There was once a fisherman who lived close by the seaside, very modestly with his wife. One day, from the bright blue sea, he caught a great and magical fish in his net. But the fish said, “Please, let me live! I am not a real fish; I am an enchanted prince. Please, put me back in the water and let me go!” “Oh, ho!” said the fisherman, “I want nothing to do with a fish that can talk — so swim away, sir, as soon as you please!” The fisherman put him back into the water, and the fish darted straight away.
When the fisherman went home to his wife he told her the story of how he had caught a great fish, that was really an enchanted prince, and how upon hearing the fish speak, he let it go. “Did you not ask it for anything in return?” said his wife, “we live very wretchedly here, in this one-room, nasty hovel. Go back and tell the magical fish that we want a snug little cottage to live in, for sparing his life.”
The fisherman did not much like this business; however, he went to the shore, where the sea was no longer of bright blue and instead looked of pale yellow and sea-foam green. There he stood at the water’s edge, and said, “O princely fish of this great sea! Hearken my words and swim to me!”
Immediately, the fish came swimming to him, and said, “Well, what is your will?” “Ah!” said the fisherman, “my wife thought that when I caught you, I ought to have asked you for something before I let you go.” “What is it that your wife desires?” said the fish. The fisherman replied, “She does not like living in a one-room, nasty hovel. She wants a snug little cottage.” “Go home, then,” said the fish, “your snug cottage awaits you.” So the man went home and saw his wife standing in the doorway of their new home. “Come in, come in!” said she, “is this not much better than that one-room, nasty hovel we had?”
The fisherman looked around to see there was now a parlor, and a bedchamber, and a kitchen; and behind the cottage, there was a little garden, planted with all sorts of flowers and fruits; and there was a courtyard, full of ducks and chickens. “Ah!” said the fisherman, “how happily we shall live now!” “We will try to do so, at least,” said his wife.
Everything went well for a time, until the fisherman’s wife said, “Husband, there is not near room enough for us in this cottage. The courtyard and the garden are too small — I should like to have a grand stone castle in which to live. Go to the fish again and this time tell him to give us a castle.”
“My dear wife,” said the fisherman, “I don’t want to go to him again, for perhaps he will be angry! We ought to be grateful with this snug little cottage in which to live.” “Nonsense!” said the wife, “the princely fish will do it willingly! I know! Now, go along and try!”
The fisherman went, but his heart was very heavy. When he came to the sea this time, it looked blue and gloomy. But he stood at the water’s edge, and said: “O princely fish of this great sea! Hearken my words and swim to me!”
“Well, what does she want now?” said the fish. “Ah!” said the man, dolefully, “my wife wishes to live in a grand stone castle.” “Go home, then,” said the fish, “your grand castle awaits you.” So away went the fisherman, and he soon found his wife standing before the gate of a grand stone castle. “See,” said she, “is this not grand?”
With that, they went into the castle together. Inside the fisherman and his wife found many servants and rooms lavishly furnished with golden chairs and tables; and behind the castle was a garden; and around it was a park half a mile long, full of sheep, and goats, and hares, and deer; and in the courtyard were stables and barns. “Now we will live cheerfully and grateful in this grand stone castle for the rest of our lives,” said the fisherman. “Perhaps,” said the wife.
However, the very next morning the fisherman’s wife awoke and said, “Get up, get up husband! Bestir yourself! Now that we live in a grand stone castle, you must be king of all the land.” “Wife, wife,” said the man, “I wish not to be king.” “Then I shall be king,” said she. “But, wife, wife,” said the fisherman, “the fish cannot make you a king.” “Husband,” said she, “say no more about it, but go and try! I will be king.”
So the fisherman went away quite sorrowfully to think that his wife should want to be king. When he came to the sea this time, it looked a deep, dark, and grey — overspread with angry curling waves and the ridges of stormy foam. But he stood at the water’s edge, and said: “O princely fish of this great sea! Hearken my words and swim to me!”
“Well, what would she have now?” said the fish. “Alas!” said the poor fisherman, “my wife wants to be king.” “Go home,” said the fish, “you will find that your wife, the king, awaits you.” Then the fisherman proceeded to return home. As he approached the grand stone castle — he knew something had changed — suddenly the fisherman saw a troop of soldiers banding, and he heard the banging of drums and the sounding of trumpets.
Inside the castle, the fisherman's wife was sitting upon a throne of gold and diamonds, with a golden crown on her head. To either side of her stood six fair maidens, each a head taller than the other. “Well, wife,” said the fisherman, “now you are king.” “Yes,” said she, “I am king.” And after he had looked at her for a long time, he said, “Now we shall never have anything more to wish for as long as we both shall live.”
“I am king, it is true,” said she, “but I have already begun to tire of it, and now think I should like to be emperor.” “Alas, wife! Why should you wish to be emperor?” said the fisherman. “Husband,” said she, “go to the fish! I say I will be emperor.” “Ah, wife!” replied the fisherman, “I am sure the fish cannot make an emperor. I should not like to ask him for such a thing.” “I am king,” said she, “and you are my subject, who as such must obey me! Now, go at once!”
So the fisherman was forced to go; and he muttered as he went along, “This will come to no good! It is too much to ask of the fish, he will be tired at last, and then we shall be sorry for what we have done.” The fisherman soon came to the seashore, where the water was quite black and muddy. There was a mighty whirlwind that blew over the waves and rolled them about. But he stood at the water’s edge, and said: “O princely fish of this great sea! Hearken my words and swim to me!”
“Well what would she have now?” said the fish. “Alas!” said the poor fisherman, “my wife wants to be emperor.” “Go home,” said the fish, “You will find that your wife, the emperor, awaits you.” So the fisherman returned home again. This time as he neared the grand stone castle he saw his wife sitting upon a very lofty throne made of solid gold, with a great crown of jewels on her head — a full two yards high. To either side of her stood guards and attendants in a row. Each one smaller than the other — from the tallest giant down to a little dwarf, no bigger than a man's finger. And directly before her — stood princes, and dukes, and earls.
As the fisherman approached his wife, he said, “Wife, you are emperor.” “Yes,” said she, “I am emperor.” “Ah!” said the fisherman, as he gazed upon her, “what a fine thing it is to be emperor!” “Husband,” said she, “why should we stop at being emperor? I want to be pope next.” “Oh wife, oh wife!’ said he, “how can you be pope? There is but one pope at a time.” “Husband,” said she, "I will be pope this very day.” “But,” replied the fisherman, “the fish cannot make you pope.” “What nonsense!” said the fisherman's wife, “if he can make an emperor, he can make a pope! Go and command him to make me pope.”
So the fisherman reluctantly went to the seaside. But when he came to the shore the wind was raging, and the sea was tossed up and down in boiling waves. The ships were in trouble as they fearfully rolled upon the tops of the billows. In the middle of the heavens there was a little piece of blue sky, but towards the south, all was red, as if a dreadful storm was rising. At this site, the fisherman was terribly frightened. He trembled so that his knees knocked together. But still, he stood at the water’s edge, and said: “O princely fish of this great sea! Hearken my words and swim to me!”
“What does she want now?” said the fish. “Ah!” said the fisherman, “my wife wants to be pope.” “Go home,” said the fish; ‘“You will find that your wife, the pope, awaits you.” Then the fisherman went home, and found his wife with three great crowns on her head, sitting upon a throne that was two miles high! Surrounding her was nothing less than pomp and circumstance set aglow by two rows of burning lights to either side of her. They were of all sizes, the greatest as large as the tallest tower in the world, and the least no larger than a small rushlight.
“Wife,” said the fisherman, as he looked at all this greatness, “are you now the pope?” “Yes,” said she, “I am the pope.” “Well, wife,” replied the fisherman, “it is a wonderful thing to be pope. You must be satisfied now, for you can be nothing greater.” “I will think about that,” said the fisherman's wife, as she went to bed. However, much to her dismay, she could not sleep a wink for thinking about what she would next demand of the magical fish. At last — just as she was dozing off to sleep — morning broke, and the sun rose. “Ha!” thought she angrily, “I cannot prevent the sun rising.” At this thought, she awakened the fisherman, and said, "Husband, go to the fish and tell him I must be lord of the sun and moon." The fisherman was still half-asleep, but the thought frightened him so much that startled, he near fell right out of bed! “Alas, wife!” said he, “cannot you be grateful for being pope?” “No,” said the fisherman's wife, “I will be very unhappy as long as the sun and the moon rise without my say-so. Go to the fish at once!”
This time the fisherman went shivering with fear! As he was going down to the shore, a dreadful storm arose. The trees and even the rocks shook, as all the heavens surrounding him became black with stormy clouds, while lightning struck, and thunder roared. Meanwhile, in the sea, great black waves, swelled up like mountains with crowns of white foam upon their heads. The fisherman was petrified. But he crept slowly towards the water’s edge, and said, “O princely fish of this great sea! Hearken my words and swim to me!”
“What does she want now?” said the fish. “Ah!” said the fisherman, “she wants to be lord of the sun and moon.” “Go home,” said the fish, “there you’ll find your lowly and ungrateful wife in your one-room, nasty hovel.” And, with that, the fish disappeared into the once again bright blue sea.
To this very day — close by the seaside, in the one-room, nasty hovel — the fisherman lives very modestly (and incidentally, quite happily) with his wife, who has learned the meaning of gratitude and to be grateful for what she has.