A stepdaughter and a daughter. One pretty, hard working and unloved. The other ugly, idle and loved. Both meet Mother Holle…
Mother Holle is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about two young women. A stepdaughter, pretty, hard working, but unloved. And a daughter, ugly, lazy, but loved. The first jumps down a well, works hard for Mother Holle and returns covered in gold. The second serves Mother Holle badly and returns covered in pitch.
Complete text Mother Holle
The stepdaughter and the daughter
Once upon a time a widow had two daughters. One of them was pretty and worked hard, while the other was ugly and idle.
She was much fonder of the ugly and idle one, because she was her own daughter. The other, who was a stepdaughter, was obliged to do all the work and be the Cinderella of the house. Every day the poor girl had to sit by a well next to the highway and spin and spin till her fingers bled.
One day the shuttle of the spinning wheel was marked with her blood, so she dipped it in the well to wash the blood off. It dropped out of her hand and fell to the bottom. She began to weep, ran to her stepmother and told her of the mishap.
Her stepmother scolded her sharply and was so merciless as to say, “Since you have let the shuttle fall in, you must fetch it out again.”
The stepdaughter jumps in the well
The girl went back to the well. She did not know what to do. Sadly she jumped into the well to get the shuttle and lost consciousness.
When she awoke and came to herself again, she was in a lovely meadow where the sun was shining and thousands of flowers were growing.
She started walking and at last came to a baker’s oven full of bread. The bread cried out, “Oh, take me out! take me out! or I will burn; I have been baked a long time!” She went up to the oven and took out all the loaves one after another with the bread shovel.
After that she went on till she came to a tree covered with apples, which called out to her, “Oh, shake me! shake me! we apples are all ripe!” She shook the tree till the apples fell like rain and went on shaking till they all had fallen down. After gathering them into a heap, she went on her way.
At last she came to a little house. Out of the little house peeped an old woman. She had such large teeth that the girl was frightened and was about to run away.
But the old woman called out to her, “What are you afraid of, dear child? Stay with me; if you will do all the work in the house properly, you shall be the better for it. Only you must take care to make my bed well and shake it thoroughly till the feathers fly—for then there is snow on the earth. I am Mother Holle.”
The stepdaughter lives with Mother Holle
Since the old woman spoke so kindly to her, the girl took courage and agreed to enter her service. She attended to everything to the satisfaction of her mistress and always shook her bed so vigorously that the feathers flew about like snowflakes.
She had a pleasant life with her. Never an angry word and boiled or roast meat every day.
After staying some time with Mother Holle, she became sad. She did not know what was the matter with her, but found at last that it was homesickness. Although she was thousand times better off here than at home, she still longed to be back. At last she said to the old woman, “I have a longing for home. However well off I am down here, I cannot stay any longer. I must go up again to my own people.”
Mother Holle said, “I am pleased that you long for your home again. As you have served me so well, I will take you up again myself.”
She took her by the hand and led her to a large door. The door was opened. Just as the young woman was standing beneath the doorway, a heavy shower of golden rain fell. All the gold sticked to her, so that she was completely covered with it.
“You shall have that because you have worked so hard,” Mother Holle said. At the same time she gave her back the shuttle which she had let fall into the well. The door closed and the young woman found herself up above upon the earth, not far from her stepmother’s house.
When she went into the yard the rooster was standing by the well side, and cried—
Your golden girl’s come back to you!”
So she went in to her mother. As she arrived covered with gold, she was well received, both by her and her sister.
The sister jumps in the well
The girl told all that had happened to her. As soon as the mother heard how she had obtained so much wealth, she was very anxious to obtain the same good luck for her ugly and lazy daughter.
She had to seat herself by the well and spin. In order that her shuttle might be stained with blood, she stuck her hand into a thorn bush and pricked her finger. Then she threw her shuttle into the well and jumped in after it.
Also the daughter came to the beautiful meadow and walked along the very same path. When she got to the oven the bread again cried, “Oh, take me out! take me out! or I shall burn; I have been baked a long time!”
The lazy girl answered, “Do you really think I will get dirty for you?” and on she went.
Soon she came to the appletree, which cried, “Oh, shake me! shake me! we apples are all ripe!”
She answered, “Stay just were you are. Don’t want any of you to fall on my head!” and so went on.
The daughter lives with Mother Holle
When she came to Mother Holle’s house she was not afraid. She had already heard of her big teeth and she immediately offered to work for her.
The first day she forced herself to work diligently. She obeyed Mother Holle when she told her to do anything, thinking of all the gold that she would give her.
On the second day she began to be lazy and on the third day still more so. After that she would not get up in the morning at all. Neither did she make Mother Holle’s bed as she ought. She did not shake it so as to make the feathers fly up.
Mother Holle was soon tired of this behavior and told her to leave. The lazy girl was willing enough to go and thought that now the golden rain would come. Mother Holle led her also to the great door; but while she was standing beneath it, instead of the gold a big kettle full of pitch was emptied over her.
“That is the reward for your service,” Mother Holle said. She shut the door.
The lazy girl went home, covered with pitch. As soon as the rooster by the well side saw her, he cried out—
Your pitchy girl’s come back to you!”
The pitch stuck so fast to her, that it could not be got off as long as she lived.
Tips for Telling Mother Holle
- This tale has a very clear structure. It makes it easy to tell to younger children. If you want to tell this tale to teens or adults, you either need to keep it really short, or you will need to do some work to make it interesting. A good place to start is thinking about the background stories of the characters. Why is this daughter so lazy?
- The shaking up of the bed leads to snowing in the real world. You could argue that this tale is first and foremost an explanation of why it snows (or not). You might want to give this detail some more time in your telling.
- After jumping in the well, the daughter wakes up in a beautiful world where bread and apples talk. Feel the wonder and amazement like you experience it for the first time when you tell this part of the tale. Your listeners will feel it too.
All Questions Answered
The tale was published by the Brothers Grimm in their first edition of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. It was told to them by Dortchen Wild. They revised this fairy tale in later editions. The Grimms acknowledged that there were many similar versions of this tale being told in other countries and folk tale collections.
The fairy tale was included in the first edition of the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales (1812). The old woman in the story, Mother Holle, refers to an older deity from before Christianity, so possible this tale is very old.
Work hard and you will be rewarded. Be lazy and you will be punished.
It’s also known as “Frau Holle”, “Mother Hulda” and “Old Mother Frost”.
More useful information
Fairy tales with a chicken
The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales on this website are based on the authentic translation of Margaret Hunt. They were edited and reformatted for pleasant reading and telling by Storyteller Rudolf Roos.
See the complete list of The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales (link to internationalstoryteller.com).