Grimm 122. Donkey Cabbages

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Fairy Tales & Myths

Doesn’t “donkey cabbages” sound like a kid’s insult?


I’m not quite sure how to even summarize this one, it is that strange. Here we go anyway.

Source: The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales (Knickerbocker Edition)


One day, a huntsman is walking around and comes upon an old woman. He’s kind to her, and so she blesses him with a magic cloak (travel anywhere instantly) and the heart of a bird (which he has to swallow) that will make him wake up to a new gold nugget every morning. Huntsman is happy. Once he collects enough gold, he decides to go see the world.

This time he comes upon a castle with an old witch and her maiden companion (granddaughter??) inside. The old witch threatens the maiden to help her get the magic bird heart from him. Maiden is most reluctant, but agrees. Soon the huntsman is totally in love with her. The old witch prepares a potion to make him vomit up the heart, which the maiden serves to the huntsman. Up comes the heart, and the girl swallows it herself.

But they’re not done, the old witch wants the cloak, too. Again she has to threaten and smack the maiden to make her do as she’s told. For some reason the huntsman stuck around, and the maiden uses her wiles on him again. This time she asks him to use the cloak to take her away to a distant mountain. He does, and when he falls asleep the maiden takes his cloak and abandons him high in the hills, returning to the old witch.

Huntsman wakes up in quite a pickle. He can only go walking again, and in time he comes upon a patch of cabbages. He complains about them being cabbages, but he does eat them.


The cabbage turns him into a donkey.

Lucky for him, he keeps eating and discovers that another cabbage will turn him into a human. Aha, he says to himself, now I have a plan to get back at those nasty women!

So he returns to the witch’s castle and puts on a disguise. (The disguise is “He dyed his face brown, so that his own mother would not have known him.”) He tells the witch he’s a king’s messenger bringing her some special salad and for some reason she believes him. The cabbage turns her into a donkey, of course. The huntsman takes the cabbage to the maiden and turns her into a donkey, too.

Then he lends the pair of donkeys to a miller, with strict instructions to beat the old one and only feed her once a day, but not to beat the young one and feed her three times a day. The old witch dies from all the mistreatment. The maiden is so despairing that she’s about to die, and so the huntsman relents and gives her the cabbage that will turn her back into a human.

She falls to her knees and begs her beloved for his forgiveness. She tells him where to find the cloak and offers to vomit up the bird heart. He figures, “Keep it; it is all the same, for I will take thee for my true wife.”

And they live happily ever after?

WTF scale: wtf.

I’m afraid I’m still stuck on muff donkey cabbages.

Why cabbage?? Why have your hero complain abut the cabbage and eat it anyway? Why????

I think they seriously didn’t know what else to call this one.


Okay, so this one’s obviously about right and wrong and betrayal and stuff. I think the moral of the story is to outwit your enemies by being clever? And cruel?

The old woman at the beginning is a good witch, but she’s just a device to give the huntsman stuff the bad witch wants. He could just as easily be a prince or something. But no, the truly noble, common huntsman is kind and he earns great rewards. Got it.

Then he’s tricked by feminine wiles. Twice. Three times? He may be kind but he isn’t terribly clever.

Worse, the old witch beats on this poor maiden. We’re meant to feel sorry for her and assume that, although she carried out bad things, she herself is relatively blameless. But if she were blameless she wouldn’t also have been turned into a cabbage donkey. The huntsman either believes she’s complicit and deserving of punishment, or he sees that she was coerced and forgives her.

Instead he punishes her AND ‘forgives’ her by marrying her. For the gold she now wakes up to every day.

I suppose this is a happy ending? It’s not very happy by my estimate. The poor maiden is going from a guaranteed abuser to a passive aggressive take-it-or-leave-me type. Frying pan to fire.


Wikipedia says this story has appeared in a few other places, including–wait for it–the anime series Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics! Eeee! I watched that on Nickelodeon as a kid and I loved it! Only they made this story a lot more pleasant (no eating bird hearts) and turned it into a tale of forgiveness. I suppose that’s the logical way to go with this one?

Final Thoughts

Your muff cabbage.


But, Therefore, Then – Plot Connectors

This is one of my favorite tidbits, made ever-cooler by its origin. It’s a trick that comes from the writers of South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker. I first learned of it from the documentary about how an episode gets made, 6 Days to Air: The Making of South Park.

The WriteOnSisters blogged about it recently, and they have a really nice explanation:

If you can put “but” or “therefore” between scenes, then congratulations! You’re advancing the story!

If you can’t use the above words and put “then” between the scenes, you’re not advancing the story.

For example (each sentence represents a scene):

I ate a tuna salad sandwich for lunch today. Then I went and bought a coffee at Starbucks. Then I worked on that spreadsheet. Then I checked Facebook for an hour. Then I went home.

That’s a string of random stuff happening, not a story. “Then” isn’t a connection, it’s a segue into something unrelated.

“But” and “therefore” are connections. “But” denotes conflict. “Therefore” implies a reaction. Both mean that the following scene isn’t random; it’s connected to the previous scene in a meaningful way. For example:

I ate a tuna salad sandwich for lunch, but the tuna was poisoned. Therefore I had to go to the hospital, but the hospital was overrun by zombies who bit me! And therefore I became a zombie.

You can see how this is capable of getting out of hand rather quickly, South Park-style.

I think Matt and Trey’s original may have been “but” and “so”, but “therefore” is more polished. 😉

It’s an excellent tool, one I don’t use enough. Plot is about cause and effect, not just a string of events (“thens”).