Frau Holle (or Mother Holle) is an obscure fairy tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm in their Houshold Tales. It is based on an old german folk tale.
Frau Holle is about a woman who has two daughters. One is beautiful and kind while the other is ugly and lazy. For some reason, the mother prefers the ugly and lazy girl and forces the beautiful one to do all the work around the house.
One day, the beautiful girl is fetching water from the well when she accidentally leans too far and falls in. She is knocked unconscious, but when she wakes up, she finds herself in a beautiful meadow full of sunshine. She meets an old woman named Frau Holle who asks her to clean her cottage. The girl does everything Frau Holle asks and is rewarded by being sent home, covered from head to toe in gold.
The mother decides to send the ugly daughter down the well. However, when she meets Frau Holle, the lazy girl refuses to do any work. Frau Holle sends her home, coated from head to toe in burning pitch, which sticks to her for the rest of her life.
Diamonds and Toads
There is another version of this tale called “Diamonds and Toads”, recorded by Charles Perault. In this version, the beautiful girl works hard for Frau Holle and when she goes home and speaks to her mother, diamonds and jewels spill from her lips. The mother sends the lazy girl to work for Frau Holle, but when she returns and begins to tell her story, toads and snakes spew from her mouth. A giant toad lands on her mother’s face and remains there, chewing on her nose forever.
The Three Heads of the Well
There is yet another version of this tale called “The Three Heads of the Well”, recorded by Joseph Jacobs. In this version, one daughter is beautiful and kind, while the other is described as “old, ugly, hook-nosed, hump-backed, club-footed and deformed.”
The beautiful girl comes across a well and sees three severed heads floating in the water. She takes care of the heads, washing them and combing their hair. As a reward, the severed heads wish for her to become even more beautiful, develop a sweeter voice and marry a prince.
The hump-backed girl is jealous, so she goes to the same well, but she treats the severed heads badly and they wish for her to contract a horrific and disfiguring disease.
Whereupon the heads consulted among themselves what evils to plague her with for such usage. The first said: ‘Let her be struck with leprosy in her face.’
The hump-backed girl eventually meets a cobbler who promises to cure her rotting face if she will marry him. She agrees, but when her mother finds out her daughter is married to a lowly cobbler, she is so humiliated, she commits suicide.
When the queen found that her daughter had married nothing but a poor cobbler, she hanged herself in wrath.