The golden goose in this story is not the goose in Jack and the Beanstalk that lays golden eggs. This is a goose with golden feathers, whose story is less well-known, but it’s a good story nonetheless. Since the story is not as familiar, we’ll tell it to you.
The story begins with three brothers who set off to seek their fortunes. The oldest brother is sent off with a fine picnic lunch. As he’s walking through the forest, he meets an old man who asks for something to eat. The boy refuses to share his lunch, and goes home from his travels empty handed. The second brother has the same experience. The youngest son, however, goes out with a very meager picnic, yet happily shares it.
The old man shows the youngest brother a tree and tells him to chop it down. The boy does so, and finds within it a golden goose. He tucks the goose under his arm and sets off home. He spends the night at an in, where the servant girl can’t resist trying to filch a feather from the golden goose. Her fingers stick fast to the goose. The landlady of the inn grabs the girl and tries to pull her off of the goose, but her hands are stuck to the servant girl. The landlord grabs his wife to help, and he is stuck to her.
The youngest son comes down in the morning and sees these three trying to extricate themselves, laughs, and picks up his goose and sets off, with the three people from the inn dragging along behind him. As they go through the town, people rush up to try to help or to get a feather from the goose, and all of them stick fast to one another, so that the boy is followed by a higgledy piggledy bunch of people as he walks along, calmly whistling.
Now, in this country there was a princess who had never laughed. Her father, the king, had promised half his kingdom to anyone who could make his daughter laugh. The princess looks out of the window and sees the youngest son with his goose and his gaggle of hapless followers, and bursts out laughing. In some tellings of the story (such as Andrew Lang’s version in The Red Fairy Book), the king sets more conditions, but eventually the youngest son marries the princess and they all live happily every after.
- Uri Shulevitz did a very nice picture book which is back in print.
- Roberta Angeletti did a nice version with a CD.
- Storynory has a recording of this story.
- The Golden Goose: A Grimm Graphic Novel updates the story to make it a teen love tale.
- Dick King-Smith, one of our favorite writers, did a very fun chapter book called The Golden Goose. You could read King-Smith’s version and compare it with the Grimms Brothers’ tale.
Once the story is clear in the students’ minds, have the kids retell it. This is a great story to act out, especially in its simplest forms. Have students write dialogue for the three brothers and the old man they meet, and have plenty of extras getting stuck to the parade of people.
- Have students determine the moral of the story. In the first part of the story, the two older brothers are unkind and selfish, while the kind and generous younger brother is rewarded for his goodness. However, the second half of the story might also have something to say about stealing, curiosity, or interfering in things that don’t concern us. The longer versions of the story also show the king trying to get out of a promise. If you focus on this aspect of the story, compare it with The Frog Prince.
- The motif of the older brothers or sisters who are unkind to strangers comes up a lot in fairy tales. You’ll find it in Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, Toads and Diamonds, and a number of other stories. Have students find as many examples as they can. Compare and contrast these stories.
- The youngest brother in this story is often known by some cruel nickname like “Dummling” or “Dullhead” that suggests that he is mentally limited. This could provide a good opportunity to discuss disabilities or name calling.
- I always wonder a bit about the youngest brother. Unless he really didn’t think about it, his decision to go along his merry way with all those people stuck behind him must have been a bit hostile. Discuss other choices the young man could have made.
- Have students prepare and perform On the Spot interviews in which one student plays a reporter and the other takes the part of one of the people in the conga line following the boy with the golden goose. Students can work in groups, deciding what questions to ask and taking on the speaking parts as well as the parts of director, costume designer, props, and cameraman. Film the interviews and create a class news report.
- Alternatively, create a newspaper for the day after this unusual event.
- Have older students think about, debate, or write about why some of the Grimms fairy tale stories (such as Snow White or Cinderella) are still well known, while others, like this one, have been largely forgotten.