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Rule Of Three / Fairy Tales

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The Rule of Three in fairy tales.


  • "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" is built around this trope. The chairs are too hard, too soft, and just right, the porridges are too hot, too cold, just right, and so on.
  • In "The Three Billy Goats Gruff", the 3rd and largest goat defeats the troll.
  • "Cinderella" traditionally goes to the ball 3 times before losing her shoe. Later, the 2 step-sisters each try the shoe on before Cinderella steps forward.
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  • "The Three Little Pigs": the first two pigs' houses fail to ward off the Big Bad Wolf, while the 3rd's brick house remains sturdy.
  • The story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf: the first two times, the boys just play with the villagers' emotions for fun that his sheep are under attack by a wolf. But after those two pranks, a wolf actually does show up for reals. And the boy sets off a third cry for help. Guess how the villagers react?
  • In the Grimms' "Snow White" story, the wicked Queen makes three attempts on Snow White's life (a cursed comb, strangling her with a bodice lace, and the famous poisoned apple).
  • In "The Nix In The Mill Pond", the woman tries to rescue her husband from the Nixie's hands three times.
  • In "Rumpelstiltskin", the title character gives the miller's daughter three days to guess his name. After he spun for her for three nights.
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  • In "Jack and the Beanstalk", Jack steals three treasures from the giant: a bag of gold, a goose that lays golden eggs, and a singing harp.
  • "The Honey Princess": Three princes are set to accomplish three tasks in order to win three princesses' hands in marriage.
  • "The Three Spinners" help a girl against an impossible spinning task.
  • In "Brother and Sister", it is the third stream that Brother drinks from; it is the third time he goes out to hunt that the king finds Sister; it was the third time she returned from the dead that her husband caught her and brought her back to life.
  • In "East of the Sun, West of the Moon", the heroine meets three women who give her gifts; she uses them to bribe her way to her husband, and the third time, he is not drugged to sleep.
  • In "Maid Maleen", when she is pretending to be the bride, she speaks to three objects; the bride must find out from her three times what she said, and the bridegroom figures out the substitution.
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  • In "The True Sweetheart", the heroine goes to the ball three times.
  • In the Russian folktale "The Death of Koschei the Deathless", Prince Ivan has three sisters. Three shape-shifting wizards appear to court his sisters on three separate occasions. Ivan gives Koschei water three times; consequently, Koschei promises to spare his life three times. Ivan attempts to rescue his wife three times before getting killed. During his quest, he is helped three times by animals whom he spared at some point... It is all over the place.
  • Anecdotes have plenty of examples. For an example, three nation anecdotes.
  • In "The Three Aunts", the three aunts help her on three successive nights.
  • In Iron Hans, the prince gets three chances to watch the well. He fails all the three, but only on the third is he sent away.
  • In Bearskin, the hero tells the youngest daughter to wait for him three years — if he doesn't return then, he's dead and she's free to marry as she wishes.
  • In "The Love of Three Oranges" — well, three oranges. Or citrons or whatever.
  • In "The Rose Tree", the girl loses three sets of candles, and later gets three gifts.
  • In "The Feather of Finist the Falcon", the daughter asks three times for a gift, meets three old women along the way, and at the end, bribes the bride three times before she manages to wake Finist.
  • "Prince Ivan The Witch Baby And The Little Sister Of The Sun": While on the run, Prince Ivan meets a pair of seamstresses, asks them to live with them, and weeps when the women tell they will die after running out of needles and thread. Later he meets Vertodub, asks him to let him live with him, and weeps when the giant says he will die after uprooting a forest. Still later, he meets Vertoger, asks him to let him live with him, and weeps when the giant says he will die after leveling a mountain range.
  • In "Boots Who Made the Princess Say 'That's a Story!'", Boots is the youngest of three brothers to try the engagement challenge.
  • In The Gold Mountain the hero must endure three nights of escalating beatings to break the curse. Later, he finds three giants arguing over three magic items, which he steals and uses to get his kingdom and his family back.
  • In The Brothers Grimm's The Golden Goose, three sons, and three innkeeper's daughters
  • In "The Princess on the Glass Hill", three brothers, three horses, and three golden apples.
  • In the story Crying Wolf an actual wolf appears only after the first two times the boy cried wolf.
  • In The Black Thief and the Knight of the Glen, there are three princes, and the thief tells three stories to ransom them, and the first story features three witches.
  • In The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was the youth has two spent three nights in a Haunted Castle.
  • In Soria Moria Castle, he rescues three princess, from trolls with three, or six, or nine heads.
  • In Asbjørnsen and Moe's The Seven Foals, three drinks from the flask are needed to lift the sword.
  • In The Jezinkas, there are three jezinkas.
  • In Jesper Who Herded the Hares, he has two older brothers, and is set three tasks.
  • In Tsarevich Petr and the Wizard, he was one of three brothers, and finds three princesses.
  • In The Three Little Men in the Wood, the little men.
  • In Pintosmalto, Betta bribes the queen three times for three nights.
  • In the fable of the Honest Woodsman, a woodsman loses his ax in an accident when it flies into the river. When a water spirit appears, he tells her of his dilemma, and then she dives into the river to find his ax. It takes three such dives before the woodsman recognizes the ax as his. As a reward for his honesty, he also gets to keep the other two axes the spirit had dug up.
  • In The Princess Who Wore A Rabbit Skin Dress, a queen had three husbands — the first was the father of her daughter, the second gets no details and makes no impact on the story, and the third, after her death, wants to marry her daughter.
  • All over the place in Kate Crackernuts:
    • It takes the Queen and her Wicked Witch accomplice three tries to successfully curse Princess Anne.
    • Princess Kate follows the enchanted prince to three different balls with The Fair Folk.
    • Three waves of the magic wand restore Princess Anne to normal.
    • There bites of the magical bird break the spell on the prince.
  • "Morozko":
    • Father Frost asks the old woman's stepdaughter if she is feeling warm three times.
    • The family dog barks the old woman's stepdaughter's future fortunes and her daughter's impeding demise three times.
  • "The Wise Little Girl": The Tsar summons the little girl, but he insists she must meet three conditions: "she must appear before me neither naked nor dressed, neither on foot nor on horseback, neither bearing gifts nor empty-handed".
  • In "Mother Holle", the widow's daughter works for Frau Holle for three days.
  • In "The Three Snake Leaves", three magic leaves are used to bring creatures back to life. They are used to resurrect one snake, the princess and the main character.
  • In "The Swan Maiden" variant "The Drummer", the main character is led to the glass mountain by three giants. After climbing up the mountain, he knocks on the witch's door three times before the woman opens the door. And he must fulfill three impossible tasks imposed by the witch in order to free the king's daughters.
  • Another "Swan Maiden" type story titled "The Three Swans", has the titular three birds. Also, the hunter must endure the torture of three dragons for three days to undo the swans' curse.
  • "The Elf Maiden": The titular character asks her husband to look for a place to erect their house, warning him about keeping his eyes shut during the night, no matter what. In the morning, their house has been built, and the woman tells him to fix on a spot for their cow-stalls. The next day, their cowhouse has been built, and she tells him to measure out the ground for a storehouse, which is also built in one single night.
  • "The Laidly Worm Of Spindleston Heugh": Princess Margaret's Wicked Stepmother "did her magic and with spells three times three, and with passes nine times nine", declares three Magic Kisses from Margaret's brother to be the Curse Escape Clause, and said brother travels with 33 men to rescue his sister.
  • The Norwegian Guile Hero Espen Askeladd combines this with Youngest Child Wins in most of his stories. When some figure of authority (usually Espen's father or the king) needs some task accomplished, Espen and his two older brothers (usually named Per and Pål) set out to test their luck. While Per and Pål fail, usually due to their pride or carelesness, Espen rises to the challenge and wins the princess and half the kingdom.
  • In "The Star Child", the eponymous Star Child wanders about for three years looking for his mother after being Punished with Ugly before he was captured and Made a Slave by an evil magician. The magician sends him to find a piece of three different colored on separate days, and three times the Child gives it away to a beggar who needs it more. After giving his third piece of gold, the Star Child regains his beauty, receives his mother's forgiveness, and becomes King.

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