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The Dog and the Sparrow
Grimm Märchen

The Dog and the Sparrow - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 10 min

A shepherd’s dog had a master who took no care of him, but often let him suffer the greatest hunger. At last he could bear it no longer. So he took to his heels, and off he ran in a very sad and sorrowful mood. On the road he met a sparrow that said to him, „Why are you so sad, my friend?“ – „Because,“ said the dog, „I am very very hungry, and have nothing to eat.“

„If that be all,“ answered the sparrow, „come with me into the next town, and I will soon find you plenty of food.“ So on they went together into the town: and as they passed by a butcher’s shop, the sparrow said to the dog, „Stand there a little while till I peck you down a piece of meat.“ So the sparrow perched upon the shelf: and having first looked carefully about her to see if anyone was watching her, she pecked and scratched at a steak that lay upon the edge of the shelf, till at last down it fell.

Then the dog snapped it up, and scrambled away with it into a corner, where he soon ate it all up. „Well,“ said the sparrow, „you shall have some more if you will. So come with me to the next shop, and I will peck you down another steak.“ When the dog had eaten this too, the sparrow said to him, „Well, my good friend, have you had enough now?“

„I have had plenty of meat,“ answered he, „but I should like to have a piece of bread to eat after it.“ – „Come with me then,“ said the sparrow, „and you shall soon have that too.“ So she took him to a baker’s shop, and pecked at two rolls that lay in the window, till they fell down: and as the dog still wished for more, she took him to another shop and pecked down some more for him.

When that was eaten, the sparrow asked him whether he had had enough now. „Yes,“ said he. „And now let us take a walk a little way out of the town.“ So they both went out upon the high road; but as the weather was warm, they had not gone far before the dog said, „I am very much tired, I should like to take a nap.“ – „Very well,“ answered the sparrow, „do so, and in the meantime I will perch upon that bush.“

So the dog stretched himself out on the road, and fell fast asleep. Whilst he slept, there came by a carter with a cart drawn by three horses, and loaded with two casks of wine. The sparrow, seeing that the carter did not turn out of the way, but would go on in the track in which the dog lay, so as to drive over him, called out, „Stop! Stop! Mr Carter, or it shall be the worse for you.“

But the carter, grumbling to himself, „You make it the worse for me, indeed! What can you do?“ cracked his whip, and drove his cart over the poor dog, so that the wheels crushed him to death. „There,“ cried the sparrow, „thou cruel villain, thou hast killed my friend the dog. Now mind what I say. This deed of thine shall cost thee all thou art worth.“ – „Do your worst, and welcome,“ said the brute, „what harm can you do me?“ and passed on.

But the sparrow crept under the tilt of the cart, and pecked at the bung of one of the casks till she loosened it. And than all the wine ran out, without the carter seeing it. At last he looked round, and saw that the cart was dripping, and the cask quite empty. „What an unlucky wretch I am!“ cried he. „Not wretch enough yet!“ said the sparrow, as she alighted upon the head of one of the horses, and pecked at him till he reared up and kicked.

When the carter saw this, he drew out his hatchet and aimed a blow at the sparrow, meaning to kill her. But she flew away, and the blow fell upon the poor horse’s head with such force, that he fell down dead. „Unlucky wretch that I am!“ cried he. „Not wretch enough yet!“ said the sparrow. And as the carter went on with the other two horses, she again crept under the tilt of the cart, and pecked out the bung of the second cask, so that all the wine ran out.

When the carter saw this, he again cried out, „Miserable wretch that I am!“ But the sparrow answered, „Not wretch enough yet!“ and perched on the head of the second horse, and pecked at him too. The carter ran up and struck at her again with his hatchet; but away she flew, and the blow fell upon the second horse and killed him on the spot. „Unlucky wretch that I am!“ said he.

„Not wretch enough yet!“ said the sparrow. And perching upon the third horse, she began to peck him too. The carter was mad with fury. And without looking about him, or caring what he was about, struck again at the sparrow. But killed his third horse as he done the other two. „Alas! miserable wretch that I am!“ cried he. „Not wretch enough yet!“ answered the sparrow as she flew away. „Now will I plague and punish thee at thy own house.“

The carter was forced at last to leave his cart behind him, and to go home overflowing with rage and vexation. „Alas!“ said he to his wife, „what ill luck has befallen me! my wine is all spilt, and my horses all three dead.“ – „Alas! husband,“ replied she, „and a wicked bird has come into the house, and has brought with her all the birds in the world, I am sure, and they have fallen upon our corn in the loft, and are eating it up at such a rate!“

Away ran the husband upstairs, and saw thousands of birds sitting upon the floor eating up his corn, with the sparrow in the midst of them. „Unlucky wretch that I am!“ cried the carter. For he saw that the corn was almost all gone. „Not wretch enough yet!“ said the sparrow. „Thy cruelty shall cost thee they life yet!“ and away she flew. The carter seeing that he had thus lost all that he had, went down into his kitchen; and was still not sorry for what he had done, but sat himself angrily and sulkily in the chimney corner.

But the sparrow sat on the outside of the window, and cried „Carter! Thy cruelty shall cost thee thy life!“ With that he jumped up in a rage, seized his hatchet, and threw it at the sparrow; but it missed her, and only broke the window. The sparrow now hopped in, perched upon the window- seat, and cried, „Carter! It shall cost thee thy life!“ Then he became mad and blind with rage, and struck the window-seat with such force that he cleft it in two.

And as the sparrow flew from place to place, the carter and his wife were so furious, that they broke all their furniture, glasses, chairs, benches, the table, and at last the walls, without touching the bird at all. In the end, however, they caught her: and the wife said, „Shall I kill her at once?“ – „No,“ cried he, „that is letting her off too easily: she shall die a much more cruel death.

I will eat her.“ But the sparrow began to flutter about, and stretch out her neck and cried, „Carter! It shall cost thee thy life yet!“ With that he could wait no longer: so he gave his wife the hatchet, and cried, „Wife, strike at the bird and kill her in my hand.“ And the wife struck, but she missed her aim, and hit her husband on the head so that he fell down dead, and the sparrow flew quietly home to her nest.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Dog and the Sparrow“

„The Dog and the Sparrow“ is a lesser-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, in their famous collection „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ or „Kinder- und Hausmärchen.“ Published in 1812, this collection of German folktales includes various stories that have become deeply ingrained in Western culture, such as „Cinderella,“ „Rapunzel,“ and „Hansel and Gretel.“ As folklore researchers, the Brothers Grimm sought to preserve the oral storytelling tradition and culture of their time.

The story has roots in Germanic oral storytelling traditions, which were passed down from generation to generation. These tales were often told as entertainment and as a way to teach moral lessons to children. The Brothers Grimm sought to preserve these stories in their written form, while also making some adaptations to fit the literary and cultural sensibilities of their time. As a result, the fairy tales in their collection can be seen as both a reflection of the original oral tradition and the literary culture of early 19th-century Germany.

„The Dog and the Sparrow“ is just one example of the many stories that comprise the rich tapestry of European folklore. Its themes and motifs can be found in other folktales from various cultures, demonstrating the universality of human experience and the power of storytelling to connect and inspire people across different societies and generations. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, born in the late 18th century, were scholars who studied and compiled traditional German stories, myths, and legends that were passed down orally for generations. They aimed to preserve these stories in written form as a means of preserving the German cultural heritage. The Brothers Grimm collected more than 200 stories, and their work has been translated into over 100 languages.

„The Dog and the Sparrow“ is one of the lesser-known stories from their collection, but it is still a classic example of a Brothers Grimm tale. It features anthropomorphized animals, explores themes of friendship and revenge, and conveys moral lessons. Like many other tales in the Grimms‘ collection, „The Dog and the Sparrow“ has been passed down through generations and continues to be enjoyed by readers today.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The dog and the sparrow“

„The Dog and the Sparrow“ from the Brothers Grimm can be interpreted in various ways, touching on themes such as loyalty, friendship, justice, and the power of the seemingly weak. Here are a few possible interpretations of the tale:

Justice and Retribution: The story can be seen as a morality tale illustrating the idea that harmful actions can have severe consequences. The wagon driver’s cruel treatment of the dog eventually leads to his own destruction. The sparrow’s actions can be interpreted as a form of retribution for the dog’s suffering, and a reminder that cruelty may be met with punishment.

The Power of the Seemingly Weak: The tale emphasizes the power of those who might appear weak or insignificant. The small sparrow, though seemingly powerless, is able to outsmart the wagon driver and cause his demise. This theme serves as a reminder not to underestimate the abilities of those who may seem unassuming or weak at first glance.

The Role of Fate and Chance: The story can be seen as an exploration of the role of fate and chance in shaping one’s life. The chance encounter between the dog and the sparrow sets the events of the story in motion, ultimately leading to the wagon driver’s demise. This interpretation suggests that random events can have a significant impact on one’s life, for better or worse.

Interconnectedness of Life: The tale can also be viewed as a reflection on the interconnectedness of all living beings and the importance of maintaining balance in the natural world. The sparrow’s revenge on the wagon driver can be seen as an attempt to restore balance and harmony disrupted by the wagon driver’s cruelty to the dog.

The power of friendship: The sparrow and the dog form an unlikely alliance, demonstrating that true friendship can be found in the most unexpected places. Their bond is strong enough that the sparrow avenges the dog’s death, teaching the cruel carter a lesson. One of the central themes in the story is the bond between the dog and the sparrow. Despite their differences, they form a strong friendship, showcasing the importance of loyalty and companionship. When the dog is killed, the sparrow seeks justice, demonstrating the lengths friends may go to protect and honor one another.

The consequences of cruelty: The carter’s decision to ignore the sparrow’s warnings and run over the dog ultimately leads to his own downfall. His cruelty sets off a chain of events that not only costs him his horses and livelihood but ultimately his life. The story serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of treating others with cruelty and disregard.

The cycle of revenge: The sparrow’s relentless pursuit of revenge against the carter escalates the conflict between them. Although the sparrow succeeds in avenging her friend’s death, the story raises questions about whether revenge is truly the best course of action, as it only leads to more destruction and suffering.

The underestimated underdog: The sparrow, a small and seemingly harmless creature, proves to be a formidable opponent to the carter, who underestimates her capabilities. The story highlights the importance of not underestimating others based on their size or appearance, as even the smallest creatures can have a significant impact.

Overall, „The Dog and the Sparrow“ can be interpreted in multiple ways, with each interpretation highlighting different aspects of human experience, morality, and the relationships between living beings.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The dog and the sparrow“

„The Dog and the Sparrow“ is a fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, who were German academics, philologists, and cultural researchers known for their work in collecting and publishing folklore during the 19th century. Their collection of fairy tales, known as „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ or „Children’s and Household Tales“ (German: „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“), includes some of the most famous fairy tales, such as „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ „Rapunzel,“ and „Hansel and Gretel.“ Though „The Dog and the Sparrow“ is not as popular as some other Grimm fairy tales, it has been adapted in various forms, such as in anthologies, television, and theater. Here are a few examples of adaptations of this lesser-known fairy tale:

Literature: The story has also inspired literary adaptations, including „The Dog and the Sparrow“ by the American author Octavia Butler, which reimagines the story from the sparrow’s point of view, and „The Sparrow and the Dog“ by the Australian author Margaret Wild, which explores the themes of the original tale through a modern story.

Anthologies and Illustrated Books: The story has been included in numerous fairy tale anthologies and illustrated books. Some editions, such as those illustrated by renowned artists like Arthur Rackham or Kay Nielsen, present the tale with unique artistic interpretations that can provide new dimensions to the story. Several children’s books have been based on the story, including „The Dog and the Sparrow“ by Elizabeth Baldwin Hazelton and „The Dog and the Sparrow: A Grimm’s Fairy Tale“ by Barbara Karlin. These books retell the story in a simplified form and often include illustrations.

Television: An animated adaptation of „The Dog and the Sparrow“ was featured in the television series „Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics“ (also known as „Grimm Masterpiece Theater“), which aired between 1987 and 1989. This Japanese animated series included a variety of stories from the Brothers Grimm collection, retelling them with vivid visuals and fresh perspectives.

Animated films: The tale has been adapted into animated shorts, including the 1951 Soviet animated film „The Dog and the Sparrow“ and the 2004 German animated film „The Dog and the Sparrow – A Story of Revenge.“

Theater and Puppet Shows: The story has been adapted for the stage, particularly for children’s theater and puppet shows. These adaptations can use a combination of actors, puppets, and other visual elements to bring the story to life, often with some modifications to make it more engaging for a modern audience. The story has been adapted for the stage, including a puppet show by the Czech puppetry artist Josef Skupa, and a play by the Theater of the Seventh Sister in the United States.

Audiobooks: „The Dog and the Sparrow“ has been adapted into audio form, such as in radio plays or audiobooks. These dramatizations use voice actors, music, and sound effects to create an immersive experience that can introduce the tale to new generations.

Modern Retellings: Some authors have reimagined the story in modern settings or with updated themes. For example, contemporary authors might write a version of the tale set in an urban environment, exploring themes like homelessness or animal cruelty, while still incorporating the classic themes of friendship, loyalty, and justice.

„The Dog and the Sparrow“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, but it has inspired several adaptations in various forms of media. While „The Dog and the Sparrow“ may not have as many adaptations as other well-known Grimm fairy tales, it remains a part of the rich tapestry of European folklore. Its various adaptations demonstrate the enduring appeal of the story and the ability of each generation to reinterpret its themes and messages in new and engaging ways.

Summary of the plot

In „The Dog and the Sparrow“ by Brothers Grimm, a neglected shepherd’s dog befriends a sparrow, who helps him find food in a nearby town. After the dog has had enough food, they both go for a walk and the dog decides to take a nap on the road. A carter with a cart pulled by three horses approaches and, despite the sparrow’s warnings, runs over and kills the dog. In retaliation, the sparrow vows to ruin the carter.

The sparrow loosens the bung of a wine cask on the cart, causing the wine to spill out. The carter is upset, but when the sparrow pecks at one of the horses, he tries to kill the bird but accidentally kills the horse instead. The same events happen with the second horse and the second wine cask, leaving the carter with only one horse. When the sparrow pecks at the third horse, the carter loses his temper and accidentally kills the last horse.

The furious carter goes home to find that the sparrow has brought thousands of birds to eat the corn in his loft. The carter despairs, but the sparrow continues to taunt him, saying his cruelty will cost him his life. In a fit of rage, the carter and his wife destroy their own home trying to kill the sparrow. They finally capture the bird, and the carter decides to eat it as a cruel form of punishment. However, when his wife tries to kill the sparrow, she accidentally hits her husband on the head, killing him instantly. The sparrow escapes unharmed and returns to her nest.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 58
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 248
Translations DE, EN, DA, ES, PT, FI, HU, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, ZH,
Readability Index by Björnsson22.3
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index91.4
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level4.1
Gunning Fog Index6.4
Coleman–Liau Index6.7
SMOG Index6.2
Automated Readability Index3.7
Character Count6.891
Letter Count5.145
Sentence Count94
Word Count1.346
Average Words per Sentence14,32
Words with more than 6 letters108
Percentage of long words8%
Number of Syllables1.606
Average Syllables per Word1,19
Words with three Syllables25
Percentage Words with three Syllables1.9%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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