A luck child is born and it is predicted that he will marry the king’s daughter. The king tries in many ways to kill the boy, even sending him to the devil with the three golden hairs…
The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a luck child who is destined to marry a princess. The king tries to kill him and sends him to get three golden hairs from the devil. However the devil’s grandmother helps him, he succeeds and in the end he tricks the king.
Complete text The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs
The king tries to kill the luck child
Once upon a time a poor woman gave birth to a little son. Because he was born with the caul on, it was predicted that in his fourteenth year he would have the king’s daughter for his wife.
Soon afterwards the king came into the village. No one knew that he was the king. When he asked the people what news there was, they answered, “A child has just been born with a caul on; whatever any one so born undertakes turns out well. It is prophesied, too, that in his fourteenth year he will have the king’s daughter for his wife.”
The king had a bad heart and was angry about the prophecy. He went to the parents. Acting quite friendly, he said, “You poor people, let me have your child and I will take care of it.”
First they refused, but when the stranger offered them a large amount of gold for it and they thought, “It is a luck child, everything must turn out well for it,” they at last consented and gave him the child.
The king put the child in a box and rode away with it until he came to a deep piece of water. He threw the box into it and thought, “I have freed my daughter from an unsuitable suitor.”
However the box did not sink, but floated like a boat. Not a drop of water made its way into it. It floated to within two miles of the king’s main city, where there was a mill. It came to a stand still at the mill dam. A miller’s boy, who by good luck was standing there, noticed it and pulled it out with a hook. He thought he had found a great treasure, but when he opened it there lay a pretty boy inside, quite fresh and lively. He took him to the miller and his wife. They had no children and were very glad. “God has given him to us,” they said.
They took great care of the foundling and he grew up in all goodness.
The king tries to get the boy killed a second time
Once in a storm the king went into the mill. He asked the mill folk if the tall youth was their son.
“No,” they answered, “he’s a foundling. Fourteen years ago he floated down to the mill dam in a box. The mill boy pulled him out of the water.”
The king realized that it was none other than the luck child which he had thrown into the water. He said, “My good people, could he take for me this letter to the queen? I will give him two gold pieces as a reward?”
“Just as the king commands,” they answered. They told the boy to get ready. The king wrote a letter to the queen, in which he said, “As soon as the boy arrives with this letter, let him be killed and buried. All must be done before I come home.”
The robbers change the letter
The boy set out with this letter. However he lost his way and in the evening he came to a large forest. In the darkness he saw a small light; he went towards it and reached a cottage.
When he went in, an old woman was sitting by the fire quite alone. She started when she saw the boy, and said, “Where are you coming from, and where are you going?”
“I come from the mill,” he answered, “and I wish to go to the queen. I am carrying a letter for her. But as I have lost my way in the forest I would like to stay here over night.”
“You poor boy,” said the woman, “you have come into a den of thieves. When they come home they will kill you.”
“Let them come,” said the boy, “I am not afraid; but I am so tired that I cannot go any further.”
He stretched himself upon a bench and fell asleep. Soon afterwards the robbers came and angrily asked who the strange boy was who was lying there?
“Ah,” said the old woman, “it is an innocent child who has lost himself in the forest. Out of pity I have let him come in. He has to take a letter to the queen.”
The robbers opened the letter and read it. In it was written that the boy as soon as he arrived should be put to death. The hardhearted robbers felt pity. Their leader tore up the letter and wrote another, saying that as soon as the boy came, he should be married at once to the king’s daughter. Then they let him lie quietly on the bench until the next morning. When he awoke they gave him the letter and showed him the right way.
The king sends him for the three golden hairs of the devil
When the queen received the letter and read it, she did as was written in it. A splendid wedding feast was prepared and the king’s daughter was married to the luck child. He was handsome and agreeable and she lived with him in joy and contentment.
After some time the king returned to his palace. He saw that the prophecy was fulfilled and the luck child married to his daughter.
“How has this happened?” he said; “I gave quite another order in my letter.”
The queen gave him the letter and said that he might see for himself what was written in it. The king read the letter and saw quite well that it had been exchanged for the other one. He asked the youth what had become of the letter entrusted to him and why he had brought another instead of it.
“I know nothing about it,” he answered; “it must have been changed in the night, when I slept in the forest.”
The king said angrily, “You shall not have everything so easily; whoever marries my daughter must fetch me three golden hairs from the head of the devil from hell. Bring me what I want and you shall keep my daughter.”
In this way the king hoped to be rid of him forever. But the luck child answered, “I will fetch the golden hairs. I am not afraid of the devil.”
The luck child travels to hell
He took leave of them and began his journey. The road led him to a large town where the watchman by the gates asked him what his trade was and what he knew.
“I know everything,” answered the luck child.
“Then you can do us a favor,” said the watchman, “if you will tell us why our fountain in the marketplace, which once flowed with wine, has become dry. It no longer gives even water!”
“That you shall know,” he answered he, “only wait until I come back.”
He went farther and came to another town. There was another gatekeeper who asked him what his trade was and what he knew.
“I know everything,” he answered.
“Then you can do us a favor. Tell us why a tree in our town which once bore golden apples now does not even put forth leaves!”
“You shall know that,” he answered, “only wait until I come back.”
He went on and came to a wide river which he had to cross. The ferryman asked him what his trade was and what he knew.
“I know everything,” he answered. “Then you can do me a favor,” said the ferryman. “Tell me why I must always be rowing backwards and forwards and am never set free?”
“You shall know that,” he answered; “only wait until I come back.”
Meeting the grandmother of the devil
When he had crossed the water he found the entrance to hell. It was black and sooty within. The devil was not at home, but his grandmother was sitting in a large armchair.
“What do you want?” she said to him, but she did not look so very wicked.
“I would like to have three golden hairs from the devil’s head,” he answered, “else I cannot keep my wife.”
“That is a big ask,” she said, “when the devil comes home and finds you, it will cost you your life. But, since I pity you, I will see if I can help you.”
She changed him into an ant and said, “Creep into the folds of my dress, you will be safe there.”
“Yes,” he answered. “So far, so good. There are three things besides that I want to know: why a fountain which once flowed with wine has become dry, and no longer gives even water; why a tree which once bore golden apples does not even put forth leaves; and why a ferryman must always be going backwards and forwards, and is never set free?”
“Those are difficult questions,” she answered, “but only be silent and quiet and pay attention to what the devil says when I pull out the three golden hairs.”
The grandmother plucks out three golden hairs
It became evening and the devil returned home. As soon as he entered he noticed that the air was not pure.
“I smell man’s flesh,” he said; “something is wrong here.” He pried into every corner and searched, but could not find anything. His grandmother scolded him. “It has just been swept,” she said, “and everything put in order, and now you are making a mess again; you have always got man’s flesh in your nose. Sit down and eat your supper.”
After eating and drinking he was tired and laid his head in his grandmother’s lap. Soon he was fast asleep, snoring and breathing heavily. The old woman took hold of a golden hair, pulled it out and laid it down near her.
“Oh!” the devil cried, “what are you doing?”
“I had a bad dream,” the grandmother answered, “so I seized hold of your hair.”
“What did you dream then?” said the devil. “I dreamed that a fountain in a marketplace from which wine once flowed was dried up, and not even water would flow out of it. What could be the cause of it?”
“Oh, ho! If they would only know,” answered the devil. “There is a toad sitting under a stone in the well; if they would kill it, the wine would flow again.”
He went to sleep again and snored until the windows shook. She pulled out a second hair.
“Ha! What are you doing?” the devil cried angrily. “Don’t get mad,” she said, “I did it in a dream.”
“What did you dream this time?” he asked.
“I dreamed that in a certain kingdom there stood an appletree which had once borne golden apples, but now would not even bear leaves. What could be the reason of that?”
“Oh! if they would only know.” the devil answered. “A mouse is gnawing at the root. If they would kill it they would have golden apples again. If it gnaws much longer the tree will wither altogether. But leave me alone with your dreams: if you disturb me in my sleep again you will get a box on the ear.”
The grandmother spoke gently to him until he fell asleep again and snored. She took hold of a third golden hair and pulled it out. The devil jumped up, roared out and would have treated her badly if she had not quieted him once more and said, “Who can help bad dreams?”
“What was the dream, then?” he asked, quite curious.
“I dreamed of a ferryman who complained that he always had to ferry from one side to the other and was never released. What could be the cause of it?”
“Ah! the fool,” the devil answered, “when anyone comes and wants to go across he must put the oar in his hand. The other man will have to ferry and he will be free.”
As the grandmother had plucked out the three golden hairs and the three questions were answered, she let the old serpent alone, and he slept until daybreak.
The luck child travels back with the hairs and the answers
When the devil had gone out again the old woman took the ant out of the folds of her dress. She gave the luck child his human shape again. “There are the three golden hairs for you,” she said. “What the devil said to your three questions, I suppose you heard?”
“Yes,” he answered, “I heard and will take care to remember.”
“You have what you want,” she said, “now you can go your way.”
He thanked the old woman for helping him in his need and left hell, happy that everything had turned out so fortunately.
When he came to the ferryman he was expected to give the promised answer. “Ferry me across first,” said the luck child, “and then I will tell you how you can be set free.” When he reached the opposite shore he gave him the devil’s advice: “Next time anyone comes who wants to be ferried over, just put the oar in his hand.”
He went on and came to the town where the unfruitful tree stood. The watchman too wanted an answer. So he told him what he had heard from the devil: “Kill the mouse which is gnawing at its root, and it will bear golden apples again.” The watchman thanked him and gave him as a reward two donkeys laden with gold which followed him.
At last he came to the town whose well was dry. He told the watchman what the devil had said: “A toad is in the well beneath a stone; you must find it and kill it, and the well will give plenty of wine again.”
The watchman thanked him and also gave him two donkeys laden with gold.
The luck child tricks the king
At last the luck child got home to his wife. She was very glad to see him again and to hear how well he had prospered in everything.
To the king he took what he had asked for, the devil’s three golden hairs. When the king saw the four donkeys laden with gold he was quite content. He said, “Now all the conditions are fulfilled and you can keep my daughter. But tell me, dear son-in-law, where did all that gold come from? This is tremendous wealth!”
“I was rowed across a river,” he answered, “and got it there. It lies on the shore instead of sand.”
“Can I too fetch some of it?” said the king. He was quite eager about it.
“As much as you like,” he answered. “There is a ferryman on the river; let him ferry you over and you can fill your sacks on the other side.”
The greedy king set out in all haste. When he came to the river he beckoned to the ferryman to put him across. The ferryman came and bade him get in. When they got to the other shore he put the oar in his hand and sprang out.
From that time on the king had to ferry as a punishment for his sins. Perhaps he is still ferrying. If he is, it is because no one has taken the oar from him.
Tips for Telling The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs
- This story feels like a combination of two stories. A first part, which ends when the luck child marries the princess. And a second part which actually is about the three golden hairs of the devil. You could also tell them separately, or as a series…
- Did you know that the devil has a kind grandmother? I didn’t! There is a contrast there between the ugly brute and his grandmother. She cleans, he makes a mess. She likes humans, he always wants to eat them. This is a good part for comedy.
- When you tell this story to adults, it is often stronger to leave out certain parts. Your listeners will be more involved in the story when you give them just enough to piece the parts of the story together. For example, after the luck child tells the king about the ferryman, you don’t need to tell what actually happened. You can skip to the end and tell about how the king is still ferrying today.
All Questions Answered
The tale was published by the Brothers Grimm in the second edition of their Grimms’ Fairy Tales. It is a story with many elements that occur in other orally told stories.
The fairy tale was included in the first edition of the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales (1812). However it was also heavily revised in further editions.
It is also known as “The Giant and the Three Golden Hairs” and “The Three Golden Hairs of the King of the Cave Giants”.
More useful information
Fairy tales with a ferryman
Fairy tales with a gatekeeper
Fairy tales with a miller
- The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs
- The Girl Without Hands
- The Juniper Tree
- The Robber Bridegroom
- The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats
- Wishing Table, Gold Ass and Cudgel in the Sack
Fairy tales with a robber
- The Bremen Town Musicians
- The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs
- The Riddle
- The Robber Bridegroom
- Thumbling’s Travels
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).