Dummling, an Unlikely Grimm Hero

In several Grimm fairy tales, the hero is named Dummling. Though deficient in understanding, he has a good heart.

One story may be familiar to you. Dummling goes into the forest to cut wood. He meets a hungry old man and shares his lunch with him, not grudgingly but cheerfully. The old man rewards Dummling by directing him to cut down a certain tree. When he does so, Dummling finds a goose with golden feathers among its roots.

That night Dummling slept at an inn. One of the daughters of the innkeeper tried to steal a golden feather, but she got stuck to the goose as soon as she touched it and could not withdraw her hand. When her sisters tried to free her, they also got stuck.

When Dummling awoke, he paid no attention to the three girls stuck to his goose. He merely took his goose and left. The three daughters were forced to scurry after him.

Others tried to interfere and got stuck. Eventually seven people formed a procession after Dummling and his goose.

The king of the country had a daughter with an excessively serious temperament. This distressed her father, who promised that he would give his daughter in marriage to anyone who made her laugh.

Dummling heard about this, and went to the royal residence to see what he could do. When the princess saw the strange procession, she laughed uncontrollably.

The king tried to renege on his promise. He did not want his daughter to marry an ugly man without adequate intelligence, but eventually he had to keep his promise, thanks to the magical help of the old man with whom Dummling had previously shared his lunch.

The title of this story is “The Golden Goose.” Its original German title is “Die goldene Gans.”

Other stories featuring a character called Dummling are “The Queen Bee” (“Die Bienenkönigen”) and “The Three Feathers” (“Die drei Federn”).

“The Queen Bee” is my favorite Dummling story. Dummling shows kindness to a nest of ants, ducks on a lake, and a hive of bees. Accompanied by his two wiser brothers, he comes to a castle, where the three brothers spend the night. In the morning, the three brothers have to fulfill three difficult tasks. The wise brothers fail and are turned to stone. Dummling succeeds with the help of the little creatures that he has befriended. When Dummling has to find 1,000 lost pearls in a single day, the ants gather them quickly. When Dummling has to fetch a key from the bottom of a lake, the ducks dive down and find it for him. Finally, three look-alike princesses are sleeping in their chamber. Dummling has to figure out which one is the youngest and prettiest. His only clue is the supper they have eaten. Each has eaten something different before falling asleep. The youngest has eaten a spoon full of honey. The queen bee tastes the lips of each princess and sits on the mouth of the correct one.

Because Dummling has completed the three tasks successfully, the spell that has petrified his brothers and others is broken. Dummling marries the princess he has chosen, while the two brothers marry her sisters.

I haven’t told you all the details. For example, I did not tell you that Dummling and his brothers were sons of a king. You’ll discover additional details when you read the story.

You may also read “The Three Feathers” for yourself. It’s about a prince called Dummling who becomes heir to his father’s throne by finding a better carpet, ring and wife than his brothers. In a final contest, Dummling’s newly-found wife confirms his succession to the royal throne by leaping through a sort of ring or hoop more gracefully than the wives of the two brothers. It was easy for her to do because she used to be a frog.

If you find this brief description enigmatic and mystifying, read the story and learn the details.


“Grimm’s Fairy Tales” by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Translation anonymous.

Maerchen: “Die goldene Gans” http://www.maerchen.com/grimm/die-goldene-gans.php

Maerchen: “Die Bienenkönigen” http://www.maerchen.com/grimm/die-bienenkoenigin.php

Maerchen: “Die drei Federn” http://www.maerchen.com/grimm/die-drei-federn.php

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