Illustration from Tatterhood and the Hobgoblins retold and illustrated by Lauren Mills, published 1993.
Illustration from Tatterhood and the Hobgoblins retold and illustrated by Lauren Mills, published 1993.

Today’s story isn’t really a Christmas tale, but one of the major events does occur on Christmas Eve, so I’m counting it. “Tatterhood” was collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe and included in East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon, published in 1888.

A king and queen had no children, a situation that seems to occur often in fairytale land, which grieved the queen greatly, so to alleviate the queen’s loneliness, they adopted a girl to raise as their own. One day, when the queen saw her adopted daughter playing with a beggar girl, she scolded her adopted daughter and tried to drive the other girl off. However, the beggar girl mentioned that her mother knew a way for the queen to have children of her own.

When the queen approached the beggar woman, the woman denied having such knowledge. The queen treated the woman to as much wine as the woman pleased until the woman was drunk. When the queen asked the drunk beggar woman how she could have a child of her own, the beggar woman told her to wash herself in two pails of water before going to bed, and afterward pour the water under the bed. The next morning, two flowers will have sprung up: one fair and one ugly. The beggar told the queen that she must eat the beautiful one, but not to eat the ugly one. The queen followed her advice, and the next morning under the bed were two flowers. One was bright and lovely, and the other was black and foul. The queen ate the beautiful flower at once, but it tasted so sweet that she wanted the other and ate it as well.

Not long afterward, the queen gave birth to a child, an ugly girl who carried a wooden spoon in her hand and rode upon a goat.  The queen was in despair, but the girl tells her that the next child will be fair and agreeable. As the girl promised, the queen gave birth to a second daughter, one who was born fair and sweet, and the queen was pleased. The sisters were as different as they could be, but they were very fond of each other. The elder daughter was named Tatterhood, because she wore a tattered hood over her unruly hair.

One Christmas Eve, when the girls were half grown, there was great noise in the gallery outside the queen’s rooms. When Tatterhood demanded to know what was causing the noise, the queen reluctantly revealed that it was a pack of trolls witches there for Christmas, which is reminiscent of “The Cat on the Doverfjell.” Tatterhood, being headstrong, decided to drive the trolls and witches off and instructed her mother to keep all the doors tightly shut. Worried about Tatterhood, Tatterhood’s younger sister opened one of the doors during the battle with the trolls. Her head was instantly snatched off by a troll and replaced with a calf’s head, after which the trolls and witches fled from the castle.

To restore her sister’s head, Tatterhood set off in a ship with no crew or company aside from her own sister. They arrived at the island where the witches lived and Tatterhood battled the witches and successfully regained her sister’s head. The girl was returned to her lovely self. The sisters escaped and arrived in a distant kingdom. The king, a widower with one son, fell in love with the younger sister at first sight. Tatterhood, however, would not allow her sister to marry the King unless the Prince agreed to marry Tatterhood. The king begged his son to marry Tatterhood, and eventually he reluctantly agreed.

The two sisters were to be married to their grooms on the same day. As the couples rode to church to be married, Tatterhood asked her bridegroom why he did not ask why she rides a goat, and when he duly asked, she answered that she rode a grand horse, which it promptly becomes. She asked the prince why he does not ask why she carries a wooden spoon, which he asks, and she declares it to be a  wand, which it turns into. This is repeated with the tattered hood, which is turned into a golden crown, and with Tatterhood herself, whose beauty she declares to surpass her sister’s, which it then does. The prince was overjoyed by her beauty and finally glad to be married to her.

I like Tatterhood. She’s outspoken and brave and protects her sister. The only action on her part that I wasn’t thrilled with was when she doesn’t allow her sister to marry. It seems a bit selfish. Of course, no one was going to marry her unless they were forced to apparently and we all know women needed to be married to have any value. I think it would have been a better ending if she hadn’t magically become beautiful and then the Prince was happy. Couldn’t he have seen her intrinisic value and loved her because of that? And she could have been lovely with her hairbrushed, in pretty clothes, and not clinging to a wooden spoon, she didn’t need a magic transformation.

You can read the story on-line at Sur La Lune.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.


  • I agree. I was enjoying the story until Tatterhood turned into the most beautiful creature ever. Typical! It would have been such a revelation for the Prince to marry her and discover more to her than just simply looks. Oh well.
    Lynn 😀

  • Anachronist

    Not all gold that shines…Tatterhood was indeed the main heroine of this tale. And of course princes marry just pretty girls so small wonder her bridegroom wanted her to be pretty. It kind of spoiled the story but what can be done…

  • Well, that’s messed up that the prince was only happy to be married to her after she became beautiful. Tatterhood sounds like she gets her way after all.
    I like that illustration!

  • Hello,
    I just read a Dutch version today, and the ending was a little different:
    She was riding on her goat next to the prince and the prince said “Why are you riding a goat and not a horse?” And she answered: “Now that you ask it, I CAN ride a horse, if I want to.” And saying this, the goat turned into a beautiful horse. Then he askes why she hid herself under that hood and she said “Oh but I can change that, if I want it myself” and the hood became a golden tiara. Same thing with the spoon. After that, the prince smiled and started whistlig but didn’t talk.
    She asked “aren’t you going to ask me about my ragged clothes?” And he said “No, it’s clear to me now that you wear them because you want to, and if you want to change that, you will.”
    After that the rags turned into an emerald green coat. The prince just smiled and said “that colour suits you beautifully.”
    When they got near to the castle she asked “Well, aren’t you going to ask me how my face looks without all the dirt?” And he said: “that too is your own choice.”
    And she made the dirt disappear from her face.
    And whether her face was ugly or pretty, we will never know, because in the eyes of the prince or Tatterhood, this had no importance at all.

    I like this ending a lot better.
    It is the oldest femminist tale I’ve heard of.


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