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Death and the Goose Herder
Grimm Märchen

Death and the Goose Herder - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 2 min

A poor herder went along the shore of a large and stormy water, herding many white geese. To this on came Death over water, and was asked by the herder, whence he came from, and whence he wanted to go? Death answered, that he came out of the water and wanted to go out of the world. The poor gooseherder asked futher: how does one go forth out of the world?

Death said, that one had to go over the water into the new world, which lies beyond. The herder said, that he tired of this life, and asked Death, he should take him over with him. Death said, that it was not yet time, and he had now otherwise to do. But there was unfar from there a greedy-neck, he by night thought in his lair, how he could bring even more money and goods together, this one Death led the to the great water and pushed him in.

Because he could no swim, he drowned to bottom, before he could reach the shore. His dogs and cats, who so ran after him, also drowned with him. Several days after that Death came also to the goose herder, found him singing merrily and said to him: „Will you now go with me?“ He was willing and came with his white geese well over, which were all transformed into white sheep.

The goose herder looked upon the beautiful land and heard, that the herders of the places became kings, and as he rightly looked about him, the chief herders Abraham, Isaac and Jacob came towards him, placed a kingly crown upon him, and led him to the herder’s palace, there he is still to be found.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „Death and the Goose Herder“

„Death and the Goose Herder“ is a lesser-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, in their famous anthology „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ (Children’s and Household Tales). The Brothers Grimm were German academics, linguists, cultural researchers, and authors who collected and published folklore during the early 19th century. Their work was part of a larger movement called Romanticism, which sought to revive traditional storytelling and celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Europe, particularly Germany.

The Brothers Grimm collected tales from various sources, including oral traditions, written manuscripts, and the works of other collectors. Their stories often contained elements of magic, morality, and wisdom, and they were intended for both children and adults. While „Death and the Goose Herder“ may not be as popular as other Grimm fairy tales like „Cinderella“ or „Snow White,“ it still carries important themes and messages.

The setting and characters in „Death and the Goose Herder“ are reminiscent of the rural German countryside, where the Brothers Grimm sourced many of their stories. The tale likely reflects the values and beliefs of the people living during that time, such as the importance of simplicity, contentment, and the inevitability of death. The figure of Death in the story is a personification of the natural force that eventually claims all lives. Personifications of Death have appeared in many cultures and folk traditions throughout history, often taking on different appearances and roles depending on the context. In this story, Death is neither malevolent nor benevolent but serves as a guide for the characters, leading them to their ultimate fates.

Interpretations to fairy tale „Death and the Goose Herder“

„Death and the Goose Herder“ can be interpreted in several ways, with themes such as the value of simplicity, the consequences of greed, and the inevitability of death.

Simplicity and contentment: The goose herder is a simple man who finds joy in tending to his flock. Despite his humble life, he is content with what he has, which contrasts sharply with the greedy man’s insatiable desire for more wealth. This theme highlights the importance of appreciating the simple things in life and finding contentment in one’s circumstances.

Consequences of greed: The story showcases the negative consequences of greed through the fate of the wealthy man who drowns, along with his dogs and cats. His obsession with accumulating more wealth ultimately leads to his demise, illustrating the dangers of prioritizing material possessions over more meaningful aspects of life.

Inevitability of death: The encounter between the goose herder and Death serves as a reminder that death is an inevitable part of life. The herder’s willingness to accompany Death when the time is right signifies his acceptance of this truth. The transformation of the geese into white sheep and the herder’s ascension to kingship in the new world can be seen as a metaphor for the afterlife, emphasizing the belief in a better existence beyond this world.

Spiritual transformation: The tale can also be interpreted as an allegory of spiritual transformation, with the herder’s journey symbolizing a path to enlightenment. As he crosses the water with his flock, they transform into white sheep, which can be seen as a symbol of purity and innocence. The herder’s eventual crowning as a king in the new world signifies his spiritual growth and the rewards that come with embracing a life of simplicity, contentment, and virtue.

Summary of the plot

„Death and the Goose Herder“ is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale that tells the story of a poor herder who tends to his flock of white geese along the shore of a large, stormy body of water. One day, he encounters Death, who emerges from the water and reveals his intention to leave the world. Curious, the herder asks Death how one can exit the world, and Death explains that one must cross the water to the new world beyond.

Expressing his weariness of life, the herder asks Death to take him along. Death declines, stating it’s not yet time, and that he has other tasks to attend to. Soon after, Death encounters a greedy man, preoccupied with accumulating more wealth. Death leads this man to the water, pushing him in. The man, unable to swim, drowns along with his dogs and cats who had followed him.

Several days later, Death returns to the goose herder, who is singing happily. Death asks if he’s now ready to go, and the herder agrees. As they cross the water, the geese transform into white sheep. Upon reaching the beautiful new land, the herder learns that the herders there become kings. He is greeted by chief herders Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who place a kingly crown upon his head and lead him to the herder’s palace, where he remains to this day.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
Readability Index by Björnsson29.4
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index79.2
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level7.7
Gunning Fog Index9.7
Coleman–Liau Index7.7
SMOG Index7.5
Automated Readability Index8.4
Character Count1.496
Letter Count1.148
Sentence Count13
Word Count287
Average Words per Sentence22,08
Words with more than 6 letters21
Percentage of long words7.3%
Number of Syllables357
Average Syllables per Word1,24
Words with three Syllables7
Percentage Words with three Syllables2.4%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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