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Literature / The Turnip Princess

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The Turnip Princess (Die Rübenprinzessin) is a German Fairy Tale collected by Franz Xaver von Schönwerth. It has been translated into English and published in The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales collection.

Once upon a time there was a prince whose father had been missing since his birth. When the prince comes of age, he decides to journey around the world for a while. Not long after, though, he gets lost in a forest and seeks shelter in a cave. The prince falls asleep, and when he wakes up, he finds an old woman, a bear and a dog standing beside him.

The old woman wants the prince to marry her, but the prince tries to flee from his unwanted suitor. Though, some kind of magic prevents him from leaving the cave, no matter how many times he runs towards the exit. One day, the old woman goes out of the cave, leaving the prince with the bear. Then the bear tells the prince can free him from his curse if he pulls out the rusty nail embedded in the wall. He can find a beautiful wife, too, if he places said nail beneath a turnip in a field.

The prince pulls the nail out, causing the cavern to shake and the bear to transform into a crown-wearing bearded man. The prince dashes out of the cave immediately and starts searching for a plot of turnips. After a while, he finds one orchard and is about to put the nail beneath one turnip when he sees a monster looming over him. The prince recoils in horror, drops the nail, pricks his finger on a thorny edge and passes out. When he comes around, he notices several unpleasant facts: he is no longer in the turnip field; he has spent so long unconscious that he has grown a beard; and he has lost the nail.

The prince spends many days and nights searching the land, but he cannot find the turnip field or the missing nail. One evening, the prince is watching the sunset beneath a blackthorn when he notices red flowers blooming on one branch. The prince breaks off the branch, and then he notices a large turnip on the ground before his feet. The prince drives the broken branch into the turnip, then lies on the ground and falls asleep.

Waking up in the morning, the prince notices the turnip has split open. The nail lays inside the hollow rind, and the image of a beautiful woman has been carved into the concave side.

Thinking his old stalker is somehow responsible for him not finding that beautiful maiden, the prince makes his way back to the cave. Finding the place empty, the prince thrusts the nail into the wall; the bear and old crone reappear instantly.

The prince demands to know what the old woman did to the girl he saw inside the turnip, but the woman amusingly asks why he is scorning her. The prince replies he does not trust her, even though he considers the bear trustworthy. The bear tells him to pull the nail out again.

The prince cautiously pulls the half of the nail out. Then he looks over his shoulder and sees the bear is partly turned back into human and the old woman is changing into the beautiful maiden whose image he saw in the turnip. The prince draws the nail out of the wall completely, breaking the spell. The prince and the maiden hug each other as the nail bursts into flames. Then the former bear reveals he is the prince's own father.

"Then joyfully, happily, the bride and groom and father-king journeyed out of the forest back to the castle upon the high hill."

English translation here and here. An audiobook can be heard here.

In the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index it is classified as a Type 554, "The Grateful Animals".


  • Abhorrent Admirer: The old woman is in love with the prince, but he can hardly stand her.
    In the morning he awoke to find an old woman and a bear standing beside him. The old woman was strangely beautiful. She told the prince that she wanted him to stay and marry her. But the prince didn't like her at all. He could not endure her presence and tried to flee—- but he found he couldn't get out.
  • Animorphism: The king was magically transformed into a talking bear.
  • Beary Friendly: A talking bear helps the prince find his bride.
  • Disappeared Dad: The main character's father has been missing since the prince was born.
    The King had gone out hunting the day the prince was born and never returned. It was as if he'd vanished into thin air or been turned into a wild beast in the forest.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: The prince follows a bad pathway which takes him to a thick wood where he becomes hopelessly lost. Seeking shelter in a cave, he finds several cursed creatures, one of them unwilling to let him go.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: After being imprisoned in a cave, being chased by a monster, journeying through the wilderness for weeks to find a missing rusty nail… the prince manages to undo a curse and find both his missing father and a beautiful bride.
  • Fainting: After happening upon a monster and prickling his finger, the prince passes out due to a mix of fear and blood loss.
  • Fantastic Flora: The prince stabs one seemingly ordinary turnip which he apparently randomly finds. Then the turnip breaks in two, showing the magic nail and a relief of a beautiful maiden in its hollow rind.
  • Fire Purifies: When the spell is broken, the cursed nail bursts into flames and burns to cinders.
    At last she was freed from the spell that lay upon her. Behind them, on the floor of the cave, the nail burst into flames and burnt up like fire.
  • Forced Transformation: The prince's father and the princess have been transformed into a bear and a witch by a curse.
  • Foreshadowing: The narration suggests off-handily the king disappeared because he went turned into a wild beast. Later, the prince learns that is exactly what happened to his father.
  • Karma Houdini: Whoever turned the king and the princess into a bear and an old crone got away with their actions since their identity is never revealed.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Once the spell has been broken for good and his human form is restored, the bear reveals he is the prince's father.
  • Made of Incendium: As soon as the old king and the maiden are freed, the nail bursts into flames.
  • Nameless Narrative: The characters are the prince, the queen, the bear and the old woman...
  • Plot-Irrelevant Villain: The monster who frightens the prince when he goes into the turnip field seems to be unrelated to the curse.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: The prince is the one who leaves his palace, has an adventure and finds his father.
  • Rule of Three: The prince finds three cursed creatures in the cave: one old crone, one bear and one dog.
  • Secondary Character Title: The eponymous princess is the bride whom the main character is seeking.
  • Talking Animal: The bear tells the prince how to break the enchantment and find a potential bride.
  • Transformation Fiction: The prince grows up without knowing his father because he was turned into a beast.
  • Unnaturally Looping Location: Every time the prince runs towards the cave's mouth, he finds himself back in the deepest, darkest part.
    He could not endure her presence and tried to flee—- but he found he couldn't get out. Every time he walked towards the light he found himself deep inside the cave again.
  • Waking Up Elsewhere: After being accosted by a monster, the prince gets wounded and passes out. When he comes around, he finds he has been moved from the turnip field to some faraway place, and he has somehow grown a beard.
  • Walking the Earth: The story begins when the prince leaves his home to explore the world. After losing the cursed nail, he spends days or even weeks wandering around woods, fields and bad lands.
    So he set off to find what he had lost. Over field and over fen, past rocky cliffs and barren lands he wandered, searching every turnip field he came across, but nowhere did he find what he was looking for. Days passed, nights passed, many of them, and he was a long time a-wandering.
  • Watching the Sunset: After spending several days and nights searching the wastelands, the prince is sitting on the ridge of a hill beneath a blackthorn, watching the sun setting before lying down and falling asleep.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The prince bumps into a witch, a bear and a dog. After the initial meeting, the dog disappears from the tale entirely. Likewise, the monster who chases the prince out of a turnip field is not mentioned again.