Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Darker Human Nature: The Good Luck Child

I'll bet you thought I wouldn't be posting for another eight some weeks, didn't you? Thought there would be a huge gap between posts? Well today I'm defying expectations. Continuing with the theme of exploring the darker human nature of literary characters, we're going to take a look at the story of "The Devil's Three Golden Hairs" by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. You may also know it as "The Good Luck Child."
If you're not familiar with the story, click the link to read it.
In the story, this boy from, as far as we know, a family of no worth or title is born and a prophecy is bestowed upon him that in his nineteenth (or some versions it's fourteenth) year, he will wed the princess. The king of that land happened to be passing through, heard the prophecy, got very upset, and placed the child in a box and threw him in the river. The king thought he had rid his daughter of her "unlooked-for suitor," but as this was a lucky child indeed, he drifted downstream until he came to the shore of another poor man and his wife, who raised him as their own. The boy grows up, the king returns by chance, and realizes that the poor man's son is in fact the child he thought he had killed. To make a long story short, the king gives the lucky child a series of tasks in order to prove himself worthy of becoming his son-in-law, all of which are fool's errands and the lucky child is never intended to survive any of them. But as his name implies, he does. On the last errand however, he encounters a ferryman who has been ferrying people across a lake for years, and he wonders when his job will end. The lucky child discovers that all he need do is hand his oar to his next client and run away freely. On returning home to the king and the princess, the lucky child was rewarded by towns which he passed with lots of gold. The king asked him how he acquired it and if he, the king, could get more. The lucky child tells him he has to be ferried across the lake to get the rest of the gold. The king ventures out, but when he comes to the ferryman, upon remembering the lucky child's answer, the ferryman hands his oar to the king, runs away, and the king is left to be the ferryman for the rest of his life.
Now, bearing all that in mind, I found it interesting that throughout the story, the lucky child is by no means impish, cruel, or ill-favorable. He is virtuous, brave, smart, and determined. But he knew by sending the king across the lake, that the ferryman would hand off the oar, and the king would be gone forever. But if he is such a good guy, and throughout the story we have no reason to doubt that he is, why would he essentially send the king to his doom?
I believe that along the journey -and in the story I think the lucky child had to venture out about three times- the lucky child realized how perilous his journey was. He most likely also realized that the king had intended it so. The lucky child finally comprehended the king's disdain for him, because he was a poor boy. (I wonder if he even knew about the prophecy?) And so, to ensure the safety of himself and the princess, the lucky child sent the king to the ferryman, who would "pass the oar." Even though the lucky child is a good guy, and the king was his father-in-law, he did send him to his doom. I find that interesting, because I really don't think the lucky child just said, "Oh, yes, I got it from the palace across the lake; just take the ferry and you'll be fine." I don't think he forgot the answer he gave to the ferryman about how to leave his post. Sending the king away -permanently- was intended. I suppose even good guys must complete bad deeds for the good of their kingdom, at least when their predecessor would potentially go mad at having a poor man's son on the throne.
If you haven't read the story yet, I would suggest doing so. Despite the tone of this post, it's actually a very fun story and doesn't focus on the darkness of it all (which is saying something, considering it was written by the Grimm brothers). It has a happy ending at least! Good conquers evil and the bad guy gets his comeuppance.



  1. I found your post fun too! Looking forward to what you will think up next. Because of being a former homeschool mother, I like to read what homeschooled youth have to say online. They are the best! Keep writing, Grace.

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for commenting. :-) This story has actually been on my mind for a while, and when I reread it a few weeks ago and saw that bit about him sending the king on his way to the ferryman, it struck me as odd. Anyway, thanks again for commenting.