THE MAGIC BOOK
(From Eventyr fra Jylland samlede og optegnede af Tang Kristensen.
Translated from the Danish by Mrs. Skavgaard-Pedersen.)
There was once an old couple named Peder and Kirsten
who had an only son called Hans. From the time he
was a little boy he had been told that on his sixteenth
birthday he must go out into the world and serve his
apprenticeship. So, one fine summer morning, he started
off to seek his fortune with nothing but the clothes he wore
on his back.
For many hours he trudged on merrily, now and then
stopping to drink from some clear spring or to pick some
ripe fruit from a tree. The little wild creatures peeped
at him from beneath the bushes, and he nodded and smiled,
and wished them ‘Good-morning.’ After he had been
walking for some time he met an old white-bearded man
who was coming along the foot-path. The boy would
not step aside, and the man was determined not to do so
either, so they ran against one another with a bump.
‘It seems to me,’ said the old fellow, ‘that a boy should
give way to an old man.’
‘The path is for me as well as for you,’ answered young
Hans saucily, for he had never been taught politeness.
‘Well, that’s true enough,’ answered the other mildly.
‘And where are you going?’
‘I am going into service,’ said Hans.
‘Then you can come and serve me,’ replied the man.
Well, Hans could do that; but what would his wages
‘Two pounds a year, and nothing to do but keep some
rooms clean,’ said the new-comer.
This seemed to Hans to be easy enough; so he agreed
to enter the old man’s service, and they set out together.
On their way they crossed a deep valley and came to a
mountain, where the man opened a trap-door, and bidding
Hans follow him, he crept in and began to go down a long
flight of steps. When they got to the bottom Hans saw
a large number of rooms lit by many lamps and full of
beautiful things. While he was looking round the old
man said to him:
‘Now you know what you have to do. You must
keep these rooms clean, and strew sand on the floor every
day. Here is a table where you will always find food
and drink, and there is your bed. You see there are a
great many suits of clothes hanging on the wall, and you
may wear any you please; but remember that you are
never to open this locked door. If you do ill will befall
you. Farewell, for I am going away again and cannot
tell when I may return.’
No sooner had the old man disappeared than Hans
sat down to a good meal, and after that went to bed and
slept until the morning. At first he could not remember
what had happened to him, but by-and-by he jumped up
and went into all the rooms, which he examined carefully.
‘How foolish to bid me to put sand on the floors,’ he
thought, ‘when there is nobody here but myself! I shall
do nothing of the sort.’ And so he shut the doors quickly,
and only cleaned and set in order his own room. And
after the first few days he felt that that was unnecessary
too, because no one came there to see if the rooms were
clean or not. At last he did no work at all, but just sat
and wondered what was behind the locked door, till he
determined to go and look for himself.
The key turned easily in the lock. Hans entered, half
frightened at what he was doing, and the first thing he
beheld was a heap of bones. That was not very cheerful;
and he was just going out again when his eye fell on a
shelf of books. Here was a good way of passing the time,
he thought, for he was fond of reading, and he took one
of the books from the shelf. It was all about magic, and
told you how you could change yourself into anything
in the world you liked. Could anything be more exciting
or more useful? So he put it in his pocket, and ran
quickly away out of the mountain by a little door which
had been left open.
When he got home his parents asked him what he
had been doing and where he had got the fine clothes he
‘Oh, I earned them myself,’ answered he.
‘You never earned them in this short time,’ said his
father. ‘Be off with you; I won’t keep you here. I will
have no thieves in my house!’
‘Well I only came to help you,’ replied the boy sulkily.
‘Now I’ll be off, as you wish; but to-morrow morning
when you rise you will see a great dog at the door. Do
not drive it away, but take it to the castle and sell it to
the duke, and they will give you ten dollars for it; only
you must bring the strap you lead it with, back to
Sure enough the next day the dog was standing at the
door waiting to be let in. The old man was rather afraid
of getting into trouble, but his wife urged him to sell the
dog as the boy had bidden him, so he took it up to the
castle and sold it to the duke for ten dollars. But he did
not forget to take off the strap with which he had led the
animal, and to carry it home. When he got there old
Kirsten met him at the door.
‘Well, Peder, and have you sold the dog?’ asked
‘Yes, Kirsten; and I have brought back ten dollars, as
the boy told us,’ answered Peder.
‘Ay! but that’s fine!’ said his wife. ‘Now you see
what one gets by doing as one is bid; if it had not been
for me you would have driven the dog away again,
and we should have lost the money. After all, I always
know what is best.’
‘Nonsense!’ said her husband; ‘women always think
they know best. I should have sold the dog just the same
whatever you had told me. Put the money away in a safe
place, and don’t talk so much.’
The next day Hans came again; but though everything
had turned out as he had foretold, he found that his father
was still not quite satisfied.
‘Be off with you!’ said he, ‘you’ll get us into trouble.’
‘I haven’t helped you enough yet,’ replied the boy.
‘To-morrow there will come a great fat cow, as big as the
house. Take it to the king’s palace and you’ll get as
much as a thousand dollars for it. Only you must
unfasten the halter you lead it with and bring it back,
and don’t return by the high road, but through the
The next day, when the couple arose, they saw an
enormous head looking in at their bedroom window, and
behind it was a cow which was nearly as big as their hut.
Kirsten was wild with joy to think of the money the cow
would bring them.
‘But how are you going to put the rope over her head?’
‘Wait and you’ll see, mother,’ answered her husband.
Then Peder took the ladder that led up to the hayloft
and set it against the cow’s neck, and he climbed up and
slipped the rope over her head. When he had made
sure that the noose was fast they started for the palace,
and met the king himself walking in his grounds.
‘I heard that the princess was going to be married,’
said Peder, ‘so I’ve brought your majesty a cow which is
bigger than any cow that was ever seen. Will your
majesty deign to buy it?’
The king had, in truth, never seen so large a beast,
and he willingly paid the thousand dollars, which was the
price demanded; but Peder remembered to take off the
halter before he left. After he was gone the king sent for
the butcher and told him to kill the animal for the wedding
feast. The butcher got ready his pole-axe; but just as he
was going to strike, the cow changed itself into a dove
and flew away; and the butcher stood staring after it as
if he were turned to stone. However, as the dove could
not be found, he was obliged to tell the king what had
happened, and the king in his turn despatched messengers
to capture the old man and bring him back. But Peder
was safe in the woods, and could not be found. When
at last he felt the danger was over, and he might go home,
Kirsten nearly fainted with joy at the sight of all the
money he brought with him.
‘Now that we are rich people we must build a bigger
house,’ cried she; and was vexed to find that Peder only
shook his head and said: ‘No; if they did that people
would talk, and say that they got their wealth by ill-doing.’
A few mornings later Hans came again.
‘Be off before you get us into trouble,’ said his father.
‘So far the money has come right enough, but I don’t
‘Don’t worry over that, father,’ said Hans. ‘To-morrow
you will find a horse outside by the gate. Ride it to market
and you will get a thousand dollars for it. Only don’t
forget to loosen the bridle when you sell it.’
Well, in the morning there was the horse; Kirsten had
never seen so fine an animal. ‘Take care it doesn’t hurt
you, Peder,’ said she.
‘Nonsense, wife,’ answered he crossly. ‘When I was
a lad I lived with horses, and could ride anything for twenty
miles round.’ But that was not quite the truth, for he
had never mounted a horse in his life.
Still, the animal was quiet enough, so Peder got safely
to market on its back. There he met a man who offered
nine hundred and ninety-nine dollars for it, but Peder
would take nothing less than a thousand. At last there
came an old, grey-bearded man who looked at the horse
and agreed to buy it; but the moment he touched it the
horse began to kick and plunge. ‘I must take the bridle
off,’ said Peder. ‘It is not to be sold with the animal as
is usually the case.’
‘I’ll give you a hundred dollars for the bridle,’ said the
old man, taking out his purse.
‘No, I can’t sell it,’ replied Hans’s father.
‘Five hundred dollars!’
At this splendid offer Peder’s prudence gave way; it
was a shame to let so much money go. So he agreed to
accept it. But he could hardly hold the horse, it became
so unmanageable. So he gave the animal in charge to
the old man, and went home with his two thousand
Kirsten, of course, was delighted at this new piece of
good fortune, and insisted that the new house should be
built and land bought. This time Peder consented, and
soon they had quite a fine farm.
Meanwhile the old man rode off on his new purchase,
and when he came to a smithy he asked the smith to
forge shoes for the horse. The smith proposed that they
should first have a drink together, and the horse was tied
up by the spring whilst they went indoors. The day
was hot, and both men were thirsty, and, besides, they
had much to say; and so the hours slipped by and found
them still talking. Then the servant girl came out to
fetch a pail of water, and, being a kind-hearted lass, she
gave some to the horse to drink. What was her surprise
when the animal said to her: ‘Take off my bridle and you
will save my life.’
‘I dare not,’ said she; ‘your master will be so angry.’
‘He cannot hurt you,’ answered the horse, ‘and you
will save my life.’
At that she took off the bridle; but nearly fainted with
astonishment when the horse turned into a dove and flew
away just as the old man came out of the house. Directly
he saw what had happened he changed himself into a
hawk and flew after the dove. Over the woods and
fields they went, and at length they reached a king’s
palace surrounded by beautiful gardens. The princess
was walking with her attendants in the rose garden when
the dove turned itself into a gold ring and fell at her
‘Why, here is a ring!’ she cried, ‘where could it have
come from?’ And picking it up she put it on her finger.
As she did so the hill-man lost his power over Hans—for
of course you understand that it was he who had been
the dog, the cow, the horse and the dove.
‘Well, that is really strange,’ said the princess. ‘It
fits me as though it had been made for me!’
Just at that moment up came the king.
‘Look what I have found!’ cried his daughter.
‘Well, that is not worth much, my dear,’ said he. ‘Besides,
you have rings enough, I should think.’
‘Never mind, I like it,’ replied the princess.
But as soon as she was alone, to her amazement,
the ring suddenly left her finger and became a man.
You can imagine how frightened she was, as, indeed,
anybody would have been; but in an instant the man
became a ring again, and then turned back into a man,
and so it went on for some time until she began to get used
to these sudden changes.
‘I am sorry I frightened you,’ said Hans, when he
thought he could safely speak to the princess without
making her scream. ‘I took refuge with you because
the old hill-man, whom I have offended, was trying to
kill me, and here I am safe.’
‘You had better stay here then,’ said the princess. So
Hans stayed, and he and she became good friends; though,
of course, he only became a man when no one else was
This was all very well; but, one day, as they were talking
together, the king happened to enter the room, and
although Hans quickly changed himself into a ring again
it was too late.
The king was terribly angry.
‘So this is why you have refused to marry all the kings
and princes who have sought your hand?’ he cried.
And, without waiting for her to speak, he commanded
that his daughter should be walled up in the summer-house
and starved to death with her lover.
That evening the poor princess, still wearing her
ring, was put into the summer-house with enough food
to last for three days, and the door was bricked up. But
at the end of a week or two the king thought it
time to give her a grand funeral, in spite of her bad
behaviour, and he had the summer-house opened. He
could hardly believe his eyes when he found that the princess
was not there, nor Hans either. Instead, there lay
at his feet a large hole, big enough for two people to pass
Now what had happened was this.
When the princess and Hans had given up hope, and
cast themselves down on the ground to die, they fell
down into this hole, and right through the earth as well,
and at last they stumbled into a castle built of pure
gold, at the other side of the world, and there they
lived happily. But of this, of course, the king knew
‘Will any one go down and see where the passage leads
to?’ he asked, turning to his guards and courtiers. ‘I
will reward splendidly the man who is brave enough to
For a long time nobody answered. The hole was dark
and deep, and if it had a bottom no one could see
it. At length a soldier, who was a careless sort of fellow,
offered himself for the service, and cautiously lowered
himself into the darkness. But in a moment he, too, fell
down, down, down. Was he going to fall for ever, he
wondered! Oh, how thankful he was in the end to reach
the castle, and to meet the princess and Hans, looking
quite well and not at all as if they had been starved.
They began to talk, and the soldier told them that the
king was very sorry for the way he had treated his daughter,
and wished day and night that he could have her back
Then they all took ship and sailed home, and when
they came to the princess’s country, Hans disguised himself
as the sovereign of a neighbouring kingdom, and
went up to the palace alone. He was given a hearty welcome
by the king, who prided himself on his hospitality,
and a banquet was commanded in his honour. That
evening, whilst they sat drinking their wine, Hans said
to the king:
‘I have heard the fame of your majesty’s wisdom, and
I have travelled from far to ask your counsel. A man
in my country has buried his daughter alive because
she loved a youth who was born a peasant. How shall
I punish this unnatural father, for it is left to me to give
The king, who was still truly grieved for his daughter’s
loss, answered quickly:
‘Burn him alive, and strew his ashes all over the
Hans looked at him steadily for a moment, and then
threw off his disguise.
‘You are the man,’ said he; ‘and I am he who loved
your daughter, and became a gold ring on her finger.
She is safe, and waiting not far from here; but you have
pronounced judgment on yourself.’
Then the king fell on his knees and begged for mercy;
and as he had in other respects been a good father, they
forgave him. The wedding of Hans and the princess
was celebrated with great festivities which lasted a
month. As for the hill-man he intended to be present;
but whilst he was walking along a street which led to
the palace a loose stone fell on his head and killed him.
So Hans and the princess lived in peace and happiness
all their days, and when the old king died they reigned
instead of him.