King Thrushbeard

King Thrushbeard by Grimm Brothers and pictured by Max Wulff

King Thrushbeard is a fairy tale by Grimm Brothers with number 52. It was included in the first edition already and stayed there from there on with some minor changes from the second edition.

It’s a story about the classic quest: there’s a beautiful princess who should be married but nobody is good enough for her. She is mocking her suitors and even when one raises some sympathies she couldn’t resist noticing the bird’s beak’s shape of his beard and calling him King Thrushbeard.

Her father becomes tired of her behavior and declares that the first beggar who enters the castle should marry her no matter who he is or what she thinks about him. King Thrushbeard hears that, shaves his beard, and enters the castle disguised in dirty rags as a minstrel.

He fakes surprise when he finds out he is about to marry the princess. He even hesitates a bit looking at her and saying she doesn’t look very strong or skilled to take care of his household but concludes the beggar should not be too picky.

Then the priest comes, they marry, and the king promptly shows his daughter the door. It’s not proper to have a beggar’s wife under his roof, right?

On the journey to his home, she sees forests and meadows, and a large town, everything belonging to King Thrushbeard. She is very sorry to mock him and got a poor minstrel instead.

At his home, she had to weave baskets but can’t due to her soft fingers. Then he insisted she goes to the market and sells some of his pots. When a drunken hussar breaks them this chance of earning a living fails too.

Finally, she gets a job in the royal kitchen. She becomes a kitchen maid and was allowed to take some leftovers home. They lived from that for some time.

After a while, preparations for a royal wedding start. King Thrushbeard is about to marry!

When the wedding party starts the king himself finds her and wants to dance with her. Leftovers fall from her pockets and everybody laughs at her. She cries.

But the king takes her hand again and says she should stop crying now. She is about to celebrate her own wedding.

Only then she realizes she married a king in disguise. Her father appears there too. All of them live happily ever after.

A few words about the themes and motifs in The King Thrushbeard:

The wedding is the central element as in so many other fairy tales (The Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Goose Girl, …).

The king’s authority is indisputable. Even if he promises something irrational, like giving his daughter to the beggar, it’s about to happen. A nice example of the power of one’s promise can be seen in The Frog King too.

The title character has to disguise himself if he wants to achieve his ultimate goal – marry the beautiful princess. We see a similar (successful) attempt in Cinderella, but she has to dress up, not down. The Goose Girl, on the other hand, where a servant dresses up, fails miserably. There is a lesson to learn – don’t play a role if you don’t deserve it by your origin. Or is it? The Valiant Little Tailor does exactly that – and succeeds.

Let’s take a closer look at the last paragraph with all three examples of climbing up the social ladder and/or achieving some personal goals with trickery. There are actually two major patterns for fairy tale structure: the raise story and the restoration story.

While The Valiant Little Tailor and Rumpelstiltskin belong to raise stories, the restoration pattern is much more frequent. Cinderella, The Goose Girl, The Beauty and the Beast, and King Thrushbeard are all restoration stories.

Another noticeable theme is the humiliation of the princess. We can see it in The Frog King, The Goose Girl, and in King Thrushbeard too.

A similar idea of ‘breaking’ the girl before she is ready for marriage can be found in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Hans Christian Andersen rewrote King Thrushbeard as The Swinheard.

All illustrations are done by Max Wulff (1871-1947), a painter, an illustrator, and a graphic designer.

Little Brother and Little Sister

Little Brother and Little Sister, illustrated by Bruno Grimmer

This fairy tale was included as number eleven in the first volume of the collection by Brothers Grimm. Like many of their tales, it starts with the death of parents leading to many dangers of the orphans. The tension is further emphasized with the arrival of the stepmother (the most often opponent in their fairy tales) who is also a witch.

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Let’s walk through the story with an interesting combination of black and white drawings and pictures by Bruno Grimmer (1879-1936). The book was published by A. Jaser Kunstverlag in 1927.

Short Summary

Once upon a time, a brother and a sister lost their mother. After her death, they got a stepmother. She was very mean to them. So they decided to leave home and go to the woods.

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They spent the night in a cave.

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They were very hungry and thirsty. Unfortunately, their stepmother didn’t forget about them. With her magic, she poisoned all the brooks in the wood. While the brother tried to drink some water, his sister heard a warning. If she drinks from a specific brook he will become a tiger.

He tried at another brook but she heard a voice claiming he would become a wolf.

At the third brook, he couldn’t resist despite the warning he would turn into a deer. So he became a deer and she promised him to take care of him.

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They lived in the forest for some time when hunters found (and slightly wounded) the deer.

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One of them was a king who followed the deer, curious because of a golden necklace around deer’s neck and hearing how animal commands somebody in the hut to let it in.

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The king discovered the girl and immediately fell in love with her. She explained the situation with her brother and the king allowed her to take the deer in the castle.

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But the stepmother of both youngsters found out how happy is her stepdaughter and wanted to put her own daughter (who had only one eye) in her place. When the stepdaughter who became a young queen gave birth, she disguised herself and together with her daughter came to the castle to help.

She arranged the bath for the young queen was so hot she died and transformed her daughter to look like the queen except for the eye which was still only one. But for some time she managed to mislead the king who believed his wife is just exhausted from the birth and can’t be with him momentarily.

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But the dead queen returned to the castle as a ghost and nursed her son. There was a nurse who saw her and after a few night visits hear that the dead queen will return just twice and then just once more.

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She told that to the king who stayed awake by night and used the last chance to speak to the ghost.

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The dead queen returned to life and told the king what happened. The witch and her daughter were punished.

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The witch died in the fire and the daughter was torn to pieces by beasts in the forest. The deer changed to a young man right after the witch died and her spell lost power.

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Together with his sister, her husband, and their son (his nephew), he lived happily in the castle.

Some of the Used Themes in the Story Little Brother and Little Sister

There are many frequent themes, typical for fairy tales by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, in this story:

  • death of the mother (Snow White, Cinderella),
  • an absent father (Snow White again),
  • going to the woods (yes, again, Snow White, and also Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, …),
  • a powerful opponent is trying to hurt the protagonists by magic (Snow White),
  • transformation of a human into an animal (Frog Prince),
  • the sacrifice of one of the siblings for the other one(s) (Seven Ravens),
  • a powerful helper is needed (Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Briar Rose, Snow White, …),
  • switch of social status (Goose Girl),
  • resurrection (Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Wolf and Seven Kids, …),
  • the opponent must be completely destroyed before the happy ending is possible (Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Goose Girl, Wolf and Seven Young Kids, …),
  • the transformation from animal to the human being (Frog Prince) …

We can go on and on but you probably already got the idea.

One more interesting tidbit:

Little Brother and Little Sister shared the title with Hansel and Gretel at first but Brothers Grimm wanted to avoid the confusion and decided to name the protagonists of the later story. That seems a good choice because their role is much more balanced while at Little Brother and Little Sister majority of work is done by the girl.

All-Kinds-of-Fur

All-Kinds-of-Fur aka Thousandsfurs aka Allerleihrauh illustrated by Rudolf Geissler

This fairy tale has number 65 among Grimms’ Fairy Tales. It’s a story about a king who gives a promise to his dying wife he’ll remarry only if he finds a woman of the same beauty. After some search, he realizes the only candidate is his daughter.

She doesn’t want to marry her father, so she tries to stop him by demanding impossible tasks from him. He should provide her a dress of gold, a dress of silver, a dress dazzling as the stars, and a mantle made of all kinds of furs and skins.

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The king presents his gifts to his daughter

But the king provides all the gifts and the only way out for the princess seems to escape. She takes all the dresses, the coat, a gold ring, a gold spindle, and a gold reel. Then she escapes to another kingdom and hides in the woods. She wears a mantle made of all kinds of fur when a young king who hunts there, finds her.

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The princess was found by a young king hunter

She doesn’t reveal her identity but asks for a place to stay and a job to pay for it. He offers her to work in his kitchen. she stays disguised. Everybody starts calling her All-Kinds-of-Fur.

After a while, the king has a ball. The princess comes to the dance in her gold dress. King is charmed but she doesn’t reveal her identity. The next morning she drops a golden ring in his soup. He finds it and keeps it but is unable to discover who put the ring in the soup.

Next evening there’s a dance too. This time All-Kinds-of-Fur wears a silver dress. Again, she doesn’t disclose herself but puts a golden spindle in the king’s soup the next morning. He keeps that as well.

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King was surprised by the objects in his soup

The third night is a night for a star dress. This time the king puts the finger found in the soup on her finger while they are dancing. She doesn’t notice that. She leaves him again without revealing her true identity. But he follows her. So she hides in the kitchen. Without time to change she only puts her mantle over the dress.

The king finds her in the kitchen. He discovers the dress under the coat and the finger on her ring. The mystery is solved. They can marry now.

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There is a princess under the cloak

A very similar story can be found in Charles Perrault’s Donkeyskin which has a bit better dramatic structure considering the king who wanted to marry his daughter gets a wife for himself at the end as well.

There are numerous similar stories all across the world to be found. All present fathers who want to get their daughters (or in some cases step-daughters) for their wives. Such stories belong to type 510B according to Aarne-Thompson classification of folktales. All of them are also classified as subvariants of much more famous and also very variated group of Cinderella variants.

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A few words about the illustrator:

  • His first teacher was his own father, an accomplished painter Peter Carl Geissler (1802-1872). He also studied at Nuremberg (his birth- and death-place, where he spent almost all of his life) and Dresden.
  • Rudolf Geissler (1834-1906) with full name Rudolf Karl Gottfried Geissler was a watercolorist, draftsman, and etcher.
  • He illustrated numerous picture books and books for kids. For years he worked for popular magazine “Gartenlaube”.

Thumbling aka Tom Thumb

Thumbling as pictured by Paula Ebner

Thumbling is a fairy tale number 37 in the classification of Children’s and Household Tales. It’s a story about an extremely little boy, an only child of older peasants, who is using a few tricks to earn some money for the family but things don’t always pan out as he expected.

A pair is wishing for a baby for a very long time. Even if it would be a very small baby. They finally got one. It’s a boy. He is so small they call him a Thumbling.

Thumbling is healthy and smart and it’s always fun to be around him. One day he and his father went out with a horse with Thumbling sitting in the horse’s ear and giving directions to the animal.

Two men see the horse, hear the voice, and want to find out what’s going on. They are charmed with Thumbling and offer money to his dad if he is willing to let the boy go with them. Thumbling tells his father to accept the offer because he’ll escape soon and return home while they will keep the money.

So the men take Thumbling and proceed. Soon he tricks them to let him down from one’s hat and escapes to the mouse’s hole. He is safe yet he must find a place to sleep.

An empty snail’s house seems just right for him. But two robbers passed by and Thumbling overhears their plan. They are going to rob the pastor’s house. Thumbling gets their attention and proposes to join the robbers. He is small and can easily enter the house. They just have to wait outside and wat for the precious stuff he’ll bring. Robbers are all in but Thumbling has other plans. He is so loud he wakes a maiden in the house and robbers leave empty-handed.

Maiden doesn’t notice Thumbling who finds a very comfortable place hor sleeping in the hay. Unfortunately, he stays unnoticed even when the maiden gives some hay to the cow. The cow eats the Thumbling who starts yelling from her belly.

Maiden is frightened and the pastor believes an evil spirit attacked his cow. He orders the cow to be killed and her body thrown out.

Before Thumbling manages to leave the cow, he is eaten by a wolf. But he uses his power of persuasion again tricking the wolf to go to his parents’ house where a lot of food could be found.

Wolf is killed by the peasants and Thumbling is saved by his parents. He decides to stop living so dangerously enjoying time with his dad and mom.

The pictures for this fairy tale were drawn by Paula Ebner (1873-1949), a painter and illustrator from Austria. Pictures of children, especially girls were her specialty and there are tons of beautiful postcards she made for several publishing houses.

As you probably noticed, Paula Ebner didn’t show some of the more gore scenes from the story (being eaten, for instance). These illustrations were published in 1946 when the audience was already a bit more concerned about the impact of darker images on children’s minds. It’s interesting to compare these illustrations with pictures from Franz Stassner’s Thumbling who illustrated the same story exactly 25 years before. You can see at the first sight different approaches of both artists at choosing the colors, scenes, and compositions.

Thumbling is sometimes titled as Tom Thumb but it should not be confused by Tom Thumb from England, who goes through several similar adventures but ends as a knight at the court of King Arthur.

There is also a Hop o’ My Thumb, a French fairy tale about a very little smart boy which is actually a combination of Hansel and Gretel and Jack and the Beanstalk.

A very similar fairy tale was written by Hans Christian Andersen who put a little girl Thumbelina in the center of his version. Andersen’s Thumbelina is longer, with a much better dramatic structure and very original ending. Like many of his stories, it has numerous autobiographic elements.

Brothers Grimm has another story with Thumbling: Thumbling as Journeyman (KHM 45) in their collection.

 

There are several well-known fairy tale themes in this story used in other fairy tales:

  • The theme of yearning for a child, for instance, is present at the beginning of Briar Rose and Snow White.
  • The theme of being eaten by a much larger animal is best known from Pinocchio. Don’t forget Red Cap or Wolf and Seven Kids, where wolf also eats his pray and is killed right after that.
  • The theme of tricking the trickster is also present in Hansel and Grethel.

Wolf is a pretty popular animal in Grimms’ fairy tales. He is mostly used as a presentation of danger but can become a helper (think about Golden Bird) too. In Thumbling, a wolf serves as both.

The Fisherman and His Wife

This is a classic tale by Brothers Grimm, being classified as KHM 19 in the collection.

Short Summary

A fisherman caught a fish which happened to be a very special one. It said it’s actually an enchanted prince and it won’t taste very good so it’s best to be freed. The fisherman was a bit shocked at the talking fish and after a while let the fish go.

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Act of Mercy

He told his wife about his caught when he returned to his poor home. She said the fish should show some gratitude. If it could talk, it could probably fulfill some wishes. They could, for instance, have a better home. The fisherman was not very excited about that but he went to the seashore again and called the fish.

The fish really made his wish come true. They got a lovely house and the fisherman was very happy. Yet his wife wanted more. She sent her husband back to the coast and their status improved even further.

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The Reward

They got a huge castle, she became a queen, and finally a pope. Her husband went to the sea again and again and each time the ocean became darker and more violent. The fish was grumpier and grumpier but the wishes were still coming true. Yet it still wasn’t enough. She demanded to become a god. She wanted to rule the sun and the moon directing their rises.

When the fish heard that it sent the fisherman home again saying they got back what they had before. They were in the same very poor hut as before the fish was caught.

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The Punishment

Characters

It’s a very stylish story from a dramatic point of view. We have only three characters, one in static and two in dynamic modes.

Fisherman’s wife is static. She is greedy, unsatisfied, and always wants more. While she acts at first as a helper suggesting her husband he should get a reward for being so kind to the caught fish at first, we realize her real motivation right after her (not his!) wish came true.

The fisherman is dynamic. He starts in the position of the judge having power over the fish’s life. He looks very gracious at first but in the next scenes we know him better – he is actually so weak character, everybody (the fish at first and his wife from then on) can convince him in anything, even if it’s against his moral principles (if we can say somebody like him has his principles). He acts as a helper and a messenger.

Grimm’s fairy tales present many weak men who are empowered by their wives (think about Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Snow White, …).

The fish is dynamic as well. It starts in the role of a victim. Then it became a helper and gradually transforms into a judge.

Moral of Fisherman’s and His Wife

The moral of the story is pretty obvious. If you can’t find happiness in things you already have, you’ll never be happy no matter which of your wishes will come true. Fisherman’s seemingly good heart was not enough to make him happy because his wife was so greedy. The lesson of the fisherman and his wife can be written as: be grateful for what you have. Or: the greediness will eventually get you nothing.

The symbolism of water and other symbols in the story

The fisherman and his wife use several symbols. All characters carry their own but the power of the water is the most obvious. In each scene where the fisherman meets with the fish, the ocean is different. It starts as a clear, crystal water, suggesting the perfection and balance of the world as it is. Then is became darker and more violent until the storm at their final meeting sending a strong message against the greed of fisherman’s wife (and his weakness).

Water is generally a medium between life and death. It’s fluid and evasive, changing shapes all the time. It represents emotions and wisdom.

In the story it changes colors from clear (perfection, prosperity) to yellow (joy, optimism), and green (growth, renewal), to dark-blue (importance, stubbornness) and purple (extravagance, royalty), and finally to gray (depression, loss) and black (death, power).

You can read about the symbolism of colors in this post:

https://colors.site123.me/blog/tag/color-symbolism

There is also mentioned the ocean after so many fisherman’s demands eventually started smelling bad. Bad smell is characteristic for death and hell.

The fish is a symbol of good luck. But a wounded fish suggests distress and sorrow. When the fish is released in the story, a stream of blood is mentioned.

The fisherman was an initial occupation of Saint Peter, the first Bishop of Rome – The Pope. The Fisherman is still his nickname, suggesting his fishing for the souls. He is a patron of all fishermen as well.

Fisherman’s wife represents a rude, always grumpy person, who used to do low paid jobs in bad conditions, never being satisfied as is still characteristic of most fish sellers today. Thanks to this story the phrase fisherman’s wife represents all greedy and ungrateful people in the world.