THE STORYTELLER TV Series Original (9 Episodes)

The Storyteller is a live-action/puppet television series that aired in 1987 and was created and produced by Jim Henson. Episodes of The Storyteller were reused in several episodes of The Jim Henson Hour.

The first three episodes, which aired in the United States on NBC as standalone specials in January 1987, October 1987, and January 1988 (in that order), respectively, were originally broadcast together as a special.

Between May and July 1988, all nine episodes were broadcast in the UK on Channel 4. The True Bride, Sapsorrow, The Soldier, and the Heartless Giant aired (in that order) in the United States as part of The Jim Henson Hour on NBC in April 1989, while Death and the True Bride first aired on HBO.

"The Three Ravens" was featured in the twelfth episode of the Jim Henson Hour, "Food," but the program was cancelled before it aired. "The Three Ravens" wasn't shown in the United States until 1997, when HBO reran the entire series.

The Storyteller was followed by the spin-off The Storyteller: Greek Myths, which went on to tell further stories in several graphic novels and comic books. In February of 2019, a "comeback" series was announced. It will be written by Neil Gaiman and directed by Andy Muschietti.

View the complete library of The storyteller theme.


Title: The Storyteller

Original release: 31 January 1987
Released: May 15, 1988Genre: Children's film
Created by: Jim Henson
Developed by: Anthony Minghella
Theme music composer: Rachel Portman
Country of origin: United Kingdom, United States
Original language: English

    Main characters

    The Storyteller: The Soldier and Death

    The term refers to the Russian folktale retold by Arthur Ransome in English, and it is also based on Godfather Death. A soldier returning from war after 20 years has three biscuits in his bag.

    Across the swamps and marshes, he encounters three mendicants who receive the biscuits; one bestows him with a ruby whistle, another gives him a hilarious dance, and the third gives him a pack of magic playing cards and a musty sack that has the ability to imprison anything placed inside it.

    The soldier traps a flock of geese using the sack, allowing him to feed himself. When he arrives at an abandoned castle crowded with tiny devils, he plays them in a game of cards, winning 40 barrels of gold. When they try to kill him, he captures them in the sack and releases them only when they promise to never return.

    The boy is rescued by a minstrel, and the father leaves him on his doorstep. They argue over how to share their wealth, but the old man eventually wins. He captures one of them and forces him to serve him while keeping one foot as leverage. When his son becomes terminally ill, his luck runs out.

    The soldier is then invited to call on the devil, who gives him a goblet with which he may view Death. If sprinkled with water from the goblet, he or she will recover if Death lies at the foot of the bed (as it did with his son).

    Nothing can be done if Death is at the top of the bed. Then the Tzar becomes ill, and seeing death at the head of his bed, a soldier makes a bargain with Death: his life in exchange for that of the Tzar. The illness is transferred to him, and he cures the Tzar as a result.

    He lies on his death bed, calling for Death into his bag and preventing death from occurring across the world. However, as time passes, he sees individuals all over the world who are waiting for death to arrive but it does not. He frees Death, who is so frightened of the soldier and his satchel that he will not take a man's life. The soldier, weary with life and old in body, searches for a means to pass on.

    He goes to the underworld, where he persuades the gatekeeper devils (those who had previously allowed him through) to provide him with two hundred souls and a map to heaven. The devils are terrified of losing their jobs and agree to his demands. When he reaches the gates of heaven, he asks to be let in with the souls and for forgiveness from God, but he is refused entry.

    He deposits the sack in the hands of one of the souls, instructing it to call for him when he has gone through the gates. However, because there is no memory in heaven, the soul forgets and the soldier is sentenced to live on Earth for all eternity.

    Finally, the Storyteller remarks (with a grin) that the soldier is still most likely on his way. As the Storyteller throws the bag aside, a devil emerges from it unnoticed by him but noticed by the dog, who interprets it as his own creation.

    Episode details:

    • The episode stars Bob Peck as the Soldier, John Franklyn-Robbins as the Tzar and Alistair Fullarton performing Death.
    • The Devils are performed by David Barclay, Michael Bayliss, Marcus Clarke, Richard Coombs, John Eccleston, Geoff Foxx, Brian Henson, Mike Quinn, and Francis Wright while Tony Jackson, Peter Hawkins, and Peter Marinker voice the Devils.
    • This episode was directed by Jim Henson.

    The Storyteller: Fearnot


    From old German folklore. The Storyteller recounts the adventures of a young boy whose travels take him outside to learn what fear is, accompanied by a devious but lovable tinker.


    Fear is usually a bad thing, but Fearless has developed the ability to confront it. With no prior knowledge of how to be afraid, he must learn that fear resides at home: the prospect of losing his beloved.


    Episode details:

    • This episode stars Reece Dinsdale as Fearnot, Gabrielle Anwar as his sweetheart, Willie Ross as the Tinker, Mr McKay, and Michael Cuckson as the Pond Sprite.
    • The episode was directed by Steve Barron.

    The Storyteller: The Luck Child

    The Griffin and the Devil With the Three Golden Hairs are two German folk tales that have been married together. The seventh son of a seventh son is regarded as a lucky child. The wise men predicted that he will become King. The cruel King hears about the prophecy and plans to murder the kid.

    He searches for the Luck Child with his chancellor by his side. He pushes the chancellor and the kid off a high cliff, taking him away from the boy's biological parents. The boy is found and taken in by an elderly couple, who name him Lucky after he is discovered on the beach.

    The chancellor becomes a meal for the Griffin, but the youngster survives since his swaddling safely unravelled him to the shore. He is discovered and raised by an elderly pair and given the name "Lucky."

    Later, the King comes upon the Luck Child while examining a wheat harvest. Recognizing him as the Luck Child after hearing the elderly couple's story, the King gives him a decree to be delivered to his kingdom. In the woods, Lucky falls into an underground thieves' den and meets a diminutive man.

    The deceptive little man drugged the naive Lucky, who is an expert in the art of hiding his potions in goulash. The Little Man is curious about the victim's communication, so he reads the King's edict: the King demands that Queen Elizabeth have Lucky chopped into a thousand pieces. The Little Man is remorseful for the youth and fabricates the King's writing to alter his fate, "Marriage."

    "Now do it," says the Little Man. "Do it immediately." The Little Man drags Lucky closer to his goal, despite his condition. When the king learns that Lucky has married his beloved daughter with his written consent, he is furious. The king claims that the new groom must show his worth and provide him with a golden feather from the terrible Griffin (a task that was far beyond his comprehension).

    A pair of lucky charms is secured around the shoulders of the island's guardian, who must take the visitor to where the beast dwells and transport him there. The ferryman explains that he does not know why he is compelled to row back and forth across the blackened water without reaching an end. So, with a grin, Lucky promises to solve the mystery.

    He encounters the Little Man from the forest, who was saved and brought there by the Griffin because of his exquisite cuisine, in the beast's cave. The Little Man instructs Lucky to hide, poisons the Griffin with his poisoned goulash, takes the golden feather for the lad, and persuades the monster to reveal how to solve the ferryman's problem.

    When the Griffin is asleep, Lucky steals away with a chest full of riches on the island's beach. He returns triumphantly. The master of the island explains to the ferryman that he may obtain his freedom if he gives his pole to the next person who comes aboard.

    The King reluctantly gives his approval to marry the Princess but is soon enthralled by the gems Lucky has brought back. On the island, Nick wins a turtle necklace from a fortune-teller. He is immediately taken to an impatient Griffin by the ferryman.

    The ferryman proffers his pole, and the King accepts it after hearing the ferryman's previous fate as a result of being set free from his curse.

    Episode details:

    • This episode stars Steven Mackintosh as the Luck Child, Philip Jackson as the King, Cathryn Bradshaw as the Princess, Pauline Moran as the Queen, Anthony O'Donnell as the Little Man, Robert Eddison as the Cursed Ferryman, and George Little as the voice of the Griffin (which is operated by Alistair Fullarton and Brian Henson).
    • The episode was directed by Jon Amiel.

    The Storyteller: A Story Short


    According to the series' creators, it was inspired by a Celtic folklore tale. It is based on a popular folk tale with numerous variations across the world. In an adaptation of the Stone Soup fable, the Storyteller recounts a harsh period in his life when he was compelled to wander as a mendicant.


    He found himself in the vicinity of the castle kitchen, and he grabs a stone to deceive the castle cook into assisting him with soup from a stone by slowly adding other ingredients to enhance the taste.


    When the cook finds out he has been scammed, he requests that the Storyteller be boiled to death. The King makes a compromise: he will give the Storyteller a gold crown for each tale he narrates each day of the year, as well as boil him if he fails to keep his promise.


    The Storyteller performs well at first, but on the final day, he awakens and has no tale to tell. In a rush, he goes about the castle grounds in search of a story, colliding with a magical beggar who transforms him into a flea.


    The king requests his tale at the conclusion of the day, to which the Storyteller replies that he has no tale. Instead, he tells the king the actual story of his adventures under the enchantment of the beggar on that day.


    Episode details:

    • This is the only episode where the Storyteller himself plays a major part in the story he tells. 
    • The other actors include Brenda Blethyn as the Storyteller's wife, Bryan Pringle as the cook, Richard Vernon as the King, and John Kavanagh as the Beggar.
    • This episode was directed by Charles Sturridge.

    The Storyteller: Hans My Hedgehog

    From an old German folk tale about the same name. A farmer's wife drives him insane with her desperate efforts to conceive a child. Marge does not want to hold back, so she tells him that she wants a kid badly enough that it doesn't matter how he looks, he is just like a hedgehog covered in quills.

    That is precisely what she gets: a baby covered in quills, as delicate as feathers. His mother thinks of him as "Hans My Hedgehog," and he is the only one who cares for him; his father becomes resentful because of it.

    Hans eventually departs for a remote location where he cannot harm anybody and where no one can harm him. For many years, Hans lives with his animals for a company in the forest's deepest recesses.

    A king wanders into Hans' forest one day and hears a lovely tune being played on a bagpipe.

    He follows the music and arrives at Hans' castle, where he finds him. When Hans aids him in escaping the forest, the King agrees to give Hans the first thing he sees when he enters his castle - which will undoubtedly be his dog.

    Instead, it turns out to be his lovely daughter, the Princess of sweetness and cherry pie. Hans has made a bargain with the King that in exactly one year and one day, his reward (the princess) will belong to him. A year and a day after, Hans arrives at the castle.

    The princess explains that she already understands what she must do. Hans asks her if she thinks he is unattractive, and she replies that a broken promise is not nearly as repulsive as him. They are married against the wishes of the kingdom.

    On their wedding night, the princess is in bed awaiting her spouse. He enters the chamber with his bagpipes and sits down near the fire to play the same lovely music that saved the king a year prior. The Princess begins to relax as the music plays, and she falls asleep.

    She arises to find a pelt of quills as pleasant as feathers on the ground before the fire. She imagines her husband as a beautiful young man liberating the castle's animals and migrating to his forest castle with his pals.

    He discovers her sleeping on the discarded quills the next evening, and he knows she has seen him. The beautiful woman tells the handsome man that he is bewitched and that only if she can keep his secret for another night can he be released and return to his original form.

    The Queen concurs. The following morning, at breakfast, the Queen asks why her daughter is so happy. The Princess attempts to resist, but her mother forces her to confess that Hans has been enchanted.

    The Queen claims that the only way to break the enchantment is to cast the quills into a fire. She fulfils her mother's command and burns his quills that night when Hans loses his feathers. She hears him shriek in agony as though he were on fire, and he flees the castle.

    The Princess leaves her home, hoping to find her spouse, and travels to the blacksmith's shop. With no change in his expression, the man goes on to the next pair of shoes and finds that they are still empty.

    She discovers a river when she is wearing the third pair of shoes, then lies down by it and removes her shoes, massaging her aching feet. She sees her hair has turned white in the glass. She cries bitterly over her hair and her husband, who is now gone forever.

    The next day, she arrives at an empty house that is covered in dust and cobwebs. Then the flapping of wings alerted her to the presence of her spouse, whom she had sought for so long.

    He toasts a glass of wine "to the lovely lady who could not keep her promise" to no one in particular. She speaks with him, and he stiffens up and asks how she discovered him. She explains. She tells him about all of the challenges she has overcome, including how she travelled the world and wore three pairs of iron shoes.

    Then she throws herself into his arms and, with her declaration of love and devotion, he transforms back into the gorgeous man, the enchantment broken by her fidelity and regard. The Storyteller claims that he was given the final pair of the Princess' third set of shoes, which had been worn down to nothing.

    Episode details:

    • This episode stars Jason Carter as Hans' human form, Terence Harvey as the voice of Hans the Hedgehog, Abigail Cruttenden as the Princess, David Swift as the King, Helen Lindsay as the Queen, Eric Richard as the Farmer, and Maggie Wilkinson as the Farmer's Wife.
    • The episode was directed by Steve Barron.

    The Storyteller: The Three Ravens


    The Six Swans is a fairy tale about six swans that were first published in Germany in the early sixteenth century. The queen dies, and an evil witch traps the King and transforms his three sons into ravens to get rid of her rivals.


    In order to break the enchantment, the Princess must keep silent for three years, three months, three weeks, and three days.


    Once she comes to the attention of a good-looking Prince, her stepmother remarries and to the prince's father, it becomes increasingly difficult for her.


    Episode details:

    • This episode stars Joely Richardson as the Princess, Miranda Richardson as the Witch, Robert Hines as the Prince, Jonathan Pryce as the King, and Richard Butler as the Second King.
    • The episode was directed by Paul Weiland.

    The Storyteller: Sapsorrow


    This is a variation of "Allerleirauh" from the early German folk tale, as well as incorporating elements of Donkeyskin and the Cinderella narrative collected by the Grimm brothers. There is a single king who has three daughters who are all married.


    The third, known as Sapsorrow, is just as repulsive and terrible as the others, but she is as lovely and kind as her sisters. A ring belongs to the dead queen, and there is a royal tradition that states that the person whose finger fits the ring will become queen as ordained by law.


    The good sisters are offended by their malicious counterparts, who want their father to marry so that his bride might inherit his title and riches. They all put on the ring in an effort to safeguard the royal wealth for themselves, but one of the sisters' fingers becomes clamped by the ring and Sapsorrow is compelled to take it off.


    When Princess Sapsorrow slips on her deceased mother's ring for protection, she finds, much to her discomfort, that the ring fits perfectly and the king (against his own wishes) must marry her, his own daughter, according to law.


    The princess tries to postpone the wedding by demanding three beautiful dresses: a gown as white as the moon, a gown as brilliant as the stars, and a gown as bright as the sun.


    She then hides the gowns in a cave beneath her home, where they stay until her father returns. On the wedding night, she donned one of these costumes and transformed herself into Straggletag, a mix of fur and feathers.


    She spends years in this position, working in the kitchen of a lovely yet haughty king. She dons her disguise on the night of the ball, then discards it and goes to three different balls in one of her bridal gowns, capturing the prince's heart and leaving him only with a single slipper as she flees into the night.


    The fairy tale princes seek out the woman who fits the slipper and agree to marry Straggletag when their feet match. Her pets tear away her disguise at this announcement, and the two become happily married.


    Episode details:

    • This episode stars Alison Doody as Sapsorrow, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders as her bad sisters, Geoffrey Bayldon as the King, and James Wilby as the Prince.
    • The badgers, birds, and squirrels are performed by David Greenaway, Robert Tygner, and Mak Wilson.
    • The episode was directed by Steve Barron.

    The Storyteller: The Heartless Giant

    According to the series' creators, it's derived from an early German folklore tale. The young Prince Leo, who has befriended a heartless giant who once terrorized the land before being captured and imprisoned, sets him free one night.

    Leo's older brothers pursue the gigantic to capture him, but do not return, so Leo sets out to find him. Leo decides to look for the giant's heart once he discovers it, but this isn't an easy task - it's in an egg in a duck in a well in a church on the other side of a mountain.

    The quest for the sixth heart is no easy task. Even after Prince Leo finds the heart and brings it to the giant, one of his brothers snatches it away from him and squeezes it until the giant dies, at which point his dead body becomes a hill.

    When Prince Leo ascended to the throne, his dog was told that he recounted the tale where he says that he returned the heart to the gigantic and that it has never harassed the kingdom again.

    Episode details:

    • This is a variation upon the Norwegian tale The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body, though there are some parallels with the Slavic legend of Koschei the Deathless.
    • This episode stars Elliott Spiers as Prince Leo, Nicholas Selby as the King, Peter Marinker as the voice of the wolf, and Frederick Warder as the giant.
    • The birds, salmon and wolf are performed by David Greenaway, Robert Tygner, and Mak Wilson.
    • The episode was directed by Jim Henson.

    The Storyteller: The True Bride

    Based on an early German folk tale, the tale of a father who searches for a suitable bride for his daughter. The troll had a daughter, but she went away immediately. As a result, the troll took another youngster to wait on him hand and foot in her place.

    Anja is a young woman who lives in the ancient city of Trundholm. She has no father or mother, and the troll is her only "family."

    The troll makes sure to make her life miserable until she one day makes a wish, by setting her impossible tasks and then beating her with his "contradiction stick" when she inevitably fails.

    A young girl named Mico is convinced that the lion in her dream was a white lion. The Thought Lion, a magnificent white lion who solves impossible tasks for her, has heard her request.

    The Lion builds her a palace, and the troll falls to his death in a bottomless chamber after he asks her to construct it for him. In Anja's castle, she is very happy.

    In this animated adaptation of the fairy tale by Brothers Grimm, Anja searches for her true love for a Prince when he vanishes one day. When she discovers him, he has been bewitched by the Trollop's malevolent daughter.

    Episode details:

    • This episode stars Jane Horrocks as Anja, Sean Bean as the Prince, Michael Kilgarriff as the voice of the Thought Lion, Alun Armstrong as the voice of the Troll, and Sandra Voe as the voice of the Trollop.
    • The Thought Lion is operated by David Greenaway, Robert Tygner, and Mak Wilson while the Troll and Trollop are performed by Frederick Warder.
    • The episode was directed by Peter Smith.