There was once upon a time an old king who was ill and thought to himself ‘I am lying on what must be my deathbed.’ Then said he ‘tell faithful John to come to me.’ Faithful John was his favorite servant, and was so called, because he had for his whole life long been so true to him.
When therefore he came beside the bed, the king said to him ‘most faithful John, I feel my end approaching, and have no anxiety except about my son. He is still of tender age, and cannot always know how to guide himself.
If you do not promise me to teach him everything that he ought to know, and to be his foster-father, I cannot close my eyes in peace.’ Then answered faithful John ‘I will not forsake him, and will serve him with fidelity, even if it should cost me my life.’ At this, the old king said ‘now I die in comfort and peace.’
Then he added ‘after my death, you shall show him the whole castle – all the chambers, halls, and vaults, and all the treasures which lie therein, but the last chamber in the long gallery, in which is the picture of the princess of the golden dwelling, shall you not show.
If he sees that picture, he will fall violently in love with her, and will drop down in a swoon, and go through great danger for her sake, therefore you must protect him from that.’ And when faithful John had once more given his promise to the old king about this, the king said no more, but laid his head on his pillow, and died.
When the old king had been carried to his grave, faithful John told the young king all that he had promised his father on his deathbed, and said ‘this will I assuredly keep, and will be faithful to you as I have been faithful to him, even if it should cost me my life.’ When the mourning was over, faithful John said to him ‘it is now time that you should see your inheritance. I will show you your father’s palace.’
Then he took him about everywhere, up and down, and let him see all the riches, and the magnificent apartments.
There was one room which he did not open, that in which hung the dangerous picture.
The picture, however, was so placed that when the door was opened you looked straight on it, and it was so admirably painted that it seemed to breathe and live, and there was nothing more charming or more beautiful in the whole world. The young king noticed, however, that faithful John always walked past this one door, and said ‘why do you never open this one for me.’ ‘There is something within it, he replied, ‘which would terrify you.’
But the king answered ‘I have seen all the palace, and I want to know what is in this room also, and he went and tried to break open the door by force. Then faithful John held him back and said ‘I promised your father before his death that you should not see that which is in this chamber, it might bring the greatest misfortune on you and on me.’ ‘Ah, no, replied the young king, ‘if I do not go in, it will be my certain destruction. I should have no rest day or night until I had seen it with my own eyes. I shall not leave the place now until you have unlocked the door.’
Then faithful John saw that there was no help for it now, and with a heavy heart and many sighs, sought out the key from the great bunch. When he opened the door, he went in first, and thought by standing before him he could hide the portrait so that the king should not see it in front of him. But what good was this. The king stood on tip-toe and saw it over his shoulder.
And when he saw the portrait of the maiden, which was so magnificent and shone with gold and precious stones, he fell fainting to the ground. Faithful John took him up, carried him to his bed, and sorrowfully thought ‘the misfortune has befallen us, Lord God, what will be the end of it.’ Then he strengthened him with wine, until he came to himself again. The first words the king said were ‘ah, the beautiful portrait. Whose it it.’ ‘That is the princess of the golden dwelling, answered faithful John.
Then the king continued ‘my love for her is so great, that if all the leaves on all the trees were tongues, they could not declare it. I will give my life to win her. You are my most faithful John, you must help me. The faithful servant considered within himself for a long time how to set about the matter, for it was difficult even to obtain a sight of the king’s daughter.
At length he thought of a way, and said to the king ‘everything which she has about her is of gold – tables, chairs, dishes, glasses, bowls, and household furniture. Among your treasures are five tons of gold, let one of the goldsmiths of the kingdom fashion these into all manner of vessels and utensils, into all kinds of birds, wild beasts and strange animals, such as may please her, and we will go there with them and try our luck.’ T
he king ordered all the goldsmiths to be brought to him, and they had to work night and day until at last the most splendid things were prepared. When everything was stowed on board a ship, faithful John put on the dress of a merchant, and the king was forced to do the same in order to make himself quite unrecognizable. Then they sailed across the sea, and sailed on until they came to the town wherein dwelt the princess of the golden dwelling.
Faithful John bade the king stay behind on the ship, and wait for him. ‘Perhaps I shall bring the princess with me, said he, ‘therefore see that everything is in order, have the golden vessels set out and the whole ship decorated.’ Then he gathered together in his apron all kinds of golden things, went on shore and walked straight to the royal palace. When he entered the courtyard of the palace, a beautiful girl was standing there by the well with two golden buckets in her hand, drawing water with them. And when she was just turning round to carry away the sparkling water she saw the stranger, and asked who he was.
So he answered ‘I am a merchant, and opened his apron, and let her look in. Then she cried ‘oh, what beautiful golden things.’ And put her pails down and looked at the golden wares one after the other. Then said the girl ‘the princess must see these, she has such great pleasure in golden things, that she will buy all you have.’ She took him by the hand and led him upstairs, for she was the waiting-maid. When the king’s daughter saw the wares, she was quite delighted and said ‘they are so beautifully worked, that I will buy them all from you.’ But faithful John said ‘I am only the servant of a rich merchant. The things I have here are not to be compared with those my master has in his ship. They are the most beautiful and valuable things that have ever been made in gold.’ When she wanted to have everything brought up to her, he said ‘there are so many of them that it would take a great many days to do that, and so many rooms would be required to exhibit them, that your house is not big enough.’
Then her curiosity and longing were still more excited, until at last she said ‘conduct me to the ship, I will go there myself, and behold the treasures of your master.’ At this faithful John was quite delighted, and led her to the ship, and when the king saw her, he perceived that her beauty was even greater than the picture had represented it to be, and thought no other than that his heart would burst in twain. Then she boarded the ship, and the king led her within.
Faithful John, however, remained with the helmsman, and ordered the ship to be pushed off, saying ‘set all sail, till it fly like a bird in the air.’ Within, the king showed her the golden vessels, every one of them, also the wild beasts and strange animals. Many hours went by whilst she was seeing everything, and in her delight she did not observe that the ship was sailing away. After she had looked at the last, she thanked the merchant and wanted to go home, but when she came to the side of the ship, she saw that it was on the high seas far from land, and hurrying onwards with all sail set. ‘Ah, cried she in her alarm, ‘I am betrayed. I am carried away and have fallen into the power of a merchant – I would rather die.’
The king, however, seized her hand, and said ‘I am not a merchant. I am a king, and of no meaner origin than you are, and if I have carried you away with subtlety, that has come to pass because of my exceeding great love for you. The first time that I looked on your portrait, I fell fainting to the ground.’ When the princess of the golden dwelling heard this, she was comforted, and her heart was drawn to him, so that she willingly consented to be his wife. It so happened, while they were sailing onwards over the deep sea, that faithful John, who was sitting on the fore part of the vessel, making music, saw three ravens in the air, which came flying towards them.
At this he stopped playing and listened to what they were saying to each other, for that he well understood. One cried ‘oh, there he is carrying home the princess of the golden dwelling.’ ‘Yes, replied the second, ‘but he has not got her yet.’ Said the third ‘but he has got her, she is sitting beside him in the ship.’ Then the first began again, and cried ‘what good will that do him. When they reach land a chestnut horse will leap forward to meet him, and the prince will want to mount it, but if he does that, it will run away with him, and rise up into the air, and he will never see his maiden more.’ Spoke the second ‘but is there no escape.’ ‘Oh, yes, if someone else mounts it swiftly, and takes out the pistol which he will find in its holster, and shoots the horse dead, the young king is saved. But who knows that. And whosoever does know it, and tells it to him, will be turned to stone from the toe to the knee.’
Then said the second ‘I know more than that, even if the horse be killed, the young king will still not keep his bride. When they go into the castle together, a wrought bridal garment will be lying there in a dish, and looking as if it were woven of gold and silver, it is, however, nothing but sulphur and pitch, and if he put it on, it will burn him to the very bone and marrow.’ Said the third ‘is there no escape at all.’ ‘Oh, yes, replied the second, ‘if any one with gloves on seizes the garment and throws it into the fire and burns it, the young king will be saved. But what good will that do. Whosoever knows it and tells it to him, half his body will become stone from the knee to the heart.’ Then said the third ‘I know still more, even if the bridal garment be burnt, the young king will still not have his bride.
After the wedding, when the dancing begins and the young queen is dancing, she will suddenly turn pale and fall down as if dead, and if some one does not lift her up and draw three drops of blood from her right breast and spit them out again, she will die. But if any one who knows that were to declare it, he would become stone from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot.’
When the ravens had spoken of this together, they flew onwards, and faithful John had well understood everything, but from that time forth he became quiet and sad, for if he concealed what he had heard from his master, the latter would be unfortunate, and if he disclosed it to him, he himself must sacrifice his life. At length, however, he said to himself ‘I will save my master, even if it bring destruction on myself.’
When therefore they came to shore, all happened as had been foretold by the ravens, and a magnificent chestnut horse sprang forward. ‘Good, said the king, ‘he shall carry me to my palace, and was about to mount it when faithful John got before him, jumped quickly on it, drew the pistol out of the holster, and shot the horse. Then the other attendants of the king, who were not very fond of faithful John, cried ‘how shameful to kill the beautiful animal, that was to have carried the king to his palace.’ But the king said ‘hold your peace and leave him alone, he is my most faithful John. Who knows what good may come of this.’ They went into the palace, and in the hall there stood a dish, and therein lay the bridal garment looking no otherwise than as if it were made of gold and silver.
The young king went towards it and was about to take hold of it, but faithful John pushed him away, seized it with gloves on, carried it quickly to the fire and burnt it. The other attendants again began to murmur, and said ‘behold, now he is even burning the king’s bridal garment.’ But the young king said ‘who knows what good he may have done, leave him alone, he is my most faithful John.’
And now the wedding was solemnized – the dance began, and the bride also took part in it, then faithful John was watchful and looked into her face, and suddenly she turned pale and fell to the ground as if she were dead.
On this he ran hastily to her, lifted her up and bore her into a chamber – then he laid her down, and knelt and sucked the three drops of blood from her right breast, and spat them out. Immediately she breathed again and recovered herself, but the young king had seen this, and being ignorant why faithful John had done it, was angry and cried ‘throw him into a dungeon.’
Next morning faithful John was condemned, and led to the gallows, and when he stood on high, and was about to be executed, he said ‘every one who has to die is permitted before his end to make one last speech, may I too claim the right.’ ‘Yes, answered the king, ‘it shall be granted unto you.’ Then said faithful John ‘I am unjustly condemned, and have always been true to you, and he related how he had hearkened to the conversation of the ravens when on the sea, and how he had been obliged to do all these things in order to save his master.
Then cried the king ‘oh, my most faithful John. Pardon, pardon – bring him down.’ But as faithful John spoke the last word he had fallen down lifeless and become a stone. Thereupon the king and the queen suffered great anguish, and the king said ‘ah, how ill I have requited great fidelity.’ And ordered the stone figure to be taken up and placed in his bedroom beside his bed. And as often as he looked on it he wept and said ‘ah, if I could bring you to life again, my most faithful John.’
Some time passed and the queen bore twins, two sons who grew fast and were her delight. Once when the queen was at church and the father was sitting with his two children playing beside him, he looked at the stone figure again, sighed, and full of grief he said ‘ah, if I could but bring you to life again, my most faithful John.’ Then the stone began to speak and said ‘you can bring me to life again if you will use for that purpose what is dearest to you.’ Then cried the king ‘I will give everything I have in the world for you.’
The stone continued ‘if you will cut off the heads of your two children with your own hand, and sprinkle me with their blood, I shall be restored to life.’ The king was terrified when he heard that he himself must kill his dearest children, but he thought of faithful John’s great fidelity, and how he had died for him, drew his sword, and with his own hand cut off the children’s heads. And when he had smeared the stone with their blood, life returned to it, and faithful John stood once more safe and healthy before him. He said to the king ‘your truth shall not go unrewarded, and took the heads of the children, put them on again, and rubbed the wounds with their blood, at which they became whole again immediately, and jumped about, and went on playing as if nothing had happened.
Then the king was full of joy, and when he saw the queen coming he hid faithful John and the two children in a great cupboard. When she entered, he said to her ‘have you been praying in the church.’ ‘Yes, answered she, ‘but I have constantly been thinking of faithful John and what misfortune has befallen him through us.’ Then said he ‘dear wife, we can give him his life again, but it will cost us our two little sons, whom we must sacrifice.’
The queen turned pale, and her heart was full of terror, but she said ‘we owe it to him, for his great fidelity.’ Then the king was rejoiced that she thought as he had thought, and went and opened the cupboard, and brought forth faithful John and the children, and said ‘God be praised, he is delivered, and we have our little sons again also, and told her how everything had occurred. Then they dwelt together in much happiness until their death.
Faithful John by Grimm Brothers
Faithful John in Children’s Fairy Tales is familiar. It’s one of the quintessential short stories in every children’s book. Written by the Grimm brothers, it is a monumental piece of children’s literature.
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About Grimm Brothers:
The Brothers Grimm (die Brüder Grimm or die Gebrüder Grimm), Jacob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm (1786–1859), were German academics, philologists, cultural researchers, lexicographers, and authors who together collected and published folklore.
They are among the best-known storytellers of folk tales, popularizing stories such as “Cinderella” (“Aschenputtel”), “The Frog Prince” (“Der Froschkönig”), “Hansel and Gretel” (“Hänsel und Gretel”), “Little Red Riding Hood” (“Rotkäppchen”), “Rapunzel”, “Rumpelstiltskin” (“Rumpelstilzchen”), “Sleeping Beauty” (“Dornröschen”), and “Snow White” (“Schneewittchen”). Their first collection of folk tales, Children’s and Household Tales (Kinder- und Hausmärchen), began publication in 1812.
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The brothers spent their formative years in the town of Hanau in the Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel. Their father’s death in 1796 (when Jacob was eleven and Wilhelm was ten) caused great poverty for the family and affected the brothers many years after.
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Both brothers attended the University of Marburg, where they became curious about German folklore, which grew into a lifelong dedication to collecting German folk tales.
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The rise of romanticism in the 19th century revived interest in traditional folk stories, which to the brothers represented a pure form of national literature and culture. Intending to research a scholarly treatise on folk tales, they established a methodology for collecting and recording folk stories that became the basis for folklore studies.
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Between 1812 and 1857 their first collection was revised and republished many times, growing from 86 stories to more than 200. In addition to writing and modifying folk tales, the brothers wrote collections of well-respected German and Scandinavian mythologies.
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In 1838 they began writing a definitive German dictionary (Deutsches Wörterbuch) which they could not finish during their lifetimes.
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The popularity of the Grimms’ collected folk tales has endured well. The tales are available in more than 100 translations and have been adapted by filmmakers (including Lotte Reiniger and Walt Disney), in films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
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In the mid-20th century, the tales were used as propaganda by Nazi Germany; later in the 20th century, psychologists such as Bruno Bettelheim reaffirmed the value of the work despite the cruelty and violence in original versions of some of the tales, which the Grimms eventually sanitized.