Trusty servant Faithful John promises his dying king that he will care for his son. But what will he do when he finds out that it will cost him his own life?
Faithful John is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a trusty servant who promises his dying king to take care of his son. When the prince opens the forbidden door, Faithful John helps him to find his princess. Overhearing three ravens he saves their life multiple times, but turns into a stone statue himself. A gruesome sacrifice brings him back.
The king calls for Faithful John
There was once an old king who was ill. He thought to himself, “I am lying on what must be my deathbed.”
“Tell Faithful John to come to me,” he said. Faithful John was his favorite servant. He was called Faithful John because he had for his whole life long been his trusty servant.
When he came beside the bed, the King said to him, “Most faithful John, I feel my end approaching, and have no anxiety except about my son. He is still young, and does not always know how to guide himself. If you don’t promise me to teach him everything that he needs to know and to be his fosterfather, I cannot close my eyes in peace.”
Faithful John answered, “I will stay with him, and serve him, even if it should cost me my life.”
On this, the old King said, “Now I can die in comfort and peace.” He added, “After my death, show him the whole castle: all the chambers, halls, and vaults, and all the treasures in there. However don’t show him the last chamber in the long gallery, with the picture of the princess of the Golden Dwelling in it. If he sees that picture, he will fall violently in love with her. He will drop down in a swoon and go through great danger for her sake. You must preserve him from that.”
When Faithful John had once more given his promise to the old King about this, the King said no more, but laid his head on his pillow, and died.
Opening the forbidden chamber
When the old King had been carried to his grave, Faithful John told the young King all that he had promised his father on his deathbed. He added, “I will do all this and will be faithful to you as I was to him, even if it costs me my life.”
When the mourning was over, Faithful John said to him, “It is now time for you to see your inheritance. I will show you your father’s palace.” He took him everywhere, up and down, and showed him all the riches and the magnificent apartments. There was only one room which he did not open, the one with the dangerous picture.
The picture was placed in such a way that when the door was opened you looked straight on it. It was so admirably painted that it seemed to breathe and live. Nothing was more charming or more beautiful in the whole world.
The young King noticed that Faithful John always walked past this one door, and said, “Why do you never open this door for me?”
“There is something within this room,” he replied, “which would terrify you.”
But the King answered, “I have seen all the palace, and I will know what is in this room also,” and he went and tried to break the door open by force. Faithful John held him back and said, “I promised your father before his death that you should not see that which is in this chamber, it might bring the greatest misfortune on us both.”
“Ah, no,” replied the young King, “if I do not go in, it will be my certain destruction. I will have no rest day or night until I have seen it with my own eyes. I will not leave the place now until you have unlocked the door.”
Then Faithful John saw that there was no help for it now, and with a heavy heart and many sighs sought out the key from the great bunch. When he had opened the door, he went in first. By standing before the King he maybe could hide the portrait so that he would not see it in front of him.
It didn’t help. The King stood on tip-toe and saw it over his shoulder. When he saw the portrait of the maiden, which was so magnificent and shone with gold and precious stones, he fell fainting to the ground.
Faithful John took him up, carried him to his bed, and sorrowfully thought, “The misfortune has befallen us, Lord God, what will be the end of it?”
He gave the King some wine until he was himself again. The first words the King said were, “Ah, the beautiful portrait! Whose it it?”
“That is the princess of the Golden Dwelling,” Faithful John answered.
“My love for her is so great, that if all the leaves on all the trees were tongues, they could not declare it. I will give my life to win her. You are my most Faithful John, you must help me.”
On a journey with gifts of gold
The faithful servant thought for a long time about how to do this, because it was difficult even to obtain a sight of the King’s daughter.
At last he thought of a way, and said to the King, “Everything which she has is of gold—tables, chairs, dishes, glasses, bowls, and household furniture. Among your treasures are five tons of gold; let the goldsmiths of the Kingdom create from this all kinds of vessels and utensils, and all kinds of birds, wild beasts and strange animals. Things that may likely please her. We will go there with them and try our luck.”
The King ordered all the goldsmiths to be brought to him and they had to work night and day until at last the most splendid things were prepared.
When everything was stowed on board a ship, Faithful John put on the dress of a merchant. The King was forced to do the same in order to make himself quite unrecognizable. Then they sailed across the sea, and sailed on until they came to the town where the princess of the Golden Dwelling lived.
Faithful John said the King to stay behind on the ship, and wait for him.
“Perhaps I shall bring the princess with me,” he said, “so prepare all things; have the golden vessels set out and the whole ship decorated.”
Faithful John visits the princess
He gathered together in his apron all kinds of gold things, went on shore and walked straight to the royal palace. When he entered the courtyard of the palace, a beautiful girl was standing there by the well with two golden buckets in her hand, drawing water with them.
When she was just turning round to carry away the sparkling water she saw the stranger, and asked who he was. So he answered, “I am a merchant,” and opened his apron, and let her look in. Then she cried, “Oh, what beautiful gold things!” and put her pails down and looked at the golden wares one after the other.
She said, “The princess must see these, she has such great pleasure in golden things that she will buy all you have.”
She took him by the hand and led him upstairs, for she was the waiting-maid. When the King’s daughter saw the wares, she was quite delighted and said, “They are so beautifully worked, that I will buy all of them.
Faithful John said, “I am only the servant of a rich merchant. The things I have here are not to be compared with those my master has in his ship. They are the most beautiful and valuable things that have ever been made in gold.
She wanted to have everything brought to her there, but he said, “There are so many of them that it would take a great many days to do that. So many rooms would be required to exhibit them that your house is not big enough.”
She became more and more curious, until at last she longingly said, “Bring me to the ship, I will go there myself and see the treasures of your master.”
The princess meets the King
This made Faithful John quite happy. He led her to the ship. When the King saw her, he found her even more beautiful than the picture he had seen. He was afraid his heart would burst in two.
The King led her within the ship. Faithful John, however, remained behind with the captain, and ordered the ship to be pushed off, saying, “Set all sail, so that we will fly as fast as a bird in the air.”
Within the ship the King showed her the golden vessels, every one of them. He showed her the wild golden beasts. He showed her the strange golden animals.
Many hours went by while she was seeing everything. In her delight she did not observe that the ship was sailing away. When she had seen everything, she thanked the merchant and wanted to go home. However when she came to the side of the ship, she saw that it was on the deep sea, far from land, and hurrying onwards with all sail set.
“Ah,” she cried in alarm, “I am betrayed! I am carried away and have fallen into the power of a merchant—I would rather die!”
The King, however, seized her hand. “I am not a merchant. I am a king, of no meaner origin than you. I carried you secretly away because I love you so much. When I saw your portrait for the first time, I fell fainting to the ground.”
When the princess of the Golden Dwelling heard that, she was comforted, and her heart was inclined unto him, so that she willingly agreed to be his wife.
Faithful John hears three ravens talk
While they were sailing onward over the deep sea, Faithful John was sitting on the fore part of the vessel, making music. At one moment he saw three ravens in the air, flying towards them. He stopped playing and listened to what they were saying to each other, for he could understand them.
One cried, “Oh, there he is carrying home the princess of the Golden Dwelling.”
“Yes,” replied the second, “but he has not got her yet.”
And the third said, “But he has got her, she is sitting beside him in the ship.”
Then the first began again, and cried, “What good will that do him? When they reach land a chestnut horse will leap forward to meet him. The prince will want to mount it, but if he does that, it will run away with him, and rise up into the air with him, and he will never see his maiden again.”
The second said, “But is there no escape?”
“Oh, yes, if any one else gets on it swiftly and takes out the pistol which must be in its holster and shoots the horse dead with it, the young King is saved. But who knows that? And who does know it, and tells it to him, will be turned to stone from the toe to the knee.”
The second raven said, “I know more than that; even if the horse is killed, the young King will still not keep his bride. When they go into the castle together, a wrought bridal garment will be lying there in a dish. It will look like as if it is woven of gold and silver; it is, however, nothing but sulfur and pitch. If he puts it on, it will burn him to his very bones.
The third said, “Is there no escape at all?”
“Oh, yes,” replied the second, “if any one with gloves on seizes the garment and throws it into the fire and burns it, the young King will be saved. But who knows it and tells it to him, half his body will become stone from the knee to the heart.”
Then the third said, “I know still more; even if the bridal garment be burnt, the young King will still not have his bride. After the wedding, when the dancing begins and the young queen is dancing, she will suddenly turn pale and fall down as if dead, and if some one does not lift her up and draw three drops of blood from her right breast and spit them out again, she will die. But if any one who knows that were to declare it, he would become stone from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot.”
When the ravens had spoken of this together, they flew onward. Faithful John had understood everything. From that time forth he became quiet and sad. If he concealed what he had heard from his master, disasters would happen to him. But if he would tell him, it would cost him his own life.
At last, however, he said to himself, “I will save my master, even if it brings death to me.”
Faithful John saves the king and the princess
When they came to shore, all happened as had been foretold by the ravens. A magnificent chestnut horse sprang forward.
“Good,” said the King, “he shall carry me to my palace.” He was about to mount it when Faithful John got before him, jumped quickly on it, drew the pistol out of the holster, and shot the horse.
The other attendants of the King, who after all were not very fond of Faithful John, cried, “How shameful to kill that beautiful animal. It could have carried the King to his palace.”
The King said, “Hold your peace and leave him alone, he is my most faithful John, who knows what good he may have done.”
They went into the palace, and in the hall there stood a dish. In the dish lay the bridal garment looking no otherwise than as if it were made of gold and silver. The young King went towards it. He was about to take hold of it, but Faithful John pushed him away. He seized it with gloves on, carried it quickly to the fire and burned it.
The other attendants again began to murmur, and said, “What! Now he is even burning the King’s bridal garment!”
But the young King said, “Who knows what good he may have done, leave him alone, he is my most faithful John.”
The official ceremonies started. The dance began and the bride also took part in it. Faithful John was watchful and looked at her face. Suddenly she turned pale and fell to the ground, as if she were dead.
He ran hastily to her, lifted her up and carried her into a chamber. There he laid her down and knelt next to her. He sucked three drops of blood from her right breast and spat them out.
Immediately she breathed again and recovered herself. The young King had seen what happened and gotten angry because he did not know why Faithful John had done it. He shouted, “Throw him into a dungeon.”
Faithful John pays the price
Next morning Faithful John was condemned and led to the gallows. When he stood on high and was about to be executed, he said, “Every one who has to die is permitted before his end to make one last speech; may I too claim this right?”
“Yes,” answered the King, “you will have your last speech.”
Faithful John said, “I am unjustly condemned. I have always been true to you,” and he related how he had heard the conversation of the ravens when on the sea, and how he had been obliged to do all these things in order to save his master.
The King cried out, “Oh, my most Faithful John. I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry—bring him down.”
It was already too late. As Faithful John spoke the last word he had fallen down lifeless and become a stone statue.
The King and the Queen suffered great anguish, and the King said, “Ah, how bad have I treated such great fidelity!”
He ordered the stone figure to be taken up and placed in his bedroom beside his bed. As often as he looked on it he wept and said, “Oh if I could bring you back to life again, my most faithful John.”
The sacrifice of the children
Some time passed and the Queen bore twins. Two sons who grew fast and were her delight. Once when the Queen was at church and the two children were sitting playing beside their father, the latter full of grief again looked at the stone figure, sighed and said, “Ah, if I could but bring you back to life again, my most faithful John.”
Then the stone statue began to speak and said, “You can bring me back to life again. It will cost you what is dearest to you.”
The King cried out, “I will give everything I have in the world for you.”
The stone statue continued, “If you will cut off the heads of your two children yourself, and sprinkle me with their blood, I shall be restored to life.”
The King was terrified when he heard that. He thought of faithful John’s great fidelity and how he had died for him. Then he drew his sword and with his own hand cut off the heads of his children. After smearing the stone statue with their blood, life returned to it and Faithful John stood once more safe and healthy before him.
He said to the King, “Your integrity shall not go unrewarded,” and took the heads of the children, put them on again and rubbed the wounds with their blood. They became whole again immediately, jump about and went on playing as if nothing had happened.
Would the Queen have done the same?
The King was full of joy. When he saw the Queen coming he hid Faithful John and the two children in a great cupboard. She entered and he said to her, “Have you been praying in the church?”
“Yes,” she answered, “but I have constantly been thinking of Faithful John and what misfortune has befallen him through us.”
He said, “Dear wife, we can give him his life again, but it will cost us our two little sons, whom we must sacrifice.”
The Queen turned pale and her heart was full of terror. She said, “We owe it to him, for his great fidelity.”
The King rejoiced that she thought as he had thought. He opened the cupboard and brought forth Faithful John and the children. “God be praised, he is delivered, and we have our little sons again also.”
He told her how everything had occurred. They dwelt together in much happiness until their death.
Tips for Telling
- This is a full blooded fairy tale. It contains a lot of strong scenes (death, abduction, breast biting, killing horses and young children). Originally fairy tales were stories told to adults. Be mindful of your audience, this is not a story for young children.
- This tale is full of feelings. It might be helpful to read or go through it in your mind while imagining being one of the characters. How do the feelings of Faithful John change and develop during the story? The feelings of the King?
- Take the time for mourning and pain after Faithful John turns into a stone statue. Your listeners need to feel the loss of this Faithful John. Don’t go to quickly to the ending.
All Questions Answered
It was written down by the Brothers Grimm. Their source was the German storyteller Dorothea Viehmann. It is the 6th story in their book ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’.
The Brothers Grimm collected this story and wrote this complete version down in 1819 in their book ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’. This story is not in the first edition (1812). It was told long before it was written down.
This fairy tale is about being a faithful or trusty person. To be truly faithful means sacrificing yourself for the other. Even when that costs you everything, in the end it will be worth it.
Faithful John is also known as “Trusty John”, “Faithful Johannes” and “John the True”.