the fairy talesthe mythsentrancepinocchioetcetera

the knapsack, the hat and the horn

Return to the fairy tales - book two


A retelling by J. Kearns

The individual in this tale procures a tablecloth which, as with stories of certain magic grails and cauldrons, always supplies him with food.

here were once three brothers who were pretty poor, and though they were old enough to leave they stayed on the farm with their parents who wanted the three brothers to be farmers just like them. They were all so poor they didn't see how things could get any worse, but as time went on their luck not only did not get any better, it got worse, and they became even poorer. "Now," the three brothers thought, "we are certainly so poor that things must get better." But again, as time went on, their luck stayed bad and became far worse still so that they were poorer than ever. The three brothers knew the farmland wasn't of very good quality, and they talked about leaving, but their neighbors and family resisted their leaving and told them if they couldn't make something of themselves where they were, then they would be unable to fare better elsewhere. So, the brothers stayed. The way their luck ran, however, when the crops needed rain they were sure to have a drought. When they did have rain it would flood just at the worst time and the crops would be ruined. If the crops were doing well, then insects would come along and eat it all. Finally, one day the farmland all turned to dust and the brothers were so poor that they had hardly anything to eat or drink. Then the brothers said to each other, "Our lives can't go on like this. No matter how others argue against our leaving, we had better go out into the world."
The three brothers set out into the world to seek their fortune even though they had no money to go anywhere. They walked and walked and walked and walked. They went down many long roads and it seemed like they were never going to meet up with any good luck. Good luck always seemed to belong to someone else but not to them. If the 1000th customer at a store would win free food then they would be the 997th 998th, and 999th customers, and the person just behind them would win the free food and that person would usually be wealthy and not need the free food. That's the kind of bad luck these brothers had.


Everywhere the brothers went, someone had something different to tell them about luck. Some people told them that if they had bad luck it was because they were somehow bad themselves and thus they deserved the bad luck. Other people told them that there was no such thing as luck, good or bad, and that your fortune was a matter of what you made of it. Others said that success simply came to those who worked for it, that providence helped those who helped themselves. Still others said that if you're low, then you must not expect any help from others but pull yourself up by your own bootstraps because we all have to be responsible for ourselves. But then, as another wise person said, if you can't even afford a pair of boots, how are you able to pull yourself up by your bootstraps?
These brothers were very low indeed. They had no boots. Their clothes were nothing more than rags. Who was going to give work to men who lived on the streets, who looked like beggars. They learned, as they walked along, that different people lived on the streets for different reasons. Sadly, they met people who lived on the streets because they'd had decent luck that they'd thrown away after bad things. Sadly, they also met people who lived on the streets because they were sick, sometimes in their bodies and sometimes in their heads, and they couldn't take care of themselves. And they also met people who were on the streets because they had fallen on hard, hard times. These three brothers were people like that. And, indeed there were some people who thought the brothers were thankless, because some people offered them work like picking the apples of someone else's good harvest, but they would only work enough to pay for something to eat and then move on, for the brothers said that they had decided they had better fortunes to seek and wouldn't spend their lives working hard as slaves and making barely enough money to eat.
The brothers kept walking though they were very tired. One day, they came to a great forest. In the middle of the forest there was a hill, and as they walked they came closer and closer to the hill until they saw it was a hill made entirely of silver. The eldest brother said, "Now I have found the good luck I wished for, and I desire nothing more." He took as much of the silver as he could possibly carry, and then turned back and went home again.


The other two brothers said, "We want something more from good luck than silver. Let's agree not to even touch this silver, but continue on." So they didn't touch the silver and they continued on walking.
The two brothers walked and walked without stopping for at least two days, maybe even longer. Finally, they came to a hill which was all gold. The second brother stopped, and looked at the hill of gold and wondered if this was the good luck for which he'd wished. "What shall I do?" he said. "Shall I take for myself as much gold as I can carry, which will make me a rich person for the rest of my life and make our parents proud, or shall I go on walking further yet and see if the world holds something better?" After a little while of thinking, this brother made his decision, and putting as much gold into his pockets as he could carry, said farewell to the youngest brother and went home.
The third brother said, "Silver and gold would make me a rich man, but I want something more than what silver and gold can give me. Instead of renouncing my chance of fortune, by taking this gold and going home, I'll continue on, and perhaps something better still will come along."
This third brother walked onwards, and when he had walked for three days, he came to a forest which was even larger than the other forest. This forest never seemed like it would come to an end. Exhausted, the youngest brother climbed up a high tree to find out if up there he could see the end of the forest, but he saw nothing but the tops of trees and more trees. Climbing down the tree, the brother thought of how he had had nothing to eat or drink in days, for he had seen nothing to eat or drink while in the forest. He was afraid he would die of hunger before getting out of the forest, and thought to himself, "I would be happy just to fill his belly with food one last time."
When the brother got to the bottom of the tree, much to his disbelief there was a tablecloth spread out on the ground and richly spread with food. The food was hot too, so steam from it rose and filled his nostrils with wonderful aromas. This brother who had bypassed the hills of silver and gold, thought to himself, "This time, my wish has been fulfilled at just the right moment." And without looking around to find out who had laid the food out, or who had cooked it, he sat down and gratefully ate with great enjoyment until his hunger was appeased. When he was done, he folded the tablecloth up tidily and put it in his pocket.


The brother walked on. In the evening, when he was again hungry and tired, he spread the tablecloth out on the ground. He thought aloud, "I wish you were covered with good cheer again," and scarcely had the wish crossed his lips than the tablecloth was covered with dishes full of appetizing food. The brother smiled and said, "Now I see in what kitchen my cooking is done. This tablecloth is more precious than silver and gold," for he understood it was a wishing-cloth. Still, though he had this marvelous wishing-cloth in his possession, the brother wasn't ready to turn back and go home. He preferred to wander about the world and pursue his fortune further.
The brother walked on. One evening, he was traveling through a lonely wood when he met an odd-looking little man roasting a meal of potatoes by a charcoal fire. He was a charcoal-burner and sat nearby his charcoal hearth, a dome-shaped mound made of wood and covered with turf and soil. The charcoal-burner lived in the woods, that being where charcoal burners normally lived as their hearths required constant attention.
"Good evening to you," the youth said. "How do you get on in your solitude in these woods?"
The little man replied, "One day is like another, and every night potatoes. If you would share this poor meal with me, I invite you to be my guest."
"Many thanks," said the youth, "but you didn't reckon on having a visitor, and I won't rob you of your supper. You're invited, however, to share what I have."
Tending his charcoal, the little man said, "Who's going to prepare what you have, 'cause I don't see that you've got anything with you, and there's no one within shouting distance in this great, lonely forest who'll give you anything either."
"And yet, there shall be a meal," the youth answered, "and better than any you've ever tasted, I guarantee." Thereupon, he brought his cloth out of his pocket. He spread it on the ground, then said, "Little cloth, cover yourself." Instantly, the cloth was filled with meats and vegetables as hot as if they had just come out of the kitchen.
When the little man had gotten over his astonishment, he joined the youth at the cloth and ate as much as he desired, which was about everything there was. When he was done, settling back and smiling contentedly, he said to the youth, "Listen. Your tablecloth has my approval. It would be a fine thing for me to have in this forest, where no one ever cooks me anything good and all I ever have is potatoes. Permit me to propose an exchange to you. Over there hangs a soldier's old knapsack. To your eyes it may appear shabby, but that shabbiness belies its magnificence. I'll trade it to you for the tablecloth."


The youth said, "First tell me what makes the knapsack so magnificent."
The little man answered, "Every time you tap it with your hand, a corporal comes out with six men armed from head to toe, and they do whatever you command them. Believe me when I say it would be best for you to make the trade, and that you'll be sorry if you don't.""
Curious happenings were at work, so the youth readily agreed to the exchange. He gave the little man the tablecloth, took the knapsack from its hook, put it on, and bade the little man farewell.
After the youth had walked a while, he thought he would try out the magical powers of the knapsack. When he tapped on it, immediately the seven warriors appeared, and the corporal said, "What is my lord and ruler's wish?"
The youth said, "I wish for you to go to and demand my wishing-cloth back from the one who said I'd best make this trade."
The seven warriors faced to the left, then were gone. It wasn't long before they reappeared with the tablecloth, and the youth had them retire to the knapsack. When he was done resting, he got up and walked on.
I don't know if it was that night or the next, but the sun was setting when the youth came upon peculiar little man who, like the first, was a charcoal-burner and had by the fire some roasted potatoes for his supper. The little man said, tending his charcoal fire, "If you'll eat some potatoes with salt, but with no dripping, come and sit down with me."
The youth replied, "No, you shall be my guest," and he spread out his cloth, which was instantly covered with wonderful foods to eat. He and the little man ate and drank together and had a good time talking.
When the meal was over, the little man said, "I have a little, antiquated, worn-out hat which has strange properties. The moment someone puts the hat on, and turns the hat round on his head, cannons go off as if twelve were fired all together, and they cause such total destruction that no one can withstand them. Believe me when I say it would be best for you to make the trade, and that you'll be sorry if you don't."
"Why not? That suits me fine," the youth answered. He took the hat and put it on, then giving the tablecloth to the little man he left.


But hardly had the youth walked away than he tapped on his knapsack, and had the seven soldiers fetch the wishing-cloth back to him again. The youth thought to himself, "My, my. One thing comes on the top of another, and I feel as if my good luck has not yet come to an end."
The youth walked on, and after he had walked for a full day, he came to a third third little man who, like the previous one, was also a charcoal-burner roasting potatoes by a charcoal fire, and said, "If you'll eat some potatoes with salt, but with no dripping, come and sit down with me." And again, the youth invited the odd little man to instead be his guest, and spread out the tablecloth upon which appeared the best meal ever you could imagine. When the meal was over, the little man said, "I like your tablecloth so much that I'm willing to offer you a trade for it. I have an antiquated horn which, the moment someone blows on it, walls and fortifications fall down, and towns and villages become ruins. Believe me when I say it would be best for you to make the trade, and that you'll be sorry if you don't."
The youth gave the little man the cloth and took the horn. After he'd walked a little way, he tapped on the knapsack and sent the seven soldiers to retrieve the tablecloth again. Now, the youth had the marvelous wishing cloth, the knapsack, the hat, and the horn, and he said to himself, "I am made a man, and it's time for me to go home and see how my two brothers are getting on."
When the youth reached home, he saw that his two older brothers had built for themselves, with their silver and gold, a magnificent house with seven gates to prevent anyone from trying to steal their riches--and they were indeed living richly.
Dressed in his raggedy coat, with the old knapsack on his back, and the shabby hat on his head, the youngest brother went up to the outermost gate and knocked on it. His two older brothers, however, when they went to the gate and saw that their youngest brother was there, and that he looked as poor as ever in his shabby clothes, refused to let him in. They even refused to acknowledge him as their brother. They laughed at him and said, "You despised our silver, which wasn't good enough for you. You even despised our gold, saying you were going to go on until you got something better. A person who turns his nose up like that at what the rest of the world values, can only afford to do so if he can return home with more riches than they've scorned. Instead, you've learned too late that there is nothing better than silver and gold, and you come crawling home like a beggar, expecting, no doubt, to share in our success like it's your own. We say, though, that it looks like you've got what you deserved." With that, the two elder brothers turned and went back inside their mansion.


The youth called out to his brothers, "I had only come here to see how you were doing, and to share my good fortune with you. Your silver and gold can buy you what you want, but, look, I have a cloth of abundance that satisfies me whenever I'm hungry and I never have to spend a penny on it." The youth took out his tablecloth and spread it on the ground. As always, it was instantly covered with food.
The youth called out to his brothers, "A lot of people in this world want silver and gold, and you can use yours to buy protection against anyone who would want to steal yours from you. But you have to pay for loyalty, whereas I have any number of men ready to defend me in an instant, and I don't have to purchase their loyalty, so someone else's offer of silver and gold can't turn them against me." The youth tapped on his knapsack until he was surrounded by one hundred and fifty soldiers. Then he called out to his brothers, "And if my soldiers should fail me, in an instant I have at my disposal cannons, and if my cannons should fail me, I have a sound, yes, a sound, against which nothing can stand. It can topple any defense. So, you see, if what I had wanted was your silver and gold, you would have no way of defending yourself against me. But I didn't come here for your silver and gold."
The two older brothers had no idea how their youngest brother had made the soldiers and cannons appear. Nor did they know if the youth actually had cannons and knowledge of a sound that could topple any defense. They thought that maybe he had no intentions of stealing their silver and gold after all, but they were advised by everyone around them that as long as the youth had soldiers and cannons none of them could live securely.
The younger brother camped outside the gate. That evening a young woman came outside the gate to him. "Pretty weather we're having, isn't it," she said to the youth.
He agreed with her that yes it was nice weather.
"It's a little cool though," the girl said. "Do you mind if I sit next to you to keep myself warm?"
The youth thought a moment, then said she could.
This girl sat next to the youth and said, "You're actually a nice-looking fellow, but no one would know it from that old knapsack. Why don't you throw it away?"
"Throw this knapsack away?" the youth replied. "But this knapsack is a great treasure of mine. As long as I have it, there is no power on earth of which I'm afraid. All I must do is rap it and seven soldiers appear ready to do my bidding."
The girl said, "That ugly old hat disguises how attractive you are. Why don't you throw it away?"
"I would never throw this hat away," the youth replied. "All I have to do is turn it and twelve cannons go off."
The girl then said, "I hear you have a sound that you can make that no wall can stand up against. If you tell me what it is, I'll marry you."
The youth answered, "I know something even better than that sound. It is love. Nothing is stronger than that. Don't you agree?"
The girl proceeded to tease the youth. Pretending as if she was going to kiss him, she put her hands on his shoulders, but instead she cleverly took the knapsack from him, then grabbed the hat from off his head. She ran back inside the gate of the house and locked it shut behind her.
The two elder brothers took the knapsack and hat. This took care of the soldiers and cannons, for as they had the knapsack and hat they need not worry about them anymore. "But what about the magic sound," they asked her. "Did you find out what the magic sound was?"
At that very moment they heard a horn blow outside, followed by a great crash. Then the horn sounded again and there again came the sound of a great crash. The brothers ran to look out the window and saw the first two outer walls around their great mansion had collapsed.
The horn sounded again, the youth blowing upon it with all his might, and the third wall collapsed.
He blew the horn and the fourth wall collapsed.
He blew the horn and the fifth wall fell.
He blew the horn and the sixth wall crashed to the ground.
One last time, the youth blew the horn, and the seventh wall came tumbling down, and had he not quit blowing the horn everything would have fallen and not one stone would have been left standing on another.
The youth walked directly up to his elder brothers and took back his knapsack and hat. He was about to turn and leave, taking none of his brothers' silver and gold with him, when his brothers stopped him and begged his forgiveness. If I had been the youth, I might not have believed their apologies, and gone away and never returned. But the brothers had been decent men before they had found all their silver and gold, and the youth remembered this. He knew that it was the silver and gold that had made his brothers afraid lest someone should take it from them. Not to mention that it had made them a bit greedy.
The youth accepted the apologies of his brothers and lived with them a little while. Then one day they woke up to find he was gone, for it was time for him to go and see what other wonders the world contained. He hadn't taken a speck of their silver or gold either, even though they wouldn't have minded if he had.
The youngest brother traveled the world with his magick tablecloth in his pocket. Some people thought that with that magick cloth he should have opened a restaurant, for with that endless supply of food better than the most talented chefs could cook, he could have been a very rich man. But the youth didn't do this. Whenever he ate, he invited anyone else who was hungry to eat with him, and never charged them a penny.

Print version of
The Knapsack, the Hat and the Horn

will open in a separate browser window.
To print click the "print" button in your browser menu.

A retelling by j Kearns based on the the Brother's Grimm story.

Copyright information


Return to the fairy tales - book two


the tales - myths - pinocchio - about - contact - links - guestbook

This is a site archived from the old web. Visit Idyllopus Press.