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The Death of the Little Hen
Grimm Märchen

The Death of the Little Hen - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 6 min

Once upon a time the little hen went with the little cock to the nut-hill, and they agreed together that whichsoever of them found a kernel of a nut should share it with the other. Then the hen found a large, large nut, but said nothing about it, intending to eat the kernel herself. The kernel, however, was so large that she could not swallow it, and it remained sticking in her throat, so that she was alarmed lest she should be choked. Then she cried, „Cock, I entreat thee to run as fast thou canst, and fetch me some water, or I shall choke.“ The little cock did run as fast as he could to the spring, and said, „Stream, thou art to give me some water. The little hen is lying on the nut- hill, and she has swallowed a large nut, and is choking.“ The well answered, „First run to the bride, and get her to give thee some red silk.“ The little cock ran to the bride and said, „Bride, you are to give me some red silk. I want to give red silk to the well, the well is to give me some water, I am to take the water to the little hen who is lying on the nut-hill and has swallowed a great nut-kernel, and is choking with it.“ The bride answered, „First run and bring me my little wreath which is hanging to a willow.“ So the little cock ran to the willow, and drew the wreath from the branch and took it to the bride, and the bride gave him some water for it. Then the little cock took the water to the hen, but when he got there the hen had choked in the meantime, and lay there dead and motionless. Then the cock was so distressed that he cried aloud, and every animal came to lament the little hen, and six mice built a little carriage to carry her to her grave, and when the carriage was ready they harnessed themselves to it, and the cock drove. On the way, however, they met the fox, who said, „Where art thou going, little cock?“ – „I am going to bury my little hen.“ – „May I drive with thee?“ – „Yes, but seat thyself at the back of the carriage, for in the front my little horses could not drag thee.“ Then the fox seated himself at the back, and after that the wolf, the bear, the stag, the lion, and all the beasts of the forest did the same. Then the procession went onwards, and they reached the stream. „How are we to get over?“ said the little cock. A straw was lying by the stream, and it said, „I will lay myself across, and you shall drive over me.“ But when the six mice came to the bridge, the straw slipped and fell into the water, and the six mice all fell in and were drowned. Then they were again in difficulty, and a coal came and said, „I am large enough, I will lay myself across and you shall drive over me.“ So the coal also laid itself across the water, but unhappily just touched it, on which the coal hissed, was extinguished and died. When a stone saw that, it took pity on the little cock, wished to help him, and laid itself over the water. Then the cock drew the carriage himself, but when he got it over and reached the other shore with the dead hen, and was about to draw over the others who were sitting behind as well, there were too many of them, the carriage ran back, and they all fell into the water together, and were drowned. Then the little cock was left alone with the dead hen, and dug a grave for her and laid her in it, and made a mound above it, on which he sat down and fretted until he died too, and then every one was dead.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The death of the little hen“

„The Death of the Little Hen“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their work „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ (Kinder- und Hausmärchen). As with many other stories in the collection, the tale is rooted in the rich oral storytelling traditions of Europe, with the Brothers Grimm aiming to preserve and document these folktales as important elements of cultural heritage.

The story follows the tragic death of a little hen and the series of unfortunate events that unfold for other animals involved in the tale. Though it may seem like a simple and somewhat morbid story, it is, in fact, an allegorical tale with elements of satire and dark humor.

„The Death of the Little Hen“ touches upon themes such as the inevitability of death, the interconnectedness of life, and the absurdity of certain situations. It may also be interpreted as a commentary on how seemingly unrelated events can have a domino effect, leading to a chain of consequences.

The story’s background in European oral storytelling traditions reflects the Brothers Grimm’s dedication to preserving cultural heritage through the collection and documentation of folktales. Through their work, they sought to ensure that stories like „The Death of the Little Hen“ would continue to be passed down through generations, imparting important lessons and insights about life and human nature.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The death of the little hen“

„The Death of the Little Hen“ is a unique tale from the Brothers Grimm collection that offers various interpretations, touching on themes such as the interconnectedness of life, the inevitability of death, and the absurdity of certain situations. Some common interpretations of the story include:

The inevitability of death: The story emphasizes the universal truth that death is inevitable and affects all living creatures, regardless of their size or significance. The death of the little hen serves as a reminder that no one can escape this ultimate fate.

The interconnectedness of life: The chain of events that unfolds following the little hen’s death demonstrates how seemingly unrelated events can be interconnected, leading to a series of consequences for all involved. This interpretation highlights the idea that our actions can have far-reaching effects, even if we don’t realize it at the time.

The absurdity of life: The story can also be interpreted as a satirical commentary on the absurdity of certain situations in life. The sequence of events that transpire after the little hen’s death, leading to the demise of the other animals, showcases the unpredictable and sometimes irrational nature of life.

A cautionary tale: „The Death of the Little Hen“ can be viewed as a cautionary tale warning against the dangers of carelessness, selfishness, or negligence. The animals‘ various misfortunes and deaths are the direct results of their actions or inactions, highlighting the importance of being mindful of our choices and their consequences.

Dark humor: The story incorporates elements of dark humor, using the seemingly morbid subject matter to entertain and amuse readers. This interpretation suggests that humor can be found in even the most somber situations, providing a means to cope with the harsh realities of life.

Overall, „The Death of the Little Hen“ offers various interpretations that explore themes such as the interconnectedness of life, the inevitability of death, the absurdity of certain situations, and the importance of being mindful of our actions and their consequences. These interpretations provide valuable insights into human nature and the complexities of life.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The death of the little hen“

Although „The Death of the Little Hen“ is not among the most popular fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm collection, it has been adapted in various forms, allowing the story and its themes to reach different audiences. Some examples of these adaptations include:

Literature: The story has been retold in various books and anthologies containing collections of fairy tales or Brothers Grimm stories. These adaptations may feature updated language, illustrations, or minor changes to the plot to make it more accessible or engaging for modern readers.

Audiobooks and audio dramas: „The Death of the Little Hen“ has been adapted into audiobook and audio drama formats as part of collections of Brothers Grimm stories. These adaptations use skilled narrators, sound effects, and music to bring the story to life, allowing listeners to engage with the tale in a different way.

Theater and puppet shows: The story has been adapted for the stage in the form of plays, puppet shows, or storytelling performances. These live adaptations use costumes, sets, and creative storytelling techniques to share the tale with audiences in a captivating and interactive manner.

Animated shorts: While there are no major film adaptations of „The Death of the Little Hen,“ some independent filmmakers or animation students may have adapted the story into short films or animations. These adaptations use visual storytelling and unique artistic styles to explore the themes and narrative of the original tale.

Though „The Death of the Little Hen“ may not be as well-known as other Brothers Grimm fairy tales, these adaptations help to keep the story alive and relevant, allowing it to continue to impart important lessons and insights about life, death, and the interconnectedness of all living things.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The death of the little hen“

While „The Death of the Little Hen“ is not as well-known as some other fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm, it has still been adapted in various forms over the years. Here are a few examples of adaptations of the story:

Children’s books: Several children’s books have been written based on „The Death of the Little Hen.“ For example, „The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah“ by Leslie Kimmelman is a retelling of the story with a Passover theme, while „The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza“ by Philemon Sturges gives the story a modern twist.

Animated shorts: „The Little Red Hen“ has been adapted as an animated short film several times, with different versions produced by studios such as Disney and Warner Bros. One popular adaptation is the 1934 Disney short „The Wise Little Hen,“ which tells a similar story with a cast of anthropomorphic animals.

Plays and musicals: „The Little Red Hen“ has also been adapted for the stage, with various plays and musicals based on the story. For example, the musical „The Little Red Hen“ by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe was first produced in 2010 and has since been performed by schools and community theater groups.

Variations on the theme: While not direct adaptations, other stories and fables have been written with similar themes to „The Death of the Little Hen.“ For example, Aesop’s fable „The Ant and the Grasshopper“ tells the story of an ant who works hard all summer while the grasshopper plays, only to be turned away by the ant when winter comes.

Overall, while „The Death of the Little Hen“ may not be as well-known as other Grimm fairy tales, it has still been adapted and retold in various forms over the years, reflecting the enduring appeal of its themes and messages.

Summary of the plot

„The Death of the Little Hen“ is a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection that tells the story of a little hen and the series of unfortunate events that unfold following its death.

The tale begins with the little hen choking on a nut, and its friend, the rooster, urgently seeking water to save it. The rooster comes across a well and asks a bucket and rope to help fetch water, but they refuse to help without the assistance of the fire. The fire, in turn, refuses to help without the water from the well. This sequence of events continues as the rooster encounters more characters, including the ox, the butcher, the baker, and a millstone, each refusing to help without something from another character.

As the rooster fails to find help, the little hen dies. Devastated, the rooster decides to bury the hen and sets off to find a suitable resting place. On the way, the rooster meets a group of animals, including a duck, goose, stag, and fox, who all decide to join the funeral procession for the little hen.

The group comes across an inn, and they decide to spend the night there before continuing the funeral the next day. However, the innkeeper and his wife, who are actually robbers, conspire to kill the animals and eat them. Unbeknownst to the robbers, the millstone, which had also joined the procession, is watching them. As the robbers try to attack the animals, the millstone intervenes, crushing the robbers and saving the animals.

In the end, the animals bury the little hen, mourn its loss, and continue their lives. The tale, though seemingly simple and morbid, serves as an allegorical story about the interconnectedness of life, the inevitability of death, and the absurdity of certain situations.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The death of the little hen“

„The Death of the Little Hen“ is a fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, who were German academics, philologists, and researchers known for their work in folklore and linguistics. The story is part of their famous collection „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ (Children’s and Household Tales), first published in 1812. The collection, also known as „Grimm’s Fairy Tales,“ consists of more than 200 stories and has been translated into numerous languages.

The Brothers Grimm collected their stories from various sources, including oral traditions, written texts, and contributions from their acquaintances. Their aim was to preserve and document the rich cultural heritage of Germanic folklore. Many of their collected tales have become beloved classics, such as „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ „Rapunzel,“ and „Hansel and Gretel.“

„The Death of the Little Hen“ is one of the lesser-known stories in their collection, but it shares certain themes and motifs with other Grimm’s tales, such as the presence of talking animals, cooperation among characters, and moral lessons. The story, like many other fairy tales, has been passed down through generations and adapted in various forms, reflecting the cultural values and beliefs of the time.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The death of the little hen“

„The Death of the Little Hen“ can be interpreted in various ways, reflecting themes of selfishness, consequences, cooperation, and the cycle of life and death.

Selfishness: The little hen’s decision to keep the large nut for herself, instead of sharing it with the little cock, triggers the series of unfortunate events that follow. This can be seen as a cautionary tale about the consequences of selfishness and greed.

Consequences: The story demonstrates how one’s actions can have far-reaching consequences, both for themselves and for others. The little hen’s initial selfish act eventually leads to the death of numerous characters in the story, emphasizing the importance of considering the potential outcomes of our choices.

Cooperation and problem-solving: The tale showcases various characters attempting to work together and solve problems, such as crossing the stream. While some attempts fail, the successful cooperation between the cock and the stone highlights the importance of collaboration and perseverance in overcoming challenges.

Cycle of life and death: The story ends with every character dead, illustrating the inevitability of death and the fragile nature of life. This somber conclusion serves as a reminder that life is finite, and that the actions we take during our lives can impact both ourselves and others.

Chain reaction: The narrative also presents a chain reaction of events, where each character’s actions depend on another’s. This emphasizes the interconnectedness of the characters‘ fates, demonstrating how actions can reverberate through a community or society.

Summary of the plot

„The Death of the Little Hen“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm that tells the story of a little hen and a little cock who go to the nut-hill to find nuts. They agree to share any nut kernels they find. The hen discovers a large nut and decides to eat the kernel herself, but it gets stuck in her throat. Fearing she will choke, she asks the cock to fetch water for her.

The cock runs to a spring and requests water, but the well asks for red silk in exchange. The cock then goes to a bride, who will give him the silk only if he retrieves her wreath from a willow tree. After doing so, the cock brings the water back to the hen, but she has already choked to death.

Distressed, the cock cries out, attracting various animals who come to mourn the little hen. Six mice build a carriage for her funeral and hitch themselves to it, with the cock as the driver. As they travel, more animals join the procession, sitting at the back of the carriage. They reach a stream and struggle to find a way to cross it. A straw and a coal each try to serve as a bridge, but both attempts end in failure, resulting in the drowning of the six mice and the death of the coal.

Finally, a stone offers to help and successfully serves as a bridge. The cock manages to bring the carriage with the dead hen to the other side but fails to do the same for the other animals, who all fall into the water and drown. The cock buries the hen, mourns her death, and eventually dies of grief as well. In the end, every character in the story has died.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 80
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 2021
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, PT, FI, HU, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson30.8
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index79.7
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level8.1
Gunning Fog Index10.9
Coleman–Liau Index6.8
SMOG Index8.2
Automated Readability Index8.7
Character Count3.385
Letter Count2.581
Sentence Count28
Word Count672
Average Words per Sentence24,00
Words with more than 6 letters46
Percentage of long words6.8%
Number of Syllables816
Average Syllables per Word1,21
Words with three Syllables21
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.1%
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