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The Twelve Wild Ducks facts for kids

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"The Twelve Wild Ducks" is a Norwegian fairy tale collected by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe in Norske Folkeeventyr.

It is Aarne–Thompson type 451, the brothers who were turned into birds.

Plot summary

There once was a queen who had twelve healthy sons, but no daughters. She said she would not care what happened to her sons if she could only have a daughter as white as snow and as red as blood. A troll hag told her that she would have a daughter, but the hag would have her sons as soon as the baby was baptized.

Soon the queen gave birth to a daughter. She christened "Snow-white and Rosy-red," but as the hag promised, all her brothers were turned into wild ducks and flew away. Snow-white and Rosy-red was often sad, and one day the queen asked her why; she said that everyone else had brothers and sisters, but she had none. So the queen told her about her brothers.

She set out and, after three years, found the cottage where her brothers lived. Having done all the housework, she slept in her youngest brother's bed where her brothers found her. The oldest brother wanted to kill her as the cause of their problems, but her youngest brother argued that it was their mother's fault, and the sister plead that she had searched for them for three years. They told her that she could set them free by weaving cloth of thistle-down and making them all Neckerchiefs, shirts, and coats without crying, laughing, or speaking. She set to work. Her brothers flew off as wild ducks every day but returned as men every night.

One day, a king found her and brought her to his castle to marry her over his stepmother's objections. Snow-white and Rosy-red kept on sewing but soon had a son. The old queen stole the baby and threw him into a pit of snakes. She then smeared her mouth with blood to tell her stepson that the young queen killed and ate her baby. Twice more the queen had a child, and twice more the old queen killed the child until she finally persuaded the king to have his wife burned at the stake. Snow-white and Rosy-red finished the clothes and, when her brothers came to take them, they turned back into men and told her to speak. Snow-white and Rosy-red told the truth, and the princes showed them the babies, still alive in the snake pit.

The king asked his mother what a fitting punishment would be for such an evil crime, and she prescribed being torn apart by twelve horses, and so she fell victim to her own punishment.


The tale is sometimes known as The Wild Swans.


A version of the story, supposedly from a Danish source, was collected, with the title Snow-White and Rosy-Red, thus named after the wished-for young princess. The brothers in this variant are still "twelve ducks".

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