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The Godfather
Grimm Märchen

The Godfather - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 6 min

A poor man had so many children that he had already asked every one in the world to be godfather, and when still another child was born, no one else was left whom he could invite. He knew not what to do, and, in his perplexity, he lay down and fell asleep. Then he dreamt that he was to go outside the gate, and ask the first person who met him to be godfather. When he awoke, he determined to obey his dream, and went outside the gate, and asked the first person who came up to him to be godfather.

The stranger presented him with a little glass of water, and said, „This is a wonderful water, with it thou canst heal the sick, only thou must see where Death is standing. If he is standing by the patient’s head, give the patient some of the water and he will be healed, but if Death is standing by his feet, all trouble will be in vain, for the sick man must die.“ From this time forth, the man could always say whether a patient could be saved or not, and became famous for his skill, and earned a great deal of money.

Once he was called in to the child of the King, and when he entered, he saw death standing by the child’s head and cured it with the water, and he did the same a second time, but the third time Death was standing by its feet, and then he knew the child was forced to die. Once the man thought he would visit the godfather, and tell him how he had succeeded with the water. But when he entered the house, it was such a strange establishment! On the first flight of stairs, the broom and shovel were disputing, and knocking each other about violently.

He asked them, „Where does the godfather live?“ The broom replied, „One flight of stairs higher up.“ When he came to the second flight, he saw a heap of dead fingers lying. He asked, „Where does the godfather live?“ One of the fingers replied, „One flight of stairs higher.“ On the third flight lay a heap of dead heads, which again directed him to the flight beyond. On the fourth flight, he saw fishes on the fire, which frizzled in the pans and baked themselves. They, too, said, „One flight of stairs higher.“

And when he had ascended the fifth, he came to the door of a room and peeped through the keyhole, and there he saw the godfather who had a pair of long horns. When he opened the door and went in, the godfather got into bed in a great hurry and covered himself up. Then said the man, „Sir godfather, what a strange household you have! When I came to your first flight of stairs, the shovel and broom were quarreling, and beating each other violently.“

„How stupid you are!“ said the godfather. „That was the boy and the maid talking to each other.“ – „But on the second flight I saw dead fingers lying.“ – „Oh, how silly you are! Those were some roots of scorzonera.“ – „On the third flight lay a heap of dead men’s heads.“ – „Foolish man, those were cabbages.“ – „On the fourth flight, I saw fishes in a pan, which were hissing and baking themselves.“

When he had said that, the fishes came and served themselves up. „And when I got to the fifth flight, I peeped through the keyhole of a door, and there, godfather, I saw you, and you had long, long horns.“ – „Oh, that is a lie!“ The man became alarmed, and ran out, and if he had not, who knows what the godfather would have done to him.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The godfather“

„The Godfather“ is a lesser-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their famous compilation, „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales.“ The story, also known as „Der Gevatter Tod“ in German, was first published in 1812 in the first edition of the collection and has been translated and adapted in various forms since then. Here is a brief background on the tale:

Origin and influences: The story of „The Godfather“ has its roots in European folklore, drawing on various oral traditions and folktales. The Brothers Grimm collected these stories from different sources, such as the Hassenpflug family and other storytellers, to create a cohesive narrative. The tale shares themes and motifs with other folktales, such as the role of a supernatural godparent and the theme of mortality.

The Brothers Grimm: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were German linguists, cultural researchers, and scholars who sought to preserve and document the rich oral tradition of European folklore. They believed that these stories had a cultural and historical significance that was worth preserving. Their work has had a lasting impact on literature, folklore, and popular culture. The Brothers Grimm collected and published over 200 stories in their book „Children’s and Household Tales“ (Kinder- und Hausmärchen) in the early 19th century, which became popular worldwide and helped preserve the German cultural heritage. Some of the most famous tales from the collection include „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ „Hansel and Gretel,“ and „Rapunzel.“

Themes and motifs: The story explores themes of mortality, the inevitability of death. The godfather figure, in this case, Death, serves as a mentor and guide, but also as a reminder of the ultimate fate of all living beings. The tale also addresses the age-old desire for humans to conquer death and the limits of human power. The Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales were not initially meant solely for children but rather a general audience. Many of the tales contain dark and sometimes violent themes, reflecting the nature of the original stories passed down through oral tradition. However, as the tales became more popular, the Brothers Grimm began revising the stories and removing some of the more adult content to make them more suitable for children.

Impact and adaptations: Though „The Godfather“ is not as well-known as other Grimm fairy tales, it has still inspired various adaptations, including films, plays, and other works of literature. Its themes of mortality and the human desire to control fate continue to resonate with audiences today. „The Godfather“ is a unique tale in the Grimm’s collection because it touches on themes of destiny, duality of life and death, deception, and the pursuit of knowledge, which can be both enlightening and dangerous. The story offers a fascinating perspective on fate, morality, and human nature.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The godfather“

„The Godfather“ by the Brothers Grimm can be interpreted on multiple levels, reflecting different aspects of human nature, societal norms, and philosophical beliefs. Here are some possible interpretations of the fairy tale:

The ethics of power: The young man’s unique ability to heal the sick and bring people back from the brink of death can be interpreted as an exploration of the ethical implications of power. By deciding who lives and who dies, the young man plays God, raising questions about the moral responsibility that comes with such power. This interpretation can encourage readers to consider the consequences of wielding power over others and the importance of using it responsibly.

The role of mentorship: The godfather figure, in this case, Death, serves as a mentor and guide to the young man, teaching him valuable skills and helping him navigate the world. This interpretation emphasizes the importance of mentorship and guidance in personal development and the need for individuals to learn from those who have come before them.

Destiny and the power of dreams: The poor man follows the instructions in his dream, leading him to meet the godfather and receive the magical water. This can be seen as an example of trusting one’s intuition and the belief that dreams may have a deeper meaning, guiding us towards our destiny.

The duality of life and death: The magical water represents the thin line between life and death, and the inevitability of our fate. The man can heal patients if Death is at their head, but he is powerless to help if Death is at their feet. This suggests that despite our efforts, we cannot always escape or change the course of fate.

Deception and appearances: The godfather’s strange household may symbolize that not everything is as it seems. The odd occurrences the man witnesses may represent the hidden or deceptive nature of the godfather, who could possibly be Death himself or a dark, supernatural being. The godfather tries to convince the man that he saw ordinary things, yet the man remains suspicious and afraid, hinting at the importance of trusting our instincts when something feels wrong.

The dangers of seeking knowledge: The man’s curiosity leads him to visit the godfather, but this quest for knowledge places him in danger. This theme reflects the idea that some things are better left unknown, and that delving too deeply into the mysteries of life may put us at risk.

Overall, „The Godfather“ presents a thought-provoking story that explores the complexities of fate, the hidden nature of people and things, and the potential consequences of seeking knowledge. „The Godfather“ offers various interpretations that reflect on human nature, ethical dilemmas, and the consequences of defying the natural order. The tale’s themes and motifs continue to resonate with readers, inviting them to consider the complexities of life, death, and human ambition.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The godfather“

„The Godfather“ is a lesser-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859) Grimm, German scholars, linguists, and authors who are best known for their compilation of German folktales. While „The Godfather“ by the Brothers Grimm is not as well-known as some of their other fairy tales, it has still inspired various adaptations in different media. Here are a few examples:

Films: „The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was“ (1984) – Directed by Rainer Simon, this East German film adaptation, also known as „Der Gevatter Tod,“ takes inspiration from „The Godfather“ and another Grimm fairy tale, „The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was.“ The film combines elements from both stories to create a unique narrative that explores themes of mortality, fear, and the supernatural. „The Godfather“ was adapted into an animated short film in 2006 by the French animation studio, Les Films du Nord. The film, which is titled „Le Parrain de la forêt“ in French, stays true to the original tale and features striking visuals and a haunting musical score.

Literature: „Godfather Death“ in „The Bloody Chamber“ (1979) – Acclaimed British author Angela Carter reimagined „The Godfather“ in her short story collection, „The Bloody Chamber.“ Carter’s version, titled „Godfather Death,“ offers a more modern and feminist take on the original tale while retaining its core themes of mortality and the consequences of defying the natural order. The story was also adapted into a children’s book in 2018 by the American author and illustrator, Jerry Pinkney. Pinkney’s version of the story features his signature watercolor illustrations and includes a modern twist in which the son is a girl.

Theater: „Godfather Death: A Play“ (2007) – Written by Joshua M. Feder, this stage adaptation of „The Godfather“ remains true to the original story while incorporating modern elements, such as the use of multimedia projections. The play explores the themes of power, mortality, and human nature through a combination of traditional storytelling and contemporary theatrical techniques.

Television: „Jim Henson’s The Storyteller“ (1988) – Although not a direct adaptation, the episode „The Soldier and Death“ from this television series shares similarities with „The Godfather.“ In this retelling, a soldier encounters Death and is given a magical sack and a deck of cards that grant him power over life and death. Like „The Godfather,“ the story explores the consequences of defying the natural order and the dangers of hubris.

Music: „Death and the Maiden“ (1996) – The German darkwave band Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows released a song called „Death and the Maiden“ on their album „Todeswunsch – Sous le soleil de Saturne.“ The song’s lyrics reference „The Godfather“ and explore themes of mortality, love, and the human desire to escape death.

Audiobooks:„The Godfather“ has also been adapted into a play by the British playwright, David Greig. Greig’s play, which is titled „The Devil’s Larder,“ is a collection of short plays that are loosely based on various Grimm tales, including „The Godfather.“

„The Godfather“ is not as well-known as some of the other fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, but there have been a few adaptations and retellings of the story. These adaptations demonstrate the enduring appeal and relevance of „The Godfather“ by the Brothers Grimm. The story’s themes of mortality, hubris, and the consequences of defying the natural order continue to resonate with audiences and inspire artists across various forms of media. Overall, „The Godfather“ may not be as well-known as some of the other fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm, but it has still inspired a number of creative adaptations and retellings over the years.

Summary of the plot

In „The Godfather,“ a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, a poor man with many children dreams that he must ask the first person he meets outside his gate to be the godfather of his latest child. Upon waking, he follows the instructions of his dream and meets a stranger who agrees to be the godfather. The stranger gifts him a glass of magical water, which can heal the sick if Death is standing at their head. If Death stands at their feet, however, the patient is destined to die.

The man becomes famous for his healing abilities, and even saves the King’s child twice using the magical water. The third time, he sees Death at the child’s feet, and knows the child must die. Curious about the godfather’s life, the man decides to visit him. The godfather’s house is a strange place, with household objects arguing and seemingly macabre items on each flight of stairs.

Finally, the man reaches the godfather’s room and sees him with long horns through the keyhole. Upon entering, the godfather tries to explain away the man’s observations, saying that they were ordinary items, and denies having horns. However, the man is afraid and flees the house, narrowly escaping the godfather’s wrath.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 42
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 332
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson28.4
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index84.7
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level5.8
Gunning Fog Index9.1
Coleman–Liau Index7.8
SMOG Index8.7
Automated Readability Index6.1
Character Count3.302
Letter Count2.505
Sentence Count36
Word Count626
Average Words per Sentence17,39
Words with more than 6 letters69
Percentage of long words11%
Number of Syllables773
Average Syllables per Word1,23
Words with three Syllables33
Percentage Words with three Syllables5.3%
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