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The Three Little Men in the Wood

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Title: The Three Little Men in the Wood  
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Subject: The White Bride and the Black One, Grim Tales, Brothers Grimm, Mother Hulda, Brother and Sister
Collection: Grimms' Fairy Tales
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The Three Little Men in the Wood

"The Three Little Men in the Wood" or "The Three Little Gnomes in the Forest" is a German fairy tale collected in 1812 by the Brothers Grimm (KHM #13).[1] Andrew Lang included it in The Red Fairy Book (1890) as "The Three Dwarfs,"[2] and a version of the tale appears in A Book of Dwarfs (1964) by Ruth Manning-Sanders.

It is Aarne-Thompson type 403B, the black and the white bride, and includes an episode of type 480, the kind and the unkind girls.


  • Synopsis 1
  • Structure 2
  • Influences 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


A woman offered marriage to a widower with a daughter, saying that her own daughter would drink water and wash in water, while the man's daughter would drink wine and wash in milk. The man gave his daughter a boot with a hole in it, and told her to take it to the barn and fill it with water; if it held the water, he would remarry, and if not, he would not. The water pulled the hole together, and the boot held it, so he remarried.

The woman kept her promise one day; the second day, both girls drank and washed in water; the third and after, the stepdaughter drank and washed in water, while the daughter drank wine and washed in milk. One winter day, the stepmother ordered her stepdaughter to wear a dress of paper and seek strawberries in the wood, giving her only a piece of hard bread to eat.

While in the wood, the girl met three little men. She politely asked permission to come into their home, which they gave. Inside, she sat by the fire and began to eat the bread. The three men said, "Give us some, too!" and so, having a kind heart, the girl did. The little men directed her to sweep the back steps, and she did so, and - to her great surprise - found the strawberries for which she had been searching. The little men wanted to reward the girl for her kindness, so they each spoke a wish: one declared that she should grow more beautiful every day, the other declared that a gold piece should fall from her mouth whenever she spoke, and the third declared that a king would marry her.

The girl returned home, only to be welcomed by the envy of her stepsister, who wanted the same fortune for herself. Her mother, however, would not allow her child into the cold wood, but the daughter insisted, so the mother gave her warm clothing and good food to take with her. The girl found the same little men, but refused to either share her food or sweep the back steps. The little men wanted to punish her for her haughtiness and one declared that she would grow more ugly every day, the other declared that a toad should fall from her mouth whenever she spoke, and the third declared that she would die a miserable death.

One day, the stepmother boiled yarn and gave it to her stepdaughter, ordering her to chop a hole in the ice on the river and rinse it. While the stepdaughter did this, a king saw her and asked what she was doing. "I am a poor girl, and I am rinsing yarn." The king was taken with her beauty, so he took her with him to marry her and make her his queen. Within a year, the young queen had a son. The evil stepmother called on her, but as soon as she had a chance, she and her daughter threw her young queen out the window and into a stream, and the stepmother put her own daughter in her place. The stepmother told the king that the queen had a fever which caused the toads to fall from her mouth instead of the gold pieces.

But a duck swam up to the castle and asked after the king, the guests, and the baby. A scullion answered that they were sleeping. When the duck heard this, it transformed into the young queen herself. She went to nurse her baby, then transformed back into a duck. She did this for two nights; on the third night, she told the scullion to have the king swing his sword over her three times, on the threshold. This turned her back into her human form again. The king hid her until the baby's christening, when he asked the stepmother what should be done with someone who threw someone into the water. The woman said that they deserve no less than to be put in a barrel stuck full of nails and rolled down the hill into the water. The king declared that the stepmother and her evil daughter had named their own fate and were executed in that fashion.


This tale combines two sequences, which are often found together -- see, for example, The Enchanted Wreath, Maiden Bright-eye, or Bushy Bride -- but which can also be two separate stories:[3]

First, there is the "kind and unkind girls" tale, where variants include Frau Holle, The Fairies, The Three Heads in the Well, The Two Caskets, The Months, and Father Frost.[4] Literary variants include The Three Fairies and Aurore and Aimée.[5]
Second, the theme of the stepmother (or another woman) managing to usurp the true bride's place after the marriage, is often found in other fairy tales, where the obstacles to the marriage differ, if they were part of the tale: The Wonderful Birch, Little Brother and Little Sister, The Witch in the Stone Boat, Bushy Bride, or The White Duck.


The story appears to be influenced by Charles Perrault's variant, The Fairies, as the heroine receives a similar reward to the heroine in that tale.[6]


  1. ^ Jacob and Wilheim Grimm, Grimm's Fairy Tales, ""The Three Little Men in the Wood"
  2. ^ Andrew Lang, The Red Fairy Book, "The Three Dwarfs"
  3. ^ Harry Velten, "The Influences of Charles Perrault's Contes de ma Mère L'oie on German Folklore", p 959, Jack Zipes, ed. The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, ISBN 0-393-97636-X
  4. ^ Heidi Anne Heiner, "Tales Similar to Diamonds and Toads"
  5. ^ Jack Zipes, The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, p 543, ISBN 0-393-97636-X
  6. ^ Harry Velten, "The Influences of Charles Perrault's Contes de ma Mère L'oie on German Folklore", p 959, Jack Zipes, ed. The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, ISBN 0-393-97636-X

External links

  • with information on variantsThe Three Little Men in the Wood
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