Fallen into poverty, three brothers set out to find their fortune in the world. The first finds silver, the second gold and the third comes home with the knapsack, the hat and the horn…
The Knapsack, the Hat and the Horn is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about three brothers who seek their fortune. The eldest two go home with silver and gold. The youngest takes the knapsack, the hat and the horn from three charcoal burners. With these magical items he becomes king of the country.
Complete text The Knapsack, the Hat and the Horn
Three brothers in search of their luck
There were once three brothers who had fallen deeper and deeper into poverty. At last their need was so great that they had to endure hunger and had nothing to eat or drink.
They said to themselves, “We cannot go on like this. We need to go into the world to seek better luck.”
And so they set out into the world. They walked over many a long road and many a blade of grass, but had not yet met with good luck.
The eldest brother finds his luck
One day they arrived in a great forest. In the midst of it was a hill and when they came nearer they saw that the hill was all silver. The eldest said, “Now I have found the good luck I wished for. I desire nothing more.”
He took as much of the silver as he could possibly carry and then turned back and went home again. But the two others said, “We want something more from good luck than mere silver.”
The second brother finds his luck
They did not touch it, but went onward. After they had walked for two days longer without stopping, they came to a hill which was all gold. The second brother stopped, took thought with himself, and was undecided. “What shall I do?” he said; “shall I take for myself so much of this gold, that I have sufficient for all the rest of my life, or shall I go further?”
At last he made a decision, putting as much into his pockets as would go in, said farewell to his brother, and went home. But the third said, “Silver and gold do not move me, I will not renounce my chance of fortune, perhaps something better still will be given me.”
The youngest brother gets a wishing cloth
He journeyed onward. When he had walked for three days, he got into a forest which was still larger than the one before. It never would come to an end. As he found nothing to eat or to drink, he was all but exhausted.
He climbed up a high tree to find out if up there he could see the end of the forest, but as far as his eye could pierce he saw nothing but the tops of trees. He began to descend the tree again, but hunger tormented him and he thought to himself, “If I could but eat my fill once more!”
When he got down he saw with astonishment a table beneath the tree richly spread with food, the steam of which rose up to meet him. “This time,” he said, “my wish has been fulfilled at the right moment.”
Without inquiring who had brought the food or who had cooked it, he approached the table and ate with enjoyment until he had appeased his hunger. When he was done, he thought, “It would after all be a pity if the pretty little tablecloth were to be spoiled in the forest here,” and folded it up tidily and put it in his pocket.
He went onward. In the evening, when hunger once more made itself felt, he wanted to try his little cloth. He spread it out and said, “I wish you to be covered with happiness again.” As soon as he had said it as many dishes with the most exquisite food on them stood on the table as there was room for.
“Now I see,” he said, “in what kitchen my cooking is done. You shall be dearer to me than the mountains of silver and gold.” For he saw clearly that it was a wishing cloth. The cloth, however, was still not enough to enable him to sit down quietly at home; he preferred to wander about the world and pursue his fortune further.
The youngest brother meets a charcoal-burner
One night in a lonely wood he met a dusty, black charcoal-burner. He was burning charcoal there and had some potatoes by the fire, on which he was going to make a meal.
“Good evening, blackbird!” the young man said. “How is it going all by yourself?”
“Every day is the same,” the charcoal-burner replied, “and every night potatoes! Would you like some, will you be my guest?”
“Many thanks,” the traveler replied, “I will not rob you of your supper; you did not reckon on a visitor, but if you will put up with what I have, you are invited.”
“Who is going to prepare something for you?” the charcoal-burner said. “I see you have nothing with you, and there is no one within a two hours’ walk who could give you anything.”
“And yet there shall be a meal,” answered the young man, “and better than any you have ever tasted.”
The young man acquires a magical knapsack
He brought his cloth out of his knapsack, spread it on the ground and said, “Little cloth, cover yourself.” Instantly boiled meat and baked meat stood there, as hot as if it had just come out of the kitchen. The charcoal-burner stared, but did not require much pressing; he fell to and thrust larger and larger mouthfuls into his black mouth.
When they had eaten everything, the charcoal-burner smiled contentedly and said, “Listen, I like your table-cloth. It would be a fine thing for me in this forest, where no one ever cooks me anything good. I propose an exchange. There in the corner hangs a soldier’s knapsack, which is certainly old and shabby, but in it lie concealed wonderful powers; but, as I no longer use it, I will give it to you for the table-cloth.”
“First I need to know what these wonderful powers are,” the young man answered.
“I will tell you. Every time you tap it with your hand, a corporal comes with six men armed from head to foot and they do whatever you command them.”
“As far as I am concerned, if we are done here, we we will exchange.”
He gave the charcoal-burner the cloth, took the knapsack from the hook, put it on, and bade farewell. When he had walked a while, he wished to try out the magical powers of his knapsack and tapped it. Immediately the seven warriors stepped up to him and the corporal said, “What does my lord and ruler wish for?”
“March with all speed to the charcoal-burner and demand my wishing-cloth back.”
They faced to the left and it was not long before they brought what he required. They had taken it from the charcoal-burner without asking many questions. The young man let them retire, went onward, and hoped fortune would shine yet more brightly on him. By sunset he came to another charcoal-burner, who was making his supper ready by the fire. “If you want some potatoes with salt, without dripping, come and sit down with me,” the fellow said.
The young man acquires a magical hat
“No, no, this time you will be my guest,” the young man said and he spread out his cloth, which was instantly covered with the most beautiful dishes. They ate and drank together and enjoyed themselves a lot.
After the meal was over, the charcoal-burner said, “Up there on that shelf lies a little old worn-out hat which has strange properties: when any one puts it on and turns it around on his head, the cannons go off as if twelve were fired all together. They shoot down everything so that no one can withstand them. The hat is of no use to me and I will willingly give it for your table-cloth.”
“That suits me very well,” he answered, took the hat, put it on and left his table-cloth behind him. Hardly, however, had he walked away than he tapped on his knapsack. His soldiers had to fetch the cloth back again.
“One thing comes on the top of another,” he thought, “and I feel as if my luck has not yet come to an end.” Neither had his thoughts deceived him.
The young man acquires a magical horn
After he had walked on for the whole of one day, he came to a third charcoal-burner. Like the previous ones, he invited him to potatoes without dripping. But he let him also dine with him from his wishing-cloth. The charcoal-burner liked it so well, that at last he offered him a horn for it, which had very different properties from those of the hat. When any one blew it all the walls and fortifications fell down, and all towns and villages became ruins.
He certainly gave the charcoal-burner the cloth for it, but he afterwards sent his soldiers to demand it back again, so at last he had the knapsack, the hat and the horn, all three.
“Now,” he said, “I am a made man, and it is time for me to go home and see how my brothers are getting on.”
The youngest brother returns home
When he reached home his brothers had built themselves a handsome house with their silver and gold, and were living in riches. He went to see them, but as he wore a ragged coat, a shabby hat on his head, and his old knapsack on his back, they would not acknowledge him as their brother.
They mocked and said, “You say that you are our brother who despised silver and gold and craved for something still better for himself. He will come in his carriage in full splendor like a mighty king, not like a beggar.”
They drove him out of the house. He fell into a rage, tapped his knapsack until a hundred and fifty men stood before him armed from head to foot. He commanded them to surround his brothers’ house. Two of them were to take hazel-sticks with them and beat the two insolent men until they knew who he was.
A violent disturbance arose, people ran together and wanted to lend the two some help in their need, but against the soldiers they could do nothing. News of this at last came to the king, who was very angry. He ordered a captain to march out with his troop and drive this disturber of the peace out of the town.
However the man with the knapsack soon got a greater body of men together. They hit back the captain and his men, so that they were forced to retire with bloody noses.
The king said, “This vagabond is not brought to order yet,” and next day sent a still larger troop against him, but they could do even less. The young man set still more men against them and in order to be done the sooner, he turned his hat twice around on his head. Heavy guns began to play, and the king’s men were beaten and put to flight.
“And now,” he said, “I will not make peace until the king gives me his daughter as wife and I govern the whole kingdom in his name.” He caused this to be announced to the king and the latter said to his daughter, “Necessity is a hard nut to crack, what remains to me but to do what he desires? If I want peace and to keep the crown on my head, I must give you away.”
The king’s daughter tries to trick her husband
So the wedding was celebrated, however the king’s daughter was greatly troubled that her husband was a common man, who wore a shabby hat and put on an old knapsack. She wished much to get rid of him and night and day studied how she could accomplished this. Then she thought to herself, “Is it possible that his wonderful powers lie in the knapsack?”
She fondled and caressed him and when his heart was softened, she said, “If you would just lay aside that ugly knapsack, it disfigures you, I can’t help being ashamed of you.”
“Dear child,” he said, “this knapsack is my greatest treasure. As long as I have it, there is no power on earth that I am afraid of.”
He revealed to her the wonderful virtue with which it was endowed. Then she threw herself in his arms as if she were going to kiss him, but swiftly took the knapsack off his shoulders and ran away with it.
As soon as she was alone she tapped it and commanded the warriors to seize their former master and take him out of the royal palace. They obeyed and the false wife sent still more men after him, who were to drive him quite out of the country. Then he would have been ruined if he had not had the little hat.
As soon as his hands were free he turned it twice. Immediately the cannons began to thunder and struck down everything. The king’s daughter herself was forced to come and beg for mercy.
As she talked with moving words and promised to do better, he allowed himself to be persuaded and granted her peace. She behaved in a friendly manner to him and acted as if she loved him very much. After some time she managed so to fool him, that he confided to her that even if someone got the knapsack into his power, he could do nothing against him as long as the old hat was still his.
When she knew the secret, she waited until he was asleep. She took the hat away from him and had it thrown out into the street.
However he still had the horn and in great anger he blew it with all his strength. Instantly all walls, fortifications, towns and villages toppled down. They crushed the king and his daughter to death. And had he not put down the horn and had blown just a little longer, everything would have been in ruins, and not one stone would have been left standing on another.
No one opposed him any longer and he made himself king of the whole country.
Tips for Telling The Knapsack, the Hat and the Horn
- This tale has a clear structure, in which almost everything happens in threes. For adults it’s important to pay attention to your audience and see when they get bored with the repetition. Speed it up or spice it up with interesting details.
- The three (actually four) magical objects in the story need some description. How do you imagine they look? If you can’t see the knapsack, the hat and the horn, part of your audience will also struggle to see them.
- What do you think about the main character in this story? Is he selfish, opportunistic? Do you like him? Liking all characters in the story will make for a better telling.
All Questions Answered
This fairy tale was published by the Brothers Grimm in the first edition of their Grimm’s Fairy Tales, under another name: The Tablecloth, the Knapsack, the Cannot Hat and the Horn. From the second edition onward it is called The Knapsack, the Hat and the Horn. Their source: Johann Friedrich Krause.
The Brothers Grimm included an earlier version of this story under the name ‘The Tablecloth, the Knapsack, the Cannon Hat and the Horn’ in the 1812 edition of the Grimm’s fairy tales. In the 1819 edition and onward it became this story.
This fairy tale is also known as ‘The Fortune Seekers’. An older version of this fairy tale is known as ‘The Tablecloth, the Knapsack, the Cannon Hat and the Horn’.
More useful information
Fairy tales with a coal burner
Fairy tales with a soldier
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).