Prince Spin Head and Miss Snow White
by William Elliot Griffis
Long, long ago, before the Romans came into the land and when the
fairies ruled in the forest, there was a maiden who lived under an oak
tree. When she was a baby they called her Bundlekin. She had four
brothers, who loved their younger sister very dearly and did everything
they could to make her happy. Her fat father was a famous hunter. When
he roamed the woods, no bear, wolf, aurochs, roebuck, deer, or big
animal of any kind, could escape from his arrows, his spear, or his
pit-trap. He taught his sons to be skilful in the chase, but also to be
kind to the dumb creatures when captured. Especially when the mother
beast was killed, the boys were always told to care for the cubs, whelps
and kittens. As for the smaller animals, foxes, hares, weasels, rabbits
and ermine, these were so numerous, that the father left the business of
hunting them to the lads, who had great sport.
The house under the oak tree was always well provided with meat and
furs. The four brothers brought the little animals, which they took in
the woods, to make presents to their sister. So there was always a
plenty of pets, bear and wolf cubs, wildcats' kittens and baby aurochs
for the girl to play with. Every day, while the animals were so young as
to be fed on milk, she enjoyed frolicking with the four-footed babies.
When they grew bigger, she romped and sported with them, as if she and
they were equal members of the same family. The older brother watched
carefully, so that the little brutes, as they increased in size, should
not bite or claw his sister, for he knew the fierce nature that was in
wild creatures. Yet the maiden had wonderful power over these beasts of
the forest, whether little or big. She was not very much afraid of them
and often made them run, by looking at them hard in the eye.
While the girl made a pet of the animals, her parents made a pet of her.
The mother prepared the skins of the wolves and bears, until these were
very soft, keeping the fur on, to make rugs for the floor, and winter
coats for her children. The hides of the aurochs sufficed for rougher
use, but from what had once been the clothes of the fawn, the weasel,
the rabbit, and the ermine, garments were made that were smooth enough
to suit a baby's tender flesh. The forest folk wrapped their infants in
swaddling hands made of these dressed pelts. After feeding the darling,
a mother hung her baby up, warmly covered, to a tree branch. The cradle,
which was a furry bag, was made of the same material and swung in the
Bundlekin usually fell asleep right after she had had her breakfast.
When she woke up crowing, the squirrels were playing all around her. She
even learned to watch the spiders, spinning their houses of silk,
without being afraid. When Bundlekin grew up, she always called this
curious creature, that could make silk, Spin Head. She jokingly called
it her lover, in remembrance of baby days.
It was funny to see how deft the mother was with her needles, fashioned
from bone, and her rough thread, which was made of the intestines of the
deer. From her own childhood in the woods, Bundlekin's mother had been
used to this kind of dressmaking. Now, when her daughter had grown, from
babyhood and through her teens, to be a lovely maiden, fair of face and
strong of limb, her sweet, unselfish parent was equal to new tasks. To
the soft leather coats, made from the skins of fawns, martens, and
weasels, she added trimmings of snow white ermine. Caps and mittens,
cloaks for the body, and coverings for the feet, were fashioned to fit
neatly. Fringes, here and there, were put on them, until her girl looked
like a king's daughter. In summer, the skins of birds and their feathers
clothed her lightly, and with many and rich colors, while the forest
flowers decked her hair.
In winter, in her white forest robes, the maiden, except for her rosy
face and sparkling eyes, seemed as if she might have been born of the
snow, or was a daughter of the northern ice god at Ulrum. And because
she was so lovely, her parents changed her baby name and called her
Dri'-fa, which means Snow White.
Yet, though no other girl in Gelderland equalled, and none, not even the
princesses, excelled Snow White in beauty of face, form, or raiment, the
maiden was not happy, even though many lovers came to her and offered to
marry her. Some, as proof of their skill as hunters, brought the finest
furs the forest furnished. Others showed their strength or fleetness of
foot. Some bargained with the kabouters, or fairies of the mines, to
bring them shining ore or precious gems which they offered to Snow
White. Others, again, went afar to get strange wonders, amber and
ambergris, from the seashores of the far north to please her. One fine
fellow, who had been in the south and was proud of his travels, told her
of what he had seen in the great cities, and offered her a necklace of
But all was in vain. Every lover went away sorrowful, for Snow White
wearied of them and sent each one home, disappointed.
Last of all, among the lovers came a strange looking one, named Spin
Head, resembling a spider, promising a secret worth more than furs,
gold, gems, or necklace; but the mother, seeing the ugly creature, drove
it off with hard words.
So the months and years passed, until her father feared he would not
live to see his daughter a wife.
But one day, when all in the household were absent, the leaves of the
oak tree rustled loudly. There was no wind, and Snow White, surprised,
strained her ears to find out what this might mean. Soon she could make
out these words:
"When the spider, that you called Spin Head, comes to make love to you,
listen to him. He is the wisest being in all the forest. He knows the
future. He will tell you a secret. I shall pass away, but what he
teaches you shall live."
Then the leaves of the oak ceased to rustle and all was quiet and still
While wondering what this message might mean, down came the real spider
she had named Spin Head. He lowered himself from a tree branch, high
above on a silken thread. The creature sat down on the log beside the
maiden; but she was not in the least startled and did not scream nor run
away. Indeed, she spoke to the spider as an old friend:
"Well, playmate of my babyhood, what have you to tell me?"
"I came to offer you my love. You need not marry me yet, but if you will
let me spin a web in your room, I shall live there, and, by and by,
reward you. Let me be in your sight always, and you will not be sorry
The maiden had no sooner agreed than a terrible tempest uprooted the oak
and levelled the trees of the forest. In a moment more, a new and very
beautiful house rose up out of the ground. It was as noble to look at as
a palace. Near by was a garden, and one day when she walked in it, out
of it sprang a blue flower, almost under her feet.
"Choose the best room for your own self," said Spin Head, "and then show
me my corner. After a hundred days, if you treat me kindly, I shall
reveal the secret of that blue flower."
Dri'-fa, the maiden, chose the sunniest room, and gave Spin Head the
best corner, near the window and close to the ceiling. At once he began
to weave a shining web for his own house. She wondered at such fine
work, which no human weaver could excel, and why she was not able to
spin silk out of her head, nor even with her fingers, like her strange
lover. But the oak had promised that Spin Head would reveal a secret,
and she was curious to know what it was. Like all girls, she was in a
hurry to have the secret. To ease her impatience, Dri'-fa looked on,
while Spin Head was thus busy at making his dwelling place, with shining
threads which he spun out, never ceasing. She was so intent upon
watching him that night came down before she noticed that her room was
not furnished. There was not even a bed to sleep on.
Spin Head looked at her closely and then spoke with a deep voice, like a
"Ah, I know, you want a bed, and pretty things for your room."
In another moment, soft furs lined the floor, and soon all that Dri'-fa
had possessed in the forest for comfort she had now, and more. Lost in
wonder as she was, in a few minutes she was fast asleep.
She dreamed she wore a dress of some strange, new, white fabric, such as
her people had never seen before. Instead of being close in texture,
like the skin of an animal, it was as open work, full of thousands of
little holes, yet strongly held together. It was light and gauzy, like a
silvery spider's web on the summer grass before sunrise, when pearly
The hundred days were passing swiftly by, and Spin Head and Snow White
had become fast friends. Each lived in a different world—a world within
a world. She was waiting for the secret he would tell her. She bravely
resolved not to be impatient, but let Spin Head speak first.
One day, when autumn had come and she was lonely, she sauntered out into
the garden. The chill winds were blowing and the leaves falling, till
they covered the ground like a yellow carpet. One fell into her hand, as
if it bore words of friendly greeting. Yet, though she waited, not one
of the millions of them brought a message to her! Never a word had she
ever heard from her parents and brothers! The blue flower had long ago
fallen away and there was nothing in its place but a hard, rough, black
stalk. Then she said to herself:
"Is there anything in this ugly stick? How will Spin Head reveal his
secret?" Never had she been so cast down.
Again the tempest howled. All the winds of heaven seemed to have broken
loose. Many a sturdy oak lay prostrate. The leaves darkened the air, so
that Snow White could see nothing. Then there was a great calm. The maid
cleared her sight, and lo! there, beside her, stood a youth, more
beautiful than any of her brothers, or her lovers, or any man she had
ever seen. He was dressed in fine white clothing, excelling in its
texture any skin of fawn, or animal of the forest. Instead of being
leather, however soft, it seemed woven of a multitude of threads. In his
hand he held the black stalk of what had been the blue flower.
"I am Spin Head," he said. "The hundred days are over. The spell is
broken and my deliverance from enchantment has come. I bring to you, as
my gift, this ugly stalk, on which the blue flower bloomed."
Between surprise at the change of Spin Head from a spider to a handsome
youth, and disappointment at such a present offered her, Snow White was
dumb. She could hardly draw her breath. Was that all?
"Break it open," said Spin Head.
Splitting the stalk from end to end, the maiden was surprised to find
inside many long silky fibres, almost as fine as the strands in a
spider's web. She pulled them out and her eyes danced with joy.
"Plant the seed and let the blue flowers blossom by the million," said
the youth. "Then gather the stalks and, from the fibres, weave them
together and make this. The black rod is a sceptre of wealth."
Then, separating the delicate strands one by one, Spin Head wove them
together. The result was a rich robe, of a snow white fabric, never seen
in the forest. It was linen.
Snow White clapped her hands with joy.
"'Tis for your wedding dress, if you will marry me," said Spin Head.
Snow White's cheeks blushed red, but she looked at him and her eyes said
"Wait," said Spin Head. "I'll make you a bridal veil."
Once more his fingers wrought wonders. He produced yards of a gauzy,
open work stuff. He made it float in the air first. Then he threw it
over her head. It trailed down her back and covered her rosy face. It
Happily married, they left the forest and travelled into the land where
the blue flax flowers made a new sky on the earth. Soon on the map men
read the names of cities unknown before. At a time when Europe had no
such masses of happy people, joyous in their toil, Courtrai, Tournay,
Ypres, Ghent, and Bruges told what the blue flower of the flax had done
for the country. More than gold, gems, or the wealth of forest or mine,
was the gift of Spin Head to Snow White, for the making of Belgic Land.