The version the Grimms included in Children's and Household Tales has two distinct sections, which may have originally been separate tales; they mention in an afterword having also collected stories that resemble the first section with a different ending or the second section with a different beginning. Other fairy tale collectors have had similar finds; for instance, Andrew Lang's Violet Fairy Book includes a Lithuanian tale called "The Three Princes and Their Beasts" which resembles the second section.
The first section tells of two brothers, one a rich and wicked goldsmith and the other a poor and humble broom-maker. The broom-maker discovers a rare golden bird, which the goldsmith buys off him. The bird is magical, and whoever cooks and eats its heart and liver will find a gold coin under his pillow each morning. The goldsmith sets his wife to cooking the bird, but due to a mishap, the bird's heart and liver are eaten by the two starving sons of the broom-maker. The broom-maker is astonished when his sons start finding gold under their pillows, and asks his brother for advice. The goldsmith vindictively claims they've fallen in with the devil, and must be driven out. After wandering for a while, the two boys are taken in by a huntsman, who raises them as his own sons.
In the second section, the two boys (who incidentally are identical twins) are young men and set out to seek their fortunes. First they travel together, and acquire a matching set of faithful animal companions (which are also twins, or at least littermates). Then they go their separate ways, and the story follows the younger brother, who saves a princess from a dragon and wins her hand. They live happily for a while until the young man goes hunting in a mysterious forest, where a witch turns him to stone. The elder brother, having received a portent that his sibling is in trouble, comes to visit and is mistaken for his twin. He lets the mistake stand so he can borrow his brother's authority to find out what's going on, then goes out to the forest and rescues his younger brother from the witch. The brother who is married to the princess, though grateful to be rescued and glad to be reunited with his sibling, has an attack of jealousy when he learns that his elder brother has been living his life, but is reassured when he gets home and his wife asks him why he has been behaving strangely distant and sleeping separately from her for the last few days. The end.
This story contains examples of:
- Always Identical Twins: The broom-maker's sons, "who were twin brothers and as like each other as two drops of water."
- Androcles' Lion: The brothers acquire their loyal and helpful animal companions by sparing the lives of the creatures' parents.
- Back from the Dead: After the younger brother defeats the dragon, he is murdered by the marshal, who steals the credit. His animal companions restore him to life using a rare plant the hare knows how to find.
- The Beastmaster: The two brothers become hunters and collect a train of animal companions—a lion, a bear, a wolf, a fox, and a hare—each.
- Damsel in Distress: The younger brother saves a princess who was to be sacrificed to a dragon.
- Death Is Cheap: After establishing that the animals know a way to resurrect someone from the dead, the story includes a couple of incidents where one or other of the brothers is killed and then immediately revived.
- Dragons Prefer Princesses: The princess is about to be sacrificed to a dragon when the younger brother rescues her. It's mentioned that it's actually virgins the dragon prefers, but all the other virgins in the kingdom have been eaten already.
- Evil Uncle: The goldsmith to the two boys, although really he's evil to everyone and the fact that he has nephews is an incidental detail.
- Family-Unfriendly Death: After the huntsman kills the dragon, the marshal cuts his head off while he sleeps. Fortunately, his Talking Animals save him.
- Flower from the Mountaintop: The hare's journey to fetch the magic root from a distant mountain to save the huntsman.
- Forgotten Phlebotinum: In the second section, which may have originally been a separate story, there's no mention of gold coins magically appearing under pillows. Possibly subverted, however, in that it explains how the younger twin can easily come up with a thousand gold pieces to cover a little bet he makes with an innkeeper when he returns to marry the princess. (It's also completely averted with the healing herb the younger twin's hare brings to resurrect his master; once they've got it, they use it again every time they need someone resurrected.)
- Head Turned Backwards: The younger brother is beheaded in his sleep by a wicked marshal. When the hero's train of animal companions find him, they send the hare to fetch a magic root that can restore people back to life. It works, but the not-too-bright animals have put his head on the wrong way. The hero does not immediately realize this due to being lovesick, and only when he tries to eat lunch he notices there is something amiss. The animals fess up to their mistake, and the lion mends the damage by ripping the head off, then putting it back on the right way with the magic root.
- Immune to Bullets: The elder brother tries to shoot the witch, but she's immune to bullets — at least, to lead bullets.
- The Lost Woods: The sinister forest where the witch lives. It becomes a lot less sinister the moment she's killed.
- Loyal Animal Companion: The brothers each have a lion, a bear, a wolf, a fox and a hare for companions.
- The Marvelous Deer: Following one is how the younger brother gets into trouble when he goes hunting in The Lost Woods.
- Nameless Narrative: Nobody in the story has a name.
- Rags to Royalty: The younger son of a poor broom-maker marries a princess and becomes viceroy of a kingdom.
- Rescue Romance: The princess falls in love with the younger brother as soon as he rescues her from the dragon.
- Silver Bullet: After discovering that the witch is Immune to Bullets, the elder brother fashions silver bullets out of his coat buttons, which are much more effective.
- Spot the Imposter: After the brothers are reunited at the end, they decide just for fun to challenge the court to tell which is the princess's husband. Even the princess can't tell the men apart, but she identifies her husband after taking a close look at the animals. (Her husband's animals are wearing neck decorations she gave them after they helped kill the dragon.)
- Standard Hero Reward: The king has promised that the man who saves his daughter will get her hand in marriage and inherit the kingdom.
- Stealing the Credit: While the hunter and his animals are resting after killing the dragon, the marshal kills him and takes credit for the dragon's death. (The princess knows the truth, but he extorts a promise of silence which she's too frightened of him to break until the hunter turns up again.)
- Taken for Granite: The witch's victims.
- Wicked Witch: She lives in the forest and turns everyone she meets into stone.
- Youngest Child Wins: A minor example, in that it's the younger of the twins who marries the princess while the elder wanders around and fails to find adventure. On the other hand, it's averted with the witch, where the younger brother tries first and fails, then the elder brother tries and succeeds.