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The Elves and the Shoemaker
The Elves and the Shoemaker Märchen

The Elves and the Shoemaker - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 9 min


A shoemaker, by no fault of his own, had become so poor that at last he had nothing left but leather for one pair of shoes. So in the evening, he cut out the shoes which he wished to begin to make the next morning, and as he had a good conscience, he lay down quietly in his bed, commended himself to God, and fell asleep. In the morning, after he had said his prayers, and was just going to sit down to work, the two shoes stood quite finished on his table. He was astounded, and knew not what to say to it.

He took the shoes in his hands to observe them closer, and they were so neatly made that there was not one bad stitch in them, just as if they were intended as a masterpiece. Soon after, a buyer came in, and as the shoes pleased him so well, he paid more for them than was customary, and, with the money, the shoemaker was able to purchase leather for two pairs of shoes.

He cut them out at night, and next morning was about to set to work with fresh courage. But he had no need to do so, for, when he got up, they were already made, and buyers also were not wanting, who gave him money enough to buy leather for four pairs of shoes. The following morning, too, he found the four pairs made. And so it went on constantly, what he cut out in the evening was finished by the morning, so that he soon had his honest independence again, and at last became a wealthy man.

Now it befell that one evening not long before Christmas, when the man had been cutting out, he said to his wife, before going to bed, „What think you if we were to stay up to-night to see who it is that lends us this helping hand?“ The woman liked the idea, and lighted a candle, and then they hid themselves in a corner of the room, behind some clothes which were hanging up there, and watched.

When it was midnight, two pretty little naked men came, sat down by the shoemaker’s table, took all the work which was cut out before them and began to stitch, and sew, and hammer so skilfully and so quickly with their little fingers that the shoemaker could not turn away his eyes for astonishment. They did not stop until all was done, and stood finished on the table, and they ran quickly away.

Next morning the woman said, „The little men have made us rich, and we really must show that we are grateful for it. They run about so, and have nothing on, and must be cold. I’ll tell thee what I’ll do: I will make them little shirts, and coats, and vests, and trousers, and knit both of them a pair of stockings, and do thou, too, make them two little pairs of shoes.“ The man said, „I shall be very glad to do it.“

And one night, when everything was ready, they laid their presents all together on the table instead of the cut-out work, and then concealed themselves to see how the little men would behave. At midnight they came bounding in, and wanted to get to work at once, but as they did not find any leather cut out, but only the pretty little articles of clothing, they were at first astonished, and then they showed intense delight. They dressed themselves with the greatest rapidity, putting the pretty clothes on, and singing:

„Now we are boys so fine to see,
Why should we longer cobblers be?“

Then they danced and skipped and leapt over chairs and benches. At last they danced out of doors. From that time forth they came no more, but as long as the shoemaker lived all went well with him, and all his undertakings prospered.


There was once a poor servant-girl, who was industrious and cleanly, and swept the house every day, and emptied her sweepings on the great heap in front of the door. One morning when she was just going back to her work, she found a letter on this heap, and as she could not read, she put her broom in the corner, and took the letter to her master and mistress, and behold it was an invitation from the elves, who asked the girl to hold a child for them at its christening.

The girl did not know what to do, but at length, after much persuasion, and as they told her that it was not right to refuse an invitation of this kind, she consented. Then three elves came and conducted her to a hollow mountain, where the little folks lived. Everything there was small, but more elegant and beautiful than can be described. The baby’s mother lay in a bed of black ebony ornamented with pearls, the coverlids were embroidered with gold, the cradle was of ivory, the bath of gold.

The girl stood as godmother, and then wanted to go home again, but the little elves urgently entreated her to stay three days with them. So she stayed, and passed the time in pleasure and gaiety, and the little folks did all they could to make her happy. At last she set out on her way home. Then first they filled her pockets quite full of money, and after that they led her out of the mountain again.

When she got home, she wanted to begin her work, and took the broom, which was still standing in the corner, in her hand and began to sweep. Then some strangers came out of the house, who asked her who she was, and what business she had there? And she had not, as she thought, been three days with the little men in the mountains, but seven years, and in the meantime her former masters had died.


A certain mother’s child had been taken away out of its cradle by the elves, and a changeling with a large head and staring eyes, which would do nothing but eat and drink, laid in its place. In her trouble she went to her neighbour, and asked her advice. The neighbour said that she was to carry the changeling into the kitchen, set it down on the hearth, light a fire, and boil some water in two egg-shells, which would make the changeling laugh, and if he laughed, all would be over with him.

The woman did everything that her neighbour bade her. When she put the egg-shells with water on the fire, the imp said, „I am as old now as the Wester forest, but never yet have I seen any one boil anything in an egg-shell!“ And he began to laugh at it. Whilst he was laughing, suddenly came a host of little elves, who brought the right child, set it down on the hearth, and took the changeling away with them.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Elves and the Shoemaker“

„The Elves and the Shoemaker“ is a well-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their anthology „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ or „Kinder- und Hausmärchen.“ It is tale number 39 in their collection. The story is believed to have originated from German oral storytelling traditions and is one of the more lighthearted and magical tales in the Grimms‘ collection.

The Brothers Grimm were known for collecting and documenting folktales from various sources, such as friends, family members, and local storytellers. „The Elves and the Shoemaker“ is no exception, as it was likely influenced by multiple oral traditions and literary sources. The tale has its roots in European folklore, with the theme of magical helpers appearing in various forms across different cultures.

The story revolves around a poor shoemaker who is down to his last piece of leather. He cuts the leather into the shape of a pair of shoes, intending to finish them the next day. However, during the night, a group of elves comes into his workshop and expertly crafts the shoes for him. The next morning, the shoemaker is amazed by the craftsmanship and sells the shoes for a high price. This process repeats over several nights, and the shoemaker’s fortunes improve significantly due to the elves‘ assistance. Eventually, the shoemaker and his wife decide to repay the elves‘ kindness by making clothes and shoes for them as a gesture of gratitude. Upon receiving these gifts, the elves are overjoyed and leave the shoemaker’s workshop, never to return. However, the shoemaker and his wife continue to prosper, thanks to the help they received from the magical creatures.

The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, were German academics, linguists, and cultural researchers who collected and published these stories in the early 19th century. Their work played a significant role in the development and popularization of fairy tales as a literary genre. The Brothers Grimm did not create these stories themselves but collected them from various sources, such as oral traditions, folktales, and existing written works. Many of the stories they gathered had been passed down through generations, reflecting the culture, values, and beliefs of the societies from which they originated. The tales often feature magical creatures, such as elves, fairies, and witches, and revolve around moral lessons or cautionary themes.

„The Elves and the Shoemaker“ specifically focuses on the interaction between humans and magical creatures called elves. Elves are often depicted as small, mischievous beings with supernatural powers. In European folklore, they were believed to inhabit forests, caves, or hidden underground realms and were known to either help or hinder humans, depending on the circumstances. In this particular tale, the elves are portrayed as benevolent creatures who assist the human characters in need, showcasing themes of gratitude, kindness, hard work, and the unseen magic that can influence our lives. The story has been retold and adapted in various forms, including plays, movies, and animated films, proving its enduring appeal and cultural significance.

„The Elves and the Shoemaker“ explores themes of kindness, gratitude, and the power of magical intervention. The story has inspired numerous adaptations and retellings across various forms of media, such as literature, theater, film, and animation. Its enduring popularity is a testament to the timeless appeal of its themes and the charm of its magical characters.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Elves and the Shoemaker“

„The Elves and the Shoemaker“ is a delightful fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm that offers various interpretations and underlying messages. Here are some possible interpretations of this enchanting story:

Kindness and Gratitude: One of the most evident themes in the story is the importance of kindness and gratitude. The shoemaker and his wife repay the elves‘ generosity by making clothes and shoes for them, highlighting the idea that kindness should be reciprocated. This interpretation serves as a reminder to appreciate the good deeds of others and to always express gratitude for the help we receive. In the first story, the shoemaker and his wife express their gratitude to the elves by making them clothes. Their act of kindness leads to the elves dancing away, but the shoemaker continues to prosper. This demonstrates the importance of showing appreciation and being kind to others, as it can have a positive impact on one’s life.

Hard Work and Perseverance: The tale demonstrates the value of hard work and perseverance, as the shoemaker continues to work diligently despite his initial struggles. When the elves come to his aid, his fortunes improve, but he does not take their assistance for granted. Instead, he remains dedicated to his craft, which ultimately leads to his continued prosperity even after the elves‘ departure. In each story, the human characters are diligent and dedicated to their work, and the elves reward their efforts with assistance. This reflects the importance of perseverance and commitment in achieving success and prosperity.

Magic and Wonder: The story is a celebration of the magical and wondrous aspects of life. The presence of the elves and their mysterious assistance can be interpreted as a reminder to appreciate the unexpected and unexplainable moments that can bring joy and good fortune. This interpretation encourages readers to embrace the element of magic and wonder in their own lives. All three stories emphasize the existence of magical creatures and the supernatural, which humans cannot see but can still affect their lives. The stories encourage readers to believe in the power of the unknown and to be open to the possibility of help or intervention from mysterious sources.

The Power of Community: Another interpretation of the story is the importance of community and working together. The elves, the shoemaker, and his wife all contribute their skills and efforts to help one another, illustrating the power of cooperation and collaboration. This message highlights the significance of supporting and relying on others in times of need.

Humility and Generosity: The shoemaker and his wife are humble and generous characters, which plays a significant role in their eventual success. They recognize the value of the help they receive and do not hesitate to express their gratitude. This interpretation emphasizes the virtues of humility and generosity, suggesting that they can lead to happiness and prosperity.

The Fluidity of Time: The second story highlights how time can pass differently in the world of the elves compared to the human world. This can be interpreted as a reminder that time is relative and that we should make the most of the present, as we cannot always predict how time will affect our lives.

Wisdom and Cunning: In the third story, the mother uses her neighbor’s advice to trick the changeling and recover her child. This demonstrates the value of using wisdom and cunning to overcome challenges and protect what is dear to us.

Overall, „The Elves and the Shoemaker“ offers various interpretations, each focusing on different aspects of human values, morality, and the enchanting elements of life. These multifaceted themes contribute to the story’s enduring appeal and its status as a beloved fairy tale in the Brothers Grimm’s collection.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Elves and the Shoemaker“

„The Elves and the Shoemaker“ is a classic European fairy tale that is part of the larger collection of stories by the Brothers Grimm, titled „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ or „Children’s and Household Tales“ (in German, „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“). „The Elves and the Shoemaker“ has inspired a variety of adaptations across different media, showcasing the timeless appeal of this charming and magical fairy tale. Here are some specific examples of adaptations:

Literature: The story has been retold and reimagined in numerous children’s books, often with illustrations that bring the tale to life. Authors and illustrators such as Paul Galdone, Jim LaMarche, and Mara Alperin have created picture book versions of the story, each offering their unique take on the classic tale.

Children’s books: The story has been adapted into numerous children’s books, including „The Elves and the Shoemaker“ by Paul Galdone, „The Shoemaker and the Elves“ by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, and „The Elves and the Shoemaker“ by Bernadette Watts. The story has been adapted into comics and graphic novels, including „The Elves and the Shoemaker“ by Jim Henson and illustrated by Arthur Rackham, and „The Elves and the Shoemaker“ by Lisa Mullarkey and illustrated by Valerie Sokolova.

Television series: The story has been adapted into episodes of several television series, including „Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theater“ and „Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics.“

Film and Animation: „The Elves and the Shoemaker“ has been adapted into several animated films and television episodes. One example is the 1960 short animated film by Ray Harryhausen called „The Story of the Elves and the Shoemaker.“ The tale has also been featured in animated series like „Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child“ (1995) and „SimsalaGrimm“ (1999). The story has been adapted into several animated films, including the 1935 Disney short film „The Shoemaker and the Elves,“ the 1961 Soviet animated film „The Elves and the Shoemaker,“ and the 1990 Japanese anime film „The Elves and the Shoemaker.“

Theater and Dance: The story has been adapted for the stage in various forms, including plays and ballets. For instance, the Northern Ballet produced a ballet adaptation called „Elves & the Shoemaker“ in 2015, which was choreographed by Daniel de Andrade. In addition, numerous children’s theater groups have performed stage adaptations of the story. The story has been adapted into various stage productions, including ballets, operas, and plays. One notable adaptation is the ballet „The Elves‘ Gift,“ choreographed by George Balanchine for the New York City Ballet in 1956.

Audiobooks: „The Elves and the Shoemaker“ has been recorded as an audiobook and as part of radio programs, allowing listeners to enjoy the story in an auditory format. These recordings often feature engaging narration, music, and sound effects that help bring the tale to life.

Art and Illustration: The story has inspired countless artists and illustrators to create visual representations of the tale, either as standalone artworks or as illustrations accompanying written versions of the story. These illustrations often emphasize the magical, whimsical, and charming aspects of the narrative.

These are just a few examples of the many adaptations of „The Elves and the Shoemaker“ that have been created over the years. The story’s enduring popularity continues to inspire new adaptations and retellings. These adaptations demonstrate the enduring appeal of „The Elves and the Shoemaker“ and its ability to captivate audiences of all ages across various forms of media. The story’s themes of kindness, gratitude, and the magic of helping others continue to resonate with readers, viewers, and listeners alike.

Summary of the plot

„The Elves and the Shoemaker“ is a charming fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm about a struggling shoemaker and his encounter with magical helpers. The story centers on themes of kindness, gratitude, and the power of cooperation. The plot follows a poor shoemaker who, due to financial difficulties, is left with enough leather to make only one last pair of shoes. He cuts the leather and leaves it on his workbench, intending to finish the shoes the next day. During the night, a group of elves enter his workshop and, using their remarkable craftsmanship, create a beautiful pair of shoes from the leather.

When the shoemaker wakes up and discovers the finished shoes, he is amazed and sells them at a high price. With the money he earns, he buys enough leather to make two more pairs of shoes. Again, he leaves the cut leather on his workbench overnight, and the elves return to make two more pairs of expertly crafted shoes. This pattern continues, and the shoemaker’s business starts to thrive, thanks to the elves‘ assistance.

Wanting to express their gratitude, the shoemaker and his wife decide to make clothing and shoes for the elves as a token of appreciation. They leave the gifts out for the elves, who are overjoyed to receive them. After this exchange, the elves stop coming to the workshop, but the shoemaker and his wife continue to prosper due to the help they received from the magical creatures. „The Elves and the Shoemaker“ is a heartwarming story that celebrates kindness, gratitude, and the enchanting aspects of life, leaving readers with a sense of wonder and a belief in the magic of helping others.


„The Elves and the Shoemaker“ by Brothers Grimm consists of three stories involving magical creatures called elves, who secretly help humans in various ways. In the first story, a poor shoemaker is left with only enough leather for one pair of shoes. He cuts the leather and goes to bed, only to find the shoes perfectly made the next morning. This phenomenon continues, and each time he cuts leather at night, the shoes are completed by morning.

His business prospers, and he becomes wealthy. Curious to know who is helping them, the shoemaker and his wife hide and watch two little naked men come and make the shoes. To show their gratitude, they make clothes for the elves, who happily accept the gifts and dance away, never to return. However, the shoemaker’s prosperity continues.

In the second story, a poor servant-girl receives an invitation from the elves to be the godmother of their child. She goes to their dwelling inside a mountain, where everything is small and beautiful. She stays for three days, enjoying their company, but when she returns home, she discovers that seven years have passed, and her former masters have died.

In the third story, a woman’s baby is taken by the elves, who leave a changeling in its place. Following her neighbor’s advice, she boils water in eggshells, which makes the changeling laugh. The elves then return her real child and take the changeling away. In all three stories, the elves play a significant role in the lives of the human characters, providing help, challenges, and important life lessons.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 39
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 503
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, FR, PT, HU, IT, JA, NL, PL, RO, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson36.2
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index74.8
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level8.9
Gunning Fog Index11.9
Coleman–Liau Index8
SMOG Index9.7
Automated Readability Index9.9
Character Count6.194
Letter Count4.766
Sentence Count48
Word Count1.179
Average Words per Sentence24,56
Words with more than 6 letters137
Percentage of long words11.6%
Number of Syllables1.493
Average Syllables per Word1,27
Words with three Syllables60
Percentage Words with three Syllables5.1%
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