#FairytaleTuesday: The Little Magic Table, The Golden Donkey, and the Club in the Sack

Nota bene: My posts won’t always match up with the hashtag themes because I’m going straight through the Grimm’s 1812 edition, one after the other.

Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index type 563: Three Magic Gifts and type 212: The Lying Goat

Looks like we get another week without content warnings! Having said that, we also have another week with one of those weird little stories that involve numerous, seemingly disparate threads. Let’s take a look!

So this is one those inexplicable times when the Brothers Grimm chose to include two variations of a story under the same heading. As with many of these tales, the variations bear similarities but also have some key differences so I’m going to focus on the first story and then briefly discuss the second one.

Once upon a time there was a shoemaker who had three sons and a goat. The sons had to help him in his trade, and the goat had to nourish them with her milk. In order for the goat to get good, delicious food every day, the sons took turns and led her out to graze in a meadow

The eldest son takes the goat to a field where she eats her fill. At the end of the day he asks her if she has had enough and she responds:

“Oh, my, I’m stuffed!
Enough’s enough.
Meh! Meh!

So he takes her home and puts her in the stable and then the father goes out to check the goat and asks if she had enough to eat, to which she replies:

“How can I have eaten enough?
I just jumped over mounds real rough.
Didn’t find one blade of grass ’cause the ground was tough.
Meh! Meh!

This happens after each son takes the goat out and brings her back and each son is subsequently beaten and sent away by the father. Of course, this meant the father had to take the goat out himself and received the very same call and response from the goat.

When the shoemaker heard this, he realized that he had driven his three sons away even though they had been innocent. Consequently, he became so angry with the nasty goat that he fetched his razor and shaved the goat’s head until it was bald and gave it a good whipping.

So now the goat is bald and the man is sad but his sons are off having all sorts of adventures.

The eldest son was apprenticed to a carpenter. After he finished his apprenticeship he decided to leave. The carpenter gave him a little magic table and told him that he only had to say “Little table, be covered,” and all manner of delicious food and drink would appear.

Of course, this is a fairytale which means all did not go well. The dummy went to an inn and set up his little table right in the middle of the room. As can be expected, the innkeeper snuck into his room that night and replaced the table with a non-magical one. The eldest son got all the way home before realizing he’d been duped and then just… didn’t bother going back for it.

The second son apprenticed under a miller for a year, after which the miller gave him a donkey and said that if the second son says ‘Bricklebrit” to the donkey, it would begin to “spew gold coins from the front and the behind.” Yes, front and BEHIND…

This brother chose to stay at the same inn as the last one and yes, the innkeeper replaced the gold-pooping donkey with a regular donkey, which was not noticed until the second son got home and he also just let it go.

The youngest son was apprenticed to a wood-turner and at the end of his apprenticeship he was given a sack with a club in it. If he said “Club, come out of the sack,” the club would jump out and beat the brakes off of whoever had offended him.

So he stops at the same shifty inn but for some reason–that is not explained–he knows that his two older brothers were there and had been robbed. He tells the innkeeper that what is in the sack is very valuable. The innkeeper does as shifty innkeepers do and tried to steal it. He was beaten and the purloined table and gold-pooping donkey were returned to their owners and they all lived joyfully thereafter.

But what about that stupid goat? Well…

As for the goat, she had run off to a foxhole. And when the fox came home and looked into his cave, he saw a pair of large fiery eyes glaring at him.

So the fox tries to get help from the bear but the goat also scares the bear. So they both ask the bee for help. The bee flies into the foxhole and stings the goat on her bald head. The goat runs away and is never seen again.

Whew! Ok, so that seems to be the more well-known version. The other version in the book is about three sons who are sent out into the world to “earn an honest living.” The father sends them on their way with a pancake and a penny…

Yea, I don’t know. Anyway, each son–one after the other–shepherds for a little man who lived in a nutshell…

So, the job is to take the herd to the mountain for an indeterminate amount of time, during which they must steadfastly avoid the party house that is literally JUST RIGHT THERE. Of course, the first two sons screw up but they confess and so the first gets the table and the second gets the gold-pooping donkey. The third son did a perfect job and got the club in the sack, which, ok.

Anyway, the story then follows the same path but at the end, after they come home with their largesse, the father says:

I didn’t provide them with my pancake and my penny for nothing.

It’s hard to find real specific information about the story other than that it is a tale type that can be found in pretty much every country in various forms. According to Stith Thompson, it’s been identified in Europe, Asia, Africa and North and South America. He also states that “there is indication that a tale with most of its essentials was current at least as early as the sixth century after Christ, since it appears in a collection of Chinese Buddhistic legends” (Thompson 115).

But that’s how fairytales work, right? There are basic and universal ideas that fairytales seek to enforce regarding societal, cultural, and gender norms and one of those ideas is that young men must leave home and learn the ways of the world before they can settle down and start a family. Sometimes these young men manage to snag themselves a princess, and sometimes they get a gold-pooping donkey but hopefully they’re a little wiser after their adventures.

I mean, probably not but hope springs eternal.

Work Cited:
Grimm, Jacob; Grimm, Wilhelm. The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition (p. 118). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Thompson, Stith. The Folktale. Barkaldo Books, 2022.

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