Iron Hans

Picture book by Max Teschemacher

Once upon a time, there was a king with a large forest near his castle. When several of his huntsmen vanished in this forest, he forbade everybody to enter. Some time later another huntsman came by and wanted to explore the secret of the forest. He discovered a gigantic wild man.

This wild man was called Iron John. He was caught and imprisoned in a cage. After a while, the king's son played with a golden ball and it fell into possession of the Iron John convinced the prince to unlock the cage and took him into the forest.

The prince lived with Iron John. His duty was to guard a well with magical powers. Everything that fell into the well turned into gold.

The prince was not careful enough and his hair touched the water in the well. His hair turned gold. Iron John said they must depart but he will come to help him if he calls for help.

The prince went out of the woods and strayed around until he found a city with a palace. There he became a garden boy. He kept his golden hair under the cap all the time. One day the princess spotted his golden hair. She was very interested in him but he didn't tell her about his origin.

Soon after a war broke out. The prince wanted to participate and called Iron John for help.

Iron John provided his armor and warriors. The prince's army destroyed the enemy and the king wanted to know who is the mysterious knight. But the prince didn't disclose his identity. He returned everything to Iron John and became the garden boy again.

The king decided to organize a competition. He hoped the mysterious knight who saved his kingdom would participate. He promised to throw a golden apple among the knights and the one who would catch it would be rewarded.

The prince asked Iron John for help again.

Iron John provided him with a great horse and splendid attire. The prince caught the golden apple but escaped. He did that three days in a row but was slightly wounded on the last day of the competition.

He also lost his helmet so everybody could see his golden hair.

The gardener told the princess about the garden boy who came home very late and acted strangely. He also showed three golden apples to his children.

The king ordered to see the garden boy. He confessed he was the mysterious knight and showed the apples and the wound.

His golden hair was another sign of his royal origin.

The king gave the prince his daughter for his wife.

Then another king came in. It was Iron John who was enchanted into a wild man. He gave all his possessions to the young prince with the golden hair.

This fairy tale excessively uses the magical number three:

  • Huntsmen are lost in the woods in three steps: first one, then two, then all the others.
  • The prince tried to get his golden ball back three days in a row.
  • The prince made three mistakes while guarding the magical well.
  • When the prince wanted to call Iron John for help he had to repeat his name three times.
  • The prince who becomes the garden boy brought flowers to the princess three times.
  • When the prince who is disguised as a garden boy wants to join the warriors they leave him a three-legged horse in the stable.
  • The prince competes for the golden apples three times with three different attires and three different horses. We are dealing with three golden apples in The Golden Bird as well.

This story is sometimes also translated as Iron Hans, keeping the original name in German form. Hans is, of course, coming from Johannes, and the most famous Hans in fairy tales is Hansel (diminutive of Hans) from Hansel and Gretel. There are nine title characters named Hans in the Children and Household Tales by the Brothers Grimm.

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