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The Devil and His Grandmother
Grimm Märchen

The Devil and His Grandmother - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 9 min

There was a great war, and the King had many soldiers, but gave them small pay, so small that they could not live upon it, so three of them agreed among themselves to desert. One of them said to the others, „If we are caught we shall be hanged on the gallows; how shall we manage it?“ Another said, „Look at that great cornfield, if we were to hide ourselves there, no one could find us. The troops are not allowed to enter it, and to-morrow they are to march away.“ They crept into the corn, only the troops did not march away, but remained lying all round about it. They stayed in the corn for two days and two nights, and were so hungry that they all but died, but if they had come out, their death would have been certain. Then said they, „What is the use of our deserting if we have to perish miserably here?“ But now a fiery dragon came flying through the air, and it came down to them, and asked why they had concealed themselves there? They answered, „We are three soldiers who have deserted because the pay was so bad, and now we shall have to die of hunger if we stay here, or to dangle on the gallows if we go out.“ – „If you will serve me for seven years,“ said the dragon, „I will convey you through the army so that no one shall seize you.“ – „We have no choice and are compelled to accept,“ they replied. Then the dragon caught hold of them with his claws, and carried them away through the air over the army, and put them down again on the earth far from it; but the dragon was no other than the Devil. He gave them a small whip and said, „Whip with it and crack it, and then as much gold will spring up round about as you can wish for. Then you can live like great lords, keep horses, and drive your carriages, but when the seven years have come to an end, you are my property.“ Then he put before them a book which they were all three forced to sign. „I will, however, then set you a riddle,“ said he, „and if you can guess that, you shall be free, and released from my power.“ Then the dragon flew away from them, and they went away with their whip, had gold in plenty, ordered themselves rich apparel, and travelled about the world. Wherever they were they lived in pleasure and magnificence, rode on horseback, drove in carriages, ate and drank, but did nothing wicked. The time slipped quickly away, and when the seven years were coming to an end, two of them were terribly anxious and alarmed; but the third took the affair easily, and said, „Brothers, fear nothing, my head is sharp enough, I shall guess the riddle.“ They went out into the open country and sat down, and the two pulled sorrowful faces. Then an aged woman came up to them who inquired why they were so sad? „Alas!“ said they, „how can that concern you? After all, you cannot help us.“ – „Who knows?“ said she. „confide your trouble to me.“ So they told her that they had been the Devil’s servants for nearly seven years, and that he had provided them with gold as plentifully as if it had been blackberries, but that they had sold themselves to him, and were forfeited to him, if at the end of the seven years they could not guess a riddle.“ The old woman said, „If you are to be saved, one of you must go into the forest, there he will come to a fallen rock which looks like a little house, he must enter that, and then he will obtain help.“ The two melancholy ones thought to themselves, „That will still not save us,“ and stayed where they were, but the third, the merry one, got up and walked on in the forest until he found the rock-house. In the little house, however, a very aged woman was sitting, who was the Devil’s grandmother, and asked the soldier where he came from, and what he wanted there? He told her everything that had happened, and as he pleased her well, she had pity on him, and said she would help him. She lifted up a great stone which lay above a cellar, and said, „Conceal thyself there, thou canst hear everything that is said here; only sit still, and do not stir. When the dragon comes, I will question him about the riddle, he tells everything to me, so listen carefully to his answer.“ At twelve o’clock at night, the dragon came flying thither, and asked for his dinner. The grandmother laid the table, and served up food and drink, so that he was pleased, and they ate and drank together. In the course of conversation, she asked him what kind of a day he had had, and how many souls he had got? „Nothing went very well today,“ he answered, „but I have laid hold of three soldiers, I have them safe.“ – „Indeed! three soldiers, that’s something like, but they may escape you yet.“ The Devil said mockingly, „They are mine! I will set them a riddle, which they will never in this world be able to guess!“ – „What riddle is that?“ she inquired. „I will tell you. In the great North Sea lies a dead dog-fish, that shall be your roast meat, and the rib of a whale shall be your silver spoon, and a hollow old horse’s hoof shall be your wine-glass.“ When the Devil had gone to bed, the old grandmother raised up the stone, and let out the soldier. „Hast thou paid particular attention to everything?“ – „Yes,“ said he, „I know enough, and will contrive to save myself.“ Then he had to go back another way, through the window, secretly and with all speed to his companions. He told them how the Devil had been overreached by the old grandmother, and how he had learned the answer to the riddle from him. Then they were all joyous, and of good cheer, and took the whip and whipped so much gold for themselves that it ran all over the ground. When the seven years had fully gone by, the Devil came with the book, showed the signatures, and said, „I will take you with me to hell. There you shall have a meal! If you can guess what kind of roast meat you will have to eat, you shall be free and released from your bargain, and may keep the whip as well.“ Then the first soldier began and said, „In the great North Sea lies a dead dog-fish, that no doubt is the roast meat.“ The Devil was angry, and began to mutter, „Hm! hm! hm!“ And asked the second, „But what will your spoon be?“ – „The rib of a whale, that is to be our silver spoon.“ The Devil made a wry face, again growled, „Hm! hm! hm!“ and said to the third, „And do you also know what your wine-glass is to be?“ – „An old horse’s hoof is to be our wineglass.“ Then the Devil flew away with a loud cry, and had no more power over them, but the three kept the whip, whipped as much money for themselves with it as they wanted, and lived happily to their end.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The devil and his grandmother“

„The Devil and His Grandmother“ is another German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their famous anthology, „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ (Children’s and Household Tales). Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were scholars and linguists who aimed to preserve German folklore by collecting stories passed down through generations in the oral tradition.

The story of „The Devil and His Grandmother“ revolves around three soldiers who make a pact with the devil to escape a difficult situation during wartime. The devil grants them the power to do whatever they wish for seven years, but at the end of that period, they must solve a riddle or forfeit their souls. The soldiers then encounter the devil’s grandmother, who helps them solve the riddle, saving their souls and freeing them from their pact with the devil.

The origins of „The Devil and His Grandmother“ are uncertain, as the tale could have evolved over time through regional folklore and storytelling. Its inclusion in the Grimm brothers‘ collection has helped preserve the story and ensure that it continues to be shared and enjoyed by future generations. The fairy tale explores themes such as cunning, the consequences of making deals with evil forces, and the importance of receiving help from unexpected sources. Like many other fairy tales, „The Devil and His Grandmother“ offers moral lessons and insights into human nature while entertaining readers with its fantastical elements.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The devil and his grandmother“

„The Devil and His Grandmother“ can be interpreted in various ways, exploring themes of human nature, morality, and the power of cunning. Here are some common interpretations of the fairy tale:

The consequences of making deals with evil forces: The story highlights the dangers of making deals with sinister forces, such as the devil, to achieve one’s goals. The soldiers‘ pact with the devil initially provides them with power and freedom, but it comes with a significant cost – the potential loss of their souls. This interpretation emphasizes the importance of considering the long-term consequences of one’s actions and being cautious when making deals that seem too good to be true.

The power of cunning and wit: In the tale, the soldiers use their cunning to outsmart the devil and save their souls. The devil’s grandmother, who assists them in solving the riddle, also demonstrates her own cunning and resourcefulness. This interpretation suggests that intelligence and wit can be powerful tools in overcoming obstacles, even when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges.

The importance of unexpected allies: The story shows that help can come from the most unexpected sources – in this case, the devil’s grandmother. The soldiers‘ encounter with her teaches them that they should not judge others solely based on their appearances or associations. This interpretation emphasizes the value of being open to receiving help and forming alliances with others, even when they may not seem like the most likely candidates.

Redemption and the possibility of change: The soldiers‘ ultimate redemption and freedom from their pact with the devil suggest that it is never too late to change one’s path and seek a better outcome. This interpretation highlights the importance of personal growth, resilience, and the power of individuals to shape their own destinies, even after making mistakes.

Cautionary tale: „The Devil and His Grandmother“ can be viewed as a cautionary tale that warns readers against making deals with evil entities or engaging in morally questionable behavior. The soldiers‘ experiences serve as a lesson to readers about the potential consequences of taking shortcuts or compromising one’s values.

These interpretations of „The Devil and His Grandmother“ demonstrate the enduring power of fairy tales to explore themes of morality, human nature, and societal values while providing engaging and thought-provoking stories.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The devil and his grandmother“

„The Devil and His Grandmother“ is not as well-known or widely adapted as some other Brothers Grimm fairy tales, but it has still inspired various adaptations and reinterpretations in different media forms. Some examples include:

Literature: Authors have reimagined the story in their own words, modifying or expanding upon the original tale to create new versions for modern audiences. For example, „The Devil and His Grandmother“ has been included in anthologies of rewritten fairy tales, such as „Grimm’s Grimmest“ by Maria Tatar, which offers a modern retelling of the story with illustrations.

Theater: The story has been adapted into stage productions, such as puppet shows, children’s theater, or musicals, offering audiences a chance to experience the tale in a live performance setting. These adaptations may involve changes to the plot, characters, or dialogue, allowing theater artists to explore the themes and messages of the story in new ways.

Art: The fairy tale has inspired visual artists to create illustrations, paintings, or sculptures that depict scenes or characters from the story. For example, artists like Arthur Rackham and Walter Crane have included illustrations of „The Devil and His Grandmother“ in their collections of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, bringing the story to life through their unique artistic styles.

Film and Television: Although there are no major film or television adaptations specifically dedicated to „The Devil and His Grandmother,“ elements of the story, such as making deals with the devil and outsmarting evil forces, have been incorporated into various movies and TV shows, often as part of an anthology series or as a subplot within a larger narrative.

These adaptations of „The Devil and His Grandmother“ showcase the enduring appeal of fairy tales and their ability to inspire creative reinterpretations across different mediums.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The devil and his grandmother“

„The Devil and His Grandmother“ is a classic fairy tale that has been adapted in various forms over the years. Here are a few examples:

Operas: There have been several operas based on the tale, including „Der Freischütz“ by Carl Maria von Weber, which features a version of the story in Act III.

Films: The story has been adapted into several films, including the 1922 silent film „Der Brennende Acker“ (The Burning Soil), which features a version of the tale, and the 1964 Czech film „The Devil’s Trap,“ which is based on the story.

Literature: The tale has been adapted into several works of literature, including the novel „The Devil’s Elixirs“ by E.T.A. Hoffmann, which features a version of the story, and the short story „The Devil’s Grandmother“ by Ursula K. Le Guin, which reimagines the tale in a modern setting.

Television: The tale has been adapted into several episodes of television shows, including the German series „Tatort“ and the American series „Grimm.“

Art: The tale has inspired several works of art, including the painting „The Devil and His Grandmother“ by Johann Heinrich Ramberg and the sculpture „The Devil and His Grandmother“ by Alfred Kubin.

Overall, „The Devil and His Grandmother“ is a timeless tale that continues to inspire artists and creators in various forms of media.

Summary of the plot

„The Devil and His Grandmother“ is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale that tells the story of three soldiers who, during wartime, find themselves in a desperate situation. To escape their predicament, they make a pact with the devil, who grants them the power to do whatever they wish for seven years. However, at the end of the seven years, the soldiers must solve a riddle or lose their souls to the devil.

The three soldiers enjoy their newfound power and wealth, but as the end of the seven-year period approaches, they become increasingly worried about the riddle and the prospect of losing their souls. Desperate to find a solution, they wander through the countryside and eventually come across the devil’s grandmother, who lives in a small hut.

The devil’s grandmother, an old and wise woman, takes pity on the soldiers and agrees to help them. She hides them in her home when the devil arrives and listens carefully as he reveals the answer to the riddle. Armed with this knowledge, the soldiers are able to solve the riddle when the devil returns to claim their souls.

Having outsmarted the devil, the soldiers are freed from their pact and able to return to their normal lives. The story of „The Devil and His Grandmother“ serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of making deals with evil forces and emphasizes the importance of cunning, wit, and seeking help from unexpected sources.

—————

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The devil and his grandmother“

„The Devil and His Grandmother“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, who were linguists, cultural researchers, and authors. Their collection of fairy tales, known as „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ or „Children’s and Household Tales“ (in German, „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“), was first published in 1812 and has been an essential part of the Western literary canon since then. The collection, which includes 210 stories, has been translated into multiple languages and adapted into various forms of media, such as theater, film, and television.

The Brothers Grimm were part of the larger Romantic movement in the early 19th century, which focused on folklore, mythology, and the importance of nature and emotions. The fairy tales they collected were primarily derived from oral storytelling traditions, which they sought to preserve and document. Many of these stories had been passed down through generations and were deeply rooted in European folklore.

While „The Devil and His Grandmother“ might not be as well-known as other Grimm’s fairy tales like „Cinderella“ or „Snow White,“ it shares common themes and motifs with other stories in the collection, such as deals with supernatural beings, cunning protagonists, and the importance of resourcefulness in overcoming adversity. The story also demonstrates the influence of Christianity in European folklore, as the Devil is a recurring figure in many tales.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The devil and his grandmother“

„The Devil and His Grandmother“ is a story that can be interpreted in various ways, reflecting themes such as the consequences of greed, the importance of wit and cunning, and the power of help from unexpected sources. Here are three possible interpretations:

The consequences of greed: The soldiers initially desert the army because they are unhappy with their low pay. They enter into a dangerous pact with the Devil for the promise of wealth and luxury. While they manage to escape the Devil’s clutches in the end, the story serves as a cautionary tale about the risks associated with the pursuit of material wealth at any cost.

The importance of wit and cunning: The third soldier’s confidence and cleverness play a crucial role in the story. His ability to seek help and pay attention to the Devil’s conversation with his grandmother enables him and his comrades to escape their contract with the Devil. This interpretation highlights the importance of using one’s intelligence and resourcefulness to overcome challenging situations and outwit adversaries.

The power of help from unexpected sources: The Devil’s grandmother and the old woman who directs the third soldier to her are essential to the soldiers‘ salvation. Both characters, who might initially be seen as unimportant or even dangerous, prove to be valuable allies. This interpretation emphasizes the idea that help can come from unexpected places and that it is important to remain open to receiving assistance from others, even if they may not appear to be powerful or significant at first glance.

Summary of the plot

„The Devil and His Grandmother“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm about three soldiers who desert the army due to low pay. They hide in a cornfield to avoid capture and eventually encounter a fiery dragon, who is actually the Devil. The Devil offers to help them escape in exchange for their service for seven years, during which they will have abundant gold. The soldiers agree and sign a contract, but the Devil adds that at the end of the seven years, they must solve a riddle to gain their freedom.

The soldiers live lavishly for seven years, but as the end of the term approaches, two of them become anxious about the riddle. The third soldier, however, remains confident and meets an old woman who directs him to a fallen rock that resembles a house. There, he finds the Devil’s grandmother, who takes pity on him and helps him learn the answer to the riddle. She hides him in a cellar and instructs him to listen carefully to the conversation between her and the Devil, who reveals the answer to the riddle.

Armed with the answer, the third soldier returns to his comrades and shares the information. When the Devil arrives to collect their souls, the soldiers correctly answer the riddle, saying that their roast meat will be a dead dog-fish from the North Sea, their spoon will be the rib of a whale, and their wine-glass will be an old horse’s hoof. Enraged, the Devil loses his power over the soldiers, who keep the magical whip, continue to generate gold, and live happily ever after.

Informations for scientific analysis


Fairy tale statistics
Value
NumberKHM 125
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 812
Translations DE, EN, DA, ES, FR, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH,
Readability Index by Björnsson27.4
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index83
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level6.3
Gunning Fog Index9.2
Coleman–Liau Index7.6
SMOG Index8.4
Automated Readability Index6.7
Character Count6.538
Letter Count4.985
Sentence Count67
Word Count1.254
Average Words per Sentence18,72
Words with more than 6 letters109
Percentage of long words8.7%
Number of Syllables1.554
Average Syllables per Word1,24
Words with three Syllables54
Percentage Words with three Syllables4.3%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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