The Magician's Horse

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The Magician's Horse
Folk tale
Name The Magician's Horse
Country Greece
Published in The Grey Fairy Book

The Magician's Horse is a Greek fairy tale. Andrew Lang included it in The Grey Fairy Book.[1]


A king's three sons went hunting, and the youngest got lost. He came to a great hall and ate there. Then he found an old man, who asked him who he was. He told how he had become lost and offered to enter his service. The old man set him to keep the stove lit, to fetch the firewood from the forest, and to take care of the black horse in the stables.

The man was a magician, and the fire was the source of his power, though he did not tell the prince.

One day, the prince nearly let the fire go out, and the old man stormed in. Frightened, the prince threw another log on it and nursed it back.

The horse told him to saddle and bridle it, to use an ointment that made his hair like gold, and to pile all the wood he could on the fire. This set the hall on fire. The horse then told him to take looking-glass, a brush and a riding-whip, and ride off on him. The magician chased on a roan horse, but the prince threw down the looking glass, the horse cut its feet on it, and the magician had to go back to put new shoes on him, but then he chased the prince again. The horse had the prince throw the brush on the ground. This produced a thick wood, and the magician had to go back and get an axe to cut through it, but then he chased the prince again. The prince threw down the whip; it became a river, and when the magician tried to cross it, it put out his magical fire and killed him.

The horse told the prince to strike the ground with a willow wand. A door opened, making a hall in which the horse stayed, but he sent the prince through the fields to take service with a king. He wore a scarf to hide his golden hair. He worked as a gardener and every day brought half his food to the horse.

One day, the horse told him that the king's three daughters would choose their husbands: a great company of lords would gather, and they would throw their diamond apples into the air. The man at whose feet the apple stopped would be the bridegroom. He should be in the garden, nearby, and the youngest's would roll to him; he should take it up at once.

He did. The scarf slipped a little, the princess saw his hair and fell in love at once, and the king, though reluctant, let them marry.

Soon after, the king had to go to war. He gave the prince a broken-down nag. The prince went to the black horse; it gave him arms and armor, and he rode it to battle and won the battle, but fled before he could be clearly seen. Twice more, he went to war, but the third time, he was wounded, and the king bound his wound with his own handkerchief. The princess his wife recognized it and revealed it to her father. There was great rejoicing, and the king gave him half his kingdom.

Variants on motifs[edit]

This particular type of tale is well known, being particularly found in Germany, Scandanvia, and the Baltic, but also throughout Europe, and appears in Asia down to Indonesia and also in Africa. [2] Other tales like this include Little Johnny Sheep-Dung and The Gifts of the Magician. A less common variant, found only in Europe, opens with the hero rescuing a wild man, as in Iron John, Guerrino and the Savage Man, and The Hairy Man.[3]

The motifs are found in many more tales. While getting a horse is a frequent quest object, it is usually the side effect of needing it for something else, as in The Death of Koschei the Deathless or The Nine Peahens and the Golden Apples. It is generally a gift of the donor, as in Făt-Frumos with the Golden Hair.

When the hero is working for the villain, the usual aid comes from a woman who is the heroine -- The Battle of the Birds, The White Dove, or The Master Maid -- and therefore does not end as this one does, with an additional adventure to gain a bride, as in The Hairy Man.

Compare Prince Ring.


  1. ^ Andrew Lang, The Grey Fairy Book, "The Magician's Horse"
  2. ^ Stith Thompson, The Folktale, p 59-60, University of California Press, Berkeley Los Angeles London, 1977
  3. ^ Stith Thompson, The Folktale, p 60-1, University of California Press, Berkeley Los Angeles London, 1977