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The Clever Little Tailor
Grimm Märchen

The Clever Little Tailor - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 9 min

There was once on a time a princess who was extremely proud. If a wooer came she gave him some riddle to guess, and if he could not find it out, he was sent contemptuously away. She let it be made known also that whosoever solved her riddle should marry her, let him be who he might. At length, therefore, three tailors fell in with each other, the two eldest of whom thought they had done so many dexterous bits of work successfully that they could not fail to succeed in this also.

The third was a little useless land-louper, who did not even know his trade, but thought he must have some luck in this venture, for where else was it to come from? Then the two others said to him, „Just stay at home; thou canst not do much with thy little bit of understanding.“ The little tailor, however, did not let himself be discouraged, and said he had set his head to work about this for once, and he would manage well enough, and he went forth as if the whole world were his.

The Clever Little Tailor

They all three announced themselves to the princess, and said she was to propound her riddle to them, and that the right persons were now come, who had understandings so fine that they could be threaded in a needle. Then said the princess, „I have two kinds of hair on my head, of what color is it?“ – „If that be all,“ said the first, „it must be black and white, like the cloth which is called pepper and salt.“ The princess said, „Wrongly guessed; let the second answer.“ Then said the second, „If it be not black and white, then it is brown and red, like my father’s company coat.“

„Wrongly guessed,“ said the princess, „let the third give the answer, for I see very well he knows it for certain.“ Then the little tailor stepped boldly forth and said, „The princess has a silver and a golden hair on her head, and those are the two different colors.“ When the princess heard that, she turned pale and nearly fell down with terror, for the little tailor had guessed her riddle, and she had firmly believed that no man on earth could discover it.

When her courage returned she said, „Thou hast not won me yet by that. There is still something else that thou must do. Below, in the stable is a bear with which thou shalt pass the night, and when I get up in the morning if thou art still alive, thou shalt marry me.“ She expected, however, she should thus get rid of the tailor, for the bear had never yet left any one alive who had fallen into his clutches. The little tailor did not let himself be frightened away, but was quite delighted, and said, „Boldly ventured is half won.“

When therefore the evening came, our little tailor was taken down to the bear. The bear was about to set at the little fellow at once, and give him a hearty welcome with his paws: „Softly, softly,“ said the little tailor, „I will soon make thee quiet.“ Then quite composedly, and as if he had not an anxiety in the world, he took some nuts out of his pocket, cracked them, and ate the kernels. When the bear saw that, he was seized with a desire to have some nuts too. The tailor felt in his pockets, and reached him a handful. They were, however, not nuts, but pebbles. The bear put them in his mouth, but could get nothing out of them, let him bite as he would.

„Eh!“ thought he, „what a stupid blockhead I am! I cannot even crack a nut!“ and then he said to the tailor, „Here, crack me the nuts.“ – „There, see what a stupid fellow thou art!“ said the little tailor, „to have such a great mouth, and not be able to crack a small nut!“ Then he took the pebble and nimbly put a nut in his mouth in the place of it, and crack, it was in two! „I must try the thing again,“ said the bear; „when I watch you, I then think I ought to be able to do it too.“

So the tailor once more gave him a pebble, and the bear tried and tried to bite into it with all the strength of his body. But no one will imagine that he accomplished it. When that was over, the tailor took out a violin from beneath his coat, and played a piece of it to himself. When the bear heard the music, he could not help beginning to dance, and when he had danced a while, the thing pleased him so well that he said to the little tailor, „Hark you, is the fiddle heavy?“ – „Light enough for a child. Look, with the left hand I lay my fingers on it, and with the right I stroke it with the bow, and then it goes merrily, hop sa sa vivallalera!“

„So,“ said the bear; „fiddling is a thing I should like to understand too, that I might dance whenever I had a fancy. What dost thou think of that? „Wilt thou give me lessons?“ – „With all my heart,“ said the tailor, „if thou hast a talent for it. But just let me see thy claws, they are terribly long, I must cut thy nails a little.“ Then a vise was brought, and the bear put his claws in it, and the little tailor screwed it tight, and said, „Now wait until I come with the scissors,“ and he let the bear growl as he liked, and lay down in the corner on a bundle of straw, and fell asleep.

When the princess heard the bear growling so fiercely during the night, she believed nothing else but that he was growling for joy, and had made an end of the tailor. In the morning she arose careless and happy, but when she peeped into the stable, the tailor stood gaily before her, and was as healthy as a fish in water. Now she could not say another word against the wedding because she had given a promise before every one, and the King ordered a carriage to be brought in which she was to drive to church with the tailor, and there she was to be married.

When they had got into the carriage, the two other tailors, who had false hearts and envied him his good fortune, went into the stable and unscrewed the bear again. The bear in great fury ran after the carriage. The princess heard him snorting and growling. She was terrified, and she cried, „Ah, the bear is behind us and wants to get thee!“ The tailor was quick and stood on his head, stuck his legs out of the window, and cried, „Dost thou see the vise? If thou dost not be off thou shalt be put into it again.“ When the bear saw that, he turned round and ran away. The tailor drove quietly to church, and the princess was married to him at once, and he lived with her as happy as a woodlark. Whosoever does not believe this, must pay a thaler.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Clever Little Tailor“

„The Clever Little Tailor“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, in their famous compilation „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ (originally titled „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ or „Children’s and Household Tales“), which was first published in 1812. The Brothers Grimm were German academics, linguists, and cultural researchers who are known for their work in collecting and publishing numerous folklore and fairy tales. Their work has had a significant impact on the preservation and popularization of European folklore.

The fairy tale itself belongs to the Aarne-Thompson-Uther (ATU) classification system as type 850: This tale type involves a clever protagonist who, through intelligence and resourcefulness, manages to overcome challenges and adversaries, often involving riddles or tasks that require quick thinking. „The Clever Little Tailor“ is an excellent example of this type of story, highlighting the importance of wit and determination in overcoming obstacles and achieving one’s goals.

Similar tales can be found in various cultures across Europe and other parts of the world, showing that stories about clever individuals using their wits to succeed are universally appealing and relatable. The Brothers Grimm collection, which includes this tale, has been translated into numerous languages and has had a significant influence on the development of Western literature and popular culture.

Like many other stories from the Brothers Grimm, „The Clever Little Tailor“ has its roots in oral storytelling traditions and likely evolved over time as it was passed down through generations. The tale belongs to the European folk and fairy tale tradition, sharing common themes such as cunning protagonists, tests of wit and bravery, and the triumph of the underdog.

The Brothers Grimm collected their tales from various sources, including friends, acquaintances, and published works. Their goal was to preserve the rich oral traditions of German folklore, and their collection has become an important cultural touchstone, not only for Germany but for the understanding of European folk and fairy tales as well. „The Clever Little Tailor“ is a prime example of the themes and motifs that define the fairy tale genre and continue to capture the imaginations of readers and listeners.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Clever Little Tailor“

„The Clever Little Tailor“ offers several interpretations and themes that can be taken from the story:

Intelligence and resourcefulness: The little tailor is not the strongest or most experienced of the three tailors, but he uses his wit and resourcefulness to outsmart both the princess and the bear. This theme emphasizes the importance of intelligence and quick thinking over brute strength or physical prowess.

Overcoming obstacles and adversity: The little tailor faces numerous challenges, including the princess’s riddle, the dangerous bear, and the jealousy of the other tailors. Despite these challenges, he remains persistent and optimistic, ultimately achieving success and happiness. This theme encourages perseverance in the face of adversity.

The danger of pride and arrogance: The princess is initially portrayed as extremely proud and confident in her belief that no one will be able to solve her riddle. However, her pride leads to her downfall, as she underestimates the little tailor’s intelligence. This theme serves as a warning against arrogance and the importance of humility.

The importance of keeping promises: The princess is forced to marry the little tailor because she publicly promised to marry whoever solved her riddle. This theme highlights the significance of keeping one’s word and the consequences of breaking promises.

The power of teamwork and cooperation: The little tailor’s success is partly due to his ability to form an alliance with the bear, teaching him to appreciate music and offering to help him learn to play the violin. This theme emphasizes the value of working together and forming partnerships to achieve common goals.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Clever Little Tailor“

„The Clever Little Tailor,“ also known as „The Valiant Little Tailor“ or „Seven at One Blow,“ has inspired several adaptations across various mediums. Here are some specific examples:

Films: „The Brave Little Tailor“ (1938): This animated short film by Walt Disney features Mickey Mouse as the protagonist, who is a tailor in this adaptation. The plot remains largely true to the original story, with Mickey using his wits to overcome challenges and win the hand of Minnie Mouse, who is a princess in this version. „The Brave Little Tailor“ (1938): This is an animated short film produced by Walt Disney Productions, based on the original tale. It features Mickey Mouse as the tailor and is considered one of the classic Disney cartoons. „The Valiant Little Tailor“ (1973): This is a Soviet animated film directed by Leonid Amalrik, based on the original tale. The film won several awards and was praised for its unique animation style. „Into the Woods“ (2014): This is a musical film based on several fairy tales, including „The Clever Little Tailor.“ It features Johnny Depp as the wolf and Meryl Streep as the witch and has been praised for its creative interpretation of classic tales.

TV Adaptations: „The Valiant Little Tailor“ (1989): An episode of the live-action TV series „Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics“ retells the story of the clever little tailor. The series is a Japanese-German co-production, which aired in the late 1980s, providing a faithful adaptation of the Brothers Grimm tale. „The Gallant Tailor“ (1980): This is a British television film adaptation of the tale, starring Jim Dale as the tailor. It was aired as part of the „Faerie Tale Theater“ series and was praised for its humor and wit.

Children’s Book: „The Valiant Little Tailor“ by Anne McKie, illustrated by Ken McKie (1986): This illustrated children’s book retells the story in a simplified and accessible format, making it engaging for younger readers. The book stays true to the original story, focusing on the tailor’s cunning and resourcefulness. „The Tale of the Wise Little Tailor“ (2012): This is a novel by Cynthia Voigt that reimagines the original tale in a medieval setting. The book has been praised for its vivid characters and engaging storytelling.

Stage Adaptations: „The Valiant Little Tailor“ by Mike Kenny (1998): This stage play, intended for children and family audiences, adapts the story for live theater, incorporating elements of comedy, music, and physical theater. The play emphasizes the themes of wit, bravery, and the triumph of the underdog.

Audio Adaptations: „The Valiant Little Tailor“ (2011): A radio drama adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, part of the BBC Radio 4 series „Grimm Tales.“ The adaptation retains the original story’s themes of cunning and resourcefulness while translating the tale into an engaging audio format.

These are just a few examples of the many adaptations of „The Clever Little Tailor“ that have been created over the years. The story’s enduring popularity and timeless themes continue to inspire new interpretations and adaptations. These adaptations showcase the enduring appeal and relevance of „The Clever Little Tailor.“ The story’s themes of wit, resourcefulness, and the triumph of the underdog continue to resonate with audiences across different mediums, making it a classic fairy tale that remains popular to this day.

Summary of the plot

„The Clever Little Tailor“ is a fairy tale by Brothers Grimm about a proud princess who promises to marry anyone who can solve her riddle. Three tailors decide to take up the challenge, with the third being a little, inexperienced man who is not discouraged by the others‘ skepticism.

The princess asks them to guess the color of the two kinds of hair on her head. The first two tailors guess wrong, but the third confidently answers that the hairs are silver and gold. The shocked princess, unable to accept her fate, gives the tailor one more challenge: to spend a night with a ferocious bear in the stable, and if he survives, they will marry.

Undeterred, the little tailor enters the stable and outwits the bear by feeding him pebbles instead of nuts and trapping his claws in a vise. He then plays the violin, and the bear begins to dance. The tailor promises to teach the bear to play the violin if he trims his long nails. He tightens the vise around the bear’s claws and leaves him, falling asleep in a corner.

The princess, hearing the bear growling, believes the tailor is dead, but is shocked to find him alive and well in the morning. With no choice left, she agrees to marry the tailor. As they head to church in a carriage, the other two jealous tailors release the bear, who chases after them. The clever tailor scares the bear away by showing his legs through the carriage window, making the bear think he will be trapped in the vise again. The tailor and princess marry and live happily together, proving that cleverness and perseverance can triumph over seemingly impossible challenges.

Abstract

The Clever Little Tailor is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm as tale number 114. The story is classified as Aarne-Thompson type 850, The Princess’s Birthmarks. It is featured in Andrew Lang’s The Green Fairy Book.

The tale revolves around a proud princess who poses riddles to her suitors and dismisses them if they cannot provide the correct answer. Three tailors arrive, with the third being considered useless. The princess asks them to identify the colors of her hairs. The third tailor correctly guesses gold and silver, but the princess demands he spends the night with a bear as a further challenge.

In the stall, the tailor tricks the bear by cracking nuts and offering it pebbles instead. He then plays a fiddle, making the bear dance. The tailor pretends to teach the bear to dance but first traps it in a vise under the guise of cutting its nails. The princess agrees to marry the tailor when she learns about his cleverness. The story concludes with the bear being freed by the other tailors and chasing the couple, but the clever tailor tricks the bear again and escapes unharmed.

The tale type ATU 850, „The Birthmarks of the Princess,“ is believed to have originated from European oral folklore, and its variants are found throughout Europe, North America, and South America. In Slavic tradition, the story typically involves a princess being intrigued by dancing animals belonging to a peasant who plays a musical instrument, resulting in a similar exchange of revealing her birthmarks.

Informations for scientific analysis


Fairy tale statistics
Value
NumberKHM 114
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 850
Translations DE, EN, DA, ES, PT, FI, HU, IT, JA, NL, PL, RO, RU, TR, VI, ZH,
Readability Index by Björnsson30.3
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index80.7
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level7.1
Gunning Fog Index9.6
Coleman–Liau Index7.4
SMOG Index8
Automated Readability Index7.4
Character Count6.301
Letter Count4.794
Sentence Count59
Word Count1.217
Average Words per Sentence20,63
Words with more than 6 letters118
Percentage of long words9.7%
Number of Syllables1.514
Average Syllables per Word1,24
Words with three Syllables40
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.3%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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