Tag Archives: Folklore


In Yoruba folklore, the tortoise was a wily trickster. Lazy, always up to no good and especially fond of porridge, he often got himself into one  misadventure or the other. This is a story of one such misadventure.

A long, long time ago, when the world was young and animals walked on two feet, Ijapa the tortoise was terribly hungry. Really, really hungry.

He had severe hunger pangs. And this was entirely his fault. You see, during the farming period, while other animals went to the farms to plant crops, he lazed about, whistling tunes and chasing fireflies. He always had one excuse or the other for not working.

“The sun is too hot”

“The ground is as hard as iron.”

“My hands hurt, and handling farming implements are torture.”

Previously, he sold out portions of his farmland he inherited from his late parents, from time to time and from the proceeds, fed himself with food he purchased from the market. But eventually, the farmland was exhausted, leaving behind only a small, miserable plot that no one wanted to buy.

And these were the circumstances that led to the situation he found himself in. He had visited for a while, eating at friends’ places during mealtimes till they grew weary of him and began to avoid him.

He had run through his entire bag of tricks and come up dry. So he went wandering to the forest, perhaps he would be fortunate enough to discover some fruits and nuts to eat.

He walked the length and breadth of the forest and turned up just a few palm kernels and one ripe mango. He sat below a palm tree to eat them. As he was eating, he remembered a spell he had learnt during his travels ( he was well travelled and had gone to places on land and in the sea that no one else had) and decided to try it out. It was a spell to animate palm trees.

Weak with hunger, he began to sing-

“Dance, palm tree dance,

Round and round, let your trunk swirl,

Round and round, let your leaves go,

Dance, palm tree, dance.”

As he sang, the palm tree danced, moving from place to place, and when he stopped, it stood rooted in place, just another palm tree. 

Ijapa smiled. He had a plan. He got some leaves and branches, feathers and twigs, tied them around his palm tree to make it look scary and poured some chicken blood on it from the branches to the roots till it dripped. Satisfied with his craft, he hid himself among the topmost branches and sang the spell, leading it towards the marketplace. He was just in time for the evening market. 

Just as the market women settled down to begin to sell their wares, the palm tree came dancing into the market square. Everyone took to their heels. You must understand, it wasn’t like anything they had ever seen before. A palm tree twirling and spinning, dancing with its roots out of the soil, dripping blood and covered with feathers. 

It looked horrible. It was a sight to put fear into the hearts of even the bravest of men.

When the market square was clear, Ijapa stopped his spell, got down from the palm tree and ate to his heart’s content. Then he took some more food and hid it in the palm tree. Then he sang his spell and spun back to the forest.

He repeated this act, day after day, driving the villagers almost mad with fear and terrorising the the markets. Eventually, they ran to the palace to beg for help.

The king sent his bravest guards to stand by the entrance to the markets. Soon enough, the tortoise came spinning to the marketplace​. He saw the guards and let out a guttural roar that shook the earth and made straight for them. Their strength failed them, their courage shattered and they took to their heels. With the guards gone, the villagers followed quickly after and the tortoise was free to once again, plunder the marketplace.

Tired and desperate, the villagers went back to the king to tell the tale. And he dismissed them, promising to find a solution to the problem. He thought and thought and decided that since brute force had failed, perhaps it was time to try trickery. So he privately called for the best carver in the land and had him create a lifelike statute of a man seated and watching from the strongest iroko tree he could find. Then he made him cover it with sticky tape and set in the centre of the village square. This man he named ‘Sigidi’

Soon afterwards, the palm tree came dancing and everyone as usual, went running. Everyone except sigidi, who sat in the market square watching. The tortoise tried all he could but nothing scared sigidi. At this time, it was almost fully dark and he wanted to eat so he got down and accosted it.

“Why are you not afraid?” He roared. “Are you better than everyone else?”

Sigidi, of course, said nothing. Ijapa saw this as extremely arrogant and so landed it a huge slap. His hand stuck to it. 

“If you don’t release my hand, I’ll deal you an even heavier blow with the other hand.”

Sigidi said nothing.  So Ijapa made a fist with his other hand and struck. It also got stuck.

Now very angry, he kicked the statute. Again, he got stuck. Now beyond reason, he kicked with his other foot. It also got stuck.

“If you don’t let me go, I’ll headbutt you.” He threatened. “I’ll headbutt you so hard, you’d die.”

Sigidi again, gave no response, and so Ijapa headbutted the statute. He was stuck. At this point he realized he was entirely in his opponent’s hands and so he began to plead. He begged and begged, but nothing happened, he was still stuck and that was how he was when the next day arrived and the villagers found him. They went to report to the king who had Ijapa make a full confession. The remaining food items were recovered and returned to their rightful owners.

But Ijapa was left  in the marketplace day after day after day, till the rains began to fall, and eventually the tar softened enough for him to wriggle free.



In Yoruba folklore, the tortoise was a mischief-maker, always up to something.

As such, more often than not, he was on the run from someone or something.
At times it was even an entire group of someones!

Sometimes, however, he served as the source of solutions, often giving cunning but useful advice to enable friends get out of tricky situations.

This is a story that tells of Ijapa in his second capacity as problem-solver. In this tale, Ijapa helps an ailing King avoid death. Of course, he achieves this through great mischief. Enjoy.

Once upon a time, when the earth was young, animals walked on two feet and spoke like men, and there were two kingdoms. The animal kingdom and the human kingdom. In the human kingdom, which happened to be a short distance from the animal kingdom, the king, Kabiyesi, fell terribly ill.

All the medicine men were called, and sacrifices upon sacrifices were made, but all to no avail.

With each day that passed, the king grew progressively weaker.

As the days became weeks the flesh fell off his frame, until a once robust, barrel-chested man became a sack of bones and loose flesh. It was a terrible thing.

The people were seriously worried as Kabiyesi was a just and kind king to his subjects, and the chief priest, acknowledging that this was far beyond his powers, gathered a few strong men in the community and set off to find the world’s greatest herbalist- Ifagbemi.

After kissing their wives and children goodbye, they got provisions and set out, determined to get the King a cure or perish in the effort.
They crossed seven rivers, climbed seven mountains and endured a multitude of hardships before they found Ifagbemi and they pleaded with him to return with them to save their king. After listening to their tale, he agreed and followed them back to their kingdom.

When they got home, the King was unconscious and at the brink of death. Quickly, the herbalist administered a herbal concoction and Kabiyesi was revived. Then Ifagbemi locked himself in a room for seven days, with intense divination to find out the source of the King’s ill health, and the cure, if any.
During this seven days, Kabiyesi’s condition did not deteriorate, but also, it did not improve.

On the morning of the eighth day, Ifagbemi the herbalist came out of the room and proclaimed that the cure for Kabiyesi’s condition was to be found in the heart of an elephant.

Instantly a royal edict went out, decreeing that all hunters were to be on the lookout for elephants, to kill them and harvest their hearts.

Any hunter able to do this, was to receive a large monetary reward, and also marry any one of the princesses born to the royal family.

There was a particular hunter with the name Ogunyemi who set his mind on getting the reward. He went into the bush and after days and days of searching, was unable to find any elephant to kill. Dejected, he sat on a stone to think and worry, and it was in this state that his friend Ijapa met him.

Ijapa who despite his numerous failings, could nonetheless prove a wonderful friend picked up on Ogunyemi’s dark mood. He asked his friend to reveal his problem, but he was rebuffed. Not to be turned away, he asked again and again until the hunter opened up and revealed that he was searching for the heart of an elephant. But despite his efforts, he had not come across even an elephant’s shadow, not to talk of killing it and obtaining it’s heart.

Ijapa told him to cheer up, that he would procure an elephant’s heart for him. With that assurance, Ogunyemi soon cheered up and soon was roasting corn for himself and his friend Ijapa to eat.

After much merriment, it was time to for Ijapa to return to his home in the animal kingdom.
Ijapa before leaving, told Ogunyemi to sharpen his machete, dig a big hole at the market square the next evening, cover it with mats and wait there for the elephant’s heart.
The hunter agreed to do this.

Ijapa then went home. Upon getting back to the animal kingdom, he went straight to the home of Erin, the elephant.

When he got there he prostrated himself with his face to the floor and greeted the elephant saying
“Kabiyesi, live forever.”
The elephant, surprised, asked the tortoise what he meant.

The crafty tortoise then asked if he knew of the humans and their current search for an elephant.
Erin responded in the affirmative, but admitted that he did not know why they wanted him, and that he wanted nothing to do with the humans and their fire-sticks.

Ijapa laughed and told him that they were searching for a king, as the old one had died, and the Kingmakers had declared that the next king was to come from the animal kingdom.

Claiming to have been there when the old king passed away, Ijapa then spun a beautiful tale of how he had suggested an elephant and successfully convinced them to appoint him as the kingmaker supreme. As such it fell to him to produce the king. And having gotten that task, he had come to invite Erin to his coronation ceremony so he could be crowned as king.
The vain elephant was pleased to hear this, and agreed to follow the tortoise to the land of humans to be crowned, the following afternoon.

The next day, the tortoise came to fetch the elephant and with drumming and singing and lots of fanfare, they set of for the human kingdom.

Soon they arrived at their destination, and Ijapa led the unwary elephant to the hole covered with mats. With a sign, he gestured for the elephant to take his seat.

The elephant who at this time was exhausted from so much dancing, walked up to the mats and flung himself down to take his seat. With a whoosh, the mats fell from under him, and Ogunyemi quickly came out from his hiding place to kill the elephant and get his heart.

He then took this to the palace where the remedy was made for Kabiyesi.
Soon enough, Kabiyesi recovered fully and gave Ogunyemi his reward…



It’s the first few days of December. Cold northern winds scour the land bringing with them the unfriendly friend- harmattan.
Cracked lips, dry, whitish skin, it’s a perpetual struggle to stay warm. Moisture seems to be nothing but a fevered dream. Water dries off like there’s a meeting in heaven it just cannot afford to be late to.

Anything left in a spot for a long while is covered with a thin film of dust.
The sandy footpaths are filled with that same earthy brownish-orange dust. Even as it rises in small clouds, pummeled under the feet of hasty villagers going about their daily business. There is no time to wait and exchange more than the barest pleasantries. Stay still for more than a few minutes and the cold begins to take little nips at your exposed flesh and if you still wait like a rabbit frozen in a bright beam of light, it gets into your very bones.

It is in this harmattan period however, that UzoChukwu, a young, virile boy from a clan of warriors, one who had braved seventeen harmattans successfully, must attain his manhood or be shamed forever among his clansmen. Armed with just a loincloth, a thick fur blanket, a spear and some rations, he must spend a week in the thick forest at the boundary, alone and without help.

On the day set aside, UzoChukwu and several other boys of his age grade meet at the agreed upon meeting place, the huge palm tree in the market square. They shake hands and trade insults. If they prove their courage in their different places of assignment, they would meet in exactly one week as men. Those who failed would have to pay a steep fine, to be set by those who passed. And then, the next harmattan, they would be opportuned to take the test again with their younger ones. Every boy present wears a grim face. They know what is at stake.

Footsteps echo from a footpath leading through a thick forest, the forest of men. Instantly, the boys hush. Only strong men who had proven their worth in the clan, great warriors, orators or experts in their chosen fields could walk this path. Men like this were not seen everyday, one only caught glimpses of them if he woke up early enough to see them as they made their way to their massive farmlands, or when they gathered to deliberate on issues affecting the village.

But everyone knows their names.

The leaves covering the end of the path shake and part and Ozonna, the village medicine man comes out. He is a huge, barrel-chested man, with arms like tree trunks. He was said to be able to wrestle with leopards and win. He looks at one as though he sees your every secret. He is one of those who are even harder to see than their peers, and his one distinguishing mark is the staff he always carries, a long, strong wooden staff topped with a pale bleached human skull.

Immediately the boys fall to their knees in respect. To look Ozonna in the eye is to incur his wrath, and the wrath of the spirits.
This us well known. He peers at them intently, checking to see that all his charges are present. Then he nods to himself, grunting and fetching a small object from a satchel dangling on his shoulder, he blows on a bone whistle.
The boys stand up and run off, each to his own task.

Ozonna watches them run, little clouds of dust puffing up in their wake, and tries to shake off the sense of foreboding he feels, watching the boys leave. It has been a long long time since they had lost a boy to his test of virility and he feels that at the end of the week their numbers would decrease.

He makes up his mind to sacrifice a few pure animals to ward off the evil omen and turns his back on the children, who have become specks in the distance, as he begins his return journey.



"Akara is a special bean cake delicacy of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, west Africa."

A long, long while ago, while the world was young and animals spoke and walked like men do, Ijapa the tortoise was a wily trickster and always got himself and his friends into one form of trouble or the other.
This is the story of Ijapa and his friend, the monkey.

It all started when Ijapa got fed up with his friend Obo, the monkey. Whenever they got together to eat, as they were fond of doing every opportunity they had, Ijapa would always pray but the monkey never said “Amin”. Ijapa found this offensive but try as he might, he could not get Obo to say amin. After all, Obo reasoned, your prayer is quite enough for the both of us.

Ijapa would often warn him not to take prayers with such levity, that perhaps one day nemesis would catch up with him. Obo would sniffle and giggle and climb trees yelling about how he was too smart and fast to be in any sort of trouble, unlike the slow tortoise. In those days, the monkey spent quite a lot of time roaming on the ground and only took to the trees when there was any sign of danger.
Ijapa, never one to take such insults lightly, resolved in his heart to teach the silly monkey a lesson.

One day, Ijapa decided he had had enough of this routine, and so he went off to the market, and after roaming about a bit, was able to buy a large amount of akara to take home.

Akara is a special bean cake delicacy of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, west Africa.

Next he went into the forest, into the home of the honey bees, and with a push here and a pull there, he was also able to secure himself a few large honeycombs dripping with delicious honey.

With these two items, he went home, stored some of the akara in a basket, and soaked them in the honey for a bit. Then he took a few balls of honeyed akara and went to a road where he knew he was sure to find the last essential ingredient for his diabolical plan- Kiniun the lion.

In those days Kiniun was a rather hot-headed fellow, easily misled and more blessed with brawn than with brains.
Ijapa went whistling and nibbling on honeyed akara and it wasn’t too long when he came across Kiniun.

Kiniun had been lying in wait for some unlucky animal to pounce on and so when he saw Ijapa, he crouched and sprung. Quick as a flash, Ijapa retreated into his shell, and try as he might, Kiniun was unable to get at him.
When he had calmed down enough, he heard the sound of continued munching come out of Ijapa’s shell. With his stomach rumbling, Kiniun asked him what he was feasting on.
Instead of answering, Ijapa pushed out a single ball. Kiniun snapped it up and swallowed, smacking his lips enthusiastically.
“Delicious! He declared. Where did you get this?” Ijapa pushed out another ball.
Kiniun snapped it up again.
Ijapa replied. “If I tell you, you’d kill me.”
“No I won’t,” replied Kiniun “just tell me where to get some.”
“I got it from my friend Obo.”
“The monkey? I must get some at once!”
“Wait a minute! He doesn’t give it willingly. You have to grab him by the neck and shake him really hard, yelling at the top of your voice for him to excrete sweet droppings.”
More munching and swallowing sounds.
“He might disobey you the first or second time, but if you keep at it, he’ll eventually give you a lot of it. Just be careful so you don’t kill him or we won’t get anything tomorrow. And whatever happens, never tell him I sent you, or I won’t tell you how to get the sweet drink that goes perfectly with this.”

Quite thankful, the lion left Ijapa and with further advice, proceeded to seek the monkey out. Sneaking behind him as per Ijapa’s instructions, he was able to snatch the monkey by the neck. Squeezing so tight the monkey was sure he would die, Kiniun yelled
Scared as he was, it wasn’t a problem for the monkey to do this. Kiniun out a finger in, tasted it and found it not to his liking. Well he had been warned that Obo would prove stubborn, so he shook him again.
This went on for a while till Obo was close to death and had nothing to excrete anymore. Concluding that the monkey had probably run out of sweet droppings, Kiniun let him go, content to try again another time.

Later on, Ijapa came by and met his friend thoroughly harassed and hiding in the branches of a tree.
“What happened?” He asked  and Obo explained to him the day’s events. Ijapa then berated him, blaming it on his refusal to say “Amin” to prayers.
“You see? Nemesis has caught up with you.” Shocked, Obo started yelling Amin, and till today, it remains one of the common sounds uttered by monkeys in the rainforests of Africa.


This is my favorite among all the stories compiled by the Brothers Grimm. It’s a very peculiar story, with an interesting perspective on things. Take a deep breath, grab a donut, a cup of coffee, relax and lets explore this story… together.

“A certain father had two sons, the elder of whom was smart and sensible, and could do everything, but the younger was stupid and could neither learn nor understand anything, and when people saw him they said ‘there’s a fellow who will give his father some trouble.’ When anything had to be done, it was always the elder who was forced to do it, but if his father bade him fetch anything when it was late, or in the night-time, and the way led through the churchyard, or any other dismal place, he answered ‘oh, no, father, I’ll not go there, it makes me shudder.’ For he was afraid.

Or when stories were told by the fire at night which made the flesh creep, the listeners sometimes said ‘oh, it makes us shudder.’
The younger sat in a corner and listened with the rest of them, and could not imagine what they could mean.  ‘They are always saying ‘it makes me shudder, it makes me shudder,  it does not make me shudder.’ Thought he.  ‘That, too, must be an art of which I understand nothing.’

Now it came to pass that his father said to him one day ‘Hearken to me, you fellow in the corner there, you are growing tall and strong, and you too must learn something by which you can earn your bread. Look how your brother works, but you do not even earn your salt.’
‘Well, father, he replied,  ‘I am quite willing to learn something – indeed, if it could but be managed, I should like to learn how to shudder.  I don’t understand that at all yet.
‘ The elder brother smiled when he heard that, and thought to himself ‘Good God, what a blockhead that brother of mine is.  He will never be good for anything as long as he lives.  He who wants to be a sickle must bend himself betimes.’ The father sighed, and answered him ‘you shall soon learn what it is to shudder, but you will not earn your bread by that.’ Soon after this the sexton came to the house on a visit, and the father bewailed his trouble, and told him how his younger son was so backward in every respect that he knew nothing and learnt nothing.
‘Just think,  said he,  ‘when I asked him how he was going to earn his bread, he actually wanted to learn to shudder.’ ‘If that be all, replied the sexton,  ‘he can learn that with me.  Send him to me, and I will soon polish him.’
The father was glad to do it, for he thought ‘it will train the boy a little.’ The sexton therefore took him into his house, and he had to ring the church bell.  After a day or two, the sexton awoke him at midnight, and bade him arise and go up into the church tower and ring the bell. ‘You shall soon learn what shuddering is,  thought he, and secretly went there before him, and when the boy was at the top of the tower and turned round, and was just going to take hold of the bell rope, he saw a white figure standing on the stairs opposite the sounding hole.  ‘Who is there.’ Cried he, but the figure made no reply, and did not move or stir. ‘Give an answer,  cried the boy,  ‘or take yourself off, you have no business here at night.’
The sexton, however, remained standing motionless that the boy might think he was a ghost.  The boy cried a second time ‘what do you want here. – Speak if you are an honest fellow, or I will throw you down the steps.’ The sexton thought ‘he can’t mean to be as bad as his words,  uttered no sound and stood as if he were made of stone.  Then the boy called to him for the third time, and as that was also to no purpose, he ran against him and pushed the ghost down the stairs, so that it fell down ten steps and remained lying there in a corner. Thereupon he rang the bell, went home, and without saying a word went to bed, and fell asleep.  The sexton’s wife waited a long time for her husband, but he did not come back.  At length she became uneasy, and wakened the boy, and asked ‘do you not know where my husband is. He climbed up the tower before you did.’ ‘No, I don’t know, replied the boy,  ‘but someone was standing by the sounding hole on the other side of the steps, and as he would neither give an answer nor go away, I took him for a scoundrel, and threw him downstairs.  Just go there and you will see if it was he.  I should be sorry if it were.’ The woman ran away and found her husband, who was lying moaning in the corner, and had broken his leg.
She carried him down, and then with loud screams she hastened to the boy’s father.  ‘Your boy,  cried she,  ‘has been the cause of a great misfortune.  He has thrown my husband down the steps so that he broke his leg.  Take the good-for-nothing fellow out of our house.’
The father was terrified, and ran thither and scolded the boy.  ‘What wicked tricks are these.’ Said he,  ‘the devil must have put them into your head.’
‘Father,  he replied, ‘do listen to me.  I am quite innocent.  He was standing there by night like one intent on doing evil.  I did not know who it was, and I entreated him three times either to speak or to go away.
‘ ‘Ah,  said the father,  ‘I have nothing but unhappiness with you.  Go out of my sight.  I will see you no more.’
‘Yes, father, right willingly, wait only until it is day.  Then will I go forth and learn how to shudder, and then I shall, at any rate, understand one art which will support me.’
‘Learn what you will, spoke the father,  ‘it is all the same to me. Here are fifty talers for you.  Take these and go into the wide world, and tell no one from whence you come, and who is your father, for I have reason to be ashamed of you.’
‘Yes, father, it shall be as you will.  If you desire nothing more than that, I can easily keep it in mind.’
When day dawned, therefore, the boy put his fifty talers into his pocket, and went forth on the great highway, and continually said to himself ‘if I could but shudder.  If I could but shudder.’ Then a man approached who heard this conversation which the youth was holding with himself, and when they had walked a little farther to where they could see the gallows, the man said to him ‘look, there is the tree where seven men have married the ropemaker’s daughter, and are now learning how to fly.  Sit down beneath it, and wait till night comes, and you will soon learn how to shudder.’
‘If that is all that is wanted, answered the youth,  ‘it is easily done, but if I learn how to shudder as fast as that, you shall have my fifty talers.  Just come back to me early in the morning.’ Then the youth went to the gallows, sat down beneath it, and waited till evening came. And as he was cold, he lighted himself a fire, but at midnight the wind blew so sharply that in spite of his fire, he could not get warm.  And as the wind knocked the hanged men against each other, and they moved backwards and forwards, he thought to himself ‘if you shiver below by the fire, how those up above must freeze and suffer.’ And as he felt pity for them, he raised the ladder, and climbed up, unbound one of them after the other, and brought down all seven.  Then he stoked the fire, blew it, and set them all round it to warm themselves.  But they sat there and did not stir, and the fire caught their clothes. So he said ‘take care, or I will hang you up again.’ The dead men, however, did not hear, but were quite silent, and let their rags go on burning. 
At this he grew angry, and said ‘if you will not take care, I cannot help you, I will not be burnt with you,  and he hung them up again each in his turn. Then he sat down by his fire and fell asleep, and the next morning the man came to him and wanted to have the fifty talers, and said ‘well, do you know how to shudder.’ ‘No, answered he,  ‘how should I know.  Those fellows up there did not open their mouths, and were so stupid that they let the few old rags which they had on their bodies get burnt.’ Then the man saw that he would not get the fifty talers that day, and went away saying ‘such a youth has never come my way before.’ The youth likewise went his way, and once more began to mutter to himself ‘ah, if I could but shudder. Ah, if I could but shudder.’
A waggoner who was striding behind him heard this and asked ‘who are you.’ ‘I don’t know, answered the youth.  Then the waggoner asked ‘from whence do you come.’ ‘I know not.’ ‘Who is your father.’ ‘That I may not tell you.’ ‘What is it that you are always muttering between your teeth.’
‘Ah, replied the youth,  ‘I do so wish I could shudder, but no one can teach me how.’
‘Enough of your foolish chatter,  said the waggoner.  ‘Come, go with me, I will see about a place for you.’
The youth went with the waggoner, and in the evening they arrived at an inn where they wished to pass the night.  Then at the entrance of the parlor the youth again said quite loudly ‘If I could but shudder.  If I could but shudder.’ The host who heard this, laughed and said ‘if that is your desire, there ought to be a good opportunity for you here.’
‘Ah, be silent,  said the hostess,  ‘so many prying persons have already lost their lives, it would be a pity and a shame if such beautiful eyes as these should never see the daylight again.’

But the youth said ‘however difficult it may be, I will learn it.  For this purpose indeed have I journeyed forth.’
He let the host have no rest, until the latter told him, that not far from thence stood a haunted castle where any one could very easily learn what shuddering was, if he would but watch in it for three nights.  The king had promised that he who would venture should have his daughter to wife, and she was the most beautiful maiden the sun shone on.  Likewise in the castle lay great treasures, which were guarded by evil spirits, and these treasures would then be freed, and would make a poor man rich enough. Already many men had gone into the castle, but as yet none had come out again.  Then the youth went next morning to the king and said ‘if it be allowed, I will willingly watch three nights in the haunted castle.’ The king looked at him, and as the youth pleased him, he said ‘you may ask for three things to take into the castle with you, but they must be things without life.’ Then he answered ‘then I ask for a fire, a turning lathe, and a cutting-board with the knife.’ The king had these things carried into the castle for him during the day. When night was drawing near, the youth went up and made himself a bright fire in one of the rooms, placed the cutting-board and knife beside it, and seated himself by the turning-lathe.  ‘Ah, if I could but shudder.’ Said he,  ‘but I shall not learn it here either.’ Towards midnight he was about to poke his fire, and as he was blowing it, something cried suddenly from one corner
‘Au, miau.  How cold we are.’ ‘You fools.’ Cried he,  ‘what are you crying about.  If you are cold, come and take a seat by the fire and warm yourselves.’ And when he had said that, two great black cats came with one tremendous leap and sat down on each side of him, and looked savagely at him with their fiery eyes.
  After a short time, when they had warmed themselves, they said ‘comrade, shall we have a game of cards.’ ‘Why not.’ He replied,  ‘but just show me your paws.’ Then they stretched out their claws.  ‘Oh, said he,  ‘what long nails you have.  Wait, I must first cut them for you.’ Thereupon he seized them by the throats, put them on the cutting-board and screwed their feet fast. ‘I have looked at your fingers,  said he,  ‘and my fancy for card-playing has gone, and he struck them dead and threw them out into the water.  But when he had made away with these two, and was about to sit down again by his fire, out from every hole and corner came black cats and black dogs with red-hot chains, and more and more of them came until he could no longer move, and they yelled horribly, and got on his fire, pulled it to pieces, and tried to put it out. He watched them for a while quietly, but at last when they were going too far, he seized his cutting-knife, and cried ‘away with you, vermin, and began to cut them down. Some of them ran away, the others he killed, and threw out into the fish-pond.  When he came back he fanned the embers of his fire again and warmed himself.  And as he thus sat, his eyes would keep open no longer, and he felt a desire to sleep.  Then he looked round and saw a great bed in the corner. ‘That is the very thing for me,  said he, and got into it.  When he was just going to shut his eyes, however, the bed began to move of its own accord, and went over the whole of the castle. ‘That’s right, said he,  ‘but go faster.’ Then the bed rolled on as if six horses were harnessed to it, up and down, over thresholds and stairs, but suddenly hop, hop, it turned over upside down, and lay on him like a mountain.  But he threw quilts and pillows up in the air, got out and said ‘now any one who likes, may drive, and lay down by his fire, and slept till it was day.

In the morning the king came, and when he saw him lying there on the ground, he thought the evil spirits had killed him and he was dead.  Then said he ‘after all it is a pity, — for so handsome a man.’
The youth heard it, got up, and said ‘It has not come to that yet.’ Then the king was astonished, but very glad, and asked how he had fared.

  ‘Very well indeed, answered he,  ‘one night is past, the two others will pass likewise.’ Then he went to the innkeeper, who opened his eyes very wide, and said ‘I never expected to see you alive again.  Have you learnt how to shudder yet.’

‘No, said he,  ‘it is all in vain.  If some one would but tell me.’ The second night he again went up into the old castle, sat down by the fire, and once more began his old song ‘If I could but shudder.’ When midnight came, an uproar and noise of tumbling about was heard, at first it was low, but it grew louder and louder.

Then it was quiet for a while, and at length with a loud scream, half a man came down the chimney and fell before him.  ‘Hullo.’ Cried he,  ‘another half belongs to this.  This is not enough.’

Then the uproar began again, there was a roaring and howling, and the other half fell down likewise.
  ‘Wait, said he,  ‘I will just stoke up the fire a little for you.’ When he had done that and looked round again, the two pieces were joined together, and a hideous man was sitting in his place.

‘That is no part of our bargain,  said the youth,  ‘the bench is mine.’ The man wanted to push him away, the youth, however, would not allow that, but thrust him off with all his strength, and seated himself again in his own place.

Then still more men fell down, one after the other, they brought nine dead men’s legs and two skulls, and set them up and played at nine-pins with them. The youth also wanted to play and said ‘listen you, can I join you.
‘ ‘Yes, if you have any money.’ Money enough, replied he,  ‘but your balls are not quite round.’
Then he took the skulls and put them in the lathe and turned them till they were round. 
‘There, now they will roll better.’ Said he. ‘Hurrah.  Now we’ll have fun.’ He played with them and lost some of his money, but when it struck twelve, everything vanished from his sight. 
He lay down and quietly fell asleep.  Next morning the king came to inquire after him.  ‘How has it fared with you this time.’ Asked he. 
‘I have been playing at nine-pins,  he answered,  ‘and have lost a couple of farthings.’
‘Have you not shuddered then.’ ‘What.’ Said he,  ‘I have had a wonderful time.  If I did but know what it was to shudder.’

The third night he sat down again on his bench and said quite sadly ‘if I could but shudder.’ When it grew late, six tall men came in and brought a coffin. 

Then said he ‘ha, ha, that is certainly my little cousin, who died only a few days ago, and he beckoned with his finger, and cried ‘come, little cousin, come.’

They placed the coffin on the ground, but he went to it and took the lid off, and a dead man lay therein.
He felt his face, but it was cold as ice.  ‘Wait, said he,  ‘I will warm you a little, and went to the fire and warmed his hand and laid it on the dead man’s face, but he remained cold.

Then he took him out, and sat down by the fire and laid him on his breast and rubbed his arms that the blood might circulate again. 
As this also did no good, he thought to himself ‘when two people lie in bed together, they warm each other, and carried him to the bed, covered him over and lay down by him.  After a short time the dead man became warm too, and began to move. Then said the youth,  ‘see, little cousin, have I not warmed you.’ The dead man, however, got up and cried ‘now will I strangle you.’
‘What.’ Said he,  ‘is that the way you thank me?  You shall at once go into your coffin again!’ and he took him up, threw him into it, and shut the lid.

Then came the six men and carried him away again. 
‘I cannot manage to shudder, said he.  ‘I shall never learn it here as long as I live.’

Then a man entered who was taller than all others, and looked terrible.  He was old, however, and had a long white beard. ‘You wretch,  cried he,  ‘you shall soon learn what it is to shudder, for you shall die.’
‘Not so fast, replied the youth. ‘If I am to die, I shall have to have a say in it.’
‘I will soon seize you, said the fiend.  ‘Softly, softly, do not talk so big.  I am as strong as you are, and perhaps even stronger.’
‘We shall see, said the old man.  ‘If you are stronger, I will let you go – come, we will try.’ Then he led him by dark passages to a smith’s forge, took an axe, and with one blow struck an anvil into the ground.

  ‘I can do better than that, said the youth, and went to the other anvil.  The old man placed himself near and wanted to look on, and his white beard hung down.  Then the youth seized the axe, split the anvil with one blow, and in it caught the old man’s beard.

  ‘Now I have you, said the youth.  ‘Now it is your turn to die.’ Then he seized an iron bar and beat the old man till he moaned and entreated him to stop, then he would give him great riches. The youth drew out the axe and let him go. 

The old man led him back into the castle, and in a cellar showed him three chests full of gold. ‘Of these, said he, ‘one part is for the poor, the other for the king, the third yours.’ In the meantime it struck twelve, and the spirit disappeared, so that the youth stood in darkness.  ‘I shall still be able to find my way out, said he and felt about, found the way into the room, and slept there by his fire.

Next morning the king came and said ‘now you must have learnt what shuddering is.’ ‘No, he answered ‘what can it be. My dead cousin was here, and a bearded man came and showed me a great deal of money down below, but no one told me what it was to shudder.’

‘Then, said the king,  ‘you have saved the castle, and shall marry my daughter.’
‘That is all very well, said he,  ‘but still I do not know what it is to shudder.’

Then the gold was brought up and the wedding celebrated, but howsoever much the young king loved his wife, and however happy he was, he still said always ‘if I could but shudder – if I could but shudder.’
And this at last angered her.  Her waiting-maid said ‘I will find a cure for him, he shall soon learn what it is to shudder.

  She went out to the stream which flowed through the garden, and had a whole bucketful of gudgeons brought to her.

At night when the young king was sleeping, his wife was to draw the clothes off him and empty the bucketful of cold water with the gudgeons in it over him, so that the little fishes would sprawl about him.  Then he woke up and cried ‘oh, what makes me shudder so. – What makes me shudder so, dear wife.  Ah. Now I know what it is to shudder.’
And so he got his wish.”



Sometimes fairy tales by the Grimm Brothers had a happy ending. Like this one…

There was once upon a time an old queen whose husband had been dead for many years, and she had a beautiful daughter. When the princess grew up she was betrothed to a prince who lived at a great distance. When the time came for her to be married, and she had to journey forth into the distant kingdom, the aged queen packed up for her many costly vessels of silver and gold, and trinkets also of gold and silver, and cups and jewels, in short, everything which appertained to a royal dowry, for she loved her child with all her heart.

She likewise sent her maid-in-waiting, who was to ride with her, and hand her over to the bridegroom, and each had a horse for the journey, but the horse of the king’s daughter was called Falada, and could speak. So when the hour of parting had come, the aged mother went into her bedroom, took a small knife and cut her finger with it until it bled. Then she held a white handkerchief to it into which she let three drops of blood fall, gave it to her daughter and said, “Dear child, preserve this carefully, it will be of service to you on your way.”

So they took a sorrowful leave of each other, the princess put the piece of cloth in her bosom, mounted her horse, and then went away to her bridegroom.

After she had ridden for a while she felt a burning thirst, and said to her waiting-maid, “Dismount, and take my cup which you have brought with you for me, and get me some water from the stream, for I should like to drink.”

“If you are thirsty”, said the waiting-maid, “get off your horse yourself, and lie down and drink out of the water, I don’t choose to be your servant.”

So in her great thirst the princess alighted, bent down over the water in the stream and drank, and was not allowed to drink out of the golden cup. Then she said, “Ah, heaven,” and the three drops of blood answered,

“If this your mother knew,
her heart would break in two.”
But the king’s daughter was humble, said nothing, and mounted her horse again. She rode some miles further, but the day was warm, the sun scorched her, and she was thirsty once more, and when they came to a stream of water, she again cried to her waiting-maid, “Dismount, and give me some water in my golden cup,” for she had long ago forgotten the girl’s ill words.

But the waiting-maid said still more haughtily, “If you wish to drink, get it yourself, I don’t choose to be your maid.” Then in her great thirst the king’s daughter alighted, bent over the flowing stream, wept and said, “Ah, heaven,” and the drops of blood again replied,

“If this your mother knew,
her heart would break in two.”
And as she was thus drinking and leaning right over the stream, the handkerchief with the three drops of blood fell out of her bosom, and floated away with the water without her observing it, so great was her trouble. The waiting-maid, however, had seen it, and she rejoiced to think that she had now power over the bride, for since the princess had lost the drops of blood, she had become weak and powerless.
So now when she wanted to mount her horse again, the one that was called Falada, the waiting-maid said, “Falada is more suitable for me, and my nag will do for you,” and the princess had to be content with that. Then the waiting-maid, with many hard words, bade the princess exchange her royal apparel for her own shabby clothes, and at length she was compelled to swear by the clear sky above her, that she would not say one word of this to anyone at the royal court, and if she had not taken this oath she would have been killed on the spot. But Falada saw all this, and observed it well.

The waiting-maid now mounted Falada, and the true bride the bad horse, and thus they traveled onwards, until at length they entered the royal palace. There were great rejoicings over her arrival, and the prince sprang forward to meet her, lifted the waiting-maid from her horse, and thought she was his consort. She was conducted upstairs, but the real princess was left standing below. Then the old king looked out of the window and saw her standing in the courtyard, and noticed how dainty and delicate and beautiful she was, and instantly went to the royal apartment, and asked the bride about the girl she had with her who was standing down below in the courtyard, and who she was. “I picked her up on my way for a companion, give the girl something to work at, that she may not stand idle.” But the old king had no work for her, and knew of none, so he said, “I have a little boy who tends the geese, she may help him.” The boy was called Conrad, and the true bride had to help him to tend the geese.

Soon afterwards the false bride said to the young king, “Dearest husband, I beg you to do me a favor.”

He answered, “I will do so most willingly.”

“Then send for the knacker, and have the head of the horse on which I rode here cut off, for it vexed me on the way.” In reality, she was afraid that the horse might tell how she had behaved to the king’s daughter.

Then she succeeded in making the king promise that it should be done, and the faithful Falada was to die, this came to the ears of the real princess, and she secretly promised to pay the knacker a piece of gold if he would perform a small service for her. There was a great dark-looking gateway in the town, through which morning and evening she had to pass with the geese, would he be so goood as to nail up Falada’s head on it, so that she might see him again, more than once. The knacker’s man promised to do that, and cut off the head, and nailed it fast beneath the dark gateway.

Early in the morning, when she and Conrad drove out their flock beneath this gateway, she said in passing,

“Alas, Falada, hanging there.”
Then the head answered,

“Alas, young queen, how ill you fare.
If this your mother knew
Her heart would break in two.”
Then they went still further out of the town, and drove their geese into the country. And when they had come to the meadow, she sat down and unbound her hair which was like pure gold, and Conrad saw it and delighted in its brightness, and wanted to pluck out a few hairs. Then she said,

“Blow, blow, thou gentle wind, I say,
Blow Conrad’s little hat away,
And make him chase it here and there,
Until I have braided all my hair,
And bound it up again.”
And there came such a violent wind that it blew Conrad’s hat far away across country, and he was forced to run after it. When he came back she had finished combing her hair and was putting it up again, and he could not get any of it. Then Conrad was angry, and would not speak to her, and thus they watched the geese until the evening, and then they went home.

Next day when they were driving the geese out through the dark gateway, the maiden said,

“Alas, Falada, hanging there.”
Falada answered,

“Alas, young queen, how ill you fare.
If this your mother knew
Her heart would break in two.”
And she sat down again in the field and began to comb out her hair, and Conrad ran and tried to clutch it, so she said in haste,

“Blow, blow, thou gentle wind, I say,
Blow Conrad’s little hat away,
And make him chase it here and there,
Until I have braided all my hair,
And bound it up again.”
Then the wind blew, and blew his little hat off his head and far away, and Conrad was forced to run after it, and when he came back, her hair had been put up a long time, and he could get none of it, and so they looked after their geese till evening came.

But in the evening after they had got home, Conrad went to the old king, and said, “I won’t tend the geese with that girl any longer.”

“Why not?” inquired the aged king.

“Oh, because she vexes me the whole day long.”

Then the aged king commanded him to relate what it was that she did to him.

And Conrad said, “In the morning when we pass beneath the dark gateway with the block, there is a horse’s head on the wall, and she says to it

“‘Alas, Falada, hanging there.’
“And the head answers,

“‘Alas, young queen, how ill you fare.
If this your mother knew
Her heart would break in two.'”
And Conrad went on to relate what happened on the goose pasture, and how when there he had to chase his hat.

The aged king commanded him to drive his flock out again next day, and as soon as morning came, he placed himself behind the dark gateway, and heard how the maiden spoke to the head of Falada, and then he too went into the country, and hid himself in the thicket in the meadow. There he soon saw with his own eyes the goose-girl and the goose-boy bringing their flock, and how after a while she sat down and unplaited her hair, which shone with radiance. And soon she said,

“Blow, blow, thou gentle wind, I say,
Blow Conrad’s little hat away,
And make him chase it here and there,
Until I have braided all my hair,
And bound it up again.”
Then came a blast of wind and carried off Conrad’s hat, so that he had to run far away, while the maiden quietly went on combing and plaiting her hair, all of which the king observed. Then, quite unseen, he went away, and when the goose-girl came home in the evening, he called her aside, and asked why she did all these things.

“I may not tell that, and I dare not lament my sorrows to any human being, for I have sworn not to do so by the heaven which is above me, if I had not done that, I should have lost my life.”

He urged her and left her no peace, but he could draw nothing from her. Then said he, “If you will not tell me anything, tell your sorrows to the iron-stove there,” and he went away.

Then she crept into the iron-stove, and began to weep and lament, and emptied her whole heart, and said, “Here am I deserted by the whole world, and yet I am a king’s daughter, and a false waiting-maid has by force brought me to such a pass that I have been compelled to put off my royal apparel, and she has taken my place with my bridegroom, and I have to perform menial service as a goose-girl. If this my mother knew, her heart would break in two.”

The aged king, however, was standing outside by the pipe of the stove, and was listening to what she said, and heard it. Then he came back again, and bade her come out of the stove. And royal garments were placed on her, and it was marvellous how beautiful she was. The aged king summoned his son, and revealed to him that he had got the false bride who was only a waiting-maid, but that the true one was standing there, as the former goose-girl. The young king rejoiced with all his heart when he saw her beauty and youth, and a great feast was made ready to which all the people and all good friends were invited.

At the head of the table sat the bridegroom with the king’s daughter at one side of him, and the waiting-maid on the other, but the waiting-maid was blinded, and did not recognize the princess in her dazzling array. When they had eaten and drunk, and were merry, the aged king asked the waiting-maid as a riddle, what punishment a person deserved who had behaved in such and such a way to her master, and at the same time related the whole story, and asked what sentence such a person merited.

Then the false bride said, “She deserves no better fate than to be stripped entirely naked, and put in a barrel which is studded inside with pointed nails, and two white horses should be harnessed to it, which will drag her along through one street after another, till she is dead.”

“It is you,” said the aged king, “and you have pronounced your own sentence, and thus shall it be done unto you.” And when the sentence had been carried out, the young king married his true bride, and both of them reigned over their kingdom in peace and happiness.


A great warrior did not return from the hunt. His family gave him up for dead, all except his youngest child who each day would ask, “Where is my father? Where is my father?”

The child’s older brothers, who were magicians, finally went forth to find him.

They came upon his broken spear and a pile of bones. The first son assembled the bones into a skeleton; the second son put flesh upon the bones; the third son breathed life
into the flesh.

The warrior arose and walked into the village where there was great celebration.

He said, “I will give a fine gift to the one who has brought me back to life.”

Each one of his sons cried out, “Give it to me, for I have done the most.”

“I will give the gift to my youngest child,” said the warrior. “For it is this child who saved my life. A man is never truly dead until he is forgotten!

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