"The Water of Life" (German: "Das Wasser des Lebens") is a German fairy tale. It is included in the 1815 second volume of Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales), the collection of German folktales compiled by the Brothers Grimm, and all subsequent editions of the complete anthology.
The story concerns three princes whose father is seriously ill. He can only be restored to health by drinking some of the titular Water of Life that comes from a land far away. Even though they have no idea where the Water of Life can be found, the three princes set off in turn to look for it. The first two princes, who are arrogant and hard-hearted men, soon fail in their quest. They speak very rudely to a magical dwarf. He punishes the princes by casting spells on them that prevent them from traveling any further. The youngest prince speaks very politely to the dwarf who then helps him in his quest. The young prince gets some of the Water of Life, becomes engaged to a princess and has his brothers released from the dwarf's spell. The two elder princes, however, are jealous of their younger brother's success and plot his downfall.
"The Water of Life" has been adapted for film and television.
A king becomes gravely ill. His three sons are told that he will only get better if he drinks some of the Water of Life. Knowing only that the Water of Life is very hard to find, the king's two eldest sons set off in turn to look for it. On the way, they both pass a dwarf who asks them where they are going. Neither prince answers the dwarf's question. It does not occur to either of them to ask the dwarf if he knows anything about the Water of Life. Instead, they hurl insults at the dwarf and ride away. The dwarf punishes both princes by casting spells on them. The spells cause the princes to be unable to move beyond a certain point on a mountain road. They cannot go forward or go back to where they came from.
The third prince goes out in search of the Water of Life. he also passes the dwarf. The dwarf asks him where he is going. Unlike his brothers, the youngest prince responds very politely and asks the dwarf if he knows where the Water of Life is. The dwarf replies that he does. The Water of Life comes from the well of an enchanted castle in a land far away. The dwarf gives the prince an iron wand and two small loaves of bread. The door of the enchanted castle will open if the prince strikes it three times with the iron wand. Behind the door, he will find two lions. If he gives each of the lions one of the loaves of bread, they will let him pass. The price is told that he will have to leave the castle before the clock strikes twelve. if he does not, the doors will shut on him and he will have to stay inside the castle forever.
The young prince eventually comes to the castle. Doing as the dwarf told him to do, he is able to open the door and get by the lions unharmed. He passes a room where he sees a sword and a loaf of bread. He takes both of those things. In another room, he sees a princess. The princess tells him that she is under a spell but the prince can release her from that spell if he promises to come back a year from that day and marry her. The prince is told that he will also get to rule over the princess's kingdom. The prince agrees to marry her. In the castle's gardens, the prince finds the well and fills a cup with the water of Life. He then falls asleep in a shady spot. The prince wakes up just in time to get out of the castle before the clock strikes twelve.
Traveling away from the castle, the prince sees the dwarf again. The dwarf says that the prince did well to take the sword and the loaf of bread. Whoever holds the sword will defeat any enemy. Whoever has the loaf will never go hungry because it provides an endless supply of bread. The prince asks the dwarf if he knows where his two brothers are. The dwarf admits to having cast spells on them. He lifts those spells and reunites the two princes with their brother. He does so reluctantly, however, and warns the young prince that his brothers are not good people. The young prince tells his three brothers that he has some of the water of Life and that he will marry a princess and inherit her kingdom in a year's time.
On their way home, the three princes pass through three kingdoms that have each been invaded by a foreign army and where the people are going hungry as a result of the war. The youngest prince lends the sword and the loaf of bread to the kings of all three kingdoms. Each king is able to defeat the invading army and feed his hungry people with the bread.
The three princes continue their voyage home by sea. The two elder princes worry that their father will disinherit them and give his entire kingdom to their younger brother. While he is sleeping, they take the cup with the Water of Life in it, pour the magical water into another vessel and put sea water in the cup.
When the three princes arrive home, the youngest prince gives the cup of water to hs father. As a result of drinking the sea water, the king becomes even sicker than he had been before. The two elder princes then tell their father that their younger brother was trying to poison him. They give the king the true water of life. he drinks it and is immediately restored to health.
Truly believing that his youngest son was trying to poison him, the king sentences the prince to death. The king's chief huntsman is told to shoot the prince while they are out hunting together. The huntsman, however, cannot bring himself to kill the young man. He allows the prince to escape into the forest and hide there.
Three ambassadors come to the king's castle. They are from the kingdoms that the youngest prince saved by lending their kings the sword and the loaf of bread. They bring presents for the young prince. When he hears about the good deeds that his youngest son did, the king comes to believe that the prince was innocent and regrets having had him put to death. The huntsman then tells the king that the young prince is still alive. The king announces that he wants his son to come home. That news does not, however, reach the prince in the forest.
Almost a year has passed since the young prince promised to marry the princess. The princess is eagerly awaiting his return. She has a road made of solid gold built that leads directly to the castle. She tells her courtiers that whoever rides on the road itself is her true betrothed. Anyone who claims to be her prince but who rides to the side of the road is an impostor. The two elder princes both want to marry the rincess and take her kingdom for themselves. They both set off in turn to her castle. When they notice the beautiful golden road, they both think that it would be a shame to damage it by having their horses walk on it. They both ride to the side of the road. When they arrive at the castle, they both claim to be the prince that the princess agreed to marry. The courtiers, however, know that they are lying and do not allow them to go inside. The youngest prince sets off. He only wants to reach the princess as quickly as possible. He only looks straight ahead and does not look down. For that reason, he does not notice the golden road and rides over it. When he arrives at the castle, the courtiers have already opened the gate for him.
The princess tells the prince that his father wants him to come home. The princess and the prince return to his father's castle together and are married there. One of the guests at the wedding is the magical dwarf who helped the young prince.
The king thinks that his two elder sons deserve to be punished. They manage to escape on a ship to a land far away and are never seen or heard from again.
The fairy tale was adapted as the 1988 Czech-language feature film O Zivej vode ("The Water of Life"). The 1995 Slovakian film Tajomstvo stasia ("The Key to Happiness") is based on "The Water of Life" and another similar folktale from Eastern Europe.
"The Water of Life" was adapted as the fifteenth episode of the first season of the anime series Grimm's Fairy Tale Classics (Japanese: グリム名作劇場; Gurimu Meisaku Gekijō). The episode was first shown on TV Asahi in Japan on January 27, 1988.
An hour-long German-language TV movie adaptation of "The Water of Life" was first shown on the channel Das Erste in Germany on December 25, 2017.
- Versions of "The Water of Life" in German and English on Wikisource.
- Public domain audiobook of "The Water of Life" in English on YouTube.