Monday, 10 April 2017

H is for... Hans My Hedgehog

Illustration by Maurice Sendak
Once upon a time there was a childless merchant who wished so hard to have his own child that he said he would even be happy with a hedgehog.

When the man got home he found that his wife had unexpectedly given birth to a baby boy. However, the child had the body of a hedgehog from the waist up. The couple decided to call their child 'Hans My Hedgehog'.

Poor Hans was far too prickly to hold, so he had to sleep behind the stove on a bed of straw. He was loved very much by his mother, but his father was deeply ashamed to call Hans his son.

When Hans was 8 years old he asked his father to saddle up a rooster so that he could leave home and seek his fortune. So Hans headed off into the woods astride his rooster.

A few years later a lost King finds Hans playing the bagpipes in the woods. Hans makes a deal with the king, saying that he will help him find his way home as long as the King promises to give Hans whatever greets him when he first arrives home. The King agrees to the deal, as he is sure that Hans cannot read. He writes an order saying that Hans is to receive nothing and then Hans gives the King directions home. Upon his arrival the King's daughter runs out to greet him and the King tells her about his deal with Hans and how he tricked him. The daughter was glad, saying she would never go away with a hedgehog who rides a rooster.

A little while later a second lost King comes across Hans in the forest and agrees to his deal. Hans gives him directions home and the King's daughter comes running out to greet him when he arrives. The second King tells his daughter about his deal with Hans and the daughter happily agrees to go away with him for the sake of her father.

After a year has passed Hans goes to the first kingdom to claim his reward and is attacked by guards at the gate. He flies over them on his rooster and demands that the king send out his daughter. The king reluctantly agrees and sends out his daughter. Hans forces her to remove all of her clothes and pierces her all over with his quills. He then sends her back to the King in disgrace.

Hans then travels to the second kingdom to claim his reward. When he arrives the second King sends out his daughter right away and she marries Hans the same day. 

On their wedding night Hans asks the King to build a big fire. He quickly removes his hedgehog skin and has the guards throw it into the fire where it is burnt to ash. Hans' new skin appears black, as if he had been burnt, but once he is cleaned he is shown to be a very handsome young gentleman.

The tale of Hans My Hedgehog was collected by The Brother's Grimm and published in their second edition in 1819.

This may have been a charming tale of love an acceptance when it was first in circulation, but in our time it comes across as a tale of how women can be used as currency and fathers using their own daughters as objects to trade in order to save themselves.
I'm totally on the side of the first daughter. 
No one should have to marry someone they don't want to!

It would be nice to see a re-write of this where Hans can be accepted for who he is, but no daughters have to be married off against their will.

Someone write this for me?


  1. I remember this story from Jim Henson's 'The Storyteller' - liars and cheats never get away with anything for long in fairytales :)
    Sophie's Thoughts & Fumbles - Dragon Diaries

  2. the first king tricks Hans but only his daughter gets punished, which I think it's kind of unfair, why should the daughter be punished and in that stupid way and not the king?

    sure, he turns into a handsome guy but what if he turns out to be a jerk of a husband? I suppose that second king's daughter must be a very loyal or else she wouldn't have agreed to marry Hans. acceptance is good and all but it really is hard to marry someone who isn't quite human, and it's not like the girl know anything about Hans to begin with.

    have a lovely day.

    ~ my H post -Hair ~

  3. Agreed - I'm all in favor of being kind, but that shouldn't extend to having to marry a random stranger because your dad is directionally challenged. Of course, the girls were never going to get to choose their own husbands anyway, and a hedgehog boy who helps your father get home is as likely to be a good husband as a prince of the neighboring kingdom whose father will go to war against yours unless you marry him...
    A-Z of Printmakers

    1. "Directionally challenged"! HA!
      True... I guess a hedgehog may turn out to be better than a prince. At least he had his own rooster!

  4. You are right, it would be nice to do a re-write on this. There is a Hungarian version too, they made a cartoon of it :)

    The Multicolored Diary: WTF - Weird Things in Folktales

    1. Oooooh, I would like to see that!
      I think theres a quite recent book about this tale too. With nice illustrations. No idea if they changed the story around though...

  5. Wow, now that is a scary fairy tale.

    H: Hawaii & Honduras
    DB McNicol, author & traveler
    Theme: Oh, the places we will go!

  6. Big smile here. Those old fairy tales are really...dated and unpleasant, but cute and...I don't know. Your comments on the story made me smile mostly. I've never heard this tale before, but I was sort of hoping from the start that Hans would be nasty. And he was. Ouch. Imagine those quills! I learned recently, on the blog of one of our A to Z mates, that hedgehogs eat chickens. Tonight I read this story and I'm starting to form a very dim view of hedgehogs.

    1. Seems like a pretty harsh punishment for the daughter when it was her father who got lost and struck up the deal! I would have been uch happier if the father had of been pierced with quills!

  7. Oh! I've never heard of this one before. Nice find.