Many of the characters in Grimm’s fairy tales are well known. The mere mention of such names as Snow White and Cinderella elicit universal recognition. Briar Rose may draw a blank at first – at least until you realize that this Grimm heroine is the same character that Charles Perrault called Sleeping Beauty.
Other tales deserve to be well known, but unfortunately did not attract the attention of Walt Disney or the recent editors of fairy tale books for children. Brother Lustig is a good example.
This character is a lovable scoundrel. A retired soldier, he generously shared his meager military severance pay with a saint disguised as a beggar. The saint consequently took him under his protection. The saint had the power to heal the sick miraculously, and he offered to share with Brother Lustig whatever gifts he received as a result of his merciful ministrations.
The two men came to a farmhouse. The farmer was grievously sick, and his wife was in tears. The saint healed the man, but did not want to accept any gift from the poor farmer. Brother Lustig thought that the saint was making a mistake. He kept nudging the saint and urging him to accept a gift. The saint finally agreed to accept a lamb that the farmer’s wife offered them. However, he told Brother Lustig that he would have to carry it.
When Brother Lustig became hungry, he suggested that they cook the lamb and enjoy a meal. The saint agreed, but he had to leave the scene while Brother Lustig cooked the lamb. He told Brother Lustig not to eat anything till he returned.
The lamb was ready to eat, and the saint had not yet returned. Brother Lustig decided to eat the heart.
When the saint returned, he told Brother Lustig that he could eat the most of the lamb. The saint wanted to eat only the heart. Instead of confessing that he had already eaten the heart, Brother Lustig told the saint that the lamb did not have a heart.
The saint did not believe him. He used a trick to try to force him to confess. As they walked along, they came to a stream. When the saint walked across, the water was shallow and only reached his knees. However, when Brother Lustig followed him, it suddenly became so deep that it reached his neck. When he appealed for help, the saint asked him to confess that he had eaten the heart of the lamb. Brother Lustig refused to confess, but the saint pulled him out anyway.
They came to a country in which a daughter of the king lay dying. Brother Lustig urged the saint to hurry to the royal residence to heal her. The saint agreed to go, but he moved at a tantalizingly slow pace, and Brother Lustig could not persuade him to hurry.
Before they reached their destination, they learned that the princess had already died. The heart of Brother Lustig sank within him, and he started complaining. However, the saint told him that he could raise the dead.
The saint had a strange way of performing this miracle. He cut up the dead body, boiled the flesh off the bones, and reassembled the bones in the right order. Then he commanded her to stand up in the name of the most Holy. After he had uttered the command three times, the princess was as good as new.
The saint refused to accept any gift. However, the king noticed that Brother Lustig was trying to change the saint’s mind, so he commanded that the knapsack of Brother Lustig be filled with gold.
Brother Lustig offered to share the gold with the saint, so the saint divided the gold into three equal portions. Brother Lustig was puzzled, so the saint said that the third portion was for whoever ate the heart of the lamb.
Brother Lustig readily admitted that he had eaten the heart and took the extra portion of gold. The saint refused to travel with him any longer.
For several months, Brother Lustig was free from care. He feasted, gave generous presents, and enjoyed life till all his money was gone.
By chance, Brother Lustig came to a country where a princess had just died. He decided to try to raise her from the dead. He followed the same procedure that the saint had used. However, since he did not assemble the bones in the correct order, he could not bring the princess back to life.
The saint came and helped him. He put the bones in the correct order and raised the princess from the dead. He told Brother Lustig never to try anything like that again, and he commanded him not to accept any gift from the king. He then climbed out the window and disappeared.
Brother Lustig made a show of refusing the king’s proffered reward. However, through artifice and cunning, he managed to get his knapsack filled with gold.
When he left the king’s residence, the saint met him at the door and rebuked him. However, to keep him from doing anything foolish after spending his sack of money, the saint endowed the knapsack of Brother Lustig with a marvelous power. Brother Lustig could put any object he wished into his knapsack simply by wishing it in.
The money did not last long. He spent the last farthings at an inn. Before leaving, he noticed two roast geese in the oven. After leaving the inn, he wished that the two geese were in his sack. Since he was satisfied after eating one of the geese, he gave the other to two men that were passing by.
The two men happened to go to the very same inn from which Brother Lustig had stolen the geese. The landlord thought that the two men were the thieves and gave them a beating.
Brother Lustig wanted to spend the night at another inn, but there was no vacancy. The landlord also owned a castle filled with demons that killed everyone who tried to sleep there. In spite of the danger, Brother Lustig insisted on spending the night in the castle.
During the night, nine demonic spirits attacked him, but he wished that these demons were inside the sack. So the nine demons were trapped.
The next day Brother Lustig took the demon-filled sack to a blacksmith, laid it upon the anvil, and asked the blacksmith to pound it vigorously. Eight of the nine demons died, and the ninth scurried home as soon as Brother Lustig opened the sack.
When Brother Lustig died, he traveled to hell because he thought the road to the angels’ abode was too rugged. But the demon who had survived imprisonment in Brother Lustig’s sack happened to be the gatekeeper. When the demon saw his erstwhile tormentor, he fearfully refused to let him in.
So Brother Lustig tried his luck at the other place. However, the saint who had been his former companion was gatekeeper and did not permit Brother Lustig to enter. Brother Lustig angrily returned the sack, saying that he did not want anything that belonged to the saint. But when the sack was safely inside, Brother Lustig wished himself inside the sack, and thus gained admittance to the realm of light.
“Grimm’s Fairy Tales”; translator anonymous