Once there was a King and Queen who were never happy, because they had no children.
Every day, the Queen would sit and sigh, until the King would ask, “What is wrong, my dear?”
“Oh, you know,” she would say, and sigh again. “If only we had children. I could hug them when they were good, and scold them when they were bad. What fun it would be!”
Then the King too would sigh, and agree with the Queen.
One day, the Queen was sitting and sighing in the garden, when the gardener’s wife came by.
“What is wrong, Your Majesty?” she asked.
“Oh, you know,” said the Queen, and sighed again.
“Well,” said the woman, “perhaps I have something that can help.”
From her apron pocket she took a pouch, and from the pouch she took a seed. She placed it in the Queen’s palm. It was shaped like a baby, curled in sleep.
“Plant this seed tonight, when the full moon is at its highest,” said the woman. “Water it with your right hand. But don’t water it with your left, or you’ll be sorry!”
That night, when the full moon was at its highest, the Queen crept out to the garden and planted the seed. She scooped up some water with her right hand and poured it over. But she forgot what the gardener’s wife said, and she watered it with her left hand too.
Early next morning, the Queen ran back to the spot. There, in place of the seed, she found a tall tree with two long branches. On each branch was a single blossom. The blossom on the right was golden yellow, and very lovely. The blossom on the left was flaming red, and very strange.
As the Queen watched, the petals fell from the yellow blossom, and the fruit began to grow. It grew into a lovely little girl with a princess’s gown and shining golden hair.
The child cried, “Pick me, Mama, I’m ripe!”
The Queen rushed to pick the child from the tree. “Am I your Mama?” said the Queen. “How wonderful! I shall call you Fair Hair.”
Just then, the red petals fell, and another child began to grow. But this one was a dirty mess, with tangled red hair that stuck out all over. Her clothes were rags, she carried a wooden ladle, and she sat on a baby billy goat.
The child called, “Pick me, Mama, I’m ripe!”
The Queen rushed to pick her. “Am I your Mama?” said the Queen. “How terrible! I shall call you Mop Top.”
“Mop Top! Mop Top!” yelled the child. With her wooden ladle, she bopped her billy goat’s bottom, and the billy goat galloped round and round the tree.
So now the Queen had the children she wished for. Fair Hair was as good as gold, so the Queen could hug her as much as she liked. And Mop Top was always into mischief, so the Queen could scold her as much as she liked.
As for the two sisters, they loved each other dearly and were never apart.
One day, the girls were picnicking in a cow pasture. Suddenly, from the nearby woods came a terrible ruckus.
“What’s that?” said Fair Hair.
“Troll girls!” yelled Mop Top.
Just then, dozens of troll girls burst from the woods, shouting and screeching ugly troll words. They had long tails and longer noses. They grabbed the picnic food and played catch with it.
“Keep your head down!” said Mop Top to Fair Hair. “I’ll take care of this!”
Mop Top bopped her billy goat’s bottom, and raced right among the troll girls. Then she bopped those troll girls’ bottoms. Bop! Bop! Bop! One after another, those troll girls went leaping and crying back into the woods.
Meanwhile, Fair Hair just had to peek. She lifted her head the tiniest bit. Whisk! A troll girl took Fair Hair’s head right off! Then the troll girl whisked the head off a calf, put it on Fair Hair, and ran away with Fair Hair’s head.
“Moo!” said Fair Hair. “Moo!”
When Mop Top had chased off the troll girls, she came back to her sister. “Oh, no!” cried Mop Top when she saw the calf’s head. “This won’t do! A princess can’t lose her head!”
So, Mop Top asked the King to prepare a ship. When it was ready, she led her sister on board.
“Don’t you want any sailors?” called the King.
“We don’t need them!” yelled Mop Top, as she galloped round and round the deck. Then she pulled up the anchor and set sail.
They sailed for a long time, till they reached the land of the trolls.
“Stay here!” said Mop Top to Fair Hair as they docked. Then she went ashore and galloped up the road, all the way to the troll castle.
There on a window sill was her sister’s head!
Mop Top bopped her billy goat’s bottom. The goat raced past the window, and Mop Top grabbed the head. Then she galloped back down the road.
The troll girls came leaping and bounding from the castle, screaming and shrieking nasty troll words. They chased Mop Top till they caught up. A troll girl reached for the head.
“No, you don’t!” yelled Mop Top. She swung her wooden ladle. Bop! That troll girl’s head flew right off her shoulders, and the troll girl had to run after it.
Mop Top kept swinging. Bop! Bop! Bop! Oh, those troll heads did roll! All the troll girls had to chase their heads and leave Mop Top alone.
By the time the troll girls had their heads on straight, Mop Top had reached the ship and set sail. Then Mop Top took the calf’s head off her sister and gave her back her own head.
“You’re wonderful!” said Fair Hair.
“You’re right!” said Mop Top.
And the calf’s head said, “Moo!”
Mop Top and Fair Hair sailed home. The King and Queen were overjoyed. The Queen gave Mop Top a big hug. Mop Top gave the calf back its head.
But the very next day, Mop Top said to Fair Hair, “Let’s go!” So they climbed back on board, and sailed off for adventure.
At last, they came to a far country. The people there were looking for a new King or Queen, because the old King had just died. So the Prime Minister himself came down to meet the ship.
When the Prime Minister saw Mop Top galloping round the deck, he glared. But when he saw the lovely Fair Hair, he stared!
“Princess,” he said, “be our Queen!”
“Oh, no!” said Fair Hair. “My sister is brave and noble. She should be the Queen.”
“Oh, no!” cried the Prime Minister. “She can’t be the Queen!”
“Why not?” yelled Mop Top.
“Well,” said the Prime Minister, “a Queen can’t ride an old billy goat!”
“You call this an old billy goat?” said Mop Top. “Look again!”
The Prime Minister looked again and saw that Mop Top was riding a beautiful white horse.
“Well,” he said, “a Queen can’t dress in rags and carry a ladle!”
“You call these rags? You call this a ladle?” said Mop Top. “Look again!”
The Prime Minister looked again and saw that Mop Top wore an elegant riding suit, and carried a polished riding stick.
“Well,” he said, “a Queen can’t be a dirty mess!”
“You call me a dirty mess?” said Mop Top. “Look again!”
The Prime Minister looked again and saw that Mop Top was perfectly groomed, with smooth and shining red hair.
“Well!” said the Prime Minister. “Then you can be the Queen!”
So Mop Top became the Queen and ruled that country with her sister’s help. And if ever that Prime Minister made her mad, you can bet she bopped his bottom!
About the Story
This tale was collected in the mid‑1800s by the great Norwegian folklorist Jörgen Moe. It appears in a number of collections, including Folktales of Norway, edited by Reidar Christiansen, University of Chicago Press, 1964 (as “Mop Head”); and East o’ the Sun & West o’ the Moon, translated by George Webbe Dasent, Dover, New York, 1970 (as “Tatterhood”). Variants have been found in Sweden, Iceland, and Ireland.