Once there was a lad named John, and he used to go to sleep always and everywhere. One day he came to an inn where some farmers were feeding their horses. So he crept into the cart, lay down on the straw, and went to sleep. When the farmers had driven some distance, they noticed John asleep in the cart. They thought: “What are we to do with him? We have a beer cask here. We’ll put him in it and leave him in the forest.” So they shut him in the cask, and off they drove.
John went on sleeping in the cask for a long time. Suddenly he woke up and found himself in the cask, but he did not know how he had got into it, neither did he know where he was. There was something running to and fro near the cask, so he looked through the bunghole and saw a great number of wolves gathered under the rocks. They had flocked round, attracted by the human smell. One of the wolves pushed his tail through the hole, and Sleepy John began to think that the hour of his death was approaching. But he wound the wolf’s tail round his hand. The wolf was terrified, and, dragging the cask after him, he ran after the rest of the wolves, who set off in all directions. Their terror grew greater and greater as the cask bumped after them. At last the cask struck against a rock and was smashed. John let go the wolf, who took himself off as fast as he could.
Now John found himself in a wild mountain region. He began walking about among the mountains and he met a hermit. The hermit said to him: “You may stay here with me. I shall die in three days. Bury me then, and I will pay you well for it.”
So John stayed with him, and, when the third day came, the hermit, who was about to die, gave him a stick, saying: “In whatever direction you point this stick, you will find yourself there.” Then he gave him a knapsack, saying: “Anything you want you will find in this knapsack.” Then he gave him a cap, saying: “As soon as you put this cap on, nobody will be able to see you.”
Then the hermit died, and John buried him.
John gathered his things together, pointed the stick, and said: “Let me be instantly in the town where the king lives.” He found himself there on the instant, and he was told that the queen would every night wear out a dozen pairs of shoes, yet nobody was able to follow her track. The lords were all flocking to offer to follow the queen’s traces, and John went too. He went into the palace and had himself announced to the king. When he came before the king, he said that he would like to trace the queen. The king asked him: “Who are you?”
He answered “Sleepy John.”
The king said: “And how are you going to trace her, when you are sleeping all the time? If you fail to trace her you will lose your head.”
John answered that he would try to trace her all the same.
When the evening was come the queen went to bed in one room and John went to bed in the next room, through which the queen had to pass. He did not go to sleep, but when the queen was going by he pretended to be in a deep slumber. So the queen lit a candle and scorched the soles of his feet to make sure that he was asleep. But John didn’t stir, and so she was certain that he was asleep. Then she took her twelve pairs of new shoes and off she went.
John got up, put his cap on, and pointed with his stick and said: “Let me be where the queen is.”
Now, when the queen came to a certain rock, the earth opened before her and two dragons came to meet her. They took her on their backs and carried her as far as the lead forest. Then John said: “Let me be where the queen is,” and instantly he was in the lead forest. So he broke off a twig for a proof and put it in his knapsack. But when he broke off the twig it gave out a shrill sound as if a bell were ringing. The queen was frightened, but she rode on again. John pointed with his stick and said: “Let me be where the queen is,” and instantly he was in the tin forest. He broke off a twig again and put it in his knapsack, and it rang again. The queen turned pale, but she rode on again. John pointed with his stick again and said: “Let me be where the queen is,” and instantly he was in the silver forest. He broke off a twig again and put it into his knapsack. As he broke it, it gave out a ringing sound and the queen fainted. The dragons hastened on again till they came to a green meadow.
A crowd of devils came to meet them here, and they revived the queen. Then they had a feast. Sleepy John was there too. The cook was not at home that day, so John sat down in his place, and, as he had his cap on, nobody could see him. They put aside a part of the food for the cook, but John ate it all. They were all surprised to see all the food they put aside disappearing. They couldn’t make out what was happening, but they didn’t care very much. And when the banquet was at an end the devils began to dance with the queen, and they kept on dancing until the queen had worn out all her shoes. When her shoes were worn out, those two dragons took her on their backs again and brought her to the place where the earth had opened before her. John said: “Let me be where the queen is.” By this time she was walking on the earth again, and he followed her. When they came near the palace he went ahead of the queen and went to bed; and, as the queen was going in, she saw him sleeping, and so she went to her own room and lay down and slept.
In the morning the lords gathered together and the king asked whether any of them had tracked the queen. But none of them could say “Yes.”
So he summoned Sleepy John before him. John said:
“Gracious Lord King, I did indeed track her, and I know that she used up those twelve pairs of shoes upon the green meadows in Hell.”
The queen stood forth at once, and John took from his knapsack the leaden twig and said: “The queen was carried by two dragons towards Hell, and she came to the leaden forest; there I broke off this twig and the queen was frightened.”
The king said: “That’s no good. You might have made the twig yourself.”
So John produced the tin twig from his knapsack and said: “After that the queen drove through the tin forest, and there I broke off this twig. That time the queen grew pale.”
The king said: “You might have made even this twig.”
So John produced the silver twig and said: “Afterwards the queen drove through the silver forest, and when I broke off this twig she fainted, and so she was until the devils brought her to life again.”
The queen, seeing that all was known, cried out: “Let the earth swallow me!” and she was swallowed by the earth.
Sleepy John got the half of the kingdom, and, when the king died, the other half too.