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A Riddling Tale
Grimm Märchen

A Riddling Tale - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 2 min

Three women were changed into flowers which grew in the field, but one of them was allowed to be in her own home at night. Then once when day was drawing near, and she was forced to go back to her companions in the field and become a flower again, she said to her husband: „If thou wilt come this afternoon and gather me, I shall be set free and henceforth stay with thee.“ And he did so. Now the question is, how did her husband know her, for the flowers were exactly alike, and without any difference?

Answer: „As she was at her home during the night and not in the field, no dew fell on her as it did on the others, and by this her husband knew her.“

Backgrounds to fairy tale „A riddling tale“

„A Riddling Tale“ (also known as „Das Rätselmärchen“ in German) is a lesser-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their anthology „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales.“ The story first appeared in the 1819 edition of their collection and has roots in European folklore.

The tale tells the story of a princess who is enamored with riddles and announces that she will marry the man who can stump her with a riddle she cannot solve. Many suitors attempt to win her hand but ultimately fail, as the princess solves all their riddles.

One day, a young man comes to the court with a unique riddle: „What slew none, and yet slew twelve?“ The princess, unable to solve the riddle, becomes distraught and increasingly desperate to find the answer. Eventually, she resorts to spying on the young man and discovers the answer to the riddle: a pack of twelve unlit candles in a glass case, which metaphorically „slew“ twelve by using up the air in the case and causing the candles to go out.

Having discovered the answer, the princess reveals it to the young man, and he reluctantly agrees to marry her. However, the young man sets a condition for the wedding: if the princess cannot guess his name within three days, he will be free to leave. After two days of unsuccessful attempts, the princess again resorts to spying and overhears the young man singing his name, Hans. On the third day, the princess reveals his name, and they marry.

„A Riddling Tale“ is an intriguing story that explores themes such as the pursuit of knowledge, the consequences of pride, and the importance of humility. The tale also highlights the idea that even the most intelligent and capable individuals may face challenges they cannot overcome without the help of others.

Interpretations to fairy tale „A riddling tale“

„A Riddling Tale“ from the Brothers Grimm offers various themes and interpretations that can be explored. Here are some key perspectives:

Pursuit of knowledge: The story centers on the princess’s love for riddles and her desire to find a riddle she cannot solve. This passion for knowledge and intellectual challenges demonstrates the importance of curiosity and intellectual growth.

Consequences of pride: The princess’s pride in her ability to solve riddles ultimately leads her to challenge others, setting the stage for her own potential downfall. This theme illustrates the consequences of excessive pride and the need for humility in the face of intellectual pursuits.

Cunning and resourcefulness: Both the princess and the young man display cunning and resourcefulness in their attempts to outwit each other. This theme highlights the importance of using wit and ingenuity to overcome challenges.

The importance of humility: As the princess struggles to solve the young man’s riddle, she is forced to confront her limitations and recognize that she may not always have the answers. This realization underscores the importance of humility in the pursuit of knowledge.

The power of collaboration: While the princess and the young man initially engage in a competition, they eventually marry and join forces, suggesting that collaboration and partnership can lead to greater success and happiness than striving alone.

The limits of intellect: The story also highlights the limits of intellect, showing that even the most intelligent individuals may face challenges they cannot overcome without the help of others or resorting to unconventional methods.

In summary, „A Riddling Tale“ explores themes such as the pursuit of knowledge, the consequences of pride, the importance of humility, cunning and resourcefulness, the power of collaboration, and the limits of intellect. These themes offer valuable lessons and insights for readers and listeners of all ages.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „A riddling tale“

„A Riddling Tale“ is a lesser-known Brothers Grimm fairy tale and may not have as many adaptations as some of the more popular tales. However, it has still inspired various retellings and adaptations in different forms of media. Here are a few specific examples:

Literature: „A Riddling Tale“ has been retold and adapted in various anthologies, short story collections, and books focused on fairy tales. These adaptations often include modern language, illustrations, or variations on the plot to make the story more accessible or engaging for contemporary readers.

Theater: Though not as frequently adapted for the stage as other Grimm fairy tales, „A Riddling Tale“ may occasionally be included in theater productions that focus on multiple Grimm fairy tales. In such productions, the story might be adapted as a short play or skit, showcasing the riddle contest between the princess and the young man.

Audiobooks: There are audiobook versions of „A Riddling Tale“ available, both as standalone recordings or as part of larger Grimm fairy tale collections. These adaptations bring the story to life through voice acting and can be found on platforms like Audible or other audiobook services.

Art: „A Riddling Tale“ has inspired visual artists to create illustrations, paintings, and other works of art over the years. These artistic interpretations often depict scenes from the story, such as the princess pondering the young man’s riddle or their eventual marriage.

Educational materials: The story of „A Riddling Tale“ has been included in various educational materials, such as lesson plans, study guides, or teaching resources focused on fairy tales and folklore. These materials often explore the themes, motifs, and interpretations of the story, helping students understand its cultural and historical significance.

Although „A Riddling Tale“ might not have as many adaptations as other popular Grimm fairy tales, its themes of the pursuit of knowledge, the consequences of pride, and the importance of humility continue to inspire retellings and adaptations in different forms of media.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „A riddling tale“

The fairy tale „A riddling tale“ from Brothers Grimm has been adapted in various forms of media, including books, films, and television shows. Some of the notable adaptations include:

The animated film „The Riddle“ (2007) directed by Andrew Belling, which is based on the fairy tale and features a similar storyline and characters.

The children’s book „The Riddle of the Seventh Stone“ (2004) by Monika Wittmann, which is a modern retelling of the fairy tale with a new twist on the riddle and the soldier’s quest.

The television series „Once Upon a Time“ (2011-2018), which features the character Rumpelstiltskin as a recurring character who often poses riddles and challenges to the other characters.

The video game „King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow“ (1992), which features a storyline that is loosely based on the fairy tale and includes a character who poses riddles and challenges to the player.

The stage play „The Riddle of the Sphinx“ (2008) by David Mamet, which is a modern adaptation of the Oedipus myth that incorporates elements of the fairy tale.

These adaptations demonstrate the enduring popularity and influence of the fairy tale „A riddling tale“ from Brothers Grimm, and how its themes and characters continue to resonate with audiences today.

Summary of the plot

„A Riddling Tale“ is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a princess who loves riddles and announces that she will marry the man who can stump her with a riddle she cannot solve. Many suitors try and fail, as the princess solves all their riddles.

One day, a young man arrives with a unique riddle: „What slew none, and yet slew twelve?“ The princess struggles to solve the riddle and becomes increasingly desperate to find the answer. She resorts to spying on the young man and discovers the answer: a pack of twelve unlit candles in a glass case, which metaphorically „slew“ twelve by using up the air in the case, causing the candles to go out.

The princess reveals the answer to the young man, who agrees to marry her. However, he sets a condition: if the princess cannot guess his name within three days, he will be free to leave. After two days of unsuccessful attempts, the princess again resorts to spying and overhears the young man singing his name, Hans. On the third day, she reveals his name, and they marry.

The story explores themes such as the pursuit of knowledge, the consequences of pride, the importance of humility, and the value of resourcefulness and collaboration.

————

Backgrounds to fairy tale „A riddling tale“

„A Riddling Tale“ is a short fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, who were German academics, linguists, cultural researchers, and authors. They are best known for their work in compiling and publishing folk tales, fairy tales, and legends from the oral tradition of the German-speaking people during the 19th century. Their collection, „Children’s and Household Tales“ (also known as „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“), was first published in 1812 and has since become a foundational work in Western folklore.

The Brothers Grimm aimed to preserve these stories as a way to document and maintain the cultural heritage of their region. Many of the tales they collected have become widely recognized around the world and have inspired numerous adaptations in literature, theater, and film. Some of the most famous stories include „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ „Hansel and Gretel,“ „Rapunzel,“ and „Rumpelstiltskin.“

„A Riddling Tale,“ although not as well-known as some of the other stories in the collection, is an example of a simple yet thought-provoking narrative that uses riddles and challenges to engage the reader. It illustrates the Brothers Grimm’s dedication to collecting a diverse range of tales, showcasing different aspects of human experience and emotion, as well as their desire to document the cultural heritage of the German-speaking people.

Interpretations to fairy tale „A riddling tale“

„A Riddling Tale“ by Brothers Grimm can be interpreted in several ways, depending on the reader’s perspective. Here are a few possible interpretations:

The power of love and devotion: The tale demonstrates the strong bond between the husband and his enchanted wife. Despite the challenging circumstances, the husband is determined to find a way to recognize his wife and set her free. This can be seen as a metaphor for the power of love to overcome obstacles and reunite loved ones.

The importance of paying attention to details: The husband’s ability to identify his wife among the identical flowers highlights the significance of paying attention to the small details that differentiate one thing from another. This can be a reminder to be observant and value the unique aspects of people or situations, as these details can sometimes be crucial to solving problems or making informed decisions.

Adaptation and transformation: The three women’s transformation into flowers can be seen as a metaphor for adaptation and change. The tale may be suggesting that life often presents us with unexpected challenges that require us to adjust our perspectives and adapt to new situations. In this case, the woman’s ability to return home at night shows her resilience and adaptability in the face of adversity.

The power of knowledge: The story illustrates how having the right information at the right time can make a significant difference in one’s life. The wife’s knowledge of how to break the spell and the husband’s awareness of the dew’s significance ultimately leads to the wife’s freedom. This underscores the importance of seeking and applying knowledge to overcome challenges.

Overall, „A Riddling Tale“ offers multiple interpretations that can inspire readers to reflect on the themes of love, attention to detail, adaptability, and the value of knowledge.

Summary of the plot

„A Riddling Tale“ is a short fairy tale by Brothers Grimm that tells the story of three women who were transformed into flowers. They grew in a field, but one of them was allowed to return to her home at night. As the day approached, she had to go back to the field and transform back into a flower. Before leaving, she told her husband that if he came to the field in the afternoon and picked her, she would be set free and could stay with him permanently.

The main challenge in the story is how the husband could identify his wife among the identical flowers in the field. The solution to this riddle lies in the fact that since the woman spent her nights at home and not in the field, she did not have dew on her like the other flowers. The husband recognized her by the absence of dew, picked her from the field, and thus set her free to live with him once again.

Informations for scientific analysis


Fairy tale statistics
Value
NumberKHM 160
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 407
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, FR, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson37.7
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index75.6
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level9.2
Gunning Fog Index12.3
Coleman–Liau Index6.8
SMOG Index9.5
Automated Readability Index9.8
Character Count662
Letter Count503
Sentence Count5
Word Count131
Average Words per Sentence26,20
Words with more than 6 letters15
Percentage of long words11.5%
Number of Syllables162
Average Syllables per Word1,24
Words with three Syllables6
Percentage Words with three Syllables4.6%
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