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Episode 16-Grimm Brothers: A Celebration

Join Shakin Shaner in a celebration of the long lasting legacy of the Brothers Grimm. Jacob and Wilhelm, were German academics, philologists, cultural researchers, lexicographers, and authors who together collected and published folklore and fairy tales. Less well known is the their pioneering scholarly work on a German dictionary, which they began in 1838. 

Shakin Shaner discusses how these tales were not originally intended for children and goes into detail on a lesser known tale, the Girl without Hands.

Image by Chris Lawton

The Brothers Grimm, best known for Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which led to the birth of the modern study of folklore. They were among the most important German scholars of their time. For more information about the Grimm Brother's personal lives, check out the Britannica, by clicking here.

Retired Professor D. L. Ashliman, of the University of Pittsburgh, extensively studied and translated the Grimm Brothers and their stories. He has a website that contain many of the original stories and translations. To check it out, click here!

The Girl Without Hands-Version 1812

A miller, who was so poor that he had nothing more than his mill and a large apple tree which stood behind it, went into the forest to gather wood. There he was approached by an old man, who said, "Why do you torment yourself so? I will make you rich if you will sign over to me that which is standing behind your mill. I will come and claim it in three years."


The miller thought, "That is my apple tree," agreed, and signed it over to the man.


When he came home, his wife said to him, "Miller, where did all the wealth come from that suddenly has filled every chest and cupboard in our house?"


"I received it from an old man in the forest by signing over to him that which is standing behind the mill."


"Husband!" said the woman, terrified. "This is going to be very bad. The old man was the devil, and he had our daughter in mind, who was just then standing behind the mill sweeping the yard."


Now the miller's daughter was very beautiful and pious. Three years later when the devil came, early in the morning, and wanted to take her, she had drawn a circle around herself with chalk and had washed herself clean.


Therefore the devil could not approach her, and angrily he said to the miller, "Keep wash water away from her, so she cannot wash herself any more, and I can have power over her."


The miller was frightened and did what he was told. The next day the devil returned, but she had wept into her hands and washed herself with her tears, and was entirely clean.


Because the devil still could not approach her, he was very angry, and ordered the miller, "Chop off her hands, so I can get to her."


The miller was horrified and answered, "How could I chop off my dear child's hands? No, I will not do it."

"Then do you know what? I will take you, if you don't do it!"


That frightened the miller terribly, and driven by fear he promised to do what the devil had ordered. He went to his daughter and said, "My child, the devil will take me if I don't chop off both your hands, and I have promised him that I will do it. I beg for your forgiveness."


"Father," she said, "do with me what you will," stretched forth her hands, and let him chop them off.


The devil came a third time, but she had wept so long onto her stumps, that she was still entirely clean, and the devil had lost all power over her.


The miller, because he had become so wealthy through her, promised to take the best care of her for the rest of her life, but she did not want to remain there.


"I must leave here," she said. "Compassionate people will give me enough to keep me alive."


She had the chopped-off hands tied to her back, and she set forth with the rising sun, walking the entire day until evening, when she came to the king's garden. There was a gap in the garden hedge. She went inside, found a fruit tree, shook it with her body until the apples fell to the ground, bent over and picked them up with her teeth, and ate them. Thus she lived for two days, but on the third day the garden watchmen saw her, captured her, and threw her into prison.


The next morning she was brought before the king and sentenced to be banished from the land, but the prince said, "Wait, wouldn't it be better to let her tend the chickens in the courtyard?" So she stayed there for a time and tended the chickens. The prince saw her often and grew very fond of her.


Meanwhile the time came when he was to get married. Messengers were sent everywhere in the world to find him a beautiful bride. "You needn't look so far and wide," he said. "I know where one is very nearby."


The old king pondered this back and forth, but he could not think of a single maiden in his kingdom who was both beautiful and rich, "You surely don't want to marry the one who tends the chickens in the courtyard?" But his son declared that he would marry no one else, so finally the king had to agree. Soon afterward he died, and the prince succeeded him as king and lived happily for a time with his wife.


Once the king had to go away to war, and during his absence his wife gave birth to a beautiful child. She sent a messenger with a letter telling her husband the joyful news. On the way the messenger stopped to rest by a brook and fell asleep. The devil, who was still trying to harm her, came to him and exchanged the letter with one that stated that the queen had given birth to a changeling. The king was very saddened to read this, but he wrote that the queen and the child should be well cared for until his return. The messenger started back with this letter. When he stopped to rest at the same spot and fell asleep, the devil again appeared, this time exchanging the king's letter with one that ordered the queen and the child to be driven from the kingdom. This had to be done, however much the people all wept with sorrow.


"I did not come here to become queen," she said. "I have no luck, and I demand none. Just tie my child and my hands onto my back, and I will set forth into the world."


That evening she came to a place in a thick forest where a good old man was sitting by a spring. "Be so kindhearted as to hold my child to my breast until I have nursed him," she said.


The man did that, after which he said to her, "Go to that thick tree over there and wrap your maimed arms around it three times!" And when she had done this, her hands grew back on. Then he showed her a house. "You can live there," he said, "but do not go outside, and do not open the door for anyone unless he asks three times to come in, for God's sake."


Meanwhile the king returned home and discovered how he had been deceived. Accompanied by a single servant he set forth, and after a long journey he finally happened, one night, into the same forest where the queen was living, but he did not know that she was so close to him. "There is a little light from a house back there," said his servant. "We can rest there."


"No," said the king. "I do not want to rest so long, but rather to continue searching for my wife. I cannot rest until I find her."


But the servant begged so much and complained so about his weariness that out of compassion, the king gave in. When they came to the house, the moon was shining, and they saw the queen standing by the window. "That must be our queen; she looks just like her," said the servant, "but I see now that she is not the one, for this one has hands."


The servant asked her for shelter, but she refused, because he had not asked "for God's sake." He was about to go on and seek another place for their night's lodging when the king himself came up and said,


"Let me in, for God's sake!"


"I cannot let you in until you have asked me three time, for God's sake," she replied. And after the king had asked two more times, she opened the door. His little son ran to him and led him in to his mother. The king recognized her immediately as his beloved wife. The next morning they all journeyed together back to their kingdom, and as soon as they had left the house, it disappeared behind them.

  • Source: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, "Mädchen ohne Hände," Kinder- und Hausmärchen [Children's and Household Tales -- Grimms' Fairy Tales], 1st edition, vol. 1 (Berlin: In der Realschulbuchhandlung, 1812), no. 31, pp. 132-38.


  • Translated by D. L. Ashliman. © 2012.


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