Donkey Cabbages

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"Donkey Cabbages" (or "The Donkey Cabbage") is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, tale number 122. Andrew Lang included it in The Yellow Fairy Book.

Ruth Manning-Sanders included it, as "The Donkey Lettuce", in A Book of Witches. In 1988, the story was also animated by Japan's Nippon Animation studio for its Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics series; the title of the episode in the English version produced by Saban Entertainment is The Magic Heart.


A huntsman gave an old woman alms. She told him to go to a tree where nine birds fought for a cloak. If he shot among them, one would die and they would drop the cloak that turned out to be a wishing cloak. Furthermore, if he swallowed the heart of the dead bird, he would find a gold coin by his pillow every morning.

He went out into the world and came to a castle where an old witch lived with her beautiful daughter. The witch knew about the bird's heart and told her daughter what she must do to steal it. She gave the man a drink, and the bird's heart came up. The daughter swallowed it herself. Then the witch told her that she had to steal the wishing cloak as well, and how to do it. The daughter looked at the Garnet Mountain and told the huntsman that she wished she were there. He took her under the cloak and wished them both there. He slept there and she stole the cloak and wished herself back home.

Three giants saw him and talked of killing him, but the third said that a cloud would carry him away. He climbed up the mountain and rode off on a cloud. It took him to a cabbage garden. He was so hungry that he ate some, and it turned him into a donkey. He went on and found a different patch of cabbage which turned him back into a man. He took both kinds of cabbage and went back to the castle. He told the witch that he was a royal messenger sent to fetch the finest cabbage for the king, but he was afraid that the heat would make it wither. The witch asked for some. He gave it to her and she, her maidservant, and the daughter all ate the cabbages and became donkeys. The huntsman sold them to a miller, telling him to give the old one (the witch) one meal a day and three beatings, the younger one (the maidservant) three meals and one beating, and the youngest (the witch's daughter) three meals and no beatings.

After a time, he came back to the miller to see how the donkeys were doing. The miller told him that the oldest donkey was dead, but the two younger donkeys were so sad he thought they would die. The huntsman bought them back and turned them back into women. The witch's daughter told him where the cloak was and said she would give him back the heart as it had been stolen, but he said it would make no difference, if they wed, so they married shortly afterwards.

In popular culture[edit]

  • The Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics episode based on Donkey Cabbages called "The Magic Heart" made a few alterations to the story. In The Magic Heart, the huntsman is named Frederick, the witch's daughter is named Elizabeth and is really an enchanted princess whom the witch kidnapped as a baby and raised as her own daughter (even giving Elizabeth the power of black magic), the old woman in replaced with an old wizard, the witch's maidservant as well as the three giants were not featured, and the transformed witch and Elizabeth were sold to a farmer. Instead of a bird's heart, Frederick swallows a golden orb. Additionally the cloak allows its wearer to teleport to any location they wish instead of being a wishing cloak and Elizabeth tricks Frederick into teleporting them to a barren desert as her mother instructed, though Elizabeth protested about the theft of the cloak. Elizabeth then tricks Frederick into believing the cloak made a mistake and convinces him to fetch her some water and steals the cloak when he leaves it with her while planning to search for an oasis only to discover her theft when he realizes they can use the cloak to transport them to somewhere else. Elizabeth is shown to regret leaving Frederick in the desert causing the witch to plan to increase the power of the enchantment on her to make her forget him. The "Magic Heart" of the episode's title is not the heart of a dead bird, but rather the magic of Frederick's heart when he forgives Elizabeth for her transgressions against him after he discovers the farmer he sold her and the witch to had ignored his orders not to work Elizabeth at all and feed three meals a day. The farmer instead cruelly makes Elizabeth work for the three meals he feeds her and whips her. When Frederick confronts him over breaking his word, the farmer reveals that the old donkey that was the witch had died and he had to work the younger one to make up for it, though Frederick takes Elizabeth home for violating the terms of their arrangement. He gives Elizabeth the white cabbage to turn her back into a human and she apologizes to him before revealing that the spell the witch had cast on her had been broken by her death and that she realizes that she was not her real mother. Frederick is also shown to be more torn and heartbroken by Elizabeth's betrayal than the theft of the cloak and golden ball as he states to himself he would have gladly given them to her after she steals the cloak. He is later relieved to learn she hadn't betrayed him willingly as she had been under the witch's enchantment.

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