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The Little Peasant
Grimm Märchen

The Little Peasant - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 15 min

There was a certain village wherein no one lived but really rich peasants, and just one poor one, whom they called the little peasant. He had not even so much as a cow, and still less money to buy one, and yet he and his wife did so wish to have one. One day he said to her, „Hark you, I have a good thought, there is our gossip the carpenter, he shall make us a wooden calf, and paint it brown, so that it look like any other, and in time it will certainly get big and be a cow.“

The woman also liked the idea, and their gossip the carpenter cut and planed the calf, and painted it as it ought to be, and made it with its head hanging down as if it were eating. Next morning when the cows were being driven out, the little peasant called the cow-herd and said, „Look, I have a little calf there, but it is still small and has still to be carried.“ The cow-herd said, „All right, and took it in his arms and carried it to the pasture, and set it among the grass.“ The little calf always remained standing like one which was eating, and the cow-herd said, „It will soon run alone, just look how it eats already!“ At night when he was going to drive the herd home again, he said to the calf, „If thou canst stand there and eat thy fill, thou canst also go on thy four legs.

I don’t care to drag thee home again in my arms.“ But the little peasant stood at his door, and waited for his little calf, and when the cow-herd drove the cows through the village, and the calf was missing, he inquired where it was. The cow-herd answered, „It is still standing out there eating. It would not stop and come with us.“ But the little peasant said, „Oh, but I must have my beast back again.“ Then they went back to the meadow together, but some one had stolen the calf, and it was gone. The cow-herd said, „It must have run away.“ The peasant, however, said, „Don’t tell me that,“ and led the cow-herd before the mayor, who for his carelessness condemned him to give the peasant a cow for the calf which had run away.

And now the little peasant and his wife had the cow for which they had so long wished, and they were heartily glad, but they had no food for it, and could give it nothing to eat, so it soon had to be killed. They salted the flesh, and the peasant went into the town and wanted to sell the skin there, so that he might buy a new calf with the proceeds. On the way he passed by a mill, and there sat a raven with broken wings, and out of pity he took him and wrapped him in the skin. As, however, the weather grew so bad and there was a storm of rain and wind, he could go no farther, and turned back to the mill and begged for shelter.

The miller’s wife was alone in the house, and said to the peasant, „Lay thyself on the straw there,“ and gave him a slice of bread with cheese on it. The peasant ate it, and lay down with his skin beside him, and the woman thought, „He is tired and has gone to sleep.“ In the meantime came the parson. The miller’s wife received him well, and said, „My husband is out, so we will have a feast.“ The peasant listened, and when he heard about feasting he was vexed that he had been forced to make shift with a slice of bread with cheese on it. Then the woman served up four different things, roast meat, salad, cakes, and wine.

Just as they were about to sit down and eat, there was a knocking outside. The woman said, „Oh, heavens! It is my husband!“ She quickly hid the roast meat inside the tiled stove, the wine under the pillow, the salad on the bed, the cakes under it, and the parson in the cupboard in the entrance. Then she opened the door for her husband, and said, „Thank heaven, thou art back again! There is such a storm, it looks as if the world were coming to an end.“ The miller saw the peasant lying on the straw, and asked, „What is that fellow doing there?“ – „Ah,“ said the wife, „the poor knave came in the storm and rain, and begged for shelter, so I gave him a bit of bread and cheese, and showed him where the straw was.“

The man said, „I have no objection, but be quick and get me something to eat.“ The woman said, „But I have nothing but bread and cheese.“ – „I am contented with anything,“ replied the husband, „so far as I am concerned, bread and cheese will do,“ and looked at the peasant and said, „Come and eat some more with me.“ The peasant did not require to be invited twice, but got up and ate. After this the miller saw the skin in which the raven was, lying on the ground, and asked, „What hast thou there?“ The peasant answered, „I have a soothsayer inside it.“ – „Can he foretell anything to me?“ said the miller. „Why not?“ answered the peasant, „but he only says four things, and the fifth he keeps to himself.“

The miller was curious, and said, „Let him foretell something for once.“ Then the peasant pinched the raven’s head, so that he croaked and made a noise like krr, krr. The miller said, „What did he say?“ The peasant answered, „In the first place, he says that there is some wine hidden under the pillow.“ – „Bless me!“ cried the miller, and went there and found the wine. „Now go on,“ said he. The peasant made the raven croak again, and said, „In the second place, he says that there is some roast meat in the tiled stove.“ – „Upon my word!“ cried the miller, and went thither, and found the roast meat. The peasant made the raven prophesy still more, and said, „Thirdly, he says that there is some salad on the bed.“

„That would be a fine thing!“ cried the miller, and went there and found the salad. At last the peasant pinched the raven once more till he croaked, and said, „Fourthly, he says that there are some cakes under the bed.“ – „That would be a fine thing!“ cried the miller, and looked there, and found the cakes. And now the two sat down to the table together, but the miller’s wife was frightened to death, and went to bed and took all the keys with her. The miller would have liked much to know the fifth, but the little peasant said, „First, we will quickly eat the four things, for the fifth is something bad.“ So they ate, and after that they bargained how much the miller was to give for the fifth prophesy, until they agreed on three hundred thalers.

Then the peasant once more pinched the raven’s head till he croaked loudly. The miller asked, „What did he say?“ The peasant replied, „He says that the Devil is hiding outside there in the cupboard in the entrance.“ The miller said, „The Devil must go out,“ and opened the house-door. Then the woman was forced to give up the keys, and the peasant unlocked the cupboard. The parson ran out as fast as he could, and the miller said, „It was true. I saw the black rascal with my own eyes.“ The peasant, however, made off next morning by daybreak with the three hundred thalers.

At home the small peasant gradually launched out. He built a beautiful house, and the peasants said, „The small peasant has certainly been to the place where golden snow falls, and people carry the gold home in shovels.“ Then the small peasant was brought before the Mayor, and bidden to say from whence his wealth came. He answered, „I sold my cow’s skin in the town, for three hundred thalers.“ When the peasants heard that, they too wished to enjoy this great profit, and ran home, killed all their cows, and stripped off their skins in order to sell them in the town to the greatest advantage. The Mayor, however, said, „But my servant must go first.“ When she came to the merchant in the town, he did not give her more than two thalers for a skin, and when the others came, he did not give them so much, and said, „What can I do with all these skins?“

Then the peasants were vexed that the small peasant should have thus overreached them, wanted to take vengeance on him, and accused him of this treachery before the Mayor. The innocent little peasant was unanimously sentenced to death, and was to be rolled into the water, in a barrel pierced full of holes. He was led forth, and a priest was brought who was to say a mass for his soul. The others were all obliged to retire to a distance, and when the peasant looked at the priest, he recognized the man who had been with the miller’s wife. He said to him, „I set you free from the cupboard, set me free from the barrel.“ At this same moment up came, with a flock of sheep, the very shepherd who as the peasant knew had long been wishing to be Mayor, so he cried with all his might, „No, I will not do it. If the whole world insists on it, I will not do it!“

The shepherd hearing that, came up to him, and asked, „What art thou about? What is it that thou wilt not do?“ The peasant said, „They want to make me Mayor, if I will but put myself in the barrel, but I will not do it.“ The shepherd said, „If nothing more than that is needful in order to be Mayor, I would get into the barrel at once.“ The peasant said, „If thou wilt get in, thou wilt be Mayor.“ The shepherd was willing, and got in, and the peasant shut the top down on him. Then he took the shepherd’s flock for himself, and drove it away. The parson went to the crowd, and declared that the mass had been said. Then they came and rolled the barrel towards the water. When the barrel began to roll, the shepherd cried, „I am quite willing to be Mayor.“ They believed no otherwise than that it was the peasant who was saying this, and answered, „That is what we intend, but first thou shalt look about thee a little down below there,“ and they rolled the barrel down into the water.

After that the peasants went home, and as they were entering the village, the small peasant also came quietly in, driving a flock of sheep and looking quite contented. Then the peasants were astonished, and said, „Peasant, from whence comest thou? Hast thou come out of the water?“ – „Yes, truly,“ replied the peasant, „I sank deep, deep down, until at last I got to the bottom. I pushed the bottom out of the barrel, and crept out, and there were pretty meadows on which a number of lambs were feeding, and from thence I brought this flock away with me.“ Said the peasants, „Are there any more there?“ – „Oh, yes,“ said he, „more than I could do anything with.“

Then the peasants made up their minds that they too would fetch some sheep for themselves, a flock apiece, but the Mayor said, „I come first.“ So they went to the water together, and just then there were some of the small fleecy clouds in the blue sky, which are called little lambs, and they were reflected in the water, whereupon the peasants cried, „We already see the sheep down below!“ The Mayor pressed forward and said, „I will go down first, and look about me, and if things promise well I’ll call you.“ So he jumped in; splash! went the water. He made a sound as if he were calling them, and the whole crowd plunged in after him as one man. Then the entire village was dead, and the small peasant, as sole heir, became a rich man.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Little Peasant“

„The Little Peasant“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, in their famous anthology, „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ (Kinder- und Hausmärchen), first published in 1812. The Brothers Grimm were linguists, cultural researchers, and authors who collected and published a vast array of folktales and legends from various regions in Germany and Europe during the 19th century. Their collection of fairy tales has become an essential part of the Western literary canon and has inspired countless adaptations, retellings, and interpretations.

The story of „The Little Peasant“ is set in a village populated by wealthy peasants and a single poor peasant. It showcases the cleverness and resourcefulness of the titular character, who uses his wit to overcome his impoverished circumstances and rise above his social status. Like many of the Brothers Grimm’s tales, „The Little Peasant“ reflects the cultural and social context of 19th-century Germany, with themes such as social hierarchy, cunning, and the consequences of deception and greed.

The Brothers Grimm collected and compiled their stories from various oral and written sources, often modifying and editing the tales to suit their literary and cultural goals. As a result, the stories found in their collection often showcase a unique blend of elements from different regional traditions and variations of the same tale. This diversity contributes to the enduring appeal and cultural significance of the Grimms‘ fairy tales, including „The Little Peasant.“ The tale is firmly rooted in the oral storytelling traditions of European culture. The Brothers Grimm played a significant role in preserving and popularizing the tale, but it is important to remember that the story has evolved over time and that different versions may focus on various aspects of the narrative.

„The Little Peasant“ is a tale about a clever, resourceful, and cunning peasant who uses his wit to outsmart the wealthier and more powerful people in his village. The story follows the peasant as he cleverly manipulates situations to his advantage, ultimately gaining wealth and status. The story explores themes such as cunning and resourcefulness, the importance of wit and intelligence, and the idea that wit can triumph over wealth and power. The tale can be seen as a commentary on social inequality, with the peasant representing the marginalized and oppressed who are able to overcome adversity through their cunning and determination.

The story is rooted in the European oral storytelling tradition, passed down through generations before being recorded and preserved by the Grimm brothers. The fairy tale has been retold and adapted in various forms over the years, with some versions emphasizing different aspects of the story. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were committed to preserving the folktales and oral storytelling traditions of their time. They compiled their collection of stories from ordinary people, often from the lower classes, with the intention of creating a comprehensive collection of traditional German and European folktales.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Little Peasant“

„The Little Peasant“ can be interpreted in various ways, reflecting themes of cunning, resourcefulness, greed, and the consequences of deception.

Resourcefulness and cunning: The little peasant uses his wit and resourcefulness to turn unfavorable situations to his advantage. He manipulates others around him, such as the cow-herd, the miller, and the shepherd, to obtain wealth and a better life. This theme highlights the power of intelligence and creativity in overcoming obstacles and achieving success.

Greed and its consequences: The villagers are driven by greed and envy when they see the little peasant’s newfound wealth. Their desire for material possessions ultimately leads to their downfall. The story serves as a cautionary tale, warning readers against the dangers of succumbing to greed and jealousy. The wealthy and powerful characters in the story are often motivated by greed and dishonesty, which ultimately leads to their downfall. The tale serves as a cautionary reminder of the potential consequences of pursuing wealth and power at the expense of others.

Deception and retribution: Throughout the story, deception plays a significant role. The little peasant deceives others for his benefit, and the miller’s wife and the parson deceive their spouses. In the end, the deceitful characters face the consequences of their actions, either directly or indirectly. This theme suggests that dishonesty may bring short-term gains but often results in long-term consequences.

Social critique: The tale can also be interpreted as a critique of social hierarchy and the corrupt nature of those in power. The wealthy peasants, the miller, and the mayor all abuse their positions for personal gain, while the little peasant, who is initially powerless, uses his cleverness to rise above his station. The story may serve as a reminder that those who hold power are not always deserving or morally upright and that wisdom and cunning can be more valuable than wealth or status.

Social inequality and class struggle: The story can be seen as a commentary on social inequality, with the peasant representing the marginalized and oppressed members of society. Through his cunning and resourcefulness, he manages to triumph over the wealthy and powerful, suggesting that determination and intelligence can help individuals overcome social barriers. The story challenges traditional power dynamics by depicting a lower-class individual outwitting those in higher social positions. The tale serves as a reminder that intelligence and resourcefulness can transcend social boundaries and upend societal expectations.

The underdog story: The tale is an example of the classic underdog story, where an underestimated and seemingly powerless individual triumphs over more powerful adversaries. The little peasant’s success serves as an inspiration and a reminder that intelligence and resourcefulness can overcome even the most challenging obstacles. The protagonist of the story, the little peasant, uses his intelligence and cunning to outsmart the wealthier and more powerful people in his village. The tale emphasizes the importance of wit and resourcefulness in overcoming adversity and achieving success.

These interpretations of „The Little Peasant“ highlight various aspects of human nature, society, and the moral lessons that can be drawn from the tale. Like many other fairy tales, this story serves as a vehicle for exploring universal themes and values that resonate across cultures and generations.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Little Peasant“

„The Little Peasant“ has inspired various adaptations over the years in different forms, including books, television, and theater. These adaptations often put their unique spin on the story, emphasizing different aspects of the tale or modernizing it for contemporary audiences. Here are some specific examples of adaptations:

Illustrated Books: Illustrated versions of „The Little Peasant“ have been published over the years, often as part of larger collections of fairy tales. These editions make the story more accessible to younger readers and bring the tale to life through vivid artwork. The tale has been adapted into several children’s books, such as „The Little Peasant“ by Margaret Read MacDonald and „The Little Peasant“ by Heather Forest.

Films: The story has been adapted into a few films, such as the 1954 Czech film „Malý pán“ and the 1961 Soviet film „Маленький крестьянин“ (Little Peasant).

TV: „Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics“ (1987-1989): This Japanese animated television series adapts various fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm, including „The Little Peasant“ in an episode titled „The Cunning Little Farmer.“ The story follows the original tale closely while adding its unique animated style to appeal to a younger audience. „SimsalaGrimm“ (1999-2010): This German animated television series adapts a variety of Grimm’s fairy tales, including „The Little Peasant“ in an episode with the same title. The series often adds a modern twist to the classic tales, with the protagonists Yoyo and Doc Croc traveling to the world of fairy tales to help solve problems and set things right.

Theater: „The Little Peasant“ has been adapted for the stage in various forms, including plays and puppet shows. These productions often use creative approaches to portray the magical elements of the story and may reinterpret the tale to emphasize different themes or lessons. The story has been adapted into several plays, such as „The Little Peasant“ by Roger Fritz and „The Little Peasant“ by Nikolai Erdman.

Musicals: The tale has been adapted into a musical, such as the 2005 musical „The Little Peasant“ by Stephen DeCesare.

These adaptations of „The Little Peasant“ demonstrate the enduring appeal of the fairy tale and its ability to inspire creativity across different media. While the core story remains the same, each adaptation brings its unique perspective and interpretation, ensuring that the tale continues to resonate with new generations of readers and audiences. These adaptations offer different interpretations and variations of the original story, but they all feature the themes of social and economic inequality, intelligence and resourcefulness, and the unpredictability of fortune.

Summary of the plot

„The Little Peasant“ is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a poor peasant who cleverly manipulates situations to his advantage. In a village of wealthy peasants, the little peasant and his wife long for a cow. They convince a carpenter to build a wooden calf, which the cow-herd eventually exchanges for a real cow. When the couple cannot feed the cow, they kill it, salt its flesh, and sell its skin. The little peasant saves a wounded raven, and this act of kindness leads him to deceive a miller’s wife and a parson, ultimately acquiring a fortune.

When the other villagers learn of the little peasant’s wealth, they kill their cows and try to sell their skins. This scheme fails, and the villagers accuse the little peasant of treachery. He is sentenced to death but escapes by tricking a shepherd into taking his place. The little peasant pretends to have found a magical underwater world full of sheep, which lures the envious villagers into the water to their deaths. As the sole survivor, the little peasant inherits the wealth of the entire village.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 61
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 1535
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson29.7
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index84.6
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level6.2
Gunning Fog Index8.5
Coleman–Liau Index7.6
SMOG Index7
Automated Readability Index6.7
Character Count10.900
Letter Count8.270
Sentence Count110
Word Count2.084
Average Words per Sentence18,95
Words with more than 6 letters225
Percentage of long words10.8%
Number of Syllables2.538
Average Syllables per Word1,22
Words with three Syllables48
Percentage Words with three Syllables2.3%
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