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The Fox and the Horse
Grimm Märchen

The Fox and the Horse - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 5 min

A peasant had a faithful horse which had grown old and could do no more work, so his master would no longer give him anything to eat and said, „I can certainly make no more use of thee, but still I mean well by thee. If thou provest thyself still strong enough to bring me a lion here, I will maintain thee, but now take thyself away out of my stable,“ and with that he chased him into the open country. The horse was sad, and went to the forest to seek a little protection there from the weather. Then the fox met him and said, „Why dost thou hang thy head so, and go about all alone?“ – „Alas,“ replied the horse, „avarice and fidelity do not dwell together in one house. My master has forgotten what services I have performed for him for so many years, and because I can no longer plough well, he will give me no more food, and has driven me out.“ – „Without giving thee a chance?“ asked the fox. „The chance was a bad one. He said, if I were still strong enough to bring him a lion, he would keep me, but he well knows that I cannot do that.“ The fox said, „I will help thee, just lay thyself down, stretch thyself out, as if thou wert dead, and do not stir.“ The horse did as the fox desired, and the fox went to the lion, who had his den not far off, and said, „A dead horse is lying outside there, just come with me, thou canst have a rich meal.“ The lion went with him, and when they were both standing by the horse the fox said, „After all, it is not very comfortable for thee here I tell thee what I will fasten it to thee by the tail, and then thou canst drag it into thy cave, and devour it in peace.“

This advice pleased the lion: he lay down, and in order that the fox might tie the horse fast to him, he kept quite quiet. But the fox tied the lion’s legs together with the horse’s tail, and twisted and fastened all so well and so strongly that no strength could break it. When he had finished his work, he tapped the horse on the shoulder and said, „Pull, white horse, pull.“ Then up sprang the horse at once, and drew the lion away with him. The lion began to roar so that all the birds in the forest flew out in terror, but the horse let him roar, and drew him and dragged him over the country to his master’s door. When the master saw the lion, he was of a better mind, and said to the horse, „Thou shalt stay with me and fare well,“ and he gave him plenty to eat until he died.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The fox and the horse“

„The Fox and the Horse“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their book „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales.“ This lesser-known tale is categorized under the Aarne-Thompson-Uther (ATU) folktale classification system as type 221, which involves a magical animal helper.

The story tells of an old horse that has become weak and tired, and its master decides that the horse is no longer useful. The horse begs for a chance to prove its worth, and the master agrees to spare its life if it can bring a lion back to the farm. The horse encounters a clever fox in the forest, who offers to help in exchange for a favor. The fox tricks the lion into climbing a tree and then convinces the horse to take the lion back to the farm while the lion is stuck. When the horse and the lion reach the farm, the master is pleased and allows the horse to live. The horse then repays the favor to the fox by sparing its life when the master wants to kill it.

The origins of the story can be traced back to European oral storytelling traditions. It is not as widely known or adapted as many other Grimm’s fairy tales, but it shares some common themes with other stories in the collection. The tale emphasizes the importance of wit, cunning, and friendship in overcoming adversity, as well as the value of kindness and gratitude.

In the broader context of European folklore, animal tales like „The Fox and the Horse“ often serve to teach moral lessons or impart wisdom. These stories personify animals, giving them human-like characteristics and the ability to communicate with one another. This anthropomorphism allows for the exploration of human emotions, relationships, and ethical dilemmas through the lens of seemingly simple animal interactions.

As part of their work, the Brothers Grimm collected and documented numerous tales like „The Fox and the Horse,“ preserving oral storytelling traditions and ensuring that these stories would continue to be shared and enjoyed by future generations.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The fox and the horse“

„The Fox and the Horse“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm that contains several themes and motifs that lend themselves to various interpretations. Here are some possible interpretations of the story:

The value of wisdom and cunning: In the tale, the fox uses its intelligence and cunning to outsmart the lion and save the horse from its fate. This theme emphasizes the importance of wit and resourcefulness when faced with challenges, suggesting that intelligence can often triumph over brute force.

The power of friendship and loyalty: The story highlights the bond formed between the horse and the fox as they help each other overcome their respective obstacles. Their mutual support and loyalty demonstrate the value of friendship and collaboration in achieving goals and overcoming adversity.

The importance of gratitude and repaying favors: The horse is grateful for the fox’s help and repays the favor by sparing its life when the master wants to kill it. This aspect of the story underscores the significance of gratitude and the ethical importance of honoring one’s commitments.

Recognizing the worth of others: The master initially devalues the horse because it is old and weak, but the horse proves that it still has value by successfully capturing the lion. This theme serves as a reminder not to underestimate or dismiss the worth of others based on superficial judgments or appearances.

The role of fate and second chances: The horse is granted a second chance to prove its worth, and this opportunity allows it to change its fate. This aspect of the story emphasizes the importance of redemption and the possibility of overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds.

These interpretations are just a few examples of the themes and messages found in „The Fox and the Horse.“ As with many fairy tales, the story offers multiple layers of meaning, allowing readers to explore various ideas and values through the characters‘ actions and experiences.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The fox and the horse“

„The Fox and the Horse“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, and as a result, there are fewer adaptations compared to some of their more popular stories. However, some adaptations and retellings of the tale do exist:

Literature: The tale has been retold and included in various fairy tale collections and anthologies. For example:

„Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, which features the original version of the story.
„A Book of Enchantments and Curses“ (1997) by Ruth Manning-Sanders, a collection of fairy tales that includes a retelling of „The Fox and the Horse.“
„Grimm’s Fairy Tales: 64 Dark Original Tales – With Accompanying Facts, 55 Illustrations, and 62 Free Online Audio Files“ (2014) by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and Dino Lingo, an annotated edition of the original tales that includes „The Fox and the Horse.“

Storytelling and Oral Tradition: As with many traditional folk tales, „The Fox and the Horse“ has been passed down through generations via oral storytelling. Storytellers and performers have shared their adaptations of the tale in live performances, radio programs, and podcasts, such as:

The storytelling performance by Jim Weiss in his audiobook „Grimm’s Fairy Tales,“ which includes an adaptation of „The Fox and the Horse.“
The podcast episode „The Fox and the Horse“ from the podcast series „Myths, Legends, and Fairytales of India“ by Kamakshi Media, which retells the story with a unique Indian twist.

While there are fewer adaptations of „The Fox and the Horse“ compared to other well-known Grimm’s fairy tales, the story continues to be shared through literature and storytelling. Its themes of wisdom, friendship, loyalty, and gratitude resonate with audiences and provide valuable lessons that are still relevant today.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The fox and the horse“

„The Fox and the Horse“ is a classic fairy tale from Brothers Grimm that has been adapted and retold in various forms over the years. Here are some notable adaptations:

Disney’s „The Fox and the Hound“ (1981): This animated film is loosely based on the Brothers Grimm’s tale and tells the story of a young fox and a hunting dog who become unlikely friends despite their natural instincts.

„The Fox and the Horse“ by Rainbow Rowell (2020): This children’s book reimagines the story with a positive twist, showing how the fox and the horse learn to work together and become true friends.

„The Horse and the Fox“ by Gail Carson Levine (2015): This book is a retelling of the story from the horse’s perspective, giving readers a deeper insight into his thoughts and feelings.

„The Cunning Little Vixen“ by Leoš Janáček (1924): This opera is based on a Czech comic strip that was inspired by the Brothers Grimm’s tale, and features a clever vixen who outwits the other animals in the forest.

„The Fox and the Horse“ by Paul Galdone (1971): This illustrated children’s book stays true to the original story, but updates the language and style for modern readers.

Overall, „The Fox and the Horse“ has inspired a wide range of adaptations and retellings, showcasing the enduring appeal and relevance of this classic fairy tale.

Summary of the plot

„The Fox and the Horse“ is a lesser-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm. The story begins with an old, weak horse whose master considers him useless and plans to dispose of him. The horse pleads for a chance to prove his worth and the master agrees, tasking the horse to bring a lion back to the farm. If the horse succeeds, the master will spare its life.

The horse sets off into the forest and meets a cunning fox. The fox offers to help the horse in exchange for a favor. To capture the lion, the fox tricks the lion into climbing a tree by claiming that a storm is approaching and they need to find shelter. Once the lion is in the tree, the fox instructs the horse to quickly carry the lion back to the farm while the lion is stuck in the tree.

Upon the horse’s successful return with the lion, the master is impressed and allows the horse to live. The master then sets his sights on the fox, wanting to kill it. However, the horse remembers the favor it owes the fox and convinces the master to spare the fox’s life as well. The story concludes with the horse and the fox parting ways as friends, emphasizing the themes of cunning, friendship, loyalty, and gratitude.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The fox and the horse“

„The Fox and the Horse“ is a classic fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, two German scholars named Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. The Brothers Grimm are best known for their compilation of German and European folktales in their famous work „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ or „Children’s and Household Tales,“ first published in 1812. Their collection contains over 200 stories, including well-known tales such as „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ „Hansel and Gretel,“ and „Rapunzel.“

The Brothers Grimm collected these tales as part of a broader project to preserve the oral storytelling traditions of Germany and Europe. Many of the stories they gathered had been passed down through generations, reflecting the cultural values and beliefs of the people. The tales often include elements of magic, fantastical creatures, and moral lessons, making them both entertaining and educational.

„The Fox and the Horse“ is a lesser-known tale from the Grimms‘ collection, but it shares the same themes and motifs as many other popular stories in the collection. The story highlights the importance of friendship, loyalty, resourcefulness, and the consequences of greed and ingratitude. Like many other fairy tales, the story offers valuable insights and lessons that remain relevant to modern readers.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The fox and the horse“

„The Fox and the Horse“ can be interpreted in several ways, offering valuable lessons and insights:

The value of true friendship and loyalty: The horse and the fox form an unexpected alliance, and their friendship helps the horse overcome his predicament. The fox’s loyalty and willingness to help the horse demonstrate the importance of supporting one another in times of need.

The danger of greed and ingratitude: The horse’s master is depicted as a greedy and ungrateful individual who is willing to cast aside a loyal servant because of his inability to work. This serves as a cautionary tale about the negative consequences of valuing material gain over loyalty and gratitude.

The power of resourcefulness and intelligence: The fox uses his cunning and resourcefulness to outwit the lion, a much stronger and fiercer animal. This illustrates that intelligence and creative thinking can often be more valuable than physical strength in overcoming challenges.

The importance of second chances: The horse’s master ultimately changes his mind and decides to care for the horse after witnessing the impressive feat of capturing the lion. This demonstrates the importance of giving second chances and recognizing the potential for redemption and growth.

The consequences of underestimating others: Both the master and the lion underestimate the abilities of the horse and the fox. The master dismisses the horse’s worth due to his age, and the lion falls into the fox’s trap, believing he is superior. This highlights the importance of not underestimating others based on appearances or preconceived notions.

Summary of the plot

„The Fox and the Horse“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm about a faithful old horse who is cast out by his master when he is no longer able to work. Feeling dejected, the horse wanders into the forest where he encounters a clever fox. The horse tells the fox about his master’s ultimatum: if he can bring a lion to him, he will be allowed to stay and be cared for. The fox agrees to help the horse in exchange for protection.

The fox devises a plan and instructs the horse to lie down as if dead. He then leads the lion to the seemingly lifeless horse, suggesting that the lion can enjoy an easy meal. The lion agrees, but the fox suggests tying the horse to the lion’s tail to make it easier for the lion to drag the horse back to his den. The lion complies, but the fox cunningly ties the lion’s legs together instead, making it impossible for the lion to escape.

Once the trap is set, the fox taps the horse, signaling him to get up and start pulling. The horse, now in control, drags the lion back to his master’s house. The lion’s roars terrify the birds in the forest, but the horse continues to pull him to his destination. Upon seeing the captured lion, the master changes his mind and allows the horse to stay with him, promising to care for him until the end of his days.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 132
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 47A
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RO, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson33.2
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index80.2
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level8.4
Gunning Fog Index11
Coleman–Liau Index6.5
SMOG Index7.6
Automated Readability Index9.1
Character Count2.406
Letter Count1.821
Sentence Count19
Word Count481
Average Words per Sentence25,32
Words with more than 6 letters38
Percentage of long words7.9%
Number of Syllables574
Average Syllables per Word1,19
Words with three Syllables11
Percentage Words with three Syllables2.3%
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