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The Hand with the Knife
Grimm Märchen

The Hand with the Knife - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 3 min

Attention: This is a scary story.

There once lived a girl who had three brothers. The boys meant everything to their mother, and the girl was always put at a disadvantage and treated badly. Every day she had to go out to a barren heath to dig peat, which was used for cooking and heating. A dull old tool was all she had for that nasty work.

The little girl had an admirer, an elf who lived in a hill near her mother’s house. Whenever she passed by that hill, the elf would stretch his hand out of a boulder and hold out a very sharp knife that had special powers and could cut through anything.

She was able to dig out the peat quickly with that knife, go home with the required amount, and when she got to the boulder, she tapped on it twice. The hand would then reach out to take back the knife.

When the mother began to notice how quickly and effortlessly the girl brouhgt home the peat, she told the brothers that someone else had to be helping her with the work, otherwise it wouldn’t be possible.

The brothers stealthily followed her and saw how she got the magical knife, then caught up with her and forced her to give it to them. They headed back, struck the rock as the girl had done, and when the good elf stretched his hand out, they cut it off with his own knife.

The bloody arm pulled back, and because the elf believed that his beloved had betrayed him, he was never seen again.

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Backgrounds to the fairy tale „The hand with the knife“

„The Hand with the Knife“ is a lesser-known fairy tale that was included in the first edition of the Brothers Grimm’s Children’s and Household Tales in 1812. The story originates from Anne Grant of Laggan’s „Essays on the superstitions of the highlanders of Scotland“ (1811). The Brothers Grimm used this source to translate the summary of the magic tale relatively accurately. The story has elements of supernatural beliefs and folklore, which were common in Scotland and other parts of Europe at the time. The tale centers around the theme of a disadvantaged girl who receives help from a supernatural being, in this case, an elf. This theme is common in many fairy tales, where a magical helper assists the protagonist in overcoming adversity.

The tale also explores the themes of jealousy, betrayal, and the consequences of one’s actions. The mother’s suspicion and the brothers‘ actions lead to the unfortunate outcome for the girl and the elf, which highlights the repercussions of deceit and cruelty. As the tale was replaced by another story („The Strange Musician,“ KHM 8) in subsequent editions of the Brothers Grimm’s collection, „The Hand with the Knife“ remains a lesser-known story with limited background information available. The story shares some similarities with other Grimm tales, such as „One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes“ (KHM 130), which also focuses on the theme of a disadvantaged girl receiving help from a magical being.

The Brothers Grimm, Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859) Grimm, were German academics, linguists, and cultural researchers who collected and published folk tales during the early 19th century. Their most famous work, „Children’s and Household Tales“ (Kinder- und Hausmärchen), was published in 1812 and contained stories like „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ „Rapunzel,“ and „Hansel and Gretel.“ The Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales are well-known for their dark and sometimes gruesome elements, and „The Hand with the Knife“ is no exception. Their stories often involve elements of magic and fantastical creatures, as well as themes of love, betrayal, greed, and jealousy. The tales were not originally intended for children, as they contained violence and other mature themes, but later versions were adapted to be more family-friendly.

While „The Hand with the Knife“ is not as popular or well-known as other Grimm fairy tales, it shares many themes and motifs with other stories in their collection. The presence of an enchanted object (the magical knife), a supernatural being (the elf), and themes of betrayal and greed, make it a classic example of a Brothers Grimm tale. It is important to note that the Brothers Grimm’s work was a part of a broader European movement to preserve and share folklore. In addition to their impact on literature and popular culture, their work has been influential in the fields of linguistics, folklore, and cultural history.

Interpretations to the fairy tale „The hand with the knife“

„The Hand with the Knife“ is a fairy tale that can be interpreted in several ways. Some possible interpretations include:

The struggle for love and appreciation: The girl’s constant efforts to gain her family’s love and attention demonstrate the universal human need for belonging and affection. Despite her hard work, she is neglected by her mother, who favors her brothers. The elf’s admiration and support can be seen as a representation of the love she longs for but cannot find within her family.

Power dynamics within the family: The story highlights the unequal treatment and power dynamics within the family. The brothers and the mother wield their authority over the girl, who has to work harder to prove herself. This power imbalance leads to jealousy and betrayal when the brothers realize she has an advantage due to the magical knife.

Betrayal and its consequences: The act of betrayal by the brothers not only results in the loss of the elf’s hand but also the end of the magical assistance the girl had been receiving. The story serves as a reminder of the negative consequences betrayal can have, as it destroys trust and potentially beneficial relationships.

The destructive nature of jealousy and greed: The mother’s jealousy and the brothers‘ greed are the driving forces behind the cruel actions taken against the girl and the elf. Instead of being happy for the girl’s newfound efficiency, they take away her source of help and ultimately ruin the special bond she had with the elf. The story teaches that jealousy and greed can bring harm to others and destroy the happiness of everyone involved.

The loss of innocence: As the girl loses the support of the elf, the story illustrates the loss of innocence in a harsh world. Her brief respite from the difficulties of life is snatched away by the selfish actions of her own family, showing that even those we love can cause us pain and suffering.

The importance of kindness and compassion: The disadvantaged girl in the story faces hardships due to her mother’s unfair treatment and her brothers‘ actions. The elf’s kindness helps her, showing that empathy and compassion can significantly improve a person’s life. This interpretation highlights the importance of being kind and considerate to others, regardless of their circumstances.

The consequences of jealousy and betrayal: The mother’s jealousy leads her to suspect that someone is helping her daughter, causing her to send the brothers to investigate. The brothers‘ betrayal results in the girl losing the elf’s help and friendship. This interpretation emphasizes the negative impact of jealousy and betrayal on relationships and the importance of trust and loyalty.

The role of the supernatural in folk beliefs: The story features an elf as a magical helper, which is a common motif in European folklore. This interpretation highlights the role that supernatural beings played in folk beliefs, often serving as protectors or helpers for those in need.

The power of perseverance and resilience: Despite the challenges she faces, the girl continues to work hard and remains steadfast in her duties. Her perseverance ultimately attracts the elf’s attention and help, suggesting that resilience and determination can lead to positive outcomes, even in the face of adversity.

The consequences of greed and selfishness: The mother and brothers‘ actions are driven by selfishness and greed, leading to the loss of the elf’s help and the girl’s suffering. This interpretation emphasizes the importance of selflessness and generosity in fostering healthy relationships and positive outcomes.

Overall, „The Hand with the Knife“ offers various lessons and insights into human nature, the importance of kindness and compassion, and the consequences of jealousy, betrayal, and selfishness.

Summary of the plot

„The Hand with the Knife“ is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a girl who is treated unfairly by her family. She has three brothers who are doted on by their mother, while she is forced to work hard, digging peat for heating and cooking with a dull old tool on a barren heath. However, she has a secret admirer – an elf who lives in a nearby hill. The elf provides her with a magical knife that can cut through anything, making her daily task much easier.

As the girl passes the elf’s hill, he stretches out his hand from a boulder and presents her with the powerful knife. With this tool, she quickly digs out the required peat and returns home. Before heading back, she taps the boulder twice, and the elf retrieves the knife. Her mother becomes suspicious of her efficiency and believes that someone is helping her.

The brothers decide to follow their sister and discover her secret. They confront her, take the magical knife, and deceitfully return to the boulder. As the elf extends his hand to take back the knife, they betray his trust and cut off his hand with the very same knife. The elf, believing that the girl he admired had betrayed him, disappears and is never seen again. This tale presents a tragic story of love, betrayal, and the consequences of greed and jealousy.


„The Hand with the Knife“ is a fairy tale about a girl who is unfairly treated by her mother and three brothers. She is forced to cut peat daily with a dull tool. However, an elf who loves her secretly helps her by giving her a sharp knife from inside a hill. The mother, suspecting that someone is helping her daughter, sends the brothers to investigate. They manage to steal the knife from the girl, imitate her knocking signal, and cut off the hand that reaches out from the hill. The elf, believing he has been betrayed, never shows himself to the girl again. The story highlights the consequences of jealousy, betrayal, and selfishness, as well as the importance of kindness, compassion, and resilience.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 8a
Readability Index by Björnsson35.2
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index78.1
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level7.8
Gunning Fog Index10.7
Coleman–Liau Index8.2
SMOG Index9.2
Automated Readability Index8.7
Character Count1.381
Letter Count1.069
Sentence Count12
Word Count262
Average Words per Sentence21,83
Words with more than 6 letters35
Percentage of long words13.4%
Number of Syllables330
Average Syllables per Word1,26
Words with three Syllables13
Percentage Words with three Syllables5%
1 Kommentar
  1. Americaam 27 Januar 2024 um 13:19

    I believe the meaning of this fairytale is The meaning was that sometimes you get hurt helping someone, but to not assume and take it personally because there might be outside factors that also hurt them. More so id like to point out that the real tragedy of this story is how the elf never peeked out to his beloved.

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