#FairytaleTuesday: The Tablecloth, the Knapsack, the Cannon Hat, and the Horn

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 569: The Knapsack, the Hat, and the Horn

No content warnings this week but this one is wild and doesn’t appear to have any real moral, which is always fun! It seems to be a relatively well-known story but the only images I can find are the old black and white types so I’ll have to make do. So let’s get started!

Walter Crane, 1882

This story centers on three poor brothers from the Black Mountains who decide to set off to seek their fortune. They made their way to Spain, where they came upon a mountain surrounded by silver.

The oldest brother took advantage of the situation by gathering as much silver as he could carry and went back home with his booty.

The two remaining brothers continued on until they came upon a mountain surrounded by gold…

The second took as much gold as he could carry, as his older brother had done, and went home. However, the third wanted to see if he could have even better luck and continued on his way.

The third brother kept walking until he reached a point where he was sweaty and hungry and tired. He got lost in the forest and couldn’t see a way out, even after climbing a tree. When he dropped down out of the tree however…

…he noticed a table covered with many different dishes underneath the tree. He was delighted by this and ate until he was full. After he had finished eating, he took the tablecloth with him and moved on. Whenever he got hungry or thirsty again, he opened the tablecloth, and whatever he wished for would appear on it.

So that’s pretty cool, right? When you’re poor, having a continuous source of food would be a godsend. But because this is one of those amoral three-brothers tales, you know that can’t be the end of it.

The youngest brother keeps moving forward until he encounters a charcoal burner who offers to share his potatoes. The brother politely refuses and instead offers to share his bounty with the charcoal burner. Afterwards…

…he said, “How’d you like to trade with me? I’ll give you an old soldier’s knapsack for the tablecloth. If you tap it with your hand, a corporal and six men armed from top to bottom will come out each time you tap. They’re of no help to me in the forest, but I’d certainly like the tablecloth.

The brother agrees to the trade and moves on. He didn’t move very far, though, before he tapped his knapsack and sent the armed men after the charcoal burner and the tablecloth. We don’t know specifically what happened to the charcoal burner but I’m guessing it wasn’t good.

Of course, this happens again, with another charcoal burner, who also wants to make a trade:

He gave the man a hat for the tablecloth. If the man turned the hat on his head, cannons would fire as if an entire battalion of soldiers and battery were right on the spot.

And the douchebag younger brother repeated his trick again. Another charcoal burner down and the brother keeps moving on, stopping only when he runs across a third charcoal burner (that seems like a lot of charcoal burners, right?). The brother shares his food with the charcoal burner. Afterwards…

…they negotiated, and the charcoal burner gave the man a little horn for the tablecloth. If the man blew on it, all the cities and villages as well as the fortresses would collapse into heaps of rubble.

Now the youngest brother has endless food, a small army, a cannon hat, and a horn that can level cities.

Now, when the man from the Black Mountains had everything together, he returned home and intended to visit his brothers, who had become rich from their gold and silver. When he went to them wearing an old tattered coat they refused to recognize him as their brother. So he immediately tapped his knapsack and had one hundred and fifty men march out and give his brothers a good thrashing on their backs.

Apparently, the knapsack can keep being tapped and spitting out soldiers. It would take awhile but it would eventually create an army. The youngest brother proceeds to lay waste to the entire village with the weapons of mass destruction that charcoal burners just happened to have lying around. Things get so bad that the king sends his own army to stop the carnage but the youngest brother’s army defeats them.

Interestingly, the language of the story seems to change, with the youngest brother being referred to as “the old guy” which I assume means that his charcoal burner murders took place over a greater period of time than the story lets on.

Eventually peace was made, the youngest old-man brother is made a viceroy to the king and he gets a princess for his bride.

However, the princess was constantly bothered by the fact that she had to take such an old guy for her husband. Her greatest wish was to get rid of him.

The princess eventually learns about the knapsack and creates her own army to come after him but he uses his cannon hat to defeat them. The princess was tossed back into his arms and went back to work, until she learned the secret of the cannon hat. They went to war, again, and all he had left was his horn…

So he blew it, and the villages, cities, and all the fortresses collapsed instantly into heaps of rubble. Then he alone was king and blew his horn until he died.

This isn’t the first “amoral three brothers” story that I’ve covered. The Singing Bone, The Hand with the Knife, Puss and Boots, and The Little Magic Table, The Golden Donkey, and the Club in the Sack all have three brothers who are all terrible in different ways. They do little to no actual work and many still manage to receive largesse that they didn’t earn.

This one does differ slightly in that the remaining brother ends up with nothing which I suppose is a lesson but what exactly is the lesson? I mean, he reneged on three deals, probably in a very violent manner, and then used his ill-gotten gains to level his village because his brothers were mean to him, after which he thoroughly defeated a king’s army to the point that he was given a princess and title just to make him stop, and then, when the princess fought back, he destroyed literally everything, because he could.

I’d say that the takeaway would be that he should have taken his free tablecloth full of food and gone back to his village, happy with what he had, but it can’t be that simple. There is a sense of entitlement and a bloated ego in the youngest son that we see a lot in fairytale dudes.

I will say this, though… I was pleasantly surprised by the princess. Despite being sold off to an old man, she displays a sense of agency that we don’t usually get to see in these stories. She’s clever and cunning and managed to outwit him twice. But, in the end, ego wins out over common sense. Maybe that’s the lesson?

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.

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