(a German folktale)
Once upon a time there was a farmer and his wife and they had no children. This made the farmer sad and angry. One day he declared, “I will have a child, even if it must have quills!” Sure enough, his wife gave birth to a baby covered in quills; his top half was a hedgehog, and the bottom was a boy.
His name was Hans-My-Hedgehog, but his parents called him Hans. He slept on straw behind the stove because he was too prickly to hold, and though his mother loved him, his father never did. When Hans was 8, he asked his father to buy him some bagpipes, which his father did. But Hans knew his father wished him to leave, and so he said, “Have the blacksmith shod my rooster, and I will go away and never return.”
The father did this, and Hans rode away on his rooster, taking along some pigs and donkeys. Far away in the forest Hans and the rooster settled in the top of a tree. From there Hans watched his animals down below, and he played beautiful music.
Many years passed, and one day a king was passing by in his carriage when the beautiful music lured him from his path. Soon he was lost. “Find out where that music comes from,” the king said to his servant. “Ask if the musician knows the way back to my kingdom.”
When the servant saw a hedgehog and a rooster in the tree, he rubbed his eyes. “Do you know the way back to the kingdom?” he asked.
Hans climbed down the tree. “I’ll show the king back home if he promises in writing that he’ll give me whatever greets him when he first arrives.”
The king agreed. First, he was certain his dog would greet him, but also, he was sure Hans could not read. He scribbled something on a piece of bark and Hans gave him directions home. “I’ll come for my prize in a year,” Hans called after the king.
When the princess saw her father coming from afar, she ran to greet him. But when the king kissed her forehead, he remembered his promise. He told his daughter the story. “Luckily I wrote that I would never give him anything.”
The princess was relieved. “I would never go away with a hedgehog that rides a rooster,” she said scornfully.
Meanwhile, Hans was tending his animals and playing music when another king heard the music and became lost. He too asked his servant to find the musician and to ask the way home. This time when the servant saw the hedgehog in the tree, he called, “What are you doing up there?”
“I’m tending my animals,” Hans replied. When the servant asked for help, Hans climbed down and said, “I’ll show you if the king gives me the first thing that greets him back home. I’ll return for my prize in a year.”
So the king signed a promise, and Hans told him how to return safely home. When the king arrived, his beautiful daughter ran to meet him and threw her arms around his neck. “Why were you gone so long, father?” she asked.
The king told his daughter of his promise, and the princess wept.
A year passed, and Hans the Hedgehog rode to the first kingdom. The king had ordered that if anyone approached playing bagpipes and riding a rooster, he should be stopped. And so when Hans appeared, the guards attacked him with swords. But on his rooster, he flew over the gate and up to the king’s window. When he landed he called, “Give me what you have promised, or you and your daughter will die!”
The king sent the princess to him. She was wearing a wedding dress. She brought along her servants and bags of gold. She climbed aboard the rooster and they started to leave, but when they had traveled a very short way, Hans attacked the princess with his quills and cried, “This is your reward for your father’s deceit! Now you both will be cursed for the rest of your lives! Go back home,” and he sent her away.
Then off he rode to the second castle, and there he was greeted with honor and brought before the beautiful princess.
The princess was afraid, but the king had made a promise. So she curtsied and said, “I’ll marry you for it is important that people keep their word. And I promise to love you.”
Hans understood the spell that had turned him into a hedgehog could be broken, so that night he told the king to have his servants build a large fire. “Tonight I shall remove my hedgehog skin,” he said, “and the servants must throw it into the fire and stay with it until it is completely consumed.”
And that night when the clock struck 11, Hans took off his hedgehog skin. The servants threw it into the fire, where it burned until it was completely gone. Hans, whose skin looked as if he had been badly burned, had taken a human form.
The king’s physician cured him with salves and balms, and soon he was a handsome young gentleman. The princess was overjoyed, and they were married. Her love and loyalty had broken the spell.
A few years later, Hans and the princess inherited the kingdom, and Hans rode to visit his father. “I’m your son,” he said.
But the farmer shook his head. “I once had a son, but he was born with quills and the head of a hedgehog, and he is gone forever.”
“No, father,” Hans said, “I am your son.” The father was as delighted as the princess, and everyone lived happily ever after.