从前，有两个王子想到外面的世界去长见识。 出去不久，却过起了挥金如土的腐化生活，根本不想再回家了。 他们的弟弟--一个毫不起眼的小矮子--出门要去寻找他的两个哥哥。 当他经过千辛万苦找到他们后，他们却嘲笑他，说他年轻，不懂世务，应该想办法出去游历游历，他们如此聪明，对这个世界有时也还不能应付。 这样，他们三人一起踏上了游历的旅程。
他们首先遇到的是一座蚁穴。 两个哥哥要把它推倒挖开，想看看那些可怜的蚂蚁在惊慌之下是如何乱窜，如何搬运它们的蚁卵的。 但小矮子却说："让这些可怜的小生灵自由地生存吧，我不能容忍你们给它们添麻烦，扰乱它们安宁的生活。"在他的极力反对下，两个哥哥只得打消念头，从旁边走了过去。
随后他们来到一棵大树前，蜜蜂在树干上的一个洞内筑起了一个大蜂巢，好多蜂蜜从树干上流了下来。 两个哥哥要在树下放一把火，把蜜蜂统统烧死，以便得到树洞内的蜂蜜。 但小矮子拦住他们说："让这些可怜的小蜜蜂自由自在地生存吧，我不能让你们烧死它们。"
最后，三个兄弟来到了一座城堡，他们经过马厩时，看到一些骏马站在里面，但都是一些大理石做的，城堡里看不到一个人。 他们穿过一间又一间房子，终于发现了一扇上面有三把锁的门，门上有一个窗口，从窗口可以看到房子里的一切。 往里面一瞧，他们发现房子里的一张桌子旁坐着一个头发花白的老人。 他们连叫了两声，那老人都没有听见，叫第三声时，他才站起来要他们把锁打开，让他走出房间。
第二天早晨，他来到老大的卧室，将老大带出房间，来到一张大理石桌子前。 桌子旁边有三个石碑，看了碑上的刻文，老大才知道这个城堡竟是被魔法控制着，因为石碑上刻着的是如何才能把这座城堡从魔力控制之下解脱出来的方法。 第一条碑文是：在森林的苔藓下面，散落着公主的一千颗珍珠，必须把它们全部找到，如果在太阳下山前还缺一颗没找齐，那个寻找的人就将变成大理石。
最后轮到小矮子了，他在苔藓中翻找着。 可要找到珍珠实在太困难了，这活也太苦太累，他伤心地坐在石头上哭了起来。 就在他处于绝望之时，曾被他救过的蚁王给他帮忙来了。 它带来了五千蚂蚁，那些蚂蚁很快就把所有的珍珠都找到了，并把它们搬在一起堆成了一大堆。
第二条碑文说：必须把公主卧室的钥匙从湖中捞出来。 小矮子来到湖边，那两只他救过的鸭子正在湖中戏水。 它们看见他后，马上游过来问他此行的目的，了解了他的困难后，鸭子们立即潜入水中，很快就从湖底把钥匙捞了上来。
第三件事最难，就是要从三个公主中找出最年青，最美丽的小公主。 但她们三个都一样漂亮，长相完全相同。 他得知的唯一线索就是大公主吃过一块糖，二公主吃过一些糖浆，小公主吃过一满勺的蜂蜜，他要找出到底是哪一个吃过蜂蜜。
那个曾被小矮子救过、幸免于火灾的蜂王来了。 它在三个公主的嘴巴上嗅了嗅，最后停在了那个吃过蜂蜜的小公主嘴上，小矮子知道那一定就是小公主了。 魔法被解除了，所有变成石头的人都醒了过来，恢复了他们的本来面貌，小矮子和年青美丽的公主结了婚。 公主的父亲过世之后，小矮子当上了国王，他的两个哥哥也娶了另外二个公主为妻子。
Two king's sons once started to seek adventures, and fell into a wild, reckless way of living, and gave up all thoughts of going home again. Their third and youngest brother, who was called Witling, and had remained behind, started off to seek them; and when at last he found them, they jeered at his simplicity in thinking that he could make his way in the world, while they who were so much cleverer were unsuccessful.
But they all three went on together until they came to an ant-hill, which the two eldest brothers wished to stir up, that they might see the little ants hurry about in their fright and carrying off their eggs, but Witling said, "Leave the little creatures alone, I will not suffer them to be disturbed."
And they went on farther until they came to a lake, where a number of ducks were swimming about. The two eldest brothers wanted to catch a couple and cook them, but Witling would not allow it, and said, "Leave the creatures alone, I will not suffer them to be killed."
And then they came to a bee's-nest in a tree, and there was so much honey in it that it overflowed and ran down the trunk. The two eldest brothers then wanted to make a fire beneath the tree, that the bees might be stifled by the smoke, and then they could get at the honey. But Witling prevented them, saying, "Leave the little creatures alone, I will not suffer them to be stifled."
At last the three brothers came to a castle where there were in the stables many horses standing, all of stone, and the brothers went through all the rooms until they came to a door at the end secured with three locks, and in the middle of the door a small opening through which they could look into the room. And they saw a little grey-haired man sitting at a table. They called out to him once, twice, and he did not hear, but at the third time he got up, undid the locks, and came out. Without speaking a word he led them to a table loaded with all sorts of good things, and when they had eaten and drunk he showed to each his bed-chamber.
The next morning the little grey man came to the eldest brother, and beckoning him, brought him to a table of stone, on which were written three things directing by what means the castle could be delivered from its enchantment The first thing was, that in the wood under the moss lay the pearls belonging to the princess - a thousand in number - and they were to be sought for and collected, and if he who should undertake the task had not finished it by sunset, if but one pearl were missing, he must be turned to stone. So the eldest brother went out, and searched all day, but at the end of it he had only found one hundred; just as was said on the table of stone came to pass and he was turned into stone. The second brother undertook the adventure next day, but it fared with him no better than with the first; he found two hundred pearls, and was turned into stone. And so at last it was Witling's turn, and he began to search in the moss; but it was a very tedious business to find the pearls, and he grew so out of heart that he sat down on a stone and began to weep. As he was sitting thus, up came the ant-king with five thousand ants, whose lives had been saved through Witling's pity, and it was not very long before the little insects had collected all the pearls and put them in a heap.
Now the second thing ordered by the table of stone was to get the key of the princess's sleeping-chamber out of the lake. And when Witling came to the lake, the ducks whose lives he had saved came swimming, and dived below, and brought up the key from the bottom.
The third thing that had to be done was the most difficult, and that was to choose out the youngest and loveliest of the three princesses, as they lay sleeping. All bore a perfect resemblance each to the other, and only differed in this, that before they went to sleep each one had eaten a different sweetmeat, the eldest a piece of sugar, the second a little syrup, and the third a spoonful of honey. Now the Queen-bee of those bees that Witling had protected from the fire came at this moment, and trying the lips of all three, settled on those of the one that had eaten honey, and so it was that the king's son knew which to choose.
Then the spell was broken; every one awoke from stony sleep, and took their right form again. And Witling married the youngest and loveliest princess, and became king after her father's death. But his two brothers had to put up with the two other sisters.