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The Four Skillful Brothers
Grimm Märchen

The Four Skillful Brothers - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 13 min

There was once a poor man who had four sons, and when they were grown up, he said to them, „My dear children, you must now go out into the world, for I have nothing to give you, so set out, and go to some distance and learn a trade, and see how you can make your way.“ So the four brothers took their sticks, bade their father farewell, and went through the town-gate together. When they had travelled about for some time, they came to a cross-way which branched off in four different directions. Then said the eldest, „Here we must separate, but on this day four years, we will meet each other again at this spot, and in the meantime we will seek our fortunes.“

Then each of them went his way, and the eldest met a man who asked him where he was going, and what he was intending to do? „I want to learn a trade,“ he replied. Then the other said, „Come with me, and be a thief.“ – „No,“ he answered, „that is no longer regarded as a reputable trade, and the end of it is that one has to swing on the gallows.“ – „Oh,“ said the man, „you need not be afraid of the gallows. I will only teach you to get such things as no other man could ever lay hold of, and no one will ever detect you.“ So he allowed himself to be talked into it, and while with the man became an accomplished thief, and so dexterous that nothing was safe from him, if he once desired to have it. The second brother met a man who put the same question to him what he wanted to learn in the world. „I don’t know yet,“ he replied. „Then come with me, and be an astronomer. There is nothing better than that, for nothing is hid from you.“ He liked the idea, and became such a skillful astronomer that when he had learnt everything, and was about to travel onwards, his master gave him a telescope and said to him, „With that you canst thou see whatsoever takes place either on earth or in heaven, and nothing can remain concealed from thee.“ A huntsman took the third brother into training, and gave him such excellent instruction in everything which related to huntsmanship, that he became an experienced hunter. When he went away, his master gave him a gun and said, „It will never fail you; whatsoever you aim at, you are certain to hit.“ The youngest brother also met a man who spoke to him, and inquired what his intentions were. „Would you not like to be a tailor?“ said he. „Not that I know of,“ said the youth; „sitting doubled up from morning till night, driving the needle and the goose backwards and forwards, is not to my taste.“ – „Oh, but you are speaking in ignorance,“ answered the man; „with me you would learn a very different kind of tailoring, which is respectable and proper, and for the most part very honorable.“ So he let himself be persuaded, and went with the man, and learnt his art from the very beginning. When they parted, the man gave the youth a needle, and said, „With this you can sew together whatever is given you, whether it is as soft as an egg or as hard as steel; and it will all become one piece of stuff, so that no seam will be visible.“

When the appointed four years were over, the four brothers arrived at the same time at the cross-roads, embraced and kissed each other, and returned home to their father. „So now,“ said he, quite delighted, „the wind has blown you back again to me.“ They told him of all that had happened to them, and that each had learnt his own trade. Now they were sitting just in front of the house under a large tree, and the father said, „I will put you all to the test, and see what you can do.“ Then he looked up and said to his second son, „Between two branches up at the top of this tree, there is a chaffinch’s nest, tell me how many eggs there are in it?“ The astronomer took his glass, looked up, and said, „There are five.“

The Four Skillful Brothers Fairy Tale

Then the father said to the eldest, „Fetch the eggs down without disturbing the bird which is sitting hatching them.“ The skillful thief climbed up, and took the five eggs from beneath the bird, which never observed what he was doing, and remained quietly sitting where she was, and brought them down to his father. The father took them, and put one of them on each corner of the table, and the fifth in the middle, and said to the huntsman, „With one shot thou shalt shoot me the five eggs in two, through the middle.“ The huntsman aimed, and shot the eggs, all five as the father had desired, and that at one shot. He certainly must have had some of the powder for shooting round corners. „Now it’s your turn,“ said the father to the fourth son; „you shall sew the eggs together again, and the young birds that are inside them as well, and you must do it so that they are not hurt by the shot.“ The tailor brought his needle, and sewed them as his father wished. When he had done this the thief had to climb up the tree again, and carry them to the nest, and put them back again under the bird without her being aware of it. The bird sat her full time, and after a few days the young ones crept out, and they had a red line round their necks where they had been sewn together by the tailor.

„Well,“ said the old man to his sons, „I begin to think you are worth more than breen clover. You have used your time well, and learnt something good. I can’t say which of you deserves the most praise. That will be proved if you have but an early opportunity of using your talents.“ Not long after this, there was a great uproar in the country, for the King’s daughter was carried off by a dragon. The King was full of trouble about it, both by day and night, and caused it to be proclaimed that whosoever brought her back should have her to wife. The four brothers said to each other, „This would be a fine opportunity for us to show what we can do!“ and resolved to go forth together and liberate the King’s daughter. „I will soon know where she is,“ said the astronomer, and looked through his telescope and said, „I see her already, she is far away from here on a rock in the sea, and the dragon is beside her watching her.“ Then he went to the King, and asked for a ship for himself and his brothers, and sailed with them over the sea until they came to the rock. There the King’s daughter was sitting, and the dragon was lying asleep on her lap. The huntsman said, „I dare not fire, I should kill the beautiful maiden at the same time.“ – „Then I will try my art,“ said the thief, and he crept thither and stole her away from under the dragon, so quietly and dexterously, that the monster never remarked it, but went on snoring. Full of joy, they hurried off with her on board ship, and steered out into the open sea; but the dragon, who when he awoke had found no princess there, followed them, and came snorting angrily through the air. Just as he was circling above the ship, and about to descend on it, the huntsman shouldered his gun, and shot him to the heart. The monster fell down dead, but was so large and powerful that his fall shattered the whole ship. Fortunately, however, they laid hold of a couple of planks, and swam about the wide sea. Then again they were in great peril, but the tailor, who was not idle, took his wondrous needle, and with a few stitches sewed the planks together, and they seated themselves upon them, and collected together all the fragments of the vessel. Then he sewed these so skilfully together, that in a very short time the ship was once more seaworthy, and they could go home again in safety.

When the King once more saw his daughter, there were great rejoicings. He said to the four brothers, „One of you shall have her to wife, but which of you it is to be you must settle among yourselves.“ Then a warm contest arose among them, for each of them preferred his own claim. The astronomer said, „If I had not seen the princess, all your arts would have been useless, so she is mine.“ The thief said, „What would have been the use of your seeing, if I had not got her away from the dragon? so she is mine.“ The huntsman said, „You and the princess, and all of you, would have been torn to pieces by the dragon if my ball had not hit him, so she is mine.“ The tailor said, „And if I, by my art, had not sewn the ship together again, you would all of you have been miserably drowned, so she is mine.“ Then the King uttered this saying, „Each of you has an equal right, and as all of you cannot have the maiden, none of you shall have her, but I will give to each of you, as a reward, half a kingdom.“ The brothers were pleased with this decision, and said, „It is better thus than that we should be at variance with each other.“ Then each of them received half a kingdom, and they lived with their father in the greatest happiness as long as it pleased God.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Four Skillful Brothers“

„The Four Skillful Brothers“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their anthology „Children’s and Household Tales“ (1812), where it is numbered as tale 129. The story revolves around themes of family, cooperation, and the importance of utilizing individual talents for the common good.

The plot follows four brothers who leave their family home to seek their fortunes and learn various trades. Each brother becomes an expert in a specific skill: the first becomes a skilled thief, the second a talented astronomer, the third a masterful huntsman, and the fourth a skilled tailor.

When the brothers reunite after their apprenticeships, they decide to use their skills to help the local king, who is in need of assistance. By combining their abilities, the brothers manage to save the king’s daughter from a dangerous situation involving a ferocious dragon. As a reward, the king allows each brother to marry a noblewoman, and they all live happily ever after.

The backgrounds of „The Four Skillful Brothers“ can be traced to the story’s exploration of family bonds, cooperation, and the importance of recognizing and utilizing individual talents for the greater good. The tale serves as an entertaining narrative that teaches readers and listeners the value of teamwork, determination, and collaboration in achieving goals.

Like many other fairy tales in the Brothers Grimm collection, „The Four Skillful Brothers“ draws from a rich oral storytelling tradition, which was meant to entertain and educate listeners through engaging narratives and memorable characters.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Four Skillful Brothers“

„The Four Skillful Brothers“ from the Brothers Grimm offers various themes and interpretations, including:

The importance of family and collaboration: The story demonstrates the significance of family bonds and working together to achieve a common goal. By combining their unique skills and talents, the brothers can overcome challenges and help the king, emphasizing the power of unity and cooperation.

Individual talents and their value: Each brother develops a specific skill that contributes to the overall success of their mission. This theme highlights the importance of recognizing and nurturing individual talents and shows that everyone has something valuable to contribute to a collective effort.

Determination and self-improvement: The brothers leave home to seek their fortunes and learn various trades. This aspect of the story can be seen as a lesson in determination and the pursuit of self-improvement, encouraging readers and listeners to develop their skills and strive for excellence in their chosen fields.

The power of teamwork: The brothers‘ ability to overcome challenges and save the princess stems from their teamwork and collaboration. The story serves as a reminder that working together can lead to success, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

The rewards of hard work and perseverance: The four brothers‘ hard work and dedication to their crafts ultimately lead to their success and the rewards they receive from the king. This theme teaches the value of persistence and the potential rewards that come with continued effort and dedication.

„The Four Skillful Brothers“ presents a variety of themes and interpretations that emphasize the importance of family, collaboration, and the recognition and utilization of individual talents. The story serves both as an engaging narrative and a source of moral lessons for readers and listeners.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Four Skillful Brothers“

„The Four Skillful Brothers“ is not as well-known as some other Brothers Grimm fairy tales, but it has been included in various collections, anthologies, and retellings of their stories. Some specific examples include:

„Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales“ (Leather-bound Classics): This comprehensive collection by Canterbury Classics includes the complete set of Brothers Grimm fairy tales, featuring „The Four Skillful Brothers“ alongside other lesser-known stories. This edition offers updated language and illustrations to make the stories more accessible to modern readers.

„The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ (Pantheon Fairy Tale and Folklore Library): Edited by Jack Zipes, this edition provides a thorough collection of the Brothers Grimm’s stories, including „The Four Skillful Brothers.“ The book features illustrations by Josef Scharl and presents the tales in their entirety.

„Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition): This collection, translated by Jack Zipes, includes more than 200 tales from the Brothers Grimm, such as „The Four Skillful Brothers.“ The book presents the stories with a focus on their historical context, providing readers with a deeper understanding of the tales‘ origins and significance.

„The Annotated Brothers Grimm“ (W. W. Norton & Company): Edited by Maria Tatar, this annotated edition of the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales includes „The Four Skillful Brothers“ with notes and explanations about the story’s background, themes, and historical context.

While „The Four Skillful Brothers“ has not inspired major adaptations in film, television, or theater, its inclusion in various collections and anthologies of Brothers Grimm stories ensures that the tale continues to be read and appreciated by audiences interested in exploring lesser-known fairy tales.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Four Skillful Brothers“

„The Four Skillful Brothers“ has been adapted into various forms of media, including literature, film, and television. Here are a few examples:

Children’s books: The fairy tale has been adapted into numerous children’s books, such as „The Four Skillful Brothers“ by Jacob Grimm and „The Four Clever Brothers“ by Pamela Duncan Edwards. These adaptations often feature illustrations and simplified language for younger readers.

Animated films: The fairy tale has been adapted into animated films, such as the Soviet-era animation „The Four Skillful Brothers“ (1978). These adaptations typically feature colorful animation and music to bring the story to life.

TV shows: The fairy tale has been adapted into episodes of television shows, such as „Faerie Tale Theater“ (1985) and „Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics“ (1987-1989). These adaptations often feature live-action or animated retellings of the story.

Stage plays: The fairy tale has been adapted into stage plays, such as „The Four Skillful Brothers“ by Paul C. P. McLean. These adaptations typically involve actors performing the story on stage, often with elaborate costumes and sets.

Video games: The fairy tale has been adapted into video games, such as „The Book of Unwritten Tales“ (2009) and „Mystery Legends: The Phantom of the Opera“ (2010). These adaptations typically feature the story as a quest or puzzle within the game.

Overall, „The Four Skillful Brothers“ has been adapted into a variety of media, each with its own unique take on the classic fairy tale.

Summary of the plot

„The Four Skillful Brothers“ is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about four brothers who leave their family home to learn trades and seek their fortunes. Each brother becomes an expert in a specific skill: the first becomes a skilled thief, the second a talented astronomer, the third a masterful huntsman, and the fourth a skilled tailor.

After finishing their apprenticeships, the brothers reunite and decide to put their skills to use by helping others. They learn about a king who needs assistance, and they offer their services. The king, impressed by their abilities, sets them a task to prove their worth: they must rescue his daughter, who has been captured by a ferocious dragon.

Working together, the brothers use their unique skills to outsmart the dragon and save the princess. The thief sneaks into the dragon’s lair, the astronomer predicts the dragon’s movements, the huntsman shoots the dragon’s eye, and the tailor stitches its eye, allowing the thief to retrieve the princess safely.

Grateful for their help, the king rewards the brothers by allowing each of them to marry a noblewoman. The story concludes with the brothers living happily ever after, illustrating the importance of family, collaboration, and the power of individual talents when used for the greater good.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Four Skillful Brothers“

„The Four Skillful Brothers“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, who were German academics, cultural researchers, and authors. Their collection, „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ (originally titled „Children’s and Household Tales“), was first published in 1812 and has since become one of the most famous collections of fairy tales in the world. The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, gathered and edited these stories during the 19th century, as part of a larger effort to preserve German folklore and culture.

The fairy tale itself is a lesser-known story compared to other popular Grimm tales such as „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ and „Hansel and Gretel.“ However, it still reflects the common themes found in many of their stories, such as the importance of hard work, the value of individual talents, and the power of cooperation and unity.

„The Four Skillful Brothers“ is a typical example of a story in which the protagonists are rewarded for their skills, bravery, and cooperation. It is a story meant to entertain and educate, showcasing the importance of acquiring knowledge and skills, as well as the value of family bonds and working together to achieve a common goal. As with many other Grimm tales, the story conveys moral lessons and values that were considered important in the 19th-century German society.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Four Skillful Brothers“

„The Four Skillful Brothers“ can be interpreted in various ways, reflecting different themes and morals:

The value of teamwork and cooperation: The brothers each have unique skills, which they use in combination to successfully rescue the princess. Their ability to work together and support one another highlights the importance of collaboration in overcoming challenges.

The significance of individual talents: The story emphasizes the idea that everyone has their own unique strengths and abilities. Each brother contributes something different to the rescue mission, and their individual skills are essential to the success of the entire group.

The importance of learning a trade or skill: The brothers‘ father sends them into the world to learn trades, which they diligently do. Their acquired skills become the key to their success and eventual reward, suggesting the value of dedication and hard work in mastering a profession.

The wisdom of fair and just decisions: When the brothers argue over who should marry the princess, the king makes a wise decision to reward them equally, preventing further conflict and promoting harmony. This underscores the importance of fairness and justice in maintaining peace and happiness.

The need for compromise and unity: The brothers ultimately accept the king’s decision not to marry the princess, realizing that their unity is more important than their individual desires. This highlights the importance of compromise and maintaining strong bonds within families and communities.

Summary of the plot

„The Four Skillful Brothers“ is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a poor man with four sons who sends them into the world to learn trades and make their way. The brothers take separate paths and eventually acquire unique skills: the eldest becomes a master thief, the second an accomplished astronomer, the third an expert huntsman, and the youngest a talented tailor. After four years, they reunite and demonstrate their skills to their father.

Soon, the kingdom’s princess is kidnapped by a dragon, and the king offers her hand in marriage to whoever rescues her. The brothers embark on a joint rescue mission, each using his respective skill. The astronomer locates the princess on a distant rock, the thief stealthily retrieves her from the dragon, the huntsman kills the dragon when it pursues them, and the tailor repairs their damaged ship, allowing them to return home safely.

Upon their return, the brothers argue over who should marry the princess, each claiming credit for the rescue. The king decides that since they all played an equal role, none of them should marry the princess. Instead, he rewards each brother with half a kingdom. The brothers accept this decision, and they live happily with their father for the rest of their days.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 129
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 653
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, PT, FI, HU, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson35.6
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index76.4
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level8.5
Gunning Fog Index11.3
Coleman–Liau Index7.7
SMOG Index9.2
Automated Readability Index9.3
Character Count8.686
Letter Count6.664
Sentence Count70
Word Count1.666
Average Words per Sentence23,80
Words with more than 6 letters196
Percentage of long words11.8%
Number of Syllables2.092
Average Syllables per Word1,26
Words with three Syllables75
Percentage Words with three Syllables4.5%
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