Esben and the Witch

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For the British indie rock band, see Esben and the Witch (band).
Esben and the Witch
Folk tale
Name Esben and the Witch
Aarne-Thompson grouping 327B
(The Small Boy defeats Ogre)
Country Denmark
Published in The Pink Fairy Book
A Book of Witches

Esben and the Witch is a Danish fairy tale. Andrew Lang included it in The Pink Fairy Book. A version of the tale also appears in A Book of Witches and A Choice of Magic, by Ruth Manning-Sanders. It is Aarne-Thompson type 327B, the small boy defeats the ogre.


A farmer had twelve sons, and the youngest, Esben, was little while his brothers were big and strong. One day the brothers persuaded their father to let them seek their fortunes; he gave them each horses and money. Esben decided he would go too. His father refused to aid him. He took a stick and whittled it, so it was whiter than his brothers' horses, and rode off on it.

The eleven brothers came to a house where an old hag told them they could not only stay for the night, they could each have one of her daughters. They were pleased. Esben came up behind them and sneaked about. In the night, he had his brothers change caps with the daughters. At midnight, the witch came with a knife and cut her daughters' throats, because of their night caps. Esben woke his brothers, and they all fled. The brothers left Esben behind on their horses.

The brothers took service with the king as stableboys. When Esben arrived, no one gave him a place, but he managed to get his food with one thing or another. His brothers did not stand to attention for Sir Red, whom everyone else at the castle hated but the king liked. Sir Red decided to revenge himself by saying they had said they could get the king a dove with a silver feather and a golden one. The king demanded it of them. Esben told them to get him some peas, then he recited a charm to his stick, and it flew him back to the witch's. He had noticed she had such a dove; he spread the peas and caught it. The witch saw him too late to catch him, but they exchanged taunts.

The king was pleased. Angry, Sir Red claimed that they had said that they could get him a boar with silver and golden bristles. Esben made them give him a bag of malt, and using it, caught just a boar that belonged to the witch.

The king was pleased with that, although his brothers did not even thank Esben. Sir Red claimed they had said they could get a lamp that could shine over seven kingdoms. Esben asked for a bag of salt. This task, he had to sneak inside; finally, he climbed down the chimney. He still could not find the lamp, which the witch guarded carefully, so he hid in the baking oven. The witch called to her daughter to make her porridge and add no salt, so Esben poured the bag into it. The witch complained and had her daughter make more, but there was no water in the house, so the daughter asked for the lamp to fetch more. Esben pushed her into the well and ran off with the lamp.

After the king received it, Sir Red made a new claim, about a coverlet (bed cover) that sounded when touched. Esben, taking nothing, tried to steal it, but it sounded and the witch caught him. She started to fatten him up, but her daughter took a liking to him. When the witch wanted to test how fat he was, he had the daughter give her a nail. Then, the next time, Esben was tired of the dark hole he was captive in, so he had her give her mother a cow's teat.

The witch had to go to a meeting of witches, so she told her daughter to roast him while she was gone. The daughter took him out but could not push him into the oven. She showed him how to sit, and he pushed her into the oven and stole the coverlet. This time, he told the witch he would not return, and she burst into pieces of flint.

His brothers were already in prison to be executed, but the king freed them. Esben also told him about Sir Red, and the king hanged him and rewarded all the brothers with gold and silver, and they returned home, telling their father how Esben had saved them.