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Clever Elsie
Clever Elsie Märchen

Clever Elsie - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 10 min

There was once a man who had a daughter who was called Clever Else, and when she was grown up, her father said she must be married, and her mother said, „Yes, if we could only find some one that would consent to have.“ At last one came from a distance, and his name was Hans, and when he proposed to her, he made it a condition that Clever Else should be very careful as well. „Oh,“ said the father, „she does not want for brains.“ – „No, indeed,“ said the mother, „she can see the wind coming up the street and hear the flies cough.“

„Well,“ said Hans, „if she does not turn out to be careful too, I will not have her.“ Now when they were all seated at table, and had well eaten, the mother said, „Else, go into the cellar and draw some beer.“ Then Clever Else took down the jug from the hook in the wall, and as she was on her way to the cellar she rattled the lid up and down so as to pass away the time. When she got there, she took a stool and stood it in front of the cask, so that she need not stoop and make her back ache with needless trouble.

Then she put the jug under the tap and turned it, and while the beer was running, in order that her eyes should not be idle, she glanced hither and thither, and finally caught sight of a pickaxe that the workmen had left sticking in the ceiling just above her head. Then Clever Else began to cry, for she thought, „If I marry Hans, and we have a child, and it grows big, and we send it into the cellar to draw beer, that pickaxe might fall on his head and kill him.“ So there she sat and cried with all her might, lamenting the anticipated misfortune.

All the while they were waiting upstairs for something to drink, and they waited in vain. At last the mistress said to the maid, „Go down to the cellar and see why Else does not come.“ So the maid went, and found her sitting in front of the cask crying with all her might. „What are you crying for?“ said the maid. „Oh dear me,“ answered she, „how can I help crying? if I marry Hans, and we have a child, and it grows big, and we send it here to draw beer, perhaps the pickaxe may fall on its head and kill it.“

„Our Else is clever indeed!“ said the maid, and directly sat down to bewail the anticipated misfortune. After a while, when the people upstairs found that the maid did not return, and they were becoming more and more thirsty, the master said to the boy, „You go down into the cellar, and see what Else and the maid are doing.“ The boy did so, and there he found both Clever Else and the maid sitting crying together.

Clever Elsie Fairy TaleImage: Paul Hey (1867 – 1952)

Then he asked what was the matter. „Oh dear me,“ said Else, „how can we help crying? If I marry Hans, and we have a child, and it grows big, and we send it here to draw beer, the pickaxe might fall on its head and kill it.“ – „Our Else is clever indeed!“ said the boy, and sitting down beside her, he began howling with a good will. Upstairs they were all waiting for him to come back, but as he did not come, the master said to the mistress, „You go down to the cellar and see what Else is doing.“

So the mistress went down and found all three in great lamentations, and when she asked the cause, then Else told her how the future possible child might be killed as soon as it was big enough to be sent to draw beer, by the pickaxe falling on it. Then the mother at once exclaimed, „Our Else is clever indeed!“ and, sitting down, she wept with the rest. Upstairs the husband waited a little while, but as his wife did not return, and as his thirst constantly increased, he said, „I must go down to the cellar myself, and see what has become of Else.“

And when he came into the cellar, and found them all sitting and weeping together, he was told that it was all owing to the child that Else might possibly have, and the possibility of its being killed by the pickaxe so happening to fall just at the time the child might be sitting underneath it drawing beer; and when he heard all this, he cried, „How clever is our Else!“ and sitting down, he joined his tears to theirs. The intended bridegroom stayed upstairs by himself a long time, but as nobody came back to him, he thought he would go himself and see what they were all about.

And there he found all five lamenting and crying most pitifully, each one louder than the other. „What misfortune has happened?“ cried he. „O my dear Hans,“ said Else, „if we marry and have a child, and it grows big, and we send it down here to draw beer, perhaps that pickaxe which has been left sticking up there might fall down on the child’s head and kill it. And how can we help crying at that!“ – „Now,“ said Hans, „I cannot think that greater sense than that could be wanted in my household. So as you are so clever, Else, I will have you for my wife,“ and taking her by the hand he led her upstairs, and they had the wedding at once.

A little while after they were married, Hans said to his wife, „I am going out to work, in order to get money. You go into the field and cut the corn, so that we may have bread.“ – „Very well, I will do so, dear Hans,“ said she. And after Hans was gone she cooked herself some nice stew, and took it with her into the field. And when she got there, she said to herself, „Now, what shall I do? shall I reap first, or eat first? All right, I will eat first.“ Then she ate her fill of stew, and when she could eat no more, she said to herself, „Now, what shall I do? shall I reap first, or sleep first? All right, I will sleep first.“

Then she lay down in the corn and went to sleep. And Hans got home, and waited there a long while, and Else did not come, so he said to himself, „My clever Else is so industrious that she never thinks of coming home and eating.“ But when evening drew near and still she did not come, Hans set out to see how much corn she had cut; but she had cut no corn at all, but there she was lying in it asleep. Then Hans made haste home, and fetched a bird-net with little bells and threw it over her; and still she went on sleeping.

And he ran home again and locked himself in, and sat him down on his bench to work. At last, when it was beginning to grow dark, Clever Else woke, and when she got up and shook herself, the bells jingled at each movement that she made. Then she grew frightened, and began to doubt whether she were really Clever Else or not, and said to herself, „Am I, or am I not?“ And, not knowing what answer to make, she stood for a long while considering. At last she thought, „I will go home to Hans and ask him if I am I or not. He is sure to know.“

So she ran up to the door of her house, but it was locked. Then she knocked at the window, and cried, „Hans, is Else within?“ – „Yes,“ answered Hans, „she is in.“ Then she was in a greater fright than ever, and crying, „Oh dear, then I am not I,“ she went to inquire at another door, but the people hearing the jingling of the bells would not open to her, and she could get in nowhere. So she ran away beyond the village, and since then no one has seen her.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „Clever Elsie“

„Clever Elsie,“ also known as „Clever Else“ or „Kluge Else,“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their renowned book „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ or „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ (Children’s and Household Tales). It first appeared in the 1815 edition, and the final version was published in 1857. The tale is designated as „KHM 34“ referring to its number in the collection.

The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, were German scholars and linguists who aimed to collect and preserve the rich oral tradition of German and European folklore. Their goal was to present an authentic representation of the stories that had been passed down through generations, offering moral guidance for children and fostering a sense of national identity. The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, were born in the late 18th century in Germany. They were part of the Romantic movement, which emphasized a return to folklore and national traditions as a response to the rationalism of the Enlightenment. Their goal was to preserve the oral storytelling tradition by collecting and publishing Germanic folklore. The tales they collected often came from various sources, including peasants, middle-class families, and other storytellers. The brothers would then transcribe, edit, and adapt the stories into written form.

„Clever Elsie“ is a humorous and somewhat nonsensical tale about a young woman named Elsie, who is considered clever by her parents. Hans comes to marry her, but only on the condition that she proves her cleverness. Throughout the story, Elsie demonstrates her peculiar thought process and actions, which eventually lead to a series of absurd misunderstandings and the dissolution of the marriage arrangement. The story has its roots in German and European folklore and is an example of a „noodle tale“ or „droll tale,“ a subgenre of folktales characterized by their humorous, absurd, or nonsensical nature. These tales often feature protagonists who engage in illogical or irrational behavior, leading to amusing or unexpected outcomes.

The Brothers Grimm collected their stories from various sources, including friends, acquaintances, and other literary works. It is likely that „Clever Elsie“ was derived from multiple sources, incorporating different oral traditions and existing tales. Although not as well-known or frequently adapted as some other Grimm fairy tales, „Clever Elsie“ provides a lighthearted and entertaining story that showcases the humorous side of folktales. „Clever Elsie“ is a lesser-known tale compared to other popular stories in the Grimms‘ collection, such as „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ and „Hansel and Gretel.“ The story’s primary focus is on irony, humor, and absurdity, showcasing the foolishness of the characters and offering a satirical perspective on intelligence and common sense. Although the story may not have a strong moral lesson like some other fairy tales, it serves as an entertaining reflection on human behavior and the potential consequences of overthinking and misplaced praise.

Interpretations to fairy tale „Clever Elsie“

„Clever Elsie“ is a humorous and absurd tale that offers several interpretations and themes that can be analyzed from different perspectives. Here are some of the most common interpretations found in the story:

Irony and Foolishness: The story is filled with irony, as Elsie and her family are considered „clever“ while their actions clearly demonstrate a lack of common sense and logic. This ironic portrayal serves as a critique of false wisdom and superficial intelligence.

Overthinking and Paralysis by Analysis: Elsie’s preoccupation with an imagined future problem (the pickaxe falling on her child’s head) leads to her inability to complete a simple task. This aspect of the story serves as a reminder that excessive worry and overthinking can lead to inaction and hinder productivity.

Consequences of Ignorance: The tale shows how ignorance can have severe consequences, as Elsie’s inability to recognize her own identity leads to her isolation from her community. This theme emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and understanding in everyday life.

The Danger of Superficial Praise: Elsie’s family members constantly praise her cleverness, even when her actions are unwise. This highlights the danger of superficial praise, which can lead to overconfidence and prevent individuals from recognizing their own flaws or learning from their mistakes.

Absurdity and Humor: The story contains elements of absurdity and humor, such as the whole family crying over a hypothetical scenario, Elsie’s inability to recognize herself, and her ultimate decision to run away from the village. This aspect of the tale serves to entertain readers and emphasize the ridiculous nature of the characters‘ actions. „Clever Elsie“ is a prime example of a „noodle tale“ or „droll tale,“ characterized by its humorous, absurd, or nonsensical nature. The story’s appeal lies in its ridiculous situations and the characters‘ illogical actions, making it an entertaining and amusing read.

Misunderstanding and miscommunication: The tale highlights the consequences of misunderstanding and miscommunication, as Elsie’s peculiar thought process and actions lead to a series of absurd misunderstandings. This can be seen as a reflection of the complexities of human communication and the importance of clear thinking and effective communication.

Critique of societal expectations: The story can be interpreted as a critique of societal expectations and the notion of „cleverness.“ Elsie is considered clever by her parents, but her actions demonstrate a different kind of cleverness than what is traditionally expected. The tale challenges the notion of intelligence and encourages readers to question societal norms and expectations.

Feminine agency and autonomy: Although Elsie’s actions are irrational and nonsensical, they ultimately lead to the dissolution of the marriage arrangement. This can be seen as an expression of feminine agency and autonomy, with Elsie inadvertently escaping the confines of a traditional marriage.

The power of storytelling: As with many other Grimm fairy tales, „Clever Elsie“ demonstrates the power of storytelling and the enduring appeal of folktales. The story’s blend of humor, absurdity, and critique of societal expectations has made it a popular and enduring tale in the Brothers Grimm collection.

In summary, „Clever Elsie“ offers a rich array of interpretations and themes that can be explored from various angles. The story’s humorous and absurd nature, along with its subtle critique of societal norms and expectations, has made it an intriguing and entertaining tale in the Brothers Grimm collection.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „Clever Elsie“

„Clever Elsie“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, who were renowned folklorists, linguists, and cultural researchers in the 19th century. The tale is included in their famous collection „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ (originally titled „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“), which was first published in 1812. The collection contains over 200 stories that have since become classic fairy tales known worldwide. While „Clever Elsie“ might not be as famous or frequently adapted as some other Grimm fairy tales, it has still inspired several adaptations and retellings over the years. Here are a few examples:

Children’s literature: Numerous illustrated children’s books have retold „Clever Elsie,“ often simplifying the story or emphasizing its humorous aspects to appeal to young readers. These retellings can be found in various fairy tale collections or as standalone picture books, allowing children to engage with the story in an accessible format. The story has been adapted into children’s books, including „Clever Elsie“ by Vivian French and Angela Barrett.

Literature: Several authors have adapted the story into novels and short stories, including Angela Carter’s „The Bloody Chamber“ and Emma Donoghue’s „Kissing the Witch.“

Theater: Local and regional theater groups have adapted „Clever Elsie“ into stage plays, sometimes combining the story with other Grimm fairy tales to create a unique theatrical experience. For instance, the story has been performed as part of a compilation of Brothers Grimm stories in theatrical productions like „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ or „The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon.“ The story has been adapted for the stage, including an opera version by the composer Wolfgang Fortner.

Puppet shows: Puppet shows have been used to bring „Clever Elsie“ to life, particularly for children’s audiences. These shows often emphasize the story’s humor and whimsy, making it appealing to a younger audience.

Films: The story has been adapted into several films, including „Clever Elsie“ (1929) and „The Story of Little Hansi“ (1956)

Educational materials: „Clever Elsie“ has also been used as a basis for educational materials, such as lesson plans and teaching resources. Teachers may use the story to explore themes like humor, absurdity, and societal expectations, as well as to introduce students to the Brothers Grimm and the broader tradition of European folklore.

Parodies: The story has been parodied in various forms, including „Stupid Elsie“ by Hans Christian Andersen and a segment in the television show „The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show“ called „Fractured Fairy Tales: The Clever Princess.“

Although „Clever Elsie“ may not have the same level of recognition as some other Grimm fairy tales, its enduring appeal and adaptability have led to various retellings and adaptations over the years, introducing new generations to the humorous and absurd tale. These adaptations often update the story to suit contemporary audiences, but the central themes of the story remain intact. The story continues to be a popular source of inspiration for writers and artists alike.

Summary of the plot

„Clever Elsie“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm about a girl named Elsie who is considered clever by her family. When a man named Hans proposes to her, he agrees to marry her if she can prove to be careful as well. One day, Elsie’s mother sends her to the cellar to fetch some beer. Elsie sees a pickaxe left by workmen in the ceiling and starts crying, imagining a hypothetical scenario in which the pickaxe falls on her future child’s head, killing it. Soon, her family members come to the cellar one by one and join her in crying over this imagined misfortune.

Eventually, Hans comes down to the cellar and finds the entire family weeping. When Elsie explains the reason for their distress, he declares her cleverness and decides to marry her immediately. After their wedding, Hans goes to work and asks Elsie to cut the corn in the field. Elsie cooks herself a stew and brings it to the field, where she eats, then decides to sleep instead of reaping the corn.

Hans returns to find Elsie asleep in the field, covers her with a bird-net with little bells, and goes back home, locking the door. When Elsie wakes up and hears the bells jingling, she becomes confused and doubts her identity. She goes home to ask Hans if she is indeed Clever Elsie, but he replies that she is already inside. Elsie, now more confused and frightened, seeks help from others, but they refuse to let her in due to the jingling bells. Ultimately, she runs away from the village, never to be seen again.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 34
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 1450
Translations DE, EN, DA, ES, FR, PT, FI, HU, IT, JA, NL, PL, RO, RU, TR, VI, ZH,
Readability Index by Björnsson28.9
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index82.9
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level6.8
Gunning Fog Index9.5
Coleman–Liau Index6.6
SMOG Index7.7
Automated Readability Index6.9
Character Count7.016
Letter Count5.280
Sentence Count67
Word Count1.385
Average Words per Sentence20,67
Words with more than 6 letters114
Percentage of long words8.2%
Number of Syllables1.685
Average Syllables per Word1,22
Words with three Syllables41
Percentage Words with three Syllables3%
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