Return to the fairy tales - book two
THE KNAPSACK, THE HAT AND THE HORN
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
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
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
evening to you," the youth said. "How do you get
on in your solitude in these woods?"
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."
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."
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
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
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
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."
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."
not? That suits me fine," the youth answered. He took the
hat and put it on, then giving the tablecloth to the little man
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."
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."
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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."
said, "That ugly old hat disguises how attractive you are. Why don't you throw it away?"
would never throw this hat away," the youth replied. "All I
have to do is turn it and twelve cannons go off."
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."
youth answered, "I know something even better than that sound. It
is love. Nothing is stronger than that. Don't you agree?"
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.
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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
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A retelling by j Kearns based on the the Brother's Grimm
Return to the fairy tales - book two