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Literature / Jesper Who Herded the Hares

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There was once a king who ruled over a kingdom somewhere between sunrise and sunset. It was as small as kingdoms usually were in old times, and when the king went up to the roof of his palace and took a look round he could see to the ends of it in every direction. But as it was all his own, he was very proud of it, and often wondered how it would get along without him. He had only one child, and that was a daughter, so he foresaw that she must be provided with a husband who would be fit to be king after him. Where to find one rich enough and clever enough to be a suitable match for the princess was what troubled him, and often kept him awake at night.

Jesper Who Herded the Hares is a Scandinavian Fairy Tale included by Andrew Lang in The Violet Fairy Book.

A king declared he would marry his daughter to whoever brought him twelve of the finest pearls he ever saw, and carried out certain tasks. Many brought fake pearls and were caught out, and those who brought real ones failed.

A fisherman had three sons, Peter, Paul, and Jesper, who was the smartest, though the other two would not admit it. One day he brought home three dozen oysters, which each proved to have a beautiful pearl. Peter set out with a dozen, and met the King of the Ants, whose plea for air he scorned, and an old woman, who asked what he was carrying. He told her it was cinders. When he got to the castle, it was cinders. Paul did the same. But when Jesper set out, he helped the ants, and received a promise of their aid, and then told the old woman that he was carrying the pearls that would win the princess. She asks for food, he gives her his lunch, and she gives him a whistle that will bring back whatever he loses.

He shows the pearls to the king, who is displeased with him, and sets him to sort a mixed heap of wheat, barley, oats, and rye. He summons the ants, who sort it for him.

The next day, the king's men had captured a hundred hares, and it was Jesper's task to herd them all. They fled as soon as they were released, but the whistle brought them back. When news got back to the king, he sent the princess to beg one from him. He agreed, if she kissed him, and she did, but then he whistled it back. The queen came, and Jesper made her walk about and cackle like a hen, and whistled the hare back. The king came, and Jesper made him stand on his head for it, and whistled the hare back.

The next day, the king told him he had to tell as many truths as were needed to fill a tub — and the king would say when it was full. Jesper told how the princess had come to him, and then the queen, and finally started to tell about the king, and the king declared that the tub was full, so the princess and Jesper married.

The story is classified as tale type ATU 570, "The Rabbit-Herd", of the international Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index. It can be read here and in the Project Gutenberg.

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