Grimm's Fairy Tales

by Grimm Brothers

The Fisherman and His Wife

Additional Information
  • Year Published: 1905
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: Germany
  • Source: Edwardes, M., Taylor, E., trans. (1905). Grimm's Fairy Tales. New York: Maynard, Merrill, & Co.
  • Readability:
    • Flesch–Kincaid Level: 6.3
  • Word Count: 2,223


There was once a fisherman who lived with his wife in a pigsty, closeby the seaside. The fisherman used to go out all day long a-fishing;and one day, as he sat on the shore with his rod, looking at thesparkling waves and watching his line, all on a sudden his float wasdragged away deep into the water: and in drawing it up he pulled out agreat fish. But the fish said, ‘Pray let me live! I am not a realfish; I am an enchanted prince: put me in the water again, and let mego!’ ‘Oh, ho!’ said the man, ‘you need not make so many words aboutthe matter; I will have nothing to do with a fish that can talk: soswim away, sir, as soon as you please!’ Then he put him back into thewater, and the fish darted straight down to the bottom, and left along streak of blood behind him on the wave.

When the fisherman went home to his wife in the pigsty, he told herhow he had caught a great fish, and how it had told him it was anenchanted prince, and how, on hearing it speak, he had let it goagain. ‘Did not you ask it for anything?’ said the wife, ‘we live verywretchedly here, in this nasty dirty pigsty; do go back and tell thefish we want a snug little cottage.’

The fisherman did not much like the business: however, he went to theseashore; and when he came back there the water looked all yellow andgreen. And he stood at the water’s edge, and said:

'O man of the sea! Hearken to me! My wife Ilsabill Will have her own will, And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!'
Then the fish came swimming to him, and said, ‘Well, what is her will?What does your wife want?’ ‘Ah!’ said the fisherman, ‘she says thatwhen I had caught you, I ought to have asked you for something beforeI let you go; she does not like living any longer in the pigsty, andwants a snug little cottage.’ ‘Go home, then,’ said the fish; ‘she isin the cottage already!’ So the man went home, and saw his wifestanding at the door of a nice trim little cottage. ‘Come in, comein!’ said she; ‘is not this much better than the filthy pigsty wehad?’ And there was a parlour, and a bedchamber, and a kitchen; andbehind the cottage there was a little garden, planted with all sortsof flowers and fruits; and there was a courtyard behind, full of ducksand chickens. ‘Ah!’ said the fisherman, ‘how happily we shall livenow!’ ‘We will try to do so, at least,’ said his wife.

Everything went right for a week or two, and then Dame Ilsabill said,‘Husband, there is not near room enough for us in this cottage; thecourtyard and the garden are a great deal too small; I should like tohave a large stone castle to live in: go to the fish again and tellhim to give us a castle.’ ‘Wife,’ said the fisherman, ‘I don’t like togo to him again, for perhaps he will be angry; we ought to be easywith this pretty cottage to live in.’ ‘Nonsense!’ said the wife; ‘hewill do it very willingly, I know; go along and try!’

The fisherman went, but his heart was very heavy: and when he came tothe sea, it looked blue and gloomy, though it was very calm; and hewent close to the edge of the waves, and said:

'O man of the sea! Hearken to me! My wife Ilsabill Will have her own will, And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!'
‘Well, what does she want now?’ said the fish. ‘Ah!’ said the man,dolefully, ‘my wife wants to live in a stone castle.’ ‘Go home, then,’said the fish; ‘she is standing at the gate of it already.’ So awaywent the fisherman, and found his wife standing before the gate of agreat castle. ‘See,’ said she, ‘is not this grand?’ With that theywent into the castle together, and found a great many servants there,and the rooms all richly furnished, and full of golden chairs andtables; and behind the castle was a garden, and around it was a parkhalf a mile long, full of sheep, and goats, and hares, and deer; andin the courtyard were stables and cow-houses. ‘Well,’ said the man,‘now we will live cheerful and happy in this beautiful castle for therest of our lives.’ ‘Perhaps we may,’ said the wife; ‘but let us sleepupon it, before we make up our minds to that.’ So they went to bed.

The next morning when Dame Ilsabill awoke it was broad daylight, andshe jogged the fisherman with her elbow, and said, ‘Get up, husband,and bestir yourself, for we must be king of all the land.’ ‘Wife,wife,’ said the man, ‘why should we wish to be the king? I will not beking.’ ‘Then I will,’ said she. ‘But, wife,’ said the fisherman, ‘howcan you be king—the fish cannot make you a king?’ ‘Husband,’ saidshe, ‘say no more about it, but go and try! I will be king.’ So theman went away quite sorrowful to think that his wife should want to beking. This time the sea looked a dark grey colour, and was overspreadwith curling waves and the ridges of foam as he cried out:

'O man of the sea! Hearken to me! My wife Ilsabill Will have her own will, And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!'
‘Well, what would she have now?’ said the fish. ‘Alas!’ said the poorman, ‘my wife wants to be king.’ ‘Go home,’ said the fish; ‘she isking already.’

Then the fisherman went home; and as he came close to the palace hesaw a troop of soldiers, and heard the sound of drums and trumpets.And when he went in he saw his wife sitting on a throne of gold anddiamonds, with a golden crown upon her head; and on each side of herstood six fair maidens, each a head taller than the other. ‘Well,wife,’ said the fisherman, ‘are you king?’ ‘Yes,’ said she, ‘I amking.’ And when he had looked at her for a long time, he said, ‘Ah,wife! what a fine thing it is to be king! Now we shall never haveanything more to wish for as long as we live.’ ‘I don’t know how thatmay be,’ said she; ‘never is a long time. I am king, it is true; but Ibegin to be tired of that, and I think I should like to be emperor.’‘Alas, wife! why should you wish to be emperor?’ said the fisherman.‘Husband,’ said she, ‘go to the fish! I say I will be emperor.’ ‘Ah,wife!’ replied the fisherman, ‘the fish cannot make an emperor, I amsure, and I should not like to ask him for such a thing.’ ‘I am king,’said Ilsabill, ‘and you are my slave; so go at once!’

So the fisherman was forced to go; and he muttered as he went along,‘This will come to no good, it is too much to ask; the fish will betired at last, and then we shall be sorry for what we have done.’ Hesoon came to the seashore; and the water was quite black and muddy,and a mighty whirlwind blew over the waves and rolled them about, buthe went as near as he could to the water’s brink, and said:

'O man of the sea! Hearken to me! My wife Ilsabill Will have her own will, And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!'
‘What would she have now?’ said the fish. ‘Ah!’ said the fisherman,‘she wants to be emperor.’ ‘Go home,’ said the fish; ‘she is emperoralready.’

So he went home again; and as he came near he saw his wife Ilsabillsitting on a very lofty throne made of solid gold, with a great crownon her head full two yards high; and on each side of her stood herguards and attendants in a row, each one smaller than the other, fromthe tallest giant down to a little dwarf no bigger than my finger. Andbefore her stood princes, and dukes, and earls: and the fisherman wentup to her and said, ‘Wife, are you emperor?’ ‘Yes,’ said she, ‘I amemperor.’ ‘Ah!’ said the man, as he gazed upon her, ‘what a fine thingit is to be emperor!’ ‘Husband,’ said she, ‘why should we stop atbeing emperor? I will be pope next.’ ‘O wife, wife!’ said he, ‘how canyou be pope? there is but one pope at a time in Christendom.’‘Husband,’ said she, ‘I will be pope this very day.’ ‘But,’ repliedthe husband, ‘the fish cannot make you pope.’ ‘What nonsense!’ saidshe; ‘if he can make an emperor, he can make a pope: go and try him.’

So the fisherman went. But when he came to the shore the wind wasraging and the sea was tossed up and down in boiling waves, and theships were in trouble, and rolled fearfully upon the tops of thebillows. In the middle of the heavens there was a little piece of bluesky, but towards the south all was red, as if a dreadful storm wasrising. At this sight the fisherman was dreadfully frightened, and hetrembled so that his knees knocked together: but still he went downnear to the shore, and said:

'O man of the sea! Hearken to me! My wife Ilsabill Will have her own will, And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!'
‘What does she want now?’ said the fish. ‘Ah!’ said the fisherman, ‘mywife wants to be pope.’ ‘Go home,’ said the fish; ‘she is popealready.’

Then the fisherman went home, and found Ilsabill sitting on a thronethat was two miles high. And she had three great crowns on her head,and around her stood all the pomp and power of the Church. And on eachside of her were two rows of burning lights, of all sizes, thegreatest as large as the highest and biggest tower in the world, andthe least no larger than a small rushlight. ‘Wife,’ said thefisherman, as he looked at all this greatness, ‘are you pope?’ ‘Yes,’said she, ‘I am pope.’ ‘Well, wife,’ replied he, ‘it is a grand thingto be pope; and now you must be easy, for you can be nothing greater.’‘I will think about that,’ said the wife. Then they went to bed: butDame Ilsabill could not sleep all night for thinking what she shouldbe next. At last, as she was dropping asleep, morning broke, and thesun rose. ‘Ha!’ thought she, as she woke up and looked at it throughthe window, ‘after all I cannot prevent the sun rising.’ At thisthought she was very angry, and wakened her husband, and said,‘Husband, go to the fish and tell him I must be lord of the sun andmoon.’ The fisherman was half asleep, but the thought frightened himso much that he started and fell out of bed. ‘Alas, wife!’ said he,‘cannot you be easy with being pope?’ ‘No,’ said she, ‘I am veryuneasy as long as the sun and moon rise without my leave. Go to thefish at once!’

Then the man went shivering with fear; and as he was going down to theshore a dreadful storm arose, so that the trees and the very rocksshook. And all the heavens became black with stormy clouds, and thelightnings played, and the thunders rolled; and you might have seen inthe sea great black waves, swelling up like mountains with crowns ofwhite foam upon their heads. And the fisherman crept towards the sea,and cried out, as well as he could:

'O man of the sea! Hearken to me! My wife Ilsabill Will have her own will, And hath sent me to beg a boon of thee!'
‘What does she want now?’ said the fish. ‘Ah!’ said he, ‘she wants tobe lord of the sun and moon.’ ‘Go home,’ said the fish, ‘to yourpigsty again.’

And there they live to this very day.