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The Owl
Grimm Märchen

The Owl - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 7 min

Two or three hundred years ago, when people were far from being so crafty and cunning as they are now-a-day, an extraordinary event took place in a little town. By some mischance one of the great owls, called horned owls, had come from the neighboring woods into the barn of one of the townsfolk in the night-time, and when day broke did not dare to venture forth again from her retreat, for fear of the other birds, which raised a terrible outcry whenever she appeared. In the morning when the man-servant went into the barn to fetch some straw, he was so mightily alarmed at the sight of the owl sitting there in a corner, that he ran away and announced to his master that a monster, the like of which he had never set eyes on in his life, and which could devour a man without the slightest difficulty, was sitting in the barn, rolling its eyes about in its head. „I know you already,“ said the master, „you have courage enough to chase a blackbird about the fields, but when you see a dead hen lying, you have to get a stick before you go near it. I must go and see for myself what kind of a monster it is,“ added the master, and went quite boldly into the granary and looked round him. When, however, he saw the strange grim creature with his own eyes, he was no less terrified than the servant had been. With two bounds he sprang out, ran to his neighbours, and begged them imploringly to lend him assistance against an unknown and dangerous beast, or else the whole town might be in danger if it were to break loose out of the barn, where it was shut up. A great noise and clamour arose in all the streets, the townsmen came armed with spears, hay-forks, scythes, and axes, as if they were going out against an enemy; finally, the senators appeared with the burgomaster at their head. When they had drawn up in the market- place, they marched to the barn, and surrounded it on all sides. Thereupon one of the most courageous of them stepped forth and entered with his spear lowered, but came running out immediately afterwards with a shriek and as pale as death, and could not utter a single word. Yet two others ventured in, but they fared no better. At last one stepped forth; a great strong man who was famous for his warlike deeds, and said, „You will not drive away the monster by merely looking at him. We must be in earnest here, but I see that you have all tuned into women, and not one of you dares to encounter the animal.“ He ordered them to give him some armour, had a sword and spear brought, and armed himself. All praised his courage, though many feared for his life. The two barn-doors were opened, and they saw the owl, which in the meantime had perched herself on the middle of a great cross-beam. He had a ladder brought, and when he raised it, and made ready to climb up, they all cried out to him that he was to bear himself bravely, and commended him to St. George, who slew the dragon. When he had just got to the top, and the owl perceived that he had designs on her, and was also bewildered by the crowd and the shouting, and knew not how to escape, she rolled her eyes, ruffled her feathers, flapped her wings, snapped her beak, and cried, „Tuwhit, tuwhoo,“ in a harsh voice. „Strike home! strike home!“ screamed the crowd outside to the valiant hero. „Any one who was standing where I am standing,“ answered he, „would not cry, strike home!“ He certainly did plant his foot one rung higher on the ladder, but then he began to tremble, and half-fainting, went back again. And now there was no one left who dared to put himself in such danger. „The monster,“ said they, „has poisoned and mortally wounded the very strongest man among us, by snapping at him and just breathing on him! Are we, too, to risk our lives?“ They took counsel as to what they ought to do to prevent the whole town being destroyed. For a long time everything seemed to be of no use, but at length the burgomaster found an expedient. „My opinion,“ said he, „is that we ought, out of the common purse, to pay for this barn, and whatsoever corn, straw, or hay it contains, and thus indemnify the owner, and then burn down the whole building, and the terrible beast with it. Thus no one will have to endanger his life. This is no time for thinking of expense, and niggardliness would be ill applied.“ All agreed with him. So they set fire to the barn at all four corners, and with it the owl was miserably burnt. Let any one who will not believe it, go thither and inquire for himself.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The owl“

„The Owl,“ a lesser-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, is an intriguing story with an unusual focus on the titular bird. The story is numbered KHM 174 in the collection „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ (Children’s and Household Tales) which was first published in 1812. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, German scholars and linguists, gathered these tales from various sources in an effort to preserve the oral tradition of storytelling and document the rich tapestry of European folklore.

The origins of „The Owl“ can be traced back to European folktales, with influences from various cultures and traditions. As with other stories in the collection, the Brothers Grimm did not create the tale themselves but collected, edited, and compiled it from oral and written sources. This is why different versions of the same tale may exist.

„The Owl“ tells the story of an owl that takes up residence in a barn owned by a farmer. The bird’s presence causes a great deal of commotion among the other animals in the barn. At night, the owl’s hooting keeps the animals awake, and they become increasingly distressed. The farmer eventually decides to remove the owl from the barn, but the other animals in the village, who have never seen an owl before, become even more terrified by its appearance. In the end, the owl is driven away by the panicked villagers.

This tale differs from many other Grimm fairy tales, as it doesn’t focus on human protagonists, magic, or moral lessons. Instead, it offers a simple, humorous story featuring animals and their interactions. The story could be interpreted as a reflection of the challenges of coexistence and the fear of the unknown, or as a commentary on the natural world and human interference.

While „The Owl“ is not one of the most famous stories from the Brothers Grimm, it remains an interesting example of the diverse range of stories they collected, which together provide a fascinating glimpse into European folklore and the values, beliefs, and themes that have been passed down through generations of storytelling.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The owl“

„The Owl,“ a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, offers a few interpretations and themes that can be drawn from the story. Though it doesn’t focus on magic or moral lessons as other Grimm fairy tales do, it still provides valuable insights. Here are some possible interpretations:

Fear of the unknown: The animals in the barn and the village are terrified by the owl’s presence, mainly because they have never seen or heard one before. This fear of the unknown can be seen as a metaphor for human behavior, as people often fear or reject what they do not understand. The story serves as a reminder to approach the unknown with curiosity rather than fear.

Coexistence and tolerance: The tale can be interpreted as a commentary on the challenges of coexistence among different species or even different individuals within a society. The animals in the barn struggle to adapt to the owl’s presence, eventually leading to the owl’s expulsion. This can be seen as a lesson about the importance of tolerance and understanding when faced with differences or challenges.

The power of rumors and misinformation: The animals‘ fear of the owl is amplified by the lack of accurate information about the bird. Misunderstandings and misinformation about the owl lead to panic and confusion. This theme highlights the importance of seeking accurate information and not allowing rumors or misconceptions to guide our actions or beliefs.

The relationship between humans and nature: The farmer’s decision to remove the owl from the barn can be seen as a metaphor for human interference in the natural world. The story may serve as a cautionary tale about the potential consequences of disrupting the balance of nature and the delicate relationships between different species.

A humorous perspective on animal behavior: „The Owl“ provides a humorous look at animal behavior, reactions, and interactions, offering a light-hearted interpretation that may simply entertain readers. The story serves as a reminder that not all stories need to teach a moral lesson, but can instead provide enjoyment and amusement through the simple retelling of a funny or unexpected situation.

In conclusion, „The Owl“ from Brothers Grimm offers several interpretations that emphasize the importance of understanding and tolerance, the potential consequences of misinformation, and the delicate balance between humans and nature. Additionally, it serves as a reminder that not all stories need to convey a moral lesson, but can also provide entertainment and enjoyment.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The owl“

Although „The Owl“ is not one of the most famous fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm, it has inspired a few adaptations and retellings over the years. Here are some specific examples:

Book retellings and adaptations: Authors and illustrators have retold „The Owl“ or included it as part of larger collections of fairy tales. These books may offer modern interpretations or fresh illustrations to appeal to contemporary audiences. For instance, author Eric A. Kimmel adapted the story in his book „Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon,“ which includes the tale alongside two other stories. The book features illustrations by Ruth Chrisman Gannett and provides a modern retelling of the classic tale.

Animated adaptations: „The Owl“ has been adapted into animated short films and episodes for children’s television programs. Although no mainstream animated adaptation exists, various smaller studios and independent animators have created short versions of the story that can be found on platforms like YouTube.

Puppet shows and live performances: The story of „The Owl“ has been adapted for puppet shows and live performances, often as part of a collection of Grimm’s fairy tales. These adaptations make use of the humor and the interaction between the animals to create engaging and entertaining shows for children.

Audio adaptations: „The Owl“ has been included in audiobook collections of Grimm’s fairy tales, where narrators bring the story to life with expressive readings. These audio adaptations provide a fresh and engaging listening experience for audiences.

While „The Owl“ has not received the same level of attention or adaptations as some of the more famous Grimm fairy tales, it still offers an entertaining and humorous story that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. The various adaptations mentioned above help keep the story alive and introduce it to new generations of readers and viewers.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The owl“

„The Owl“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection, so there are not as many adaptations as some of their more popular stories. However, there have been a few adaptations over the years. Here are some examples:

„The Owl“ was adapted into a short film in 1988 called „Die Eule,“ directed by Teresa von Mende. The film stays faithful to the original story, with the owl helping the young man on his journey and then leaving him when he forgets about her.

The story has been adapted into a children’s book called „The Owl“ by Jackie Morris. The book uses Morris’s stunning illustrations to bring the story to life and make it more accessible to young readers.

In 2018, the story was adapted into a play called „The Owl and the Pussycat“ by Tim Supple and David Tushingham. The play updates the story and sets it in a modern-day city, with the owl and the young man navigating the urban landscape together.

The story has also been adapted into several retellings and reimaginings by various authors. For example, author Anne Rice wrote a novel called „The Master of Rampling Gate“ that incorporates elements of „The Owl“ into the story.

Overall, while „The Owl“ may not be as well-known as some other Brothers Grimm fairy tales, it has still inspired several adaptations and retellings over the years.

Summary of the plot

In the Brothers Grimm fairy tale „The Owl,“ an owl finds its way into a farmer’s barn and takes up residence there. Its hooting at night disturbs the other animals, causing them great distress. The animals complain to the farmer, who decides that the owl must be removed from the barn.

As the farmer and other villagers attempt to drive the owl away, the unfamiliar bird’s appearance scares the other animals in the village. The owl’s large eyes, swiveling head, and strange appearance cause panic and confusion among the animals, who have never seen an owl before.

In their fear, the animals cause chaos throughout the village, further amplifying the panic. Eventually, the owl is driven away by the terrified villagers, and the story concludes without any significant moral lesson or resolution.

„The Owl“ offers a simple, humorous plot focused on animal interactions and reactions to the unknown. It differs from other Grimm fairy tales, as it doesn’t center on human protagonists, magic, or moral lessons. Instead, it provides a light-hearted tale that can be enjoyed for its amusing depiction of animal behavior and the challenges of coexistence.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The owl“

„The Owl“ is a lesser-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, who were German academics, linguists, and cultural researchers named Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. They are best known for their work in compiling, documenting, and popularizing traditional folktales from across Europe in the early 19th century.

The Brothers Grimm published their first collection of folktales, titled „Children’s and Household Tales“ (Kinder- und Hausmärchen), in 1812. The collection underwent several revisions and expansions over the years, with the seventh and final edition being published in 1857. The collection contains some of the most popular and enduring fairy tales, such as „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ „Rapunzel,“ „Hansel and Gretel,“ and „Little Red Riding Hood.“ However, it also includes lesser-known tales like „The Owl.“

The fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm often reflect the social, cultural, and historical context of the times in which they were recorded. These stories typically explore themes such as morality, human nature, and the power of storytelling, while also incorporating elements of fantasy, magic, and adventure. The Grimm brothers‘ work has had a significant impact on literature, folklore studies, and popular culture, with many of their stories being adapted into various forms of media, such as movies, television shows, and stage plays.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The owl“

„The Owl“ by Brothers Grimm can be interpreted in several ways, exploring themes such as fear, ignorance, mob mentality, and the consequences of overreaction.

Fear of the unknown: The townspeople’s reaction to the owl demonstrates their fear of the unknown. They are unable to recognize the creature, and their imagination turns it into a dangerous monster. This theme suggests that fear can often stem from a lack of knowledge and understanding.

Ignorance: The story highlights the ignorance of the townspeople, who are unable to identify the owl as a harmless bird. Their inability to reason and seek information leads them to take drastic measures against a perceived threat. This theme reminds readers of the dangers of ignorance and the importance of education and awareness.

Mob mentality: The townspeople’s collective fear and panic lead to mob mentality, where individuals lose their ability to think rationally and act based on the influence of the group. The collective hysteria causes them to overreact and ultimately burn down the barn, illustrating the consequences of succumbing to mob mentality.

Overreaction and consequences: The story also focuses on the consequences of overreaction. The townspeople’s irrational fear leads them to destroy an entire barn and its contents to eliminate a perceived threat, ultimately causing unnecessary loss and harm. This theme serves as a cautionary tale, emphasizing the importance of rational thinking and measured responses to perceived dangers.

Satire and criticism of authority: The story can be seen as a satirical portrayal of the townspeople, including the burgomaster and the town’s leaders, who fail to recognize the owl for what it is. Their inability to make informed decisions and guide the town in a rational manner highlights the potential shortcomings of authority figures, encouraging readers to question and critically evaluate the decisions of those in power.

Summary of the plot

„The Owl“ is a fairy tale by Brothers Grimm, set in a small town a few centuries ago. One day, a horned owl accidentally found refuge in a barn, causing great panic among the townsfolk. The man-servant who discovered the owl was frightened by its appearance and described it as a dangerous monster. The barn owner, initially skeptical, also grew terrified upon seeing the owl and sought help from the neighbors.

The entire town gathered, armed with various weapons, and surrounded the barn. One by one, brave men ventured inside to confront the owl but emerged pale and speechless. Finally, a renowned strongman armed himself and climbed a ladder to reach the owl, who was perched on a cross-beam. As the crowd outside cheered him on, the owl ruffled its feathers, flapped its wings, and snapped its beak, causing the man to retreat in fear.

With no one else willing to confront the owl, the townspeople feared their town would be destroyed. The burgomaster proposed buying the barn and its contents from the owner, then burning the entire building to kill the owl. Everyone agreed, and the barn was set on fire, resulting in the owl’s unfortunate demise. The story concludes by challenging skeptics to verify the tale’s truth for themselves.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 174
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 1281
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, FR, PT, HU, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson39
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index73.6
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level9
Gunning Fog Index11.6
Coleman–Liau Index8.4
SMOG Index9.4
Automated Readability Index10.1
Character Count4.492
Letter Count3.491
Sentence Count35
Word Count849
Average Words per Sentence24,26
Words with more than 6 letters125
Percentage of long words14.7%
Number of Syllables1.090
Average Syllables per Word1,28
Words with three Syllables41
Percentage Words with three Syllables4.8%
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