to the castle of the king of Erin and sings the most beautiful songs; to determine who will be his successor the king wants his sons to bring him the bird. The three sons go together and come at the end of the day to a crossroad, but instead of splitting up they decide to seek a shelter and come to a house, where the woman knows who they are and what they are seeking. They spend the night there and in the morning there is an old man in the house, who offers to be their guide and tells the oldest to take up the hammer, the second to take the crib, and the third to take the rope, and to follow him. He takes them to a great rock, that the oldest has to hit with the hammer. A big piece falls off and a big hole is to be seen. They have to go down to reach the Golden Land (where the bird lives). As usual in ATU 301 the oldest brother wants to go first, but during the descent he gets terrified and wants to be pulled up, the same for the second brother. Only the youngest reaches the bottom and sees there a straight road, takes it and comes after quite a while to a castle, where he is received to his great surprise under his own name. She tells him that the journey is long (seven years) but she will give him a horse that will bring him within a day and a year back again (the time which the brothers will be waiting). He is sent to the stable to pick out the finest horse, takes an ugly, miserable mare that he washes and combs, and the woman congratulates him with his excellent choice. He drives away and after a while the horse starts to talk (sea episode; cf. infra: ‘Etana and the eagle’). They cross the seas and come to the castle of the king of the Golden Land, who has the bird. The boy can earn the bird by playing hide and seek with the king [ATU 329]. First the king hides three times, but the horse knows where and tells the boy what to do: the king has changed into an apple, a fork or an egg and he has to cut these through with his knife, and the king jumps out complaining about the cut in his head. Then it is the turn of the boy and the horse changes him into a flee, a bee and a hair in the whimper of the horse. The king cannot find him, but he is a sore loser, so the horse advises the prince to steal the bird when the king – and with him the whole palace – has fallen asleep (exhausted from the game). The bird though gives when he takes the cage a terrible scream, that awakens the whole palace, while they run away. Again they cross the sea with the three isles, and the prince must look back three times and say what he sees. The first time the army behind them is enormous and has the color white, the second time it is even bigger and colored red, the third time the army is even bigger still and colored black, but the horse says that they will escape. And they do (because they have reached a border and the army turns back). They come to the castle, from where he got the mare, and the woman tells him that the bird is the queen of three crowns, the mare of two and she of one. And all three become women and are hoisted up by the brothers. But the third one, the bird-woman, tells the hero to put a stone in the basket and when the brothers see the stone they cut the rope and the youngest is left behind. The brothers want to bring their father the bird and they ask the old man for advice, and he points to the magic stick the second princess has. With the stick they change the first princess into a bird and bring it to the king, but it doesn’t sing to the great disappointment of the king, whereupon they change the second princess into a bird, but with the same result. Meanwhile the third princess has changed herself back in her bird-form, flies up [with the rope], changes herself into a strong woman and pulls up the youngest prince. Together they go to the castle, where she changes into the bird of the Golden Land and with her song she brings the joy back to the king, who gives the crown to the youngest. On the request of the mother the eldest sons are forgiven and a triple marriage follows [Knipping 1947, 4-28].

In a version collected by Oestrup in Damas before 1897 the feather comes in a strange way to the hero. A merchant gives before his death his three sons each a chest, containing their inheritance, which they are not allowed to open before his death. So they wait till after the funeral (a year later) and then open the chests. The one of the oldest is the biggest but contains only stones and sand. The second contains wood, and the smallest contains gold. They decide that their father has not been impartial, fight, then put the case before the judge of Damas. The kadi says: ‘To the oldest, your father has given the gardens, to the second the revenue of the wood and to the third the box with gold.’ They abide by his decision, and the youngest buys a camel, goes to India, sets up a shop, and makes money. One day his oldest brother comes, asking him for money. The youngest is willing to give, and the brother wants the little box with the money from their father. The youngest brother gives him this, but during the counting of the money he finds a feather of jewels. The brother asks how he got this feather. ‘I found it in the box.’ The oldest brother says goodbye and goes straightaway to the king and tells him about the Syrian merchant with the feather of jewels. The king has the merchant brought to him and orders him to give him the feather, which he does. A while later the 2nd brother comes to the shop, also to ask for money, receives it and goes straightaway to the king and in fact orders him to ask the merchant about the bird. It is of course only a suggestion, but the king agrees, and has the merchant brought, who says he has found the feather in the box of his father and has no idea where the bird can be found. Still he has to bring it or the king will chop off his head. He asks for a respite of ten days, goes home, thinks about fleeing, and enters weeping the stable. ‘Why are you crying?’ asks his horse. The merchant is of course very surprised that the horse can talk. It will teach him how to acquire the bird if he promises afterwards to throw the horse into the sea. He promises and the horse sends him to the king to ask for a crystal steamboat that can make a 20 days’ journey in one day. The king, a member of the fire worshippers, has the boat built by his magicians, and it is loaded with a hundredweight of meal and a pound of opium powder. After five days they reach an island, where the merchant strews the meal mixed with the opium on the ground and waits in a tree for the bird to land and eat the meal. Then it jumps in the boat, followed by the pursuing princess, and falls asleep there. The Syrian climbs down, fires up the engines and leaves, and the girl starts to cry. In India he hands over the bird and the girl to the king, and the king finds her the most beautiful woman in the world and wants to draw up the marriage contract, but she wants the Syrian merchant to enter the bakery oven. The king remarks that he will die, but as she insists, he orders this the Syrian, who goes to his horse, that requires him to ride it down till it is thickly covered with sweat and then anoint himself with it from top till toe. He sits in the oven smoking a cigarette, and everyone is surprised. The princess thinks he is a clever man and wants him as her husband. So she request the same feat from the king who is reduced to ashes. Meanwhile the merchant has taken leave of his horse by throwing it into the sea. And the princess marries the Syrian and they become king and queen of India [Oestrup 1897, 72-81 nº6: ‘The youngest son of the merchant’].

To return to the motif of the feather, in a Flemish version of ATU 531 the hero, Hans, sets out on his little donkey after the death of his father. After a night in the forest, Hans sees a wonderful bird, tries to catch it, but the bird flies away, leaving a golden tail-feather on the ground. Hans goes to work on a farm and notices that the farmer [= the king] takes bad care of his horses. The donkey tells Hans to stroke them two times a day with the feather over their backs (and to stop grooming and mucking out the stable), and after a week they look radiant. The farmer is surprised and gives Hans another set of [neglected] horses that Hans also ‘improves’. The farmer wants to know his secret and has brought a big kettle with boiling water to throw in Hans, who asks [last request] to be able to say goodbye to his donkey, who says to him: ‘Beat me hard with a thick stick in order to have sweat streaming from my skin and bathe yourself with the sweat, then you won’t die and become beautiful.’ Hans follows reluctantly this instruction, goes back to the farmer, is thrown into the kettle, and comes out as beautiful as a king’s son. The farmer heats up the kettle further and Hans becomes even more beautiful. The farmer, who is terribly ugly, also wants to beautify himself, jumps in the kettle and is burnt to a crisp [Mont & Cock 1924, 301-312 = Jong & Sleutelaar 1985, 238-41. In the original story Hans marries the widow of the farmer, but collector De Mont, who heard the story at Wambeek, didn’t like this ending and changed it: The donkey turned into a beautiful princes with gold blond hair, whom Hans marries, after which they go to her land (ID., 328)].

The version of the Grimm collection, KHM 126: ‘Ferenand getrü un Ferenand ungetrü’, is a bit cryptic: Ferdinand goes on the horse, a gift from his godfather, into the world and on the way he finds a pen (schriffedder) and wants to take it with him, but changes his mind (because he thinks it is an ordinary pen). When he rides away a voice calls: ‘Ferdinand the Faithful, take it with you.’ He looks around, but sees no one; so he goes back and picks it up. Then the story introduces an element from AT 554: The grateful animals: He throws a fish back in a lake and receives a flute to call the fish when in need. Then he meets his antagonist Ferdinand the Unfaithful with whom he arrives in an inn. The servant-girl in the inn falls in love with our hero and arranges a job for him as outrider (Vorrüter = scout). Ferdinand the Unfaithful also wants a job near the king and to stay on his good side the girl arranges for him a job as servant. He hears the king complaining every morning: ‘O, if I only had my love with me!’ Once he says: ‘You have the outrider, send him away to get her, and if he does not do it, his head must be struck off.’ Our hero goes and complains to his white horse, that turns out to speak and has him ask the king for a ship full of bread and a ship full of meat, that they need to feed the giants and birds [a continuation of ATU 554], whereupon the giants bring the sleeping princess in her bed to the boy. Back at the king the princess says that she cannot live without her writings, still back in the castle, and Ferdinand the Unfaithful arranges it that again Ferdinand the Faithful is sent. The journey is like the first time, but on the way back Ferdinand loses his pen in the sea. The horse cannot help him and he blows on the flute and the fish brings his pen. He brings the writings to the king and the wedding is celebrated. But the new queen doesn’t like the king, because he has no nose. One time when all the lords of the court are together [this is of course at the wedding!] the queen proposes to do feats of magic: she can cut off anyone’s head and put it on again. No one volunteers and Ferdinand the Unfaithful pushes Ferdinand the Faithful to the fore, and she hews off his head, and puts it on again, and it heals directly, and it looks like he has a red threat round his throat. The king also wants to try [why? Ferdinand has become more beautiful?], but after she has cut off his head, she pretends that she cannot get it on again. The king is buried and she marries Ferdinand the Faithful; the horse turns out to be a king’s son [Grimm 1980, II, 188-193 nº126; 1972, 566-571].

The fish is only necessary for the retrieval of the lost pen, that has no purpose. In the Chilean version the princess threw her ring in the sea and demanded it as wedding ring, instead of the ‘writings’ (whatever they may be), where the pen belongs to. A solution is offered in a Danish version. The boy leaves home on his ‘little grey horse’ and finds a feather with on it the portrait of a beautiful woman. ‘Let the feather be!’ says the horse to Hans’ surprise, but he takes the feather anyway, even after the horse says he will regret it. He arrives in a big city, is hired as stable boy, is noticed, goes on his horse in the battle, makes himself meritorious, and becomes the servant of the king. Now he has time to study, but he spends more time studying the feather, till the king sees it and becomes enraged, because it is the portrait of his wife. Hans has to bring her back or die, and he complains to his horse, that sends him to the king for a horse, wagon, barley, bread and meat. On the way, on the beach, he puts a mermaid back in the sea, the barley he distributes among starving birds. Then they come near the palace of the queen, where he feeds the meat to the starving bears, then the bread to twelve hungry giants, and slaughters the horse for the dogs in the court. In the palace he plays the game of hide and seek as before and after that he has to bring back the horse Bissefalius [cf. Buchephalos, the horse of Alexander the Great] that was stolen from her many years ago. On this horse the queen accompanies Hans to the king, who is very happy, but the queen wants Hans to go get her castle and place it next to that of the king, which is done by the giants. Then the queen wants the keys that have been lost on the way. The horse doesn’t know, so they go to the mermaid, who summons all the fishes and the very last one is a herring, that is late because of dragging along the keys. The queen is still not satisfied and wants Hans to go get ‘dead water’, ‘living water’ and ‘beauty water’. With three jars Hans and his horse go to the birds, and their leader, Fanus [= phoenix!], flies with a bucket in every claw and his beak over the terrible guards and is soon back with the three waters. The queen washes first the king with ‘beauty water’ [and he becomes beautiful?], then with ‘living water’, and finally with ‘dead water’, and he remains dead. Then she washes Hans with ‘dead water’ [and he is dead?], then with ‘beauty water’ [and he becomes beautiful], and finally with ‘living water’, and he lives again and is also beautiful [which is the reason for the king to do the same thing, but by him the order is wrong], whereupon Hans marries with the queen and becomes king. The horse turns out to be a prince, bewitched by an evil stepmother [Bødker 1964, 57-68].

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