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Clever Gretel
Grimm Märchen

Clever Gretel - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 8 min

There was once a cook named Grethel, who wore shoes with red rosettes, and when she walked out with them on, she turned herself this way and that, and thought, „You certainly are a pretty girl!“ And when she came home she drank, in her gladness of heart, a draught of wine, and as wine excites a desire to eat, she tasted the best of whatever she was cooking until she was satisfied, and said, „The cook must know what the food is like.“

It came to pass that the master one day said to her, „Grethel, there is a guest coming this evening; prepare me two fowls very daintily.“ – „I will see to it, master,“ answered Grethel. She killed two fowls, scalded them, plucked them, put them on the spit, and towards evening set them before the fire, that they might roast. The fowls began to turn brown, and were nearly ready, but the guest had not yet arrived. Then Grethel called out to her master, „If the guest does not come, I must take the fowls away from the fire, but it will be a sin and a shame if they are not eaten directly, when they are juiciest.“ The master said, „I will run myself, and fetch the guest.“ When the master had turned his back, Grethel laid the spit with the fowls on one side, and thought, „Standing so long by the fire there, makes one hot and thirsty; who knows when they will come? Meanwhile, I will run into the cellar, and take a drink.“ She ran down, set a jug, said, „God bless it to thy use, Grethel,“ and took a good drink, and took yet another hearty draught.

Then she went and put the fowls down again to the fire, basted them, and drove the spit merrily round. But as the roast meat smelt so good, Grethel thought, „Something might be wrong, it ought to be tasted!“ She touched it with her finger, and said, „Ah! how good fowls are! It certainly is a sin and a shame that they are not eaten directly!“ She ran to the window, to see if the master was not coming with his guest, but she saw no one, and went back to the fowls and thought, „One of the wings is burning! I had better take it off and eat it.“ So she cut it off, ate it, and enjoyed it, and when she had done, she thought, „the other must go down too, or else master will observe that something is missing.“ When the two wings were eaten, she went and looked for her master, and did not see him. It suddenly occurred to her, „Who knows? They are perhaps not coming at all, and have turned in somewhere.“ Then she said, „Hallo, Grethel, enjoy yourself, one fowl has been cut into, take another drink, and eat it up entirely. When it is eaten you will have some peace, why should God’s good gifts be spoilt?“ So she ran into the cellar again, took an enormous drink and ate up the one chicken in great glee. When one of the chickens was swallowed down, and still her master did not come, Grethel looked at the other and said, „Where one is, the other should be likewise, the two go together; what’s right for the one is right for the other. I think if I were to take another draught it would do me no harm.“ So she took another hearty drink, and let the second chicken rejoin the first.

While she was just in the best of the eating, her master came and cried, hurry up, „Haste thee, Grethel, the guest is coming directly after me!“ – „Yes, sir, I will soon serve up,“ answered Grethel. Meantime the master looked to see that the table was properly laid, and took the great knife, wherewith he was going to carve the chickens, and sharpened it on the steps. Presently the guest came, and knocked politely and courteously at the house-door. Grethel ran, and looked to see who was there, and when she saw the guest, she put her finger to her lips and said, „Hush! hush! get away as quickly as you can, if my master catches you it will be the worse for you. He certainly did ask you to supper, but his intention is to cut off your two ears. Just listen how he is sharpening the knife for it!“ The guest heard the sharpening, and hurried down the steps again as fast as he could. Grethel was not idle. She ran screaming to her master, and cried, „You have invited a fine guest!“ – „Eh, why, Grethel? What do you mean by that?“ – „Yes,“ said she, „he has taken the chickens which I was just going to serve up, off the dish, and has run away with them!“ – „That’s a nice trick!“ said her master, and lamented the fine chickens. „If he had but left me one, so that something remained for me to eat.“ He called to him to stop, but the guest pretended not to hear. Then he ran after him with the knife still in his hand, crying, „Just one, just one,“ meaning that the guest should leave him just one chicken, and not take both. The guest, however, thought no otherwise than that he was to give up one of his ears, and ran as if fire were burning under him, in order to take them both home with him.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „Clever Gretel“

„Clever Gretel“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the collection of German folktales compiled by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, known as the Brothers Grimm. Their first volume of stories, titled „Children’s and Household Tales“ (Kinder- und Hausmärchen), was published in 1812, followed by several revised and expanded editions.

The fairy tale itself is a short, humorous story about a clever and cunning cook named Grethel. The story centers around her quick wit and ability to outsmart her master and a guest using her cunning and appetite as her primary tools.

While many of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales have deep historical and cultural roots, the origins of „Clever Gretel“ are relatively obscure. The tale likely draws from various European oral storytelling traditions, which the Brothers Grimm sought to preserve through their work.

In the early 19th century, when the Grimm Brothers were collecting and compiling these stories, Germany was undergoing a period of nationalism and cultural revival. This movement led to a strong interest in preserving and promoting traditional German folktales and stories. The Brothers Grimm were heavily influenced by this movement and aimed to create a comprehensive collection of these stories for future generations.

Although „Clever Gretel“ may not be as well-known as some other Grimm fairy tales, such as „Cinderella,“ „Hansel and Gretel,“ or „Snow White,“ it shares common themes with these stories. Like many other Grimm tales, „Clever Gretel“ showcases the protagonist’s intelligence and resourcefulness, which allows them to triumph over adversity. Additionally, the story contains elements of humor and exaggeration, making it a lighthearted and entertaining read.

Interpretations to fairy tale „Clever Gretel“

„Clever Gretel“ is a short and entertaining fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm that features a resourceful and cunning protagonist. Like other fairy tales, it can be interpreted in various ways, offering insights into human nature, morality, and social values. Here are some possible interpretations of „Clever Gretel“:

The value of wit and resourcefulness: Grethel’s cleverness is the main focus of the story. By using her wits and resourcefulness, she is able to manipulate her master and his guest and ultimately obtain what she desires. This theme is common in many fairy tales, emphasizing the importance of intelligence and quick thinking in overcoming challenges and achieving personal goals.

Feminine empowerment: Grethel is a female protagonist who demonstrates her wit and cunning, outsmarting both her master and his guest. In a time when women were often relegated to subordinate roles, this story can be seen as a subtle statement of female empowerment and a challenge to traditional gender roles.

Trickster archetype: Grethel embodies the trickster archetype, a common figure in folklore worldwide. Tricksters are known for their cunning, mischief, and ability to deceive others for their personal gain. Grethel’s actions in the story exemplify this archetype, as she uses her wits to deceive both her master and his guest.

The role of humor and exaggeration: „Clever Gretel“ is a lighthearted and humorous story. The exaggerated events and Grethel’s cunning antics contribute to the overall comedic tone of the tale. This serves as a reminder that not all fairy tales are meant to be taken seriously, and that humor can be an important tool for teaching and entertaining.

The importance of satisfying basic needs: Grethel’s primary motivation in the story is to satisfy her hunger. This can be interpreted as a reflection of the importance of fulfilling basic human needs and desires. The story suggests that even the most cunning and resourceful individuals are ultimately driven by fundamental human instincts.

The consequences of greed: While Grethel’s actions are amusing and showcase her intelligence, they also reveal her greedy nature. This could be interpreted as a cautionary message about the potential negative consequences of excessive greed and the importance of balancing personal desires with moral considerations.

These interpretations offer various ways to understand and appreciate the depth and complexity of „Clever Gretel“ and demonstrate the richness of the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „Clever Gretel“

While „Clever Gretel“ may not be as well-known or frequently adapted as some of the other Grimm fairy tales, there have been some adaptations of the story in various forms. Here are a few examples:

Children’s literature: „Clever Gretel“ has been retold and adapted in various children’s books and anthologies of Grimm’s fairy tales. These adaptations often maintain the basic plot structure but may simplify or modernize the language for young readers. One example is „Clever Gretchen and Other Forgotten Folktales“ by Alison Lurie, which retells stories with strong female protagonists, including „Clever Gretel.“

Theater: Some theater companies have adapted „Clever Gretel“ into short plays or included it as part of a larger production featuring multiple Grimm fairy tales. For instance, the Missoula Children’s Theater, known for their adaptations of classic tales, has a production called „Gretel and the Gremlin,“ which combines elements of „Clever Gretel“ with other stories.

Animation: „Clever Gretel“ has been adapted into animated shorts, such as „Sez Les – Clever Gretel,“ a British animated comedy sketch from the 1970s. This adaptation adds humor and exaggeration to the original story, making it more appealing to a wider audience.

Storytelling and oral performances: „Clever Gretel“ has been adapted and performed by storytellers at festivals, schools, and other events. These oral performances can bring the tale to life through engaging narrative styles, facial expressions, and vocal techniques.

While there may not be as many adaptations of „Clever Gretel“ as some other Grimm fairy tales, the story’s themes of cunning and resourcefulness have made it an appealing tale for audiences of all ages. As a result, it continues to be retold and reimagined in various forms, helping to keep the story alive and relevant for contemporary audiences.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „Clever Gretel“

There have been several adaptations of the fairy tale „Clever Gretel“ from Brothers Grimm, both in literature and other media. Here are a few examples:

„Clever Gretel“ (1920): This is a silent short film directed by Hans Steinhoff, which is an adaptation of the Brothers Grimm’s tale. The film is a comedic interpretation of the story and follows the misadventures of a servant girl named Gretel who tries to cook a meal for her master’s guests.

„Clever Gretel“ (1934): This is an animated short film produced by Walt Disney Productions, which is an adaptation of the Brothers Grimm’s tale. The film features the character of Gretel and her attempts to cook a meal for her master’s guests, but with the addition of Disney’s trademark humor and charm.

„The Clever One“ (1956): This is a play by Elizabeth Hutter that is based on the Brothers Grimm’s tale. The play explores the themes of class struggle and power dynamics between the wealthy and the working class, which are central to the original story.

„Clever Gretchen and the Shoemaker“ (1993): This is a children’s book by Tracy Kane that is loosely based on the Brothers Grimm’s tale. The book features a protagonist named Gretchen who is a shoemaker and uses her intelligence and creativity to solve problems.

„The Clever Gretel“ (2015): This is a novel by Eliza Granville that is a reimagining of the Brothers Grimm’s tale. The novel features a protagonist named Gretel who is a young girl living in 18th-century Germany and is sold into servitude. The novel explores themes of gender roles and class struggle, as well as the power of storytelling and folklore.

Overall, „Clever Gretel“ has inspired numerous adaptations and reimaginings over the years, each interpreting the original tale in its unique way.

Summary of the plot

„Clever Gretel“ is a short and humorous fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection that tells the story of a witty and cunning cook named Grethel. She works for a master who plans to have a guest over for dinner. Grethel’s master instructs her to prepare two chickens for the meal.

While preparing the chickens, Grethel becomes hungry and succumbs to temptation, eating one of the chickens herself. Realizing that her master will notice one chicken missing, Grethel comes up with a plan to avoid getting caught. When the guest arrives, she tells him that her master has a secret way of signaling whether he should stay or leave: if he sticks out his leg, it means he should stay, but if he sticks out his thumb, it means he should leave.

Grethel then goes to her master and tells him that the guest has a secret signal to indicate whether he wants more food: if the guest sticks out his leg, it means he wants more, but if he sticks out his thumb, it means he has had enough. As they sit down to dinner, Grethel intentionally places the remaining chicken in front of the guest, causing both her master and the guest to repeatedly stick out their legs, thinking they are signaling each other.

In the confusion, Grethel quickly eats the other chicken, leaving nothing for her master and his guest. Eventually, the two men become suspicious and realize they have been tricked. However, by this point, Grethel has already eaten both chickens and outsmarted them both. The story ends with Grethel’s cleverness and appetite winning the day, leaving her master and the guest to marvel at her cunning.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „Clever Gretel“

„Clever Gretel“ is a lesser-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who were German academics, linguists, and authors. They are best known for their collection of folk tales and fairy tales, titled „Children’s and Household Tales“ (also known as „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“), which was first published in 1812. The collection contains some of the most famous fairy tales, such as „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ „Rapunzel,“ and „Hansel and Gretel.“

The Brothers Grimm aimed to preserve the oral tradition of German folklore, which they believed was essential to understanding the culture and history of the German people. They collected stories from various sources, including friends, family members, and other storytellers, and sought to maintain the authenticity of the original tales. However, they also made edits and adaptations to the stories to make them more suitable for children and families.

„Clever Gretel,“ like many other Grimm fairy tales, has roots in European folk tradition, and similar stories can be found in the oral tradition of other countries. The tale explores themes such as cunning, deception, and the consequences of greed and self-indulgence, which are common in folklore.

As with many fairy tales, „Clever Gretel“ has been passed down through generations, both orally and in written form. Over the years, various adaptations and retellings have emerged, each offering its unique interpretation of the story and its characters. The tale is not as widely known as some of the more famous Grimm fairy tales, but it still provides a valuable insight into the themes and motifs that were prevalent in European folk literature.

Interpretations to fairy tale „Clever Gretel“

„Clever Gretel“ can be interpreted in several ways, exploring themes such as cunning, opportunism, and the consequences of deceit.

Greed and self-indulgence: The story highlights the consequences of greed and self-indulgence through Grethel’s actions. She cannot resist the temptation to eat the fowls and drink the wine, prioritizing her own satisfaction over her duties. Although she manages to avoid direct consequences, her actions create chaos and confusion for her master and the guest.

Cunning and deception: Grethel’s quick thinking and ability to deceive others is a central theme in the story. She uses her wit and cunning to cover up her misdeeds, misleading both her master and the guest. This can serve as a cautionary tale, warning readers about the dangers of dishonesty and the people who use it for their own benefit.

Miscommunication and misunderstandings: The story also explores the consequences of miscommunication and misunderstandings. The guest’s misinterpretation of the master’s request leads him to believe he is in danger, causing him to flee. This highlights the importance of clear communication and the potential consequences of misunderstandings.

The trickster archetype: Grethel can be seen as a trickster figure, a common character in folklore who uses their wit and cunning to outsmart others. Tricksters often challenge the status quo and reveal the flaws in society, but their actions can also lead to negative consequences. In this case, Grethel’s deception results in chaos and confusion, but her actions go unpunished.

Social critique: The story can also be seen as a critique of social norms and expectations. Grethel, a woman in a subservient position, is able to manipulate the situation to her advantage, subverting the power dynamics between herself, her master, and the guest. This interpretation suggests that societal expectations can be challenged and that those who are deemed powerless can still find ways to assert their agency.

Summary of the plot

„Clever Gretel“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm about a cunning and opportunistic cook named Grethel. Grethel, who is quite pleased with her appearance, takes pleasure in eating and drinking. One day, her master asks her to prepare two fowls for a guest coming that evening. Grethel prepares the fowls and roasts them, but the guest is late in arriving. She grows impatient and decides to drink some wine from the cellar.

After drinking, Grethel returns to the fowls and decides to taste them, thinking it would be a shame if they were not eaten at their peak. As she is eating one of the wings, she sees that her master is still not back with the guest. Grethel, thinking they might not come at all, decides to eat both fowls and drink more wine.

When her master returns with the guest, Grethel panics and comes up with a plan to cover her actions. She warns the guest that her master plans to cut off his ears, convincing him to flee. She then tells her master that the guest stole the fowls and ran away. Her master, still holding the sharpening knife, chases after the guest, demanding just one chicken back. The guest, however, misinterprets this as a request for one ear and runs even faster to escape. In the end, Grethel manages to avoid the consequences of her actions, leaving her master and guest none the wiser.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 77
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 1741
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson30
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index84.3
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level6.2
Gunning Fog Index9.2
Coleman–Liau Index7.4
SMOG Index8.4
Automated Readability Index6.6
Character Count4.797
Letter Count3.634
Sentence Count49
Word Count920
Average Words per Sentence18,78
Words with more than 6 letters103
Percentage of long words11.2%
Number of Syllables1.125
Average Syllables per Word1,22
Words with three Syllables40
Percentage Words with three Syllables4.3%
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