The Donkey Cabbages

There’s this fairy tale from the Grimm Brothers called The Donkey Cabbages, or in German, Der Krautesel. It’s not too well known, but I think it has that perfect fairy tale mix of weird & fun that would make it well-suited to adaptation. I’ll briefly retell the story here.

The Donkey Cabbages

A huntsman encounters a crone begging for food and helps her out. In exchange for his generosity, she gives him instructions on how to obtain two magical items: a cloak that grants powers of teleportation, and a bird’s heart which, when swallowed, grants a gold coin under your pillow every morning.

The huntsman decides to enjoy his fortune by travelling and eventually happens upon a castle where a beautiful maiden and her mother (who is a witch) live. The witch knows about the huntsman’s gifts, and wants to take them for herself. Fortunately for her, he falls for her daughter, and is able to use her to trick him into drinking a potion which causes him to lose the bird heart.

In order to steal the wishing-cloak, the witch makes her daughter ask the huntsman to take her up to a mountain where gemstones grow. Once they are on the mountain, the witch’s magic causes the huntsman to fall asleep, and the daughter takes the cloak and wishes herself back. The huntsman wakes up, almost gets stepped on by some giants, and then overhears from the giants that you can safely ride the clouds back down the mountain.

So he does that and ends up in a huge cabbage field. He’s really hungry so he starts eating cabbage, which turns him into a donkey. The cabbage actually tastes better to his donkey palate, and he’s still hungry, so he keeps eating.

Eventually, he eats some cabbage that turns him back, and at this point, he comes up with a great revenge plan. Taking some of both types of cabbage, he returns to the castle in disguise. He gets the witch and her daughter (and their servant) to try the donkey cabbage, and they all turn into donkeys.

This next part probably needs the most adapting. He drives the three donkey-people to the nearby mill, and tells the miller to beat the witch three times a day and feed her once, beat the servant once a day with three meals, and give the maiden no beating and three meals. Now, I don’t know what the servant did to get that kind of treatment, since she wasn’t even involved in the story up until this point. Maybe some other version has her helping the witch in her evildoing behind the scenes or something like that.

Anyway, the witch dies as a donkey from the beating and underfeeding, which also seems pretty harsh. The huntsman turns the other two back into people, and the maiden apologizes, and explains that she didn’t want to be a part of her mother’s scheme in the first place. Then they get married and live happily ever after.

If I ever wrote a musical or ballet, I would like to adapt this story. I would certainly take out the whole part where the donkey-people are brought to the miller and beaten and starved, as well as the witch’s death. It seems hard to justify the maiden wanting to marry the huntsman right after he (indirectly, but kind of directly) kills her mother, even if she was a bad lady. Let’s keep it light-hearted for the kids.

Do you have any favorite weird fairy-tales you want to see adapted? Do you have any ideas for how to adapt The Donkey Cabbages? What would you write a musical about? Let me know your thoughts at my Ctrl-C email: gome ​@ ​