Once upon a time there was king and a queen who had only one daughter, a girl who was the fairest child in the whole land. Every morning her mother washed her, combed her hair, dressed her in fine clothes, and when she was ready, sent her off to school. The teacher washed and adorned the girl again when school was over. Then she went home for dinner. This went on day after day, and the girl did not know whom she loved more – her mother or her teacher.
One day, the teacher said to the child: “Listen, Marigo, why don’t you get rid of your mother and make me your new mother because I can dress you up so finely and can teach you how to read?” The child responded: “How am I supposed to kill my own mother?” “I will tell you how. You can do it if you want to. Come over here and tell me if you want to kill her or not.” “Tell me first of all how to go about it, so that I’ll know how it can be done, and then I will tell you if I want to kill her or not.” “Alright,” said the teacher, “when you get home, tell your mother you want some figs and almonds from the marble chest. Since you are her only child, she will order the maids to bring them to you. But you must tell her that you don’t want the figs and almonds from the maids, but directly from her. She will get up and go over to the chest. When the lid is opened, you must not let the maids hold it. You must hold it yourself. And when your mother sticks her head into the chest, let the lid fall, so that it snaps shut and kills her. Then run away and come back to me.”
When Marigo got home, she asked her mother for some figs and almonds from the big marble chest. The mother got up to get them for her. When the maids opened the chest, Marigo pushed them aside and held the lid up herself. When her mother stuck her head into the chest, Marigo slammed the lid on her head and she died. Marigo then ran back to her teacher and told her what she had done. The king summoned his priests and had his wife buried.
After a while, the teacher spoke to the girl again: “Marigo, why don’t you ask your father to marry me, so that I can be your new mother? I can take better care of you than your old mother did.” When the maiden went back home that evening, she spoke to her father, saying: “Why don’t you marry my teacher? She is so attractive and can take better care of me than mother did.” The king responded: “I will marry your teacher when my shoes turn red.”
When the maiden went back to the teacher the next morning, she told her what her father had said. The teacher replied: “When you go home this evening, take some red dye with you and paint your father’s shoes to make them red.” And then say: ‘Look, father, your shoes have turned red! Now you can marry my teacher.’”
When the maiden went home that evening, she got hold of the king’s shoes and painted them red. The next morning she said to him: “Look how red your shoes are, father! Now you can marry my teacher.” The king replied: “I will marry your teacher when my robes are full of holes.”
The maiden told this to her teacher, and the teacher replied: “When you go home this evening and your father is asleep, take his robes and cut as many holes into them as you can with the help of these scissors.”
The maiden did as the teacher ordered. She cut hole after hole into her father’s robes, and spoke to the king the next morning: “Look, father, your robes are full of holes! Now you must marry the teacher.”
What else could the king do? Now he had to marry the teacher. She was a beautiful woman, but Marigo was even more attractive. A couple of years passed and Marigo had become more beautiful than ever. One day, the step-mother said to the king: “You must kill Marigo. If you do not, I will die.” The king replied: “How can you demand that I kill my own daughter?” She responded: “You must do it. It is either she or I. One or the other.”
What was the poor king to do? He resisted for a time, but in the end he said to his wife: “Bake a loaf of bread and fill a flask with wine. I will take them with me and lead the girl somewhere to kill her.” The evil step-mother prepared the bread and wine and put them in a bag. The king put the bag over his shoulder and took his daughter by the hand. They wandered here and there until they arrived at a site overlooking a mighty river. Marigo wondered and asked: “Tell me, father, why have you brought me here to this desolate place surrounded by cliffs?” “Just because,” said the father as he considered whether or not to carry out the deed. Then he spoke again. “Listen, my child, I am going to throw this loaf of bread and this wooden flask of wine over the cliff and you must run after it and bring it back up to me.” What else was the hapless girl supposed to do? So she promised: “Alright, father, I will do it.”
He hurled the bread and the bottle over the cliff, and the girl clambered down to get them. But the father then said to himself: “It is better to let her live whatever happens. I cannot kill her.” And he ran away.
The girl clambered back up the cliff with the bread and the wine and looked around for her father, but he was not there. She called him in the loudest possible voice: “Father, where are you? Father, dear father!” but there was no reply, so she hastened over hill and dale in search of him, moaning and groaning: “Father, my father! Oh, woe is me!” but the father was nowhere to be found. That evening she arrived at a forest and said to herself: “It is getting dark and I don’t know where to go. I will climb up a tree and spend the night in it, and tomorrow I will go home.” She climbed up the tree and was sound asleep in no time because she was very tired.
In the night, the three goddesses of fatecame by. One said to the other: “Look, there is a girl sitting up in that tree. Let us decide her fate.” The other two said: “Shall we wish her good or evil?” The first one replied: “Only good!” The eldest of them approached the tree and said: “Listen, Marigo, there is a small child down on the bank of the river. Go and find it, wash it, and take care of it.” Then the second goddess approached and said: “Listen, Marigo, down at the river you will find an old woman combing her hair. You must comb it for her until it is all straight.” Finally the third goddess approached and said: “Listen, Marigo, if you go a bit farther, down at the river, you will come across a castle inhabited by forty dragons who are all brothers. You must go into the castle early in the morning and sweep the rooms and do the dishes. You may eat and drink there and then you must go into hiding so that they do not see you when they get home.”
The maiden set out the next morning and arrived at the castle. She went in and swept the rooms, washed the dishes and, when she had eaten and drunk, she went into hiding. That evening, the dragons came home and found everything spick-and-span. They wondered who had done them such a service. “If it is a young woman, we will make her our sister. If it is an old woman, we will make her our mother, and if it is a man, we will make him our brother.” But the maiden was too afraid to leave her hiding place and, the next morning, when the dragons went out, she cleaned the house again and hid. That evening, the dragons whispered among themselves: “One of us must hide so that we can find out who it is.” The next morning, one of them stayed home and lay in wait, but he was unable to catch sight of the maiden. Another dragon tried the following day, but was equally without success. One by one, they all spent one day at home until it was the turn of the fortieth dragon. He discovered the maiden and sat her on his lap, kissed her and called out to the others: “Look, now we have a little sister. But from now on, you must not do any work. You must only enjoy yourself for we have a great treasure of jewels and money and you can have as much of it as you wish.” The maiden stayed with them and was treated very well by the forty dragons.
But one morning, her step-mother went outside, looked at the sun and said: “Sun, I am fair and you are fair. Everything around me is fair and everything around you is fair. Is there anyone on earth who is fairer than I?” To this the sun replied: “You are fair and I am fair. Everything around you is fair and everything around me is fair. But no one on earth is as fair as Marigo of the forty dragons.”
When the queen heard this, she began fighting with the king, saying: “You did not kill your daughter after all. You lied to me!” He retorted: “No, I did kill her,” but the queen did not believe him and shouted: “No, no! You didn’t kill her at all for she is living with the forty dragons, and if you don’t want me to die, you must take these hairpins and search until you find her. When you get there, give her the hairpins for they are poisoned and she will die from them.”
What was the unfortunate king to do? He dressed up as a travelling Jewish merchant, took the poisoned hairpins with him and searched until he got to the river where he had last seen his daughter alive. When he arrived at the castle of the forty dragons, he called out: “Hairpins for sale! Hairpins for sale!” When the maiden heard him, she came out onto the balcony and greeted the Jewish merchant: “Hello, merchant!” without realising that it was her father. As soon as he saw the girl, he recognised her as his daughter, and said: “Dear child, buy one of my hairpins for they are fair to behold.” The maiden answered: “What would I do with your hairpins? I have much finer ones myself. The ones the dragons gave me are studded with diamonds.” The father replied: “That may be, but they are not as fine as my hairpins. Come, child, buy a hairpin from me so that I can make a bit of money.” The maiden let herself be deceived and bought a hairpin from him, and when she went back into the house, she stuck it in her hair. That very moment, she fainted and fell onto the sofa.
When the dragons got home that evening and saw the lifeless body of the maiden lying there, they began to moan and groan, and cried out: “Oh, sister, little sister!” Finally, one of them noticed the new hairpin in her hair and exclaimed: “What is this hairpin in her hair? She did not get it from us!” Another then said: “Bring her over here so that we can see where it came from.” One of the dragons removed the pin from her hair and, that very moment, the maiden opened her eyes and cried: “Where have I been for such a long time?” The dragons asked her: “What happened to you? Where did this hairpin come from?” She explained what had occurred, saying: “A Jewish merchant came around and I bought the hairpin from him and the moment I stuck it in my hair, I fainted.” The dragons then replied: “Oh, Marigo, did we not tell you that we would give you everything you wanted and that you should never take anything from anyone else? See what has happened? Don’t ever do that again.”
The king returned home a few days later and his wife asked him: “Did you poison her?” He replied: “Yes I did, and she is dead.” When the queen heard this, she was relieved. The next morning she went outside and spoke to the sun: “Sun, I am fair and you are fair. Everything around me is fair and everything around you is fair. Is there anyone on earth who is fairer than I?” To this the sun replied: “You are fair and I am fair. Everything around you is fair and everything around me is fair. But no one on earth is as fair as Marigo of the forty dragons.” When the queen heard this, she got much angrier than the first time and, when the king came home that evening, she began shouting and fighting with him, saying: “Why did you lie to me and say that you killed your daughter? She is alive and well. One of us must die, either she or I. Take these rings. Go and give one of them to her. The moment she puts it on her finger, she will perish.”
The king got dressed up again, took the poison rings and went to the castle of the dragons, crying out: “Rings for sale! Rings for sale!” The maiden heard him and went out onto the balcony. When he saw the maiden, he called to her: “Come down here, my child, I will sell you one of these beautiful rings.” But the maiden replied: “No, I won’t, because just a few days ago, a Jewish merchant came around and sold me a little hairpin, and I was chided for buying it. Aside from that, we already have rings, as beautiful as you could possibly imagine. I don’t want any of your rings. Take them away!” The king then said: “My child, I do not claim that you have no fine rings. I only want you to buy one of mine because I am a poor errant merchant. Buy one of them and consider it as alms that you are giving me.” The maiden was once again deceived by his words. She came out and bought a ring from her disguised father. When she went back inside, she took off her old rings and put the new one on that she had just bought, and died on the spot.
When the dragons got home that evening and saw the lifeless maiden, they called to her and shook her, but she was not asleep. She was dead. Everything they did to try and revive her failed. What were they to do? They considered the matter for some time and, finding no solution, they built a coffin for her, adorned it with pearls, and put the maiden in it. They then carried the coffin off to the garden of another king. There was a fountain there from which the horses drank. Near it there was an ancient tree. The dragons hung the coffin in the tree, suspending it on four silver chains so that it would dangle right over the fountain.
The next day, when the other king’s stable boys took the horses out to drink at the fountain, the reflection of the pearls adorning the coffin shone in the water and their sparkle terrified the horses so that they would not drink. The same thing happened on the second day and on the third day. The stable boys were confused and frightened, and ran off to the king to tell him that the horses had refused to drink for three days. The king went out to the fountain to see what was amiss. When he saw that the horses would not drink, he looked into the fountain himself and was dazed by the sparkle of the pearls. When he looked up to see where the sparkle came from, he saw a coffin hanging on four silver chains. He ordered the boys to take it down and, when it was removed, the horses approached the fountain and drank their fill.
He then had the coffin taken to his room and as soon as he was alone, he opened it. What did he see? His mouth hung open in amazement at the beauty of the girl lying in it. From that day on he was filled with such sorrow that he neither ate nor drank. His servant brought him his meals every day and removed the meals uneaten in the evening. Day after day, week after week, month after month his condition got worse and worse. The poor king was as thin as a rag.
One day, his mother came to see him and said: “What is wrong, my son? What has happened, tell me! I am your mother.” He replied: “I am fine, just leave me alone.” Almost a year went by without the king eating or drinking a thing. The mother finally went to see one of the young noblemen in that kingdom to whom her son was particularly attached, and said to him: “Listen, my child, my son is not well. It has been almost a year now that he has not left his room. Go to him and see if you can persuade him to come out.”
The young man went to the king and asked: “What is wrong, my good friend? What has depressed you so? You have a great kingdom and huge wealth and, instead of enjoying life, you look as if you would prefer to die. If you carry on this way, it will be not only the death of you but also the death of your good mother. Come, let us go out for a while. Let me distract you from your morbid thoughts.” The king initially refused, but his friend pressured him to such an extent that he eventually agreed to go out with him for a while.
Once they had left the palace, the mother commanded her maids, “Come with me. Let us search through the king’s chamber and see what it is that has depressed him.” They had just begun their search when they came across the coffin under the sofa. They pulled it out and opened it up. How amazed they were to see the beautiful girl lying in it. The mother then spoke, saying: “This is what has depressed my son. Quickly now, girls. Heat up the oven and throw the body into it. Let us burn it. Otherwise the king will perish himself.” When the oven was ready and the maids were about the take the body and throw it in, one of them saw the ring on the girl’s little finger and said: “Wait a minute, let us first remove the ring from her finger. It looks very expensive.” The moment they removed the ring from her finger, the girl stood up and exclaimed: “Where am I? Where are my brothers, the forty dragons?” When the queen heard this, she ordered her maids to put the ring back on the girl’s finger, and she immediately fell lifeless to the ground. They put her back in the coffin and shoved the coffin under the sofa.
When the king returned from his walk, he locked himself in his chamber again, opened the coffin and looked at the girl. A few days later, his mother came to see him and said: “Dear son, why don’t you tell me what is troubling you?” He replied: “Don’t bother me. You cannot help me anyway.” She responded: “Who knows? Perhaps I can.” She kept at him until he finally pulled out the coffin and asked her: “Can you revive what is in this?” “Why not?” answered the mother. The king opened the coffin and the mother removed the ring from the girl’s finger who woke up immediately and stood up. The king took her into his arms and kissed her. She then asked: “But where am I?” The king replied: “You are in the royal palace and shall be my queen.” They then got married and lived happily ever after.[Source: Johann Georg von Hahn, Schneewitzchen, in: Griechische und albanesische Märchen. Gesammelt, übersetzt und erläutert von J. G. v. Hahn, k. k. Consul für das östliche Griechenland [Greek and Albanian Folk Tales. Collected, Translated and Annotated by J. G. v. Hahn, Austro-Hungarian Consul for Eastern Greece]. Leipzig: Engelmann, 1864. pp. 134-143. Translated from the German by Robert Elsie.]