"The White Snake" (German: "Die weiße Schlange") is a German fairy tale. It is included in Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales), the 1812 anthology of German folktales compiled by the Brothers Grimm.
The story's protagonist is a servant to a wise king. The source of the king's wisdom appears to be an unknown food that is brought to him by the servant on a covered dish. One evening, the servant looks under the dish and is surprised to see a white snake. He eats some of the meat from the snake and suddenly gains the ability to understand the language of animals. After first using his new found ability to understand animals' speech to clear his name when he is wrongly accused of theft, the servant then leaves the king's palace and goes out to seek his fortune.
The story as told by the Brothers Grimm has been a source of inspiration for other writers and has been adapted for television.
There is a king who is renowned for his wisdom. News of all occurrences seems to reach him remarkably quickly and no secrets can be kept from him. The king appears to obtain his wisdom from a special food that he eats. A trusted servant brings it to the king each evening at the end of dinner. The king does not uncover the dish and eat the food until everybody else has left the table. For that reason, nobody else knows what is on the dish, not even the trusted servant. One evening, the servant uncovers the dish and is surprised to find a white snake on it. Nevertheless, he eats some of the meat from the snake. He then finds that he can understand the language of animals.
A ring goes missing. Since the trusted servant is allowed to go everywhere in the palace, he is accused of stealing it. The servant protests his innocence. The king tells him that he will be executed as a thief unless he can find out who really stole the ring before the following day. The servant overhears some ducks talking to each other. One of the ducks says that she accidentally swallowed a ring that the queen left by a window. The servant takes the duck to the cook to be killed and prepared for dinner. When the ring is found inside the duck, the servant's name is cleared. By way of an apology, the king offers the servant anything he wants in the castle. The servant says that he wants to travel. He asks for a horse and a little money so that he can do so.
The servant hears three fish lamenting that they are slowly dying because they are caught in reeds. The servant frees the fish from the reeds. The fish tell the servant that they will repay his kindness one day. The servant hears an ant complain that other ants are being crushed to death by men on horseback. The servant moves out of the way of the ants onto the side of the road. The grateful ant tells the servant that he will repay his kindness one day. The servant sees three raven chicks that have been pushed out of their nest by their parents, even though they cannot yet fly or fend for themselves in any way. The servant kills his horse so that the raven chicks will have something to eat. The grateful raven chicks tell the servant that they will repay his kindness one day.
Continuing his journey on foot, the servant arrives in a town. It is announced that the king's daughter will marry anyone who can fulfill a certain task. Anyone who tries and fails to complete the task, however, will be put to death. The servant puts himself forward as one of the princess' suitors. The king drops a gold ring into the ocean and tells the servant to fetch it. After he has been left alone, the servant sees the thee fish whose lives he saved earlier. One of the fish brings the gold ring to the servant.
Although he has successfully completed the task that he has been set, the princess does not want to marry the servant because she can see that he comes from a lower social class. She says that she will marry him if he can complete another task. She empties ten sacks of millet seeds into her garden. She tells the servant that he has to pick up all the seeds and put them back in their sacks before dawn the following day. If he fails, he will be put to death. Thousands of grateful ants carry out the task for the servant.
The princess still does not want to marry the servant. She says that he must first bring her a golden apple from the Tree of Life. Even though he has no idea where the Tree of Life is, the servant sets out on a long journey to find it. One day, a golden apple drops into his hand. It has been brought to him from the faraway Tree of Life by the three ravens, now grown up, who want to thank the servant for saving their lives when they were chicks.
The servant brings the golden apple to the princess. He eats half of it and she eats the other half. The princess then falls in love with the servant. She marries him and they live happily together for many years.
"The King's Servant", a short story by the American author Maud Lindsay that is included in the 1915 anthology The Story-teller, is described as being "adapted with a free hand" from the Brothers Grimm's "The White Snake".
The fairy tale was loosely adapted as the German-language TV movie Die weiße Schlange starring Tim Oliver Scultz, Reiner Schöne, Frida Lovisa-Hamann and Jutta Fastian. The film was first shown on the digital channel ZDFneo in Germany on December 19, 2015.
- Versions of "The White Snake" in German and English on Wikisource.
- Public domain audiobook of "The White Snake" in German on YouTube.