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The Old Man Made Young Again
Grimm Märchen

The Old Man Made Young Again - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 4 min

In the time when our Lord still walked this earth, he and St. Peter stopped one evening at a smith’s and received free quarters. Then it came to pass that a poor beggar, hardly pressed by age and infirmity, came to this house and begged alms of the smith. St. Peter had compassion on him and said, „Lord and master, if it please thee, cure his torments that he may be able to win his own bread.“ The Lord said kindly, „Smith, lend me thy forge, and put on some coals for me, and then I will make this ailing old man young again.“ The smith was quite willing, and St. Peter blew the bellows, and when the coal fire sparkled up large and high our Lord took the little old man, pushed him in the forge in the midst of the red-hot fire, so that he glowed like a rose-bush, and praised God with a loud voice. After that the Lord went to the quenching tub, put the glowing little man into it so that the water closed over him, and after he had carefully cooled him, gave him his blessing, when behold the little man sprang nimbly out, looking fresh, straight, healthy, and as if he were but twenty. The smith, who had watched everything closely and attentively, invited them all to supper. He, however, had an old half-blind crooked, mother-in-law who went to the youth, and with great earnestness asked if the fire had burnt him much. He answered that he had never felt more comfortable, and that he had sat in the red heat as if he had been in cool dew. The youth’s words echoed in the ears of the old woman all night long, and early next morning, when the Lord had gone on his way again and had heartily thanked the smith, the latter thought he might make his old mother-in-law young again likewise, as he had watched everything so carefully, and it lay in the province of his trade. So he called to ask her if she, too, would like to go bounding about like a girl of eighteen. She said, „With all my heart, as the youth has come out of it so well.“ So the smith made a great fire, and thrust the old woman into it, and she writhed about this way and that, and uttered terrible cries of murder. „Sit still; why art thou screaming and jumping about so?“ cried he, and as he spoke he blew the bellows again until all her rags were burnt. The old woman cried without ceasing, and the smith thought to himself, „I have not quite the right art,“ and took her out and threw her into the cooling-tub. Then she screamed so loudly that the smith’s wife upstairs and her daughter-in-law heard, and they both ran downstairs, and saw the old woman lying in a heap in the quenching-tub, howling and screaming, with her face wrinkled and shrivelled and all out of shape. Thereupon the two, who were both with child, were so terrified that that very night two boys were born who were not made like men but apes, and they ran into the woods, and from them sprang the race of apes.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The old man made young again“

„The Old Man Made Young Again“ is another lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, included in their famous collection „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales.“ As with many of their other tales, the Brothers Grimm collected this story from oral traditions and folktales that had been passed down through generations in Germany and other parts of Europe. Their primary goal was to preserve the cultural heritage of these stories and share them with a wider audience.

The story revolves around an old man who becomes young again after bathing in a magical pool. The tale explores themes of youth, old age, and the consequences of the pursuit of eternal youth. It is a cautionary tale that highlights the importance of appreciating the natural course of life and the wisdom that comes with age.

The background of this fairy tale can be traced to several cultural and literary influences:

Folklore and oral traditions: As with many other Grimm fairy tales, „The Old Man Made Young Again“ has its roots in various folktales and oral traditions from Germany and other European countries. The Brothers Grimm collected these stories from a diverse range of sources, such as friends, family members, and local storytellers.

Mythology and legends: The story contains elements from ancient myths and legends, particularly those related to the search for eternal youth or the Fountain of Youth. Such stories have appeared in various cultures throughout history, reflecting the universal human desire for immortality and the fear of aging and death.

Moral and cautionary tales: „The Old Man Made Young Again“ serves as a moral lesson, emphasizing the importance of accepting the natural progression of life and the value of experience and wisdom that come with age. The story teaches readers to appreciate their current stage in life and not to pursue unattainable fantasies of eternal youth, which can lead to negative consequences.

Literary influences: The Brothers Grimm were inspired by the works of other writers and collectors of folktales, such as Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Andersen. These authors also explored themes of youth and aging in their stories, providing inspiration for the Grimm brothers to include similar themes in their own collection.

In summary, „The Old Man Made Young Again“ is a Grimm fairy tale that combines elements from folklore, mythology, and moral cautionary tales to deliver a timeless message about the value of wisdom and the importance of accepting the natural course of life.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The old man made young again“

„The Old Man Made Young Again“ is a thought-provoking tale that offers various interpretations, which can be seen as reflections on human nature, life, and the passage of time. Here are some possible ways to understand the story:

Pursuit of eternal youth: The story can be seen as a cautionary tale about the human desire for eternal youth and the consequences of chasing after unattainable fantasies. The old man’s transformation into a young man highlights the allure of youth, but also serves as a reminder that such pursuits can have unintended consequences and may not bring the happiness one expects.

Wisdom and experience: Another interpretation of the story focuses on the importance of wisdom and experience that come with age. By becoming young again, the old man loses the knowledge and life experience he had gained over the years. This emphasizes the value of the wisdom that comes with age, and the story can be seen as a reminder to appreciate and learn from the experiences of our elders.

Acceptance of the natural course of life: The tale can also be read as a lesson on accepting the natural progression of life and the inevitability of aging. The old man’s pursuit of youth ultimately leads him to an undesirable outcome, as he loses the benefits of his advanced age. The story thus teaches the importance of embracing each stage of life and finding contentment in the present moment.

Consequences of selfish desires: The old man’s desire to become young again can be interpreted as a selfish pursuit. He fails to consider the potential negative consequences of his actions, both for himself and for others. The story serves as a warning about the potential pitfalls of acting on selfish desires without considering the broader implications of one’s actions.

Fear of death and the unknown: The tale can also be seen as an exploration of the human fear of death and the unknown. The old man’s desire to become young again can be viewed as an attempt to escape the inevitability of death and the uncertainties that come with it. The story suggests that it is essential to confront and accept the reality of death, rather than trying to escape it through fantastical means.

In conclusion, „The Old Man Made Young Again“ is a rich and layered tale that offers multiple interpretations, encouraging readers to reflect on themes such as the pursuit of eternal youth, the importance of wisdom and experience, the acceptance of the natural course of life, the consequences of selfish desires, and the fear of death and the unknown.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The old man made young again“

While „The Old Man Made Young Again“ is not as well-known or frequently adapted as some other Grimm fairy tales, it has still inspired various adaptations and references across different media. Some examples include:

Literature: Authors have drawn inspiration from the story to create their own retellings or variations of the tale, often updating it to suit contemporary audiences. For example, in the short story collection „The Witch’s Monkey and Other Tales“ by Jane Yolen, the author includes a story titled „The Man Who Became Young Again“ that adapts the original tale and explores the consequences of the pursuit of eternal youth in a modern context.

Theater: The story has been adapted for the stage, either as a standalone play or as part of a larger collection of Grimm fairy tales. For instance, „The Old Man Made Young Again“ is included in the theatrical production „Grimm’s Fairy Tales: A Patchwork of Stories,“ which presents various Grimm stories as a series of interconnected short plays, with each tale offering a unique perspective on life and human nature.

Film and television: Direct film or television adaptations of „The Old Man Made Young Again“ may be scarce, but the story’s themes and ideas have influenced various productions. The concept of a magical fountain or pool that grants youth can be found in films like „Tuck Everlasting“ (2002), which tells the story of a family who discovers a spring that grants eternal youth, and „The Age of Adaline“ (2015), a film about a woman who stops aging after a mysterious accident.

Art: Visual artists have been inspired by the tale, creating illustrations and paintings that depict scenes or characters from the story. For example, „The Old Man Made Young Again“ has been included in illustrated collections of Grimm fairy tales, featuring artwork that captures the magical transformation and the consequences of the old man’s actions.

Music: Composers have used the story as a basis for musical compositions, such as operas or symphonic works. An example is „The Old Man Made Young Again,“ an operetta by composer Stephen DeCesare that tells the story through a combination of music, dialogue, and lyrics, with the narrative and themes of the original tale adapted to suit a musical format.

While „The Old Man Made Young Again“ may not be as widely adapted as some other Grimm fairy tales, it has left a lasting impact on various art forms and continues to inspire creative reinterpretations that explore the timeless themes of youth, aging, and the human condition.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The old man made young again“

The fairy tale „The old man made young again“ from Brothers Grimm has been adapted in various forms of media over the years. Here are some notable adaptations:

Film adaptations: The story has been adapted into several films, including the 1938 German film „Der alte und der junge König,“ the 1958 Soviet film „The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish,“ and the 1964 Japanese film „Kwaidan.“

Television adaptations: The story has been adapted into several television programs, including the 1987 episode of „Faerie Tale Theater“ and the 1995 episode of „Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics.“

Literary adaptations: The story has been retold and adapted in various forms of literature, including children’s books such as „The Magic Flower“ by Nina Legerwood and „The Old Man and the Flower“ by Leo Lionni.

Theater adaptations: The story has been adapted for the stage, including the 2014 production „The Old Man and the Old Moon“ by PigPen Theater Co.

Music adaptations: The story has inspired musical works, including the opera „L’homme qui devint jeune“ (The Man Who Became Young) by Jules Massenet and the ballet „The Magic Flower“ by Léo Delibes.

Overall, the story has been adapted and reinterpreted in various forms of media, reflecting its enduring popularity and timeless themes.

Summary of the plot

„The Old Man Made Young Again“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm that tells the story of an old man who becomes young again after bathing in a magical pool. The tale explores themes of youth, aging, and the consequences of seeking eternal youth.

In the story, an old man hears of a magical pool that has the power to make anyone who bathes in it young again. Intrigued, he sets out to find the pool, hoping to regain his lost youth. When he finally locates the pool, he eagerly bathes in its waters and is immediately transformed into a young man.

However, the old man soon realizes that he has not only regained his youth but also lost all the wisdom and experience he had acquired throughout his long life. As a young man, he finds himself unable to navigate the world as effectively as he did when he was older. The story serves as a cautionary tale, warning readers of the potential dangers of pursuing eternal youth and encouraging them to appreciate the wisdom and experience that come with age.

The tale concludes with the old man’s realization that his pursuit of youth has brought him more problems than benefits. He learns to appreciate the value of his life’s experiences and the natural process of aging. The story ultimately teaches the importance of embracing each stage of life and finding contentment with the present moment.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The old man made young again“

„The Old Man Made Young Again“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, in their famous compilation of folktales, „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ (originally titled „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“). The Brothers Grimm were German scholars and linguists who dedicated their lives to collecting, preserving, and studying folktales and legends from their country during the early 19th century.

The story features religious figures, Jesus and St. Peter, which is relatively uncommon in the Brothers Grimm’s collection, as most of their tales focus on folklore and mythology. This religious context adds a unique dimension to the narrative, making it stand out among the other stories in the collection.

The tale belongs to a wider tradition of legends and stories about miraculous transformations, rejuvenation, and the pursuit of eternal youth. These themes have been explored in various cultures and across different time periods, reflecting the human fascination with youth, vitality, and the desire to overcome the natural aging process.

It is important to note that „The Old Man Made Young Again“ is not as well-known or widely retold as some of the other tales in „Grimm’s Fairy Tales,“ such as „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ or „Hansel and Gretel.“ However, it still offers valuable insights into themes that have persisted throughout human history, as well as a unique take on the consequences of meddling with divine power.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The old man made young again“

„The Old Man Made Young Again“ can be interpreted in several ways, touching upon themes such as the dangers of hubris, the limitations of human knowledge, and the consequences of meddling with divine power.

The dangers of hubris: The blacksmith, after witnessing Jesus‘ miracle, becomes overconfident in his abilities and attempts to replicate the transformation on his mother-in-law. His arrogance leads him to believe that he can wield divine power, which results in disastrous consequences. The story serves as a cautionary tale against overestimating one’s abilities and knowledge.

The limitations of human knowledge: The blacksmith’s failed attempt to recreate the miracle demonstrates the boundaries of human understanding. While he may have observed and understood the process, he lacked the divine power and wisdom necessary to achieve the same outcome. This theme emphasizes the importance of recognizing and respecting the limits of one’s knowledge and abilities.

Consequences of meddling with divine power: The blacksmith’s attempt to harness divine power for personal gain ultimately leads to suffering for both his mother-in-law and his family. The story illustrates the potential consequences of tampering with forces beyond human control, serving as a reminder to respect the natural order of things and not to interfere with divine workings.

The distinction between divine and human action: The tale highlights the stark contrast between Jesus‘ benevolent miracle and the blacksmith’s misguided attempt at replicating it. This contrast emphasizes the inherent differences between divine intervention and human action, reminding readers that not everything can or should be imitated by mortals.

The origin of apes: The story offers a whimsical explanation for the existence of apes, as descendants of the two boys born with ape-like features. This aspect of the tale adds a layer of folklore and myth to the narrative, reflecting the human tendency to create origin stories to explain the world around us.

Summary of the plot

„The Old Man Made Young Again“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm that tells the story of a miraculous transformation and the consequences of attempting to replicate divine power.

One evening, Jesus and St. Peter arrive at a blacksmith’s home, where they are offered free lodging. A poor, elderly beggar arrives, seeking alms. St. Peter, taking pity on the man, asks Jesus to heal him so he can support himself. Jesus agrees and asks the blacksmith for the use of his forge.

With St. Peter stoking the fire, Jesus places the old man into the red-hot forge, causing him to glow like a rose bush while praising God. He then immerses the man in the quenching tub to cool him down. Upon receiving Jesus‘ blessing, the old man emerges rejuvenated, looking as if he were twenty years old.

The blacksmith, who had observed everything closely, invites everyone to supper. His elderly, half-blind, and crooked mother-in-law inquires about the old man’s experience in the fire. The man replies that he felt comfortable and refreshed. The old woman becomes intrigued by the idea of becoming young again.

The next morning, after Jesus and St. Peter have left, the blacksmith decides to attempt the same transformation on his mother-in-law. Despite his attention to detail, the process goes awry. The old woman writhes in pain and screams while burning in the fire. The blacksmith, realizing his mistake, transfers her to the quenching tub.

Hearing the commotion, the blacksmith’s wife and daughter-in-law rush downstairs to find the old woman disfigured, with a wrinkled and shriveled face. The sight terrifies both women, who are pregnant, causing them to give birth prematurely to two boys resembling apes. The boys flee into the woods, becoming the progenitors of the ape race.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 147
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 753
Translations DE, EN, DA, ES, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH,
Readability Index by Björnsson37.6
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index75.1
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level9.3
Gunning Fog Index11.9
Coleman–Liau Index7.8
SMOG Index8.7
Automated Readability Index10.6
Character Count2.867
Letter Count2.219
Sentence Count21
Word Count554
Average Words per Sentence26,38
Words with more than 6 letters62
Percentage of long words11.2%
Number of Syllables687
Average Syllables per Word1,24
Words with three Syllables19
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.4%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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