The Fisherman and his Wife - German folktale

There was once a fisherman who lived with his wife in a ditch close by the seaside. The fisherman used to go out all day long a-fishing, and one day as he sat on the shore with his rod, looking at the shining water and watching his line, all of sudden his float was dragged away deep under the sea. In drawing it up he pulled a great fish out of the water. The fish said to him—

"Pray let me live. I am not a real fish. I am an enchanted prince. Put me in the water again and let me go."

"Oh!" said the man, "you need not make so many words about the matter. I wish to have nothing to do with a fish that can talk, so swim away as soon as you please."

Then he put him back into the water, and the fish darted straight down to the bottom, and left a long streak of blood behind him.

When the fisherman went home to his wife in the ditch, he told her how he had caught a great fish, and how it had told him it was an enchanted prince, and that on hearing it speak he had let it go again.

"Did you not ask it for anything?" said the wife.

"No," said the man; "what should I ask it for?"

"Ah!" said the wife, "we live very wretchedly here in this nasty miserable ditch, do go back and tell the fish we want a little cottage."

The fisherman did not much like the business; however, he went to the sea, and when he came there the water looked all yellow and green. He sat at the water's edge and said—

"O man of the sea, Come listen to me, For Alice my wife, The plague of my life, Hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!"
Then the fish came swimming to him and said—

"Well, what does she want?"

"Ah!" answered the fisherman, "my wife says that when I had caught you, I ought to have asked you for something before I let you go again. She does not like living any longer in the ditch, and wants a little cottage."

"Go home, then," said the fish; "she is in the cottage already."

So the man went home, and saw his wife standing at the door of a cottage.

"Come in, come in," said she. "Is not this much better than the ditch?"

There was a parlour, a bedchamber, and a kitchen; and behind the cottage there was a little garden with all sorts of flowers and fruits, and a courtyard full of ducks and chickens.

"Ah," said the fisherman, "how happily we shall live!"

"We will try to do so, at least," said his wife.

Everything went right for a week or two, and then Dame Alice said—

"Husband, there is not room enough in this cottage, the courtyard and garden are a great deal too small. I should like to have a large stone castle to live in, so go to the fish again and tell him to give us a castle."

"Wife," said the fisherman, "I don't like to go to him again, for perhaps he will be angry. We ought to be content with the cottage."

"Nonsense!" said the wife, "he will do it very willingly. Go along and try."

The fisherman went, but his heart was very heavy, and when he came to the sea it looked blue and gloomy, though it was quite calm. He went close to it, and said—

"O man of the sea, Come listen to me, For Alice my wife, The plague of my life, Hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!"
"Well, what does she want now?" said the fish.

"Ah!" said the man very sorrowfully, "my wife wants to live in a stone castle."

"Go home, then," said the fish; "she is standing at the door of it already."

Away went the fisherman, and found his wife standing before a great castle.

"See," said she, "is not this grand?"

With that they went into the house together, and found a great many servants there, the rooms all richly furnished, and full of golden chairs and tables; and behind the castle was a garden, and a wood half a mile long, full of sheep, goats, hares, and deer; and in the courtyard were stables and cow-houses.

"Well," said the man, "now will we live contented and happy for the rest of our lives."

"Perhaps we may," said the wife, "but let us consider and sleep upon it before we make up our minds;" so they went to bed.

The next morning when Dame Alice awoke it was broad daylight, and she jogged the fisherman with her elbow, and said—

"Get up, husband, and bestir yourself, for we must be king of all the land."

"Wife, wife," said the man, "why should we wish to be king? I will not be king."

"Then I will," said Alice.

"But, wife," answered the fisherman, "how can you be king? The fish cannot make you king."

"Husband," said she, "say no more about it, but go and try. I will be king."

So the man went away quite sorrowful, to think that his wife should want to be king. The sea looked a dark grey colour, and was covered with foam, as he called the fish to come and help him.

"Well, what would she have now?" asked the fish.

"Alas!" said the man, "my wife wants to be king."

"Go home," said the fish, "she is king already."

Then the fisherman went home, and as he came close to the palace he saw a troop of soldiers, and heard the sound of drums and trumpets; and when he entered, he saw his wife sitting on a high throne of gold and diamonds, with a golden crown upon her head, and on each side of her stood six beautiful maidens.

"Well, wife," said the fisherman, "are you king?"

"Yes," said she, "I am king."

When he had looked at her for a long time, he said—

"Ah! wife, what a fine thing it is to be king! now we shall never have anything more to wish for."

"I don't know how that may be," said she. "Never is a long time. I am king, 'tis true; but I begin to be tired of it, and I think I should like to be emperor."

"Alas! wife, why should you wish to be emperor?" said the fisherman.

"Husband," said she, "go to the fish. I say I will be emperor."

"Ah! wife," replied the fisherman, "the fish cannot make an emperor; and I should not like to ask for such a thing."

"I am king," said Alice; "and you are my slave, so go directly."

So the fisherman was obliged to go, and he muttered as he went along—

"This will come to no good. It is too much to ask. The fish will be tired at last, and then we shall repent of what we have done."

He soon arrived at the sea, and the water was quite black and muddy, and a mighty whirlwind blew over it; but he went to the shore, and repeated the words he had used before.

"What would she have now?" inquired the fish.

"She wants to be emperor," replied the fisherman.

"Go home," said the fish, "she is emperor already."

So he went home again, and as he came near, he saw his wife sitting on a very lofty throne made of solid gold, with a crown on her head, full two yards high; and on each side of her stood her guards and attendants in a row, ranged according to height, from the tallest giant to a little dwarf, no bigger than one's finger. And before her stood princes, and dukes, and earls; and the fisherman went up to her, and said—

"Wife, are you emperor?"

"Yes," said she, "I am emperor."

"Ah!" said the man, as he gazed on her, "what a fine thing it is to be emperor!"

"Husband," said she, "why should we stay at being emperor? We will be pope next."

"O wife, wife!" said he. "How can you be pope? There is but one pope at a time in Christendom."

"Husband," said she, "I will be pope this very day."

"But," replied the husband, "the fish cannot make you pope."

"What nonsense!" said she. "If he can make an emperor, he can make a pope; go and try him."

So the fisherman went; but when he came to the shore the wind was raging, the sea was tossed up and down like boiling water, and the ships were in the greatest distress and danced upon the waves most fearfully. In the middle of the sky there was a little blue; but towards the south it was all red, as if a dreadful storm was rising. The fisherman repeated the words, and the fish appeared before him.

"What does she want now?" asked the fish.

"My wife wants to be pope," said the fisherman.

"Go home," said the fish; "she is pope already."

Then the fisherman went home, and found his wife sitting on a throne, with three crowns on her head, while around stood all the pomp and power of the Church. On each side were two rows of burning lights of all sizes; the greatest as large as a tower, and the smallest no larger than a rushlight.

"Well, wife," said the fisherman, as he looked at all this grandeur, "are you pope?"

"Yes," said she; "I am pope."

"Well," replied he, "it is a grand thing to be pope; and now you must be content, for you can be nothing greater."

"I will consider about that," replied the wife.

Then they went to bed; but Dame Alice could not sleep all night for thinking what she should be next. At last morning came, and the sun rose.

"Ha!" thought she, as she looked at it through the window, "cannot I prevent the sun rising?"

At this she was very angry, and wakened her husband, and said—

"Husband, go to the fish, and tell him I want to be lord of the sun and moon."

The fisherman was half asleep; but the thought frightened him so much that he started and fell out of bed.

"Alas! wife," said he, "cannot you be content to be pope?"

"No," said she, "I am very uneasy, and cannot bear to see the sun and moon rise without my leave. Go to the fish directly."

Then the man went trembling for fear. As he was going down to the shore a dreadful storm arose, so that the trees and the rocks shook, the heavens became black, the lightning played, the thunder rolled, and the sea was covered with black waves like mountains, with a white crown of foam upon them. The fisherman came to the shore, and said—

"O man of the sea, Come listen to me, For Alice, my wife, The plague of my life, Hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!"
"What does she want now?" asked the fish.

"Ah!" said he, "she wants to be lord of the sun and moon."

"Go home," replied the fish, "to your ditch again."

And there they live to this very day.