Once upon a time there was a fisherman who lived with his wife in a dirty hovel near the sea. Every day the fisherman went out to fish, and all he did was fish and fish. One day he was sitting with his line and gazing into the clear water. And all he did was sit and sit. Suddenly his line sank deep down to the bottom, and when he pulled it up, he had a large flounder on the line, and the flounder said to him, "Listen here, fisherman, I beg of you, let me live. I'm not a real flounder but an enchanted prince. So what would it benefit you to kill me? I certainly wouldn't taste very good. Put me back into the water, and let me go."

"Hold on," said the man. "You don't have to waste your words on me. I would have thrown a talking fish back into the water anyway."

He then put the fish back into the clear water, and the flounder swam to the bottom, leaving behind a long streak of blood. Then the fisherman stood up and went to the hovel to be with his wife.

"Husband," asked the wife, "didn't you catch anything today?"

"No," said the man. " I caught a flounder, but he said he was an enchanted prince, and I let him go."

Didn't you wish for anything?" asked the wife.

"No," said the husband. "What should I have wished for?"

"Ah," said the wife. "Don't you think it's awful that we've got to keep living in such a hovel? It stinks, and it's disgusting. You should have wished for a little cottage. Go back and call him. Tell him we want a little cottage. I'm sure he'll give us one."

"But there's no reason to go back," said the husband.

"Of course there is," said the wife. "Look, you caught him and let him go. That's why he's bound to give it to us. Now go at once!"

The man really did not want to go, but neither did he want to oppose his wife. So he went back to the sea.

When he got there, the sea was very green and yellow and no longer so clear. He stood on the shore and said:

"Flounder, flounder, in the sea,
if you're a man, then speak to me.
Though I do not care for my wife's request,
I've come to ask it nonetheless."

The flounder came swimming up to him and said, "Well, what does she want?"

"Oh," said the man. "My wife thinks I should have wished for something because I caught you. Since she doesn't want to live in a hovel, she'd like to have a cottage."

"Just go home," said the flounder. "She's already got it."

When the fisherman arrived at home, his wife was no longer sitting in a hovel. Instead, she was sitting on a bench before the door to a little cottage. His wife took him by the hand and said, "Come inside, husband. Look! Now, isn't this better?"

They went inside, and in the house he found a little hallway, a splendid parlor, and a bedroom. There was also a kitchen and a pantry furnished with all the best dishware and utensils,tinware and brass, everything that one could possibly need. Behind the cottage was a little yard with chickens and ducks and a garden with vegetables and fruit.

"You see," said the wife, "isn't this nice?"

"Yes," said the husband. "Hopefully, it will stay that way. Now we can live quite happily."

"That's something we've got to think about," said the wife.

Thereupon they had something to eat and went to bed.

Everything went well for about a week or two, and then the wife said, "Listen, husband, the cottage is much too cramped, and the yard and garden are too small. The flounder could have given us a larger house. I'd very much like to live in a great stone castle. Go back to the flounder and tell him to give us a castle."

"Ah, wife," the husband said, "the cottage is good enough. Why should we want to live in a castle?"

"My goodness!" said the wife. "Just go back to him! The flounder can do this without any trouble."

"No, wife, said the husband. "The flounder has just given us a cottage, and I don't want to go back again so soon. He might be insulted."

"Just go!" said the wife. "He can easily do it, and he'll be glad to do it. Just go back to him!"

The husband's heart grew heavy, and he did not want to go. He said to himself, "It just isn't right." Nevertheless, he went.

When he got to the sea, the water was purple, dark blue, gray, and dense. It was no longer green and yellow, though it was still calm. Then he stood there and said:

"Flounder, flounder, in the sea,
if you're a man, then speak to me.
Though I do not care for my wife's request,
I've come to ask it nonetheless."

"Well, what does she want?" the flounder asked.

"Oh," said the man, somewhat distressed. "She wants to live in a great stone castle."

"Just go home. She's already standing at the gate," the flounder said.

The man went back, thinking he was going home, but as he approached the spot where the house had been, he found a great stone palace, and his wife was standing on the steps just about to enter. She took him by the hand and said, "Come inside."

He went in with her and found a big front hall with a marble floor and numerous servants who opened the large doors for them. The walls were all bright and covered with beautiful tapestries. All of the chairs and tables in the rooms were made of gold. Crystal chandeliers hang from the ceilings, and all the rooms and chambers had carpets. Furthermore, the tables sagged under the weight of food and bottles of the very best wine. Behind the palace was a huge yard with stables for horses and cows and the finest carriages. There was also a wonderful large garden with the most beautiful flowers and fine fruit trees, as well as a pleasure park about half a mile long, which had stags, deer hares, and everything else in it that one could wish for.

"Well," said the wife, "isn't that beautiful?"

"Oh, yes," said the husband. "Hopefully, it will stay that way. Now let's live in the beautiful castle and be content."

"We'll have to think about that," said the wife, "and sleep on it." Then they went to bed.

The next morning the wife woke up first. It was just daybreak, and from her window she could see the glorious countryside lying before her. As her husband began stretching she poked him in the side with her elbow and said, "Husband, get up and look out the window. Listen, don't you think you can be king over all this country? Go to the flounder and tell him we want to be king."

"Ah, wife," said the husband. "Why should we be king? I don't want to be king."

"Well, said the wife, "you may not want to be king, but I do. Go to the flounder, and tell him I want to be king."

"Oh, wife," said the husband, "why do you want to be king? I don't want to tell him that."

"Why not?" said the wife. "Go to him at once and tell him I must be king!"

The husband went but was most distressed that his wife wanted to be king. It's not right. It's just not right, he thought, and he did not want to go but went just he same.

When he got to the sea, it was completely gray and black, and the water was twisting and turning from below and smelled putrid. The fisherman stood there and said:

"Flounder, flounder, in the sea,
if you're a man, then speak to me.
Though I do not care for my wife's request,
I've come to ask it nonetheless."

"Well, what does she want?" asked the flounder.

"Oh," said the man. "She want to be king."

"Go back home," said the flounder. "She's already king."

Then the man went home, and as he approached the palace, he saw that the castle had become larger, with a huge tower and glistening ornaments on it. There were sentries standing in the front of the gate, along with many soldiers, drums, and trumpets. When he entered the palace, he found that everything was made of pure marble and gold and had velvet covers with large gold tassels. The doors to the hall were opened, and he could see the whole court. His wife was sitting on a high throne of gold and diamonds, and on her head she had a big golden crown and in her hand a scepter of pure gold and jewels. Two rows of ladies-in-waiting were standing on either side of her, each lady a head shorter than the next. The fisherman stepped forward and said, "Oh, wife, now you're king, aren't you?"

"Yes," said his wife, "now I am king."

He stood there and looked at her, and after he had gazed at her for some time, he said, "Oh, wife, it's wonderful that you're king! Now let's not wish for anything more."

"No, husband," the wife said as she became very restless. "I have too much time on my hands, and I can't stand it anymore. Go back to the flounder and tell him I'm king, but now I must be emperor as well."

"Oh, wife," said the husband, "why do you want to become emperor?"

"Husband," she said "Go to the flounder. I want to be emperor!"

"Oh, wife," the husband said. "He can't make you emperor. I don't want to tell that to the flounder. There's only one emperor in the empire. The flounder can't make you emperor. He definitely can't do that."

"What!" said the wife. "I'm king, and you're just my husband. I want you to go there at once! And I mean, at once! If he can make a king, he can also make an emperor. Go to there at once!"

The husband had to return, but as he walked along, he became scared and thought to himself. This won't turn out well at all. Such arrogance, to want to be emperor! The flounder's going to get sick and tired of this.

When he got to the sea, it was all black and dense, and it began to twist and turn from below so that bubbles rose up, and a strong wind whipped across the surface and made the water curdle. The man became frightened, but he stepped forward and said:

"Flounder, flounder, in the sea,
if you're a man, then speak to me.
Though I do not care for my wife's request,
I've come to ask it nonetheless."

"Well, what does she want?" asked the flounder.

"Oh, flounder," he said. "My wife wants to be emperor."

"Go back home," said the flounder. "She's already emperor."

Then the man went home, and when he arrived, the entire castle was made of polished marble with alabaster figures and golden ornaments. Soldiers were marching in front of the gate, and they were blowing trumpets and beating cymbals and drums. Meanwhile, barons, counts, and dukes were inside the palace walking around like servants. They opened the doors of pure gold for him, and as he entered, he saw his wife sitting on a two-mile-high throne made from a single piece of gold. She was wearing a golden crown three yards tall and covered with diamonds and garnets. In one hand she held the scepter and in the other the imperial globe. She was flanked on either side by two rows of bodyguards, each man shorter than the next, tiniest dwarf, who was no bigger than my pinky. There were also many princes and dukes standing before her, and her husband stepped up and said, "Wife, now you're emperor, aren't you?"

"Yes," she said, "I'm emperor."

Then he stood there and took a good look at her, and after gazing at her for some time, he said, "Oh, wife, it's wonderful that you 're emperor. Let's keep it that way."

"Husband," she said, "Why are you standing there? It's true that I'm emperor, but now I want to be pope. Go and tell this to the flounder."

"Oh, wife," said the husband. "What, in heaven's name, don't you want? You can't be pope. There's only one pope in Christendom. The flounder can't make you pope."

"Husband," she said. "I want to be pope! Go there at once and tell him I must be pope."

"No, wife," said the husband. "I don't want to tell him that. It won't turn out well. That's too much to ask. The flounder can't make you pope."

"Stop talking nonsense, husband!" said the wife. "If he can make me emperor, he can also make me pope. Go there at once! I'm the emperor, and you're just my husband. So, do as I say!"

The man became frightened and went, but he felt rather queasy. He was trembling and shaking, and his knees began to wobble. A strong wind swept across the land. Dark clouds flew by as evening came. Leaves were falling from the trees, and the sea rose up in waves and roared as if it were boiling, and the waves splashed against the shore. In the distance the fisherman could see ships firing guns in distress as they were tossed up and down by the waves. Though there was still a little blue in the middle of the sky, the horizon was completely red, as if a heavy thunderstorm were coming. Then he stepped forward, filled with fear and dread, and said:

"Flounder, flounder, in the sea,
if you're a man, then speak to me.
Though I do not care for my wife's request,
I've come to ask it nonetheless."

"Well, what does she want?" asked the flounder.

"Oh," the man said, "she wants to be pope."

"Go back home," said the flounder. "She's already pope."

Then the man went home, and when he arrived, he found a great church with nothing but palaces surrounding it. He forced his way through crowds of people and found everything inside illuminated by thousands and thousands of candles. His wife was sitting on a throne even higher than he one before, and she was dressed in pure gold with three big golden crowns on her head. Numerous bishops and priests were standing around her, and there were two rows of candles on either side of her. The biggest candle was as thick and as large as the highest tower, and the tiniest was a church candle. And all the emperors and kings were taking their turn kneeling before her and kissing her slipper.

"Wife," the man said as he looked at her carefully, "now you're pope, aren't you?"

"Yes," she said, "I'm pope."

Then he stepped forward and took a good look at her, and it was if he were looking into the bright sun. After gazing at her for some time, he said, "Oh, wife, it's wonderful that you're pope. Let's keep it that way."

But she sat stiff as a board and neither stirred nor moved. Then he said, "Wife, be satisfied. Now that you're pope, you can't become anything greater."

"I'll think about it," said the wife.

Then they both went to bed, but she was not satisfied, and her ambition did not let her sleep. She kept thinking of ways she might become greater than she was, while her husband slept soundly, for he had run around a good deal that day. She could not get to sleep at all and tossed and turned from side to side the whole night, trying to think of ways she might become greater than she was. However, nothing whatsoever occurred to her. When the sun began to rise and she saw the red glow of the dawn, she sat up in bed and watched the sun rise from her window. Then the thought occurred to her: Aha, I could also make the sun and the moonrise! She poked her husband in the ribs with her elbow and said, "Husband, wake up and go to the flounder. Tell him I want to be like God."

The husband was still half-asleep, but he was so shocked by what she had said that he fell out of the bed. He thought that he had misheard her and rubbed his eyes.

"Oh, wife," he said. "What did you say?"

"Husband," she said, "if I can't make the sun and the moon rise, I won't be able to bear it. Do you think I want to just watch? No, I won't have any more peace until I myself can make them rise."

She gave her husband such an awful look that a shudder ran through his bones.

"Go there at once! I want to be like God."

"Oh, wife!" the husband said, and fell down on his knees. "The flounder can't do that. He can make you an emperor and pope, but I beg you, be content and stay pope."

She immediately became furious, and her hair flew wildly about her head. She tore open her bodice, gave him a kick with her foot, and screamed, "I won't stand for it and can't stand it any longer! I want you to go at once!"

He slipped into his trousers then and ran off like a madman. Outside a great storm was raging, so he could barely keep on his feet. Houses and trees were falling, mountains were trembling, and large boulders were rolling into the sea from the cliffs. The sky was completely pitch black, and there was thunder and lightning. Black waves rose up in the sea as high as church steeples and mountains, and they all had crests of white foam on top. Then the fisherman screamed, but he could not even hear his own words:

"Flounder, flounder, in the sea,
if you're a man, then speak to me.
Though I do not care for my wife's request,
I've come to ask it nonetheless."

"Well, what does she want?" the flounder asked.

"Oh," he said, "she wants to be like God."

"Go back home. She's sitting in your hovel again."

And there they are still living this very day.

The Brothers Grimm
Translated by Jack Zipes.

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