King of the Golden Mountains

Picture Book by Max Teschemacher

This fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm is marked KHM 92.

There was a merchant who had lost all his fortune. A black dwarf offered to solve his financial problems if he promised to give him the first thing that rubs his legs when he returns home (not right away but twelve years later).

The merchant gave his word and when he returned home his son rubbed at his legs. The little black man kept his promise and after twelve years the merchant told about that to his son.

The boy wanted out of this deal so he and his father sat inside a circle when the black dwarf came. After some arguing they agreed that the boy would not belong to either and should be sent down by the river in a small boat.

The boy landed in a strange land with a beautiful castle which was empty. The only exception was the last room where he found a huge snake. The snake told him she was an enchanted princess but he could break the spell if he could keep silent when black men came in the evening. They would be nasty and would beat him three evenings in a row to test him.

The boy took the test and survived. The snake transformed into a princess and married him.

The boy became the King of the Golden Mountain.

He had a son and lived happily for several years when he started missing his parents. He told that to his wife who warned him not to return. He was persistent and she gave him a wishing-ring by which he could transform himself or others to any place. There was one condition. He should not wish to transform her or their son to his father's place.

So he returned disguised as a shepherd.

His parents didn't recognize him or believe his story.

When he showed his birthmark, they were convinced.

Yet they didn't believe him he became the king. So he forgot his promise and wished for his wife and son.

They appeared in his parents' place but they were not happy.

When he later fell asleep on the shore of the river, his wife took his wishing ring and escaped with their son.

She left only one of her slippers behind her. He decided to return to his kingdom but he didn't have a boat.

So he went on foot.

On his way, he encountered three giants. They asked him to help to solve their problem. They had to split an inheritance. There were three magical objects: a sword by which he could cut all heads around him, a cloak of invisibility, and boots with the same power as the wishing ring he had just lost.

He promised to solve that problem but wanted to try the magical object first.

When he got all three he just wished to be at The Golden Mountain. The giants got nothing left and their problem was solved.

He came to the palace just in time for preparations for the wedding. His wife, the queen of the Golden Mountain, decided to get another man for her husband.

The rightful king was covered by the cloak of visibility and nagged her so she could not eat or drink.

She retired to her bedroom.

There he made himself visible and demanded to restore his position.

But folk in the dining room disagreed. They tried to capture him and he used his magical sword. Many died and he became the king of the Golden Mountain again.

Time for a short analysis!

While this fairy tale poses many familiar fairy tale elements it's almost forgotten today. There are several reasons for that. Here are a few:

  • Unlikable characters. The merchant was stupid to make the deal with the black dwarf in the first place. His boy lied to just about everybody around him. His other dead sin was pride. His wife had her own agenda as well.
  • Blind alleys in writing. By blind alleys, I mean useless facts and actions that don't contribute to the main plot. We hear about the merchant's daughter in the beginning but we don't know what happened to her. There is no use of the slipper left by the queen on the shore. We don't know what happened to the king's parents, wife, and son. And why the hack he disguised himself as a shepherd?
  • Double standards. While the boy who became the king is allowed to break his promises, everybody else is punished for much lesser mistakes like recklessness (father), naivety (giants), or even finding a more reliable man (the queen).

It's still great to have this fairy tale in front of us. If nothing else, it should remind us how every story could be told/written better.

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