Jesper Who Herded the Hares

Jesper Who Herded the Hares is a Scandinavian fairy tale. Andrew Lang included it in The Violet Fairy Book.[1]

The motif of herding hares is a common fairy tale theme. Another tale featuring it is The Three May Peaches. This tale, and The Griffin, also feature the test of truthfully telling what the character is carrying.

The tale and its variants are grouped under the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index as ATU 570, "The Rabbit-Herd" or "The Sack of Lies".[2]


Boots summons the hares with the magical pipe. Illustration by John Moyr Smith for Tales from the Fjeld (1896).

A king of a kingdom so small he could see every border from the towers on his castle, still was proud of it. Having a single daughter, he wished her to marry a man fit to be king. He declared that whoever brought him twelve of the finest pearls (to ensure the wooer was rich) and could perform certain tasks would marry her. Many princes and merchants brought the pearls but failed the tasks, and many tried false pearls and were turned away more quickly.

A fisherman had three sons: Peter, Paul, and Jesper. One day he caught three dozen oysters, each of which had a fine pearl. It was decided that each son would have his chance to win the princess. On the way, Peter met the King of the Ants, who was battling the King of the Beetles and had been worsted; he asked for Peter's help, and Peter said he was too busy. Then he met an old woman, who asked what he was carrying; he said cinders, she said that, very well, it was cinders, and when he got to the castle, the pearls turned into cinders. He did not tell what had happened when he came home. Paul tried, and met the same fate. Jesper tried; he helped the king of the ants, who won the field with him, and told the old woman of his pearls. The old woman begged some food from him, since he could eat at the castle. He handed over his entire lunch. The old woman called him back and gave him a whistle that would bring back what he had lost.

The king was not pleased with such a son-in-law. He had a sack each of wheat, barley, oats, and rye mixed together and told Jesper he had to sort them in a day. The ants did it for him.

The maiden asks the shepherd for a kiss in exchange for a hare. Illustration by Henry Justice Ford for Andrew Lang's The Violet Fairy Book (1901).

Then he was set to herd a hundred hares. Using the whistle, he kept them together. The king heard of it and resolved to stop him. A shabby girl begged for a hare to feed for guests; finally, Jesper agreed to give her one in return for a kiss, but then he whistled it back. A stout old woman, in peasant dress, came next. He agreed to give her one if she would tiptoe about him cackling like a hen, and then he whistled it back. An fat old man in a royal groom's livery came, and Jesper agreed to give him one if he stood on his head, and then whistled it back.

The next day, the king set out a tub and said that Jesper must fill it with undoubted truths, and he would judge when that was. Jesper told about the girl, and that she was the princess; then about the woman, and that she was the queen; then about the old man—and the king declared that the tub was full, so Jesper married the princess, and the king decided he would be a good king if he looked after the people as well as he looked after the hares.


The title was given as Ashiepattle and the King's Hares in Round the Yule Log: Norwegian Folk and Fairy Tales.[3]

A literary version of the tale was titled The King's Rabbit Keeper, whose source was given as a Norse legend in the summary.[4]

George Webbe Dasent translated the tale as Osborn's Pipe in his second compilation of Norse folktales (Tales from the Fjeld), where the hero's name was given as Osborn Boots.[5]

A version was collected by Peter Asbjornsen in the original Norwegian, named Gjæte Kongens Harer,[6] and later translated as The King's Hares. The note on the translation, by Klara Stroebe, mentioned a variation regarding a cauldron instead of a sack.[7]

Distribution and variantsEdit

The tale is said to be found all over Europe, "from Iceland to the Caucasus".[8] It is reported that more than 200[9] or 400 variants have been recorded, specially from North and Central Europe.[10] This geographic distribution seems to confirm professor Stith Thompson's analysis that the tale "is essentially European", instead of having an Eastern origin.[11]

The tale has migrated to the Americas and can also be found in Turkey, the Levant and in China.[12]

The oldest attestation of the tale is considered to be a 1791 publication, unlike other European folktales with a long literary history. Scholarship supposes this happened due to the raciness of the tale.[13]



Benjamin Thorpe translated a Danish version with the title Temptations, where a poor cottager's son employs himself under a master who knows the black arts. The master owns a farm of hares that have to be herded by the boy.[14] This tale was also published in a compilation of Norse folktales.[15] Louis Brueyre indicated that this story was actually the work of Carit Etlar.[16]

Illustrator Katherine Pyle published a story titled The Magic Pipe: A Norse Tale, where the hero's name is translated as Boots, who wants to offer his services to king to herd the royal hares.[17]

Baltic RegionEdit

In a variant whose source was pointed as Lithuanian, One Hundred Hares, three brothers try to win the hand of the princess and meet a beggar on the way. The two elder insult the beggar while the youngest brother, stupid and a simpleton, acts courteosuly towards the beggar and is given a magic whistle in return.[18]

Central EuropeEdit

Ludwig Bechstein collected a German variant titled The Hare-Keeper (Der Hasenhüter und die Königstochter),[19] where an old man gives the shepherd a reed to herd the hares. The tale keeps the raciness lacking in other variants.[20] However, this peculiar characteristic is still present in German variants Der Hasenhirt ("The Hare-Herd"), by Johann Wilhelm Wolf;[21] Der Wollensack ("The woolen sack"), by Ulrich Jahn;[22] in Die grüne Feige ("The Green Fig"), by Adalbert Kuhn.[23]

In a Central European tale collected by Theodor Vernaleken (Piping Hans), the princess throws a potato to a crowd of potential suitors. Whoever fetches it must submit themselves to three tasks, the first of which is to herd "several hundred hares".[24]

Southern EuropeEdit

Variants have been collected in Spain, merged with Aarne-Thompson 851, "The Princess who could not solve the Riddle".[25] Aurelio Macedonio Espinosa collected two variants titled El acertajo from Toledo and Granada, and Juan Soldao y la Princesa, from Retortillo, Soria.[26]

The tale type is attested in Italian folktale compilations, with nine variants, according to an 20th century inquiry,[27]

Austrian diplomat Johann Georg von Hahn collected a Greek variant from "Wisiani", where the worldly-beautiful princess sets tasks for the hero. One of the tasks is to herd exactly ninety-nine hares. Von Hahn suggested that the number of hares may be related to a mythical German character named "Frau Harke".[28]

In a Portuguese variant, Os figos verdes (English: "The Green Figs"), the Virgin Mary gives the foolish hero a harmonica, with which he can command the king's hares.[29]


In a variant titled Az három aranygyűrű ("The three rings"), a maltreated prince receives aid from a bearded man, who gives him a whistle to herd the king's 100 geese. The story also involves guessing the princess's birthmarks (ATU 850).[30]

In a second tale, Az asznavehetlen bognár[31] ("The Useless Wagoner"), collected by Jeremiah Curtin, a king insults his good-for-nothing wagoner and forces him to do impossible tasks, with the help of a fox. The third task is herding the king's hares, which he does by means of a whistle the fox gave him.[32]

Hungarian writer Elek Benedek recorded a variant from his country, titled A király nyulai ("The King's Hares").[33]


Robert Chambers collected a similar tale from Scotland, Jock and his lulls: two brothers named Jock try to make their fortune in the world and employ themselves as a hare-keeper to the king. The herd has a lame hare; the first Jock sacrifices it for food, which causes the king to hang him; the second Jock takes care of it and gets to marry the princess.[34] Louis Brueyre translated the tale as Jock et ses pipeaux.[35]


Variants from the tale have been collected in North Carolina, Missouri and in the Ozark Mountains.[36]


An Azorian variant, Fresh Figs, was collected by Elsie Spicer Eells: a rich man promises his daughter for anyone who can cure her (ATU 610, "The Healing Fruits"). When the rich man sees that the simpleton youth was the one who did it, he tasks him with herding his hares. The youth receives a magical pipe from a lady in blue.[37]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Andrew Lang, The Violet Fairy Book, "Jesper Who Herded the Hares"
  2. ^ Thompson, Stith. The Folktale. University of California Press. 1977. pp. 154-155. ISBN 0-520-03537-2.
  3. ^ Asbjørnson, Peter Christian. Round the Yule Log: Norwegian Folk and Fairy Tales. Translated by H. L. Braekstad. London: Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington. 1881. pp. 168-179.
  4. ^ Skinner, Eleanor Louise and Ada Maria Skinner. Merry Tales. New York: American Book Company. 1915. pp. 7 and 62-71.
  5. ^ Asbjørnsen, Peter Christen; Dasent, George Webbe. Tales from the fjeld: a series of popular tales from the Norse of P. Ch. Asbjørnsen. London: Gibbings; New York: G.P. Putnam's. 1896. pp. 1-14.
  6. ^ Asbjørnsen, Peter Christen. Norske Folke- og Huldre-Eventyr. Kjobenhavn: Den Gyldendalske Boghandel (F. Hegel og Søn.). 1896. pp. 192-204.
  7. ^ Stroebe, Klara; Martens, Frederick Herman. The Norwegian fairy book. New York: Frederick A. Stokes company. [1922] pp. 202-212.
  8. ^ Thompson, Stith. The Folktale. University of California Press. 1977. p. 155. ISBN 0-520-03537-2.
  9. ^ Thompson, Stith. The Folktale. University of California Press. 1977. p. 155. ISBN 0-520-03537-2.
  10. ^ Dekker, Ton. "De konijnenhoeder". In: Van Aladdin tot Zwaan kleef aan. Lexicon van sprookjes: ontstaan, ontwikkeling, variaties. 1ste druk. Ton Dekker & Jurjen van der Kooi & Theo Meder. Kritak: Sun. 1997. pp. 188-189.
  11. ^ Thompson, Stith. The Folktale. University of California Press. 1977. p. 155. ISBN 0-520-03537-2.
  12. ^ Dekker, Ton. "De konijnenhoeder". In: Van Aladdin tot Zwaan kleef aan. Lexicon van sprookjes: ontstaan, ontwikkeling, variaties. 1ste druk. Ton Dekker & Jurjen van der Kooi & Theo Meder. Kritak: Sun. 1997. pp. 188-189.
  13. ^ Dekker, Ton. "De konijnenhoeder". In: Van Aladdin tot Zwaan kleef aan. Lexicon van sprookjes: ontstaan, ontwikkeling, variaties. 1ste druk. Ton Dekker & Jurjen van der Kooi & Theo Meder. Kritak: Sun. 1997. p. 189.
  14. ^ Thorpe, Benjamin. Yule-tide stories: a collection of Scandinavian and North German popular tales and traditions, from the Swedish, Danish, and German. London; New York: G. Bell. 1910. pp. 369-375.
  15. ^ Dasent, George Webbe. A collection of popular tales from the Norse and north German. London, New York [etc.]: Norrna Society. 1906. pp. 105-114.
  16. ^ Brueyre, Loys. Contes Populaires de la Grande-Bretagne. Paris: Hachette, 1875. p. 61.
  17. ^ Pyle, Katharine. Tales of Folk And Fairies. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1919. pp. 201-220.
  18. ^ Olcott, Frances Jenkins. Wonder tales from Baltic wizards: from the German and English. London, New York: Longman, Green and Co. 1928. pp. 189-195.
  19. ^ Bechstein, Ludwig. Sämtliche Märchen. München: 1971. pp. 148-152.
  20. ^ Bechstein, Ludwig. As pretty as seven: and other popular German tales. London: John Camden Hotten. [1872] pp. 105-110.
  21. ^ Wolf, Johann Wilhelm. Deutsche Hausmärchen. Göttingen/Leipzig: 1851. pp. 133-144.
  22. ^ Jahn, Ulrich. Schwänke und Schnurren aus Bauern Mund. Berlin [1890]. pp. 86-99.
  23. ^ Kuhn, Adalbert. Sagen, Gebräuche und Märchen aus Westfalen und einigen andern, besonders den angrenzenden Gegenden Norddeutschlands 1–2. Band 2. Leipzig: 1859. pp. 226-229.
  24. ^ Vernaleken, Theodor. In the Land of Marvels: Folk-tales from Austria and Bohemia. London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co. 1889. pp. 220-223.
  25. ^ Boggs, Ralph Steele. Index of Spanish folktales, classified according to Antti Aarne's "Types of the folktale". Chicago: University of Chicago. 1930. pp. 73-74.
  26. ^ Espinosa, Aurelio Macedonio. Cuentos Populares Españoles Recogidos De La Tradición Oral De España Y Publicados Con Una Introducción Y Notas Comparativas. Tomo I. Stanford University, Calif.: The University. 1923. pp. 43-45, 45-47 and 57-59.
  27. ^ Discoteca di Stato (1975). Alberto Mario Cirese; Liliana Serafini (eds.). Tradizioni orali non cantate: primo inventario nazionale per tipi, motivi o argomenti [Oral and Non Sung Traditions: First National Inventory by Types, Motifs or Topics] (in Italian and English). Ministero dei beni culturali e ambientali. p. 136.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  28. ^ Hahn, Johann Georg von. Griechische und Albanesische Märchen 1-2. München/Berlin: Georg Müller, 1918 [1864]. pp. 393-395.
  29. ^ Coelho, Francisco Adolpho. Contos populares portuguezes. Lisboa, Plantier. 1907. pp. 106-108.
  30. ^ László Merényi. Dunamelléki eredeti népmesék (1. kötet). Vol. I. Pest: Kiadja Heckenast Gusztáv. 1863. pp. 1-37.
  31. ^ László Merényi. Dunamelléki eredeti népmesék (2. kötet). Vol. II. Pest: Kjada Heckenast Gusztáv. 1864. pp. 143-158.
  32. ^ Curtin, Jeremiah. Myths and Folk-tales of the Russians, Western Slavs, and Magyars. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company. 1890. pp. 424-433.
  33. ^ Benedek Elek. Magyar mese- és mondavilág. Vol. 1. Pest: 1894. Tale nr. 19.
  34. ^ Chambers, Robert. Popular rhymes of Scotland. London, Edinburgh: W. & R. Chambers. 1870. pp. 103-105.
  35. ^ Brueyre, Loys. Contes Populaires de la Grande-Bretagne. Paris: Hachette, 1875. pp. 60-61.
  36. ^ Baughman, Ernest Warren. Type and Motif-index of the Folktales of England and North America. Indiana University Folklore Series No. 20. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton & Co. 1966. p. 14.
  37. ^ Eells, Elsie Spicer. The Islands of Magic: Legends, Folk And Fairy Tales From the Azores. New York: Harcourt, Brace and company, 1922. pp. 73-79.

Further readingEdit

  • Dundes, Alan. “The Symbolic Equivalence of Allomotifs in the Rabbit-Herd (AT 570).” In: Parsing Through Customs: Essays by a Freudian Folklorist. Edited by Alan Dundes. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press. 1987. pp. 167-177.
  • McCarthy, William Bernard. 1993. "Sexual Symbol and Innuendo in 'The Rabbit Herd' (AT 570)". In: Southern Folklore Quarterly 50: 143—54.