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Literature / The Three Snake Leaves

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The princess revived by H. J. Ford

"The Three Snake-Leaves" (Die drei Schlangenblätter) is a German Fairy Tale collected by The Brothers Grimm in Children's and Household Tales (Kinder- und Hausmärchen). The tale is an Aarne-Thompson type 612.

A poor man's son leaves his home to not be a burden to his father. Since the country was at war, the young man joins the army and earns the king's favor after winning a crucial battle. Around that time, the princess declared she would only get married to someone who promised to let himself be buried alive with her if she died first (claiming she would do the same if her husband died first). Feeling lovestruck, the young man asks for her hand and they get married.

Sometime afterwards, the princess gets sick and dies, and the young man is obliged to fulfill his promise. He is taken down into the royal vault together with his bride's corpse and some food and wine. As he is waiting for death, the prince notices a snake creeping into the vault through a hole and slithering towards his wife's body, so he promptly kills it. Shortly afterwards, another snake creeps into the grave, and upon seeing the first snake's remains, it uses three leaves to bring the dead reptile back to life. Then both snakes hasten away together, leaving the leaves behind. Hesitantly, the prince picks up the leaves and he successfully brings his wife back to life. Then they go to the sealed door and knock and shout loudly until they are heard by the guards. After being released, the prince gives the leaves to a loyal servant and asks him to carry them around constantly, just in case they are needed again.

However, his wife had changed after being restored to life, and she no longer loved him. During a sea voyage, she falls for the skipper, and she decides to get rid of her husband so she can wed her lover. The princess and her lover throw her husband down into the sea, but they fail to realize they had been seen by the loyal servant. The man quickly unfastens a boat from the ship, fishes his master out of the way, and uses the three snake leaves to bring him back to life.

Both men hasten to go back to the kingdom and reach the king before the princess is back. The king is shocked when he is told his daughter committed cold-blooded murder, but he wants to hear her out before acting. When the princess returns, she tries to feed her father lies about her husband suddenly dying and the skipper saving her until the king reveals her husband is alive and in the palace. The princess begs for mercy right away, but the king refuses, on account of her murdering the person to whom she owed her life. Both she and the skipper are placed in a ship that had previously been pierced with holes and sent out to sea, where their vessel soon sinks down into the waters.

It can be read here and here.


  • An Aesop:
    • You should never ask someone to do something that you are not willing to do yourself.
    • Don't become so charmed by someone's looks that you'll promise anything they ask, no matter how crazy.
  • Back from the Dead: The titular leaves can bring people back to life; they are used to resurrect the main character after he is murdered by his wife and her lover.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Subverted. Originally, the princess is "very beautiful but very weird", though she is not bad-natured. When she is brought back to life, she has been twisted into an adulterous murderer.
  • Burial at Sea: The prince is buried at sea after being murdered.
  • Buried Alive: The main character is buried alive with his wife when she dies, as per their pre-nuptial agreement.
    And as she lay there dead, the young King remembered what he had been obliged to promise, and was horrified at having to lie down alive in the grave, but there was no escape. The King had placed sentries at all the gates, and it was not possible to avoid his fate. When the day came when the corpse was to be buried, he was taken down into the royal vault with it and then the door was shut and bolted.
  • Came Back Wrong: The hero uses the titular leaves to bring his wife back from the dead. At first, it seems fine, but after she is resurrected, her love for him has turned into hate and she tries to murder him on a sea voyage. He is rescued by a faithful servant and she is executed.
  • Cheating with the Milkman: The main character's wife has an affair with their ship's skipper.
  • Cuckold: The hero's wife falls out of love with him and has an affair.
  • A Deadly Affair: The princess murders her husband after cheating on him with a skipper.
  • Death by Irony: And karmic too. The princess and her lover throw her husband into the sea to drown. Her father, after hearing this, decides to execute them by sending them out to sea on a vessel doomed to sink where they drown.
  • Happily Ever After: Subverted. The main character marries a princess, but she dies from sickness. He manages to bring his wife back to life, but her mind has been warped in the process and now she hates him. The princess has an affair with a skipper and murders her husband, but he is brought back to life, and she and her lover are executed for their crime.
  • Healing Serpent: The protagonist kills a snake. Its mate revives it with the titular three leaves. This gives the protagonist the idea to revive his lover, the princess, with the same remedy.
  • Irony: The princess wanted to die together with her lover, and since she and the skipper were executed by being sent out on a ship doomed to sink, she got her wish.
  • Missing Mom: The main character's mother is never mentioned, and it is stated his father barely could support himself and his only son.
  • Nameless Narrative: The main character is the young man (later prince). The remainder characters are the main character's father, the king, the princess, the old servant, and the skipper.
  • Offing the Offspring: Justified. The king sentences his daughter to death because she committed a cold-blooded murder, making his actions harsh but fair.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: The king outlives his daughter when she dies from sickness. Later she is brought back, but she is executed for murder. So he outlives his offspring twice.
  • Panacea: The titular leaves are used to bring any living being back from the dead.
    After a time a second snake crept out of the hole, and when it saw the other lying dead and cut in pieces, it went back, but soon came again with three green leaves in its mouth. Then it took the three pieces of the snake, laid them together, as they ought to go, and placed one of the leaves on each wound. Immediately the severed parts joined themselves together, the snake moved, and became alive again, and both of them hastened away together.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: The princess and her treacherous lover are executed by her father the king for murdering her husband.
  • Rags to Riches: The main character left his home because his father was too poor to feed him. Afterwards, he joins the army, rises quickly in the ranks, earns the king's favor, and gets married to the princess.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: When the princess begs for forgiveness, her father flatly replies she cannot expect mercy after murdering the man who was willing to die with her and even found a way to bring her back to life when she passed away.
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Played with. After the main character has been buried alive with his deceased wife, a snake slithers into the vault and creeps towards the corpse. The prince swiftly cuts the snake into three pieces, but, after a time, another snake creeps into the crypt and uses three leaves to restore and resurrect its dead companion. The second snake isn't hostile, and becomes the catalyst for the husband discovering the snake-leaves.
  • Rule of Three: Three leaves are used to bring creatures back to life. They are used to resurrect one snake, the princess, and the main character.
  • Spanner in the Works: The princess's husband-murdering ploy could have worked if it were not for the prince's loyal servant witnessing the murder. Swiftly, he got into a boat, hauled the prince out of the water, used the snake leaves to bring him back to life, and took him back to the king before the princess had the chance to feed her father one lie.
  • Together in Death: The princess swears she will only marry whoever is willing to be buried alive with her if she dies first, and she declares she will do the same if her husband dies first.
    The King had a daughter who was very beautiful, but she was also very strange. She had made a vow to take no one as her lord and husband who did not promise to let himself be buried alive with her if she died first. "If he loves me with all his heart," said she, "of what use will life be to him afterwards?" On her side, she would do the same, and if he died first, she would go down to the grave with him.
  • Villains Want Mercy: The princess falls to her knees and begs for forgiveness when it is revealed she murdered her husband. However, the king refuses to be merciful.
    When the woman saw her husband, she was thunderstruck, and fell on her knees and begged for mercy. The King said, "There is no mercy. He was ready to die with thee and restored thee to life again, but thou hast murdered him in his sleep, and shalt receive the reward that thou deservest."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The young man's father disappears from the story after his son leaves his home looking for fortune.