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The Nail
Grimm Märchen

The Nail - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 2 min

A merchant had done good business at the fair. He had sold his wares, and lined his money-bags with gold and silver. Then he wanted to travel homewards, and be in his own house before nightfall.

So he packed his trunk with the money on his horse, and rode away. At noon he rested in a town, and when he wanted to go farther the stable-boy brought out his horse and said, „A nail is wanting, sir, in the shoe of its left hind foot.“ – „Let it be wanting,“ answered the merchant; „the shoe will certainly stay on for the six miles I have still to go. I am in a hurry.“

In the afternoon, when he once more alighted and had his horse fed, the stable-boy went into the room to him and said, „Sir, a shoe is missing from your horse’s left hind foot. Shall I take him to the blacksmith?“ – „Let it still be wanting,“ answered the man; „the horse can very well hold out for the couple of miles which remain. I am in haste.“

He rode forth, but before long the horse began to limp. It had not limped long before it began to stumble, and it had not stumbled long before it fell down and broke its leg. The merchant was forced to leave the horse where it was, and unbuckle the trunk, take it on his back, and go home on foot. And there he did not arrive until quite late at night. „And that unlucky nail,“ said he to himself, „has caused all this disaster.“ Hasten slowly.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The nail“

„The Nail“ is a short, lesser-known tale from the Brothers Grimm’s collection „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ (Children’s and Household Tales). Like other Grimm fairy tales, „The Nail“ has its roots in German folklore and oral tradition.

The Brothers Grimm collected stories like „The Nail“ from various sources, including oral traditions, written texts, and personal accounts from friends and acquaintances. Their primary goal was to preserve these stories as part of German cultural heritage and folklore.

„The Nail“ tells the story of a father and son traveling together when their horse loses a nail from its shoe. The father ignores the problem, thinking it insignificant, but this seemingly minor issue leads to a series of events that ultimately result in disaster. The story explores themes such as the importance of paying attention to small details, the consequences of negligence, and the interconnectedness of events.

As a lesser-known story among the Brothers Grimm’s collection, „The Nail“ may not have been as widely circulated or adapted as some of their more famous tales. However, its themes and motifs still resonate with readers, demonstrating the timeless appeal and relevance of the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The nail“

„The Nail“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, but it offers several themes and motifs that provide multiple interpretations. Here are some possible interpretations of the story:

Attention to detail: A central theme in „The Nail“ is the importance of paying attention to small details. The father dismisses the loss of the nail as insignificant, but this seemingly minor issue has significant consequences. The story serves as a reminder to readers that even small matters should be taken seriously and not overlooked.

The consequences of negligence: The story emphasizes the negative consequences of negligence, as the father’s decision to ignore the missing nail leads to disaster. This theme serves as a cautionary lesson for readers, encouraging them to be diligent and mindful in their actions and decisions.

Interconnectedness of events: „The Nail“ highlights the interconnectedness of events and the ripple effect that a single action or decision can have on future outcomes. The story demonstrates how one seemingly minor event can lead to a series of larger consequences, suggesting that readers should be mindful of the potential impact of their choices.

The butterfly effect: The tale can also be interpreted as an illustration of the butterfly effect, a concept from chaos theory that posits that small changes in a complex system can have significant, unpredictable consequences. „The Nail“ demonstrates how a small oversight can set off a chain of events with disastrous outcomes.

The importance of taking responsibility: The story can be seen as a lesson in taking responsibility for one’s actions and decisions. The father’s failure to address the issue of the missing nail leads to a series of unfortunate events, emphasizing the importance of acknowledging and addressing problems, no matter how small they may seem.

In summary, „The Nail“ is a thought-provoking tale that explores themes such as attention to detail, the consequences of negligence, the interconnectedness of events, the butterfly effect, and the importance of taking responsibility. These themes contribute to the timeless appeal and relevance of the story, making it a valuable addition to the Brothers Grimm’s collection of fairy tales.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The nail“

While „The Nail“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, there have been some adaptations and works that draw inspiration from the story or incorporate its themes:

Children’s books: „The Nail“ has been included in various children’s books featuring retellings or adaptations of fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm. These versions often use simplified language and illustrations to make the story more accessible to young readers. Some adaptations might also emphasize the moral lessons or themes of the story, such as the importance of paying attention to details or the consequences of negligence.

Fairy tale anthologies: As part of the Brothers Grimm’s collection, „The Nail“ has appeared in numerous fairy tale anthologies and compilations, alongside other stories by the Brothers Grimm and other authors. These collections often contain retellings or adaptations of the original stories, sometimes with updated language or additional commentary to provide context and analysis.

Theater and storytelling events: Local and amateur theatre groups or storytelling events occasionally include adaptations of „The Nail“ as part of a larger program of fairy tales or Brothers Grimm stories. These performances may use various storytelling techniques to bring the story to life, emphasizing its themes and moral lessons.

Thematic influence: While not a direct adaptation, the themes and motifs found in „The Nail“ may have influenced other works, such as novels, films, or television shows that feature stories centered around the consequences of small actions, the interconnectedness of events, or the importance of responsibility.

Overall, while „The Nail“ has not been adapted as widely as some other Brothers Grimm fairy tales, it remains an engaging story with valuable lessons and themes. The tale’s emphasis on the importance of attention to detail, the consequences of negligence, and the interconnectedness of events continues to resonate with readers and inspire various adaptations and works.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The nail“

„The Nail“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection, but it has inspired a few adaptations over the years. Here are some notable adaptations:

„Der Nagel“ (1918) – This is a German silent film adaptation of the story, directed by Paul Leni. It is one of the earliest film adaptations of a Grimm fairy tale.

„The Grateful Dead“ (1967) – This is a psychedelic rock song by the band, The Grateful Dead, which takes its name from the folktale motif that appears in „The Nail.“ The song’s lyrics refer to the story’s theme of keeping one’s promises and being rewarded for kindness.

„The Blacksmith and the Nail“ (2013) – This is a short animated film by the Russian animator, Dmitry Geller. It is a modern retelling of the story, in which the blacksmith is a woman who runs a small business and promises to fix a customer’s bicycle.

„Der Nagel“ (2016) – This is a German stage adaptation of the story, produced by the Theater Mär in Berlin. The production uses puppetry and live music to tell the story of the blacksmith and the wandering musicians.

„The Nail“ (2020) – This is a short film by the Canadian filmmaker, Michael Enzbrunner. It is a modern retelling of the story, set in a small town in Canada. The film explores the themes of honesty, integrity, and the consequences of one’s actions.

Summary of the plot

„The Nail“ is a short fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm that tells the story of a father and son who experience a series of unfortunate events due to the father’s negligence. Here is a summary of the plot:

A father and his son are traveling with their horse when the father notices that a nail has come loose from the horse’s shoe. The father decides not to fix the nail, thinking it is a minor issue and that they can make it to the nearby village without any trouble. However, his decision to ignore the missing nail leads to a series of consequences.

As they continue on their journey, the loose horseshoe falls off, causing the horse to trip and break its leg. The father is forced to kill the horse and use its hide to make a makeshift bag. He and his son carry on their journey, with the father now carrying the hide.

At the next village, the father sells the hide for a good price, but when he goes to a local inn to celebrate his good fortune, he hangs the bag of money on a hook near the fireplace. The bag catches fire, and the father loses all his earnings. With nothing left, he and his son must return home empty-handed.

The story concludes with a moral lesson, emphasizing the importance of attending to small details and not neglecting seemingly minor issues, as they can lead to significant consequences. In this case, the father’s negligence in addressing the loose nail led to a series of unfortunate events and ultimately, the loss of his earnings.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The nail“

„The Nail“ is a lesser-known fairy tale by Brothers Grimm, who were German academics, linguists, and authors known for their collection of folk tales. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the first edition of their collection, „Children’s and Household Tales“ („Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ in German), in 1812. This collection contained 86 stories, which were later expanded to over 200 in subsequent editions.

The Brothers Grimm are renowned for preserving and popularizing fairy tales that have become an integral part of Western culture. Some of their most famous stories include „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ „Hansel and Gretel,“ „Rapunzel,“ and „Little Red Riding Hood.“ Their work has had a significant influence on the development of the fairy tale genre, as well as on the study of folklore in general.

In „The Nail,“ the Brothers Grimm convey a moral lesson through the story of a merchant who faces the consequences of his haste and neglect of a seemingly minor issue. The tale emphasizes the importance of being cautious and paying attention to details, even when one is in a hurry. It also highlights the interconnectedness of events and the potential consequences of our decisions.

While „The Nail“ may not be as well-known as some of the other tales by the Brothers Grimm, it is a valuable story that imparts important life lessons in a simple and engaging manner.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The nail“

„The Nail“ by Brothers Grimm can be interpreted in various ways. Some possible interpretations are:

The importance of attention to detail: The story illustrates how overlooking a seemingly insignificant detail can lead to disastrous consequences. The merchant’s failure to address the missing nail in his horse’s shoe ultimately caused delays and the loss of his horse. This teaches the importance of paying attention to even the smallest details, as they may have significant impacts.

The consequences of haste: The merchant’s haste to return home led him to dismiss the stable-boy’s concerns twice. His impatience caused him to make poor decisions, which resulted in a worse outcome than if he had taken the time to address the issue. This interpretation emphasizes the importance of taking one’s time and considering potential issues before moving forward.

The value of expert advice: The stable-boy, being more familiar with horses and their needs, recognized the potential problem and tried to warn the merchant. However, the merchant ignored the advice and suffered the consequences. This interpretation highlights the importance of listening to and valuing the expertise of others, especially when they have knowledge or experience that we may lack.

False economy: The merchant believed that he was saving time by not addressing the missing nail, but in reality, his decision ended up costing him more time and resources. This interpretation underscores the importance of considering the long-term consequences of our actions and decisions, rather than focusing solely on short-term gains.

The interconnectedness of events: The story demonstrates how one small oversight can set off a chain reaction of events that lead to an unfavorable outcome. This interpretation encourages reflection on the potential ripple effects of our decisions and actions, and how they can impact not just ourselves but also those around us.

Summary of the plot

In „The Nail“ by Brothers Grimm, a merchant has a successful day at the fair, selling his wares and filling his money-bags with gold and silver. Eager to return home before nightfall, he packs his trunk with money on his horse and sets off. During his journey, he stops at a town to rest. The stable-boy informs him of a missing nail in the horse’s left hind shoe, but the merchant dismisses the concern, citing his urgency to reach home.

Later in the afternoon, the merchant stops again to feed his horse. The stable-boy reiterates the issue with the missing shoe, but the merchant again dismisses the problem, believing the horse can make it the remaining miles without issue. However, as he continues riding, the horse begins to limp, then stumble, and finally falls, breaking its leg. The merchant has no choice but to leave the horse, carry the trunk on his back, and proceed on foot. He arrives home late at night, realizing that the overlooked nail led to his misfortune.

The moral of the story is to „hasten slowly,“ emphasizing the importance of taking care of small details and not rushing through tasks or decisions, as neglecting them can lead to greater problems.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 184
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 2039
Translations DE, EN, DA, ES, FR, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH,
Readability Index by Björnsson24.7
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index88.2
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level4.9
Gunning Fog Index7.4
Coleman–Liau Index6.9
SMOG Index6.9
Automated Readability Index4.6
Character Count1.374
Letter Count1.033
Sentence Count17
Word Count268
Average Words per Sentence15,76
Words with more than 6 letters24
Percentage of long words9%
Number of Syllables325
Average Syllables per Word1,21
Words with three Syllables7
Percentage Words with three Syllables2.6%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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