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The Robber Bridegroom
The Robber Bridegroom Märchen

The Robber Bridegroom - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 10 min

Attention: This is a scary story.

There was once a miller who had a beautiful daughter, and when she was grown up he became anxious that she should be well married and taken care of. So he thought, „If a decent sort of man comes and asks her in marriage, I will give her to him.“ Soon after a suitor came forward who seemed very well to do, and as the miller knew nothing to his disadvantage, he promised him his daughter.

But the girl did not seem to love him as a bride should love her bridegroom. She had no confidence in him. As often as she saw him or thought about him, she felt a chill at her heart. One day he said to her, „You are to be my bride, and yet you have never been to see me.“ The girl answered, „I do not know where your house is.“ Then he said, „My house is a long way in the wood.“

She began to make excuses, and said she could not find the way to it. But the bridegroom said, „You must come and pay me a visit next Sunday. I have already invited company, and I will strew ashes on the path through the wood, so that you will be sure to find it.“ When Sunday came, and the girl set out on her way, she felt very uneasy without knowing exactly why.

And she filled both pockets full of peas and lentils. There were ashes strewed on the path through the wood, but, nevertheless, at each step she cast to the right and left a few peas on the ground. So she went on the whole day until she came to the middle of the wood, where it was the darkest, and there stood a lonely house, not pleasant in her eyes, for it was dismal and unhomelike.

The Robber Bridegroom Fairy TaleImage: Paul Hey (1867 – 1952)

She walked in, but there was no one there, and the greatest stillness reigned. Suddenly she heard a voice cry:

„Turn back, turn back, thou pretty bride,
Within this house thou must not bide,
For here do evil things betide.“

The girl glanced round, and perceived that the voice came from a bird who was hanging in a cage by the wall. And again it cried:

„Turn back, turn back, thou pretty bride,
Within this house thou must not bide,
For here do evil things betide.“

Then the pretty bride went on from one room into another through the whole house, but it was quite empty, and no soul to be found in it. At last she reached the cellar, and there sat a very old woman nodding her head. „Can you tell me,“ said the bride, „if my bridegroom lives here?“ – „Oh, poor child,“ answered the old woman, „do you know what has happened to you? You are in a place of cutthroats.

You thought you were a bride, and soon to be married, but death will be your spouse. Look here, I have a great kettle of water to set on, and when once they have you in their power they will cut you in pieces without mercy, cook you, and eat you, for they are cannibals. Unless I have pity on you, and save you, all is over with you!“ Then the old woman hid her behind a great cask, where she could not be seen.

„Be as still as a mouse,“ said she. „Do not move or go away, or else you are lost. At night, when the robbers are asleep, we will escape. I have been waiting a long time for an opportunity.“ No sooner was it settled than the wicked gang entered the house. They brought another young woman with them, dragging her along, and they were drunk, and would not listen to her cries and groans.

They gave her wine to drink, three glasses full, one of white wine, one of red, and one of yellow, and then they cut her in pieces. The poor bride all the while shaking and trembling when she saw what a fate the robbers had intended for her. One of them noticed on the little finger of their victim a golden ring, and as he could not draw it off easily, he took an axe and chopped it off, but the finger jumped away, and fell behind the cask on the bride’s lap.

The robber took up a light to look for it, but he could not find it. Then said one of the others, „Have you looked behind the great cask?“ But the old woman cried, „Come to supper, and leave off looking till to-morrow. The finger cannot run away.“ Then the robbers said the old woman was right, and they left off searching, and sat down to eat, and the old woman dropped some sleeping stuff into their wine, so that before long they stretched themselves on the cellar floor, sleeping and snoring.

When the bride heard that, she came from behind the cask, and had to make her way among the sleepers lying all about on the ground, and she felt very much afraid lest she might awaken any of them. But by good luck she passed through, and the old woman with her, and they opened the door, and they made all haste to leave that house of murderers.

The wind had carried away the ashes from the path, but the peas and lentils had budded and sprung up, and the moonshine upon them showed the way. And they went on through the night, till in the morning they reached the mill. Then the girl related to her father all that had happened to her. When the wedding-day came, the friends and neighbours assembled, the miller having invited them, and the bridegroom also appeared.

When they were all seated at table, each one had to tell a story. But the bride sat still, and said nothing, till at last the bridegroom said to her, „Now, sweetheart, do you know no story? Tell us something.“ She answered, „I will tell you my dream. I was going alone through a wood, and I came at last to a house in which there was no living soul, but by the wall was a bird in a cage, who cried,

„Turn back, turn back, thou pretty bride,
Within this house thou must not bide,
For evil things do here betide.“

And then again it said it. Sweetheart, the dream is not ended. Then I went through all the rooms, and they were all empty, and it was so lonely and wretched. At last I went down into the cellar, and there sat an old old woman, nodding her head. I asked her if my bridegroom lived in that house, and she answered, „Ah, poor child, you have come into a place of cut-throats. Your bridegroom does live here, but he will kill you and cut you in pieces, and then cook and eat you.“

Sweetheart, the dream is not ended. But the old woman hid me behind a great cask, and no sooner had she done so than the robbers came home, dragging with them a young woman, and they gave her to drink wine thrice, white, red, and yellow. Sweetheart, the dream is not yet ended. And then they killed her, and cut her in pieces. Sweetheart, my dream is not yet ended.

And one of the robbers saw a gold ring on the finger of the young woman, and as it was difficult to get off, he took an axe and chopped off the finger, which jumped upwards, and then fell behind the great cask on my lap. And here is the finger with the ring!“ At these words she drew it forth, and showed it to the company.The robber, who during the story had grown deadly white, sprang up, and would have escaped, but the folks held him fast, and delivered him up to justice. And he and his whole gang were, for their evil deeds, condemned and executed.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Robber Bridegroom“

„The Robber Bridegroom“ is a dark and suspenseful fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their anthology, „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ or „Kinder- und Hausmärchen.“ The story is classified as tale number 40 in their collection. Like many other fairy tales in their anthology, „The Robber Bridegroom“ has its roots in European oral storytelling traditions. The story’s origins are difficult to trace, but it is believed to have been influenced by various European folktales, particularly those from Germany. The Brothers Grimm collected stories from diverse sources, including friends, family members, and local storytellers. The tales they gathered were often derived from a mix of oral traditions and written texts, highlighting the complex cultural influences of the time.

„The Robber Bridegroom“ is a dark and cautionary tale featuring themes of deception, murder, and justice. The story follows a young woman who becomes engaged to a man she does not know well. After a series of eerie encounters, she discovers that her betrothed is actually a robber and murderer. With the help of a magical intervention, she manages to escape and expose the man’s true nature, ultimately leading to his downfall. The story has many elements commonly found in traditional folktales, such as the use of magical objects, the presence of a wise helper, and the final triumph of good over evil. It also bears similarities to other European tales, such as „Bluebeard“ by Charles Perrault and „Fitcher’s Bird,“ another tale from the Brothers Grimm collection.

The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, were linguists and scholars who aimed to preserve German folktales and oral traditions. They gathered these stories from various sources, including friends, acquaintances, and published works. Over time, they revised and expanded their collection, with the final edition containing over 200 tales. „The Robber Bridegroom“ falls under the Aarne-Thompson-Uther (ATU) classification system as ATU 955, „The Robber Bridegroom.“ This classification system, developed by Finnish folklorist Antti Aarne, and later expanded by American folklorist Stith Thompson and German folklorist Hans-Jörg Uther, categorizes folktales based on their narrative structure and common elements. Tales classified as ATU 955 typically involve a young woman who discovers her betrothed is a murderous robber and ultimately exposes him.

Over the years, „The Robber Bridegroom“ has been adapted and reimagined in various forms, including theater productions, novels, and short stories. Its dark and suspenseful nature, along with its strong themes of deception and justice, have continued to captivate audiences and inspire new interpretations. The tale offers a fascinating look into the rich storytelling traditions of the time and remains an enduring part of the Brothers Grimm’s literary legacy.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Robber Bridegroom“

„The Robber Bridegroom“ is a dark and suspenseful fairy tale that offers multiple layers of interpretation. As with many of the Brothers Grimm stories, this tale can be analyzed from various perspectives to uncover deeper meanings and messages. Here are some possible interpretations:

Cautionary Tale: One of the most apparent interpretations of „The Robber Bridegroom“ is that it serves as a cautionary tale. The story warns about the dangers of trusting strangers and the importance of being vigilant in the face of deception. The young woman’s horrifying discovery about her betrothed serves as a reminder to be cautious when entering into relationships and to trust one’s instincts when something seems amiss.

Female Empowerment: The story can also be seen as a narrative of female empowerment. The young woman, despite facing a terrifying and seemingly hopeless situation, manages to outwit her would-be murderer and bring him to justice. Her courage, resourcefulness, and determination can be seen as an example of feminine strength and resilience. Both the miller’s daughter and the old woman play active roles in the story, ultimately outsmarting the robbers and escaping from danger. This theme showcases the strength and intelligence of female characters in a time when women were often portrayed as passive or helpless.

Good vs. Evil: As with many fairy tales, „The Robber Bridegroom“ explores the theme of good versus evil. The protagonist’s struggle to escape her malevolent betrothed and bring him to justice highlights the battle between light and darkness. The ultimate triumph of good over evil serves as a moral message, encouraging readers to stand up against wickedness and injustice.

Symbolism: The story contains several symbolic elements that can be interpreted in different ways. For instance, the dark forest may represent the unknown and dangerous aspects of life, while the magical intervention that helps the young woman can be seen as a metaphor for inner strength or divine assistance.

Social Commentary: Some interpretations of „The Robber Bridegroom“ view it as a commentary on societal expectations and the dangers of blindly following tradition. The young woman is pressured into marrying a man she does not know, reflecting the limitations placed on women’s autonomy and choice during the time the tale was written. The story can be seen as a critique of these societal norms and an encouragement to question and challenge the status quo.

Deception: The tale warns of the dangers of deception, as the seemingly respectable suitor turns out to be a cannibal and murderer. It teaches that appearances can be deceiving and that one should be cautious when trusting others.

Intuition: The miller’s daughter instinctively feels uneasy about her bridegroom even without concrete evidence. The story highlights the importance of trusting one’s intuition in situations that don’t feel right.

Courage and resourcefulness: The girl demonstrates courage and resourcefulness when she scatters peas and lentils to mark her path, ultimately saving herself and the old woman. This highlights the importance of being proactive and using one’s wits to navigate difficult situations.

Justice: In the end, the bridegroom and his gang are brought to justice for their heinous crimes. The story emphasizes the idea that evil deeds will eventually be punished, and good will prevail.

In conclusion, „The Robber Bridegroom“ offers various interpretations, each reflecting different aspects of human nature, society, and morality. These multifaceted narratives are part of what makes fairy tales like those from the Brothers Grimm so enduring and captivating to readers across generations. Overall, „The Robber Bridegroom“ serves as a cautionary tale that stresses the importance of trusting one’s intuition, staying resourceful in the face of danger, and the ultimate triumph of good over evil.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Robber Bridegroom“

„The Robber Bridegroom“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm and included in their anthology, „Grimm’s Fairy Tales,“ published in 1812. „The Robber Bridegroom“ has inspired numerous adaptations and reinterpretations across various forms of media, demonstrating the enduring appeal of this dark and suspenseful fairy tale. Here are some specific examples of adaptations:

Literature: The tale has been reimagined in various literary forms, including novels and short stories. Angela Carter’s acclaimed short story, „The Bloody Chamber,“ is a retelling of both „Bluebeard“ and „The Robber Bridegroom.“ Carter’s version delves deeper into the themes of female empowerment, sexuality, and the darker aspects of human nature. The story has been compared to other European tales with similar motifs, such as the French story „Bluebeard“ by Charles Perrault and the English tale „Mr. Fox.“ These stories also involve young women who discover their suitors or husbands are murderers. „The Robber Bridegroom“ has inspired adaptations in various media, including literature, theater, and film, showcasing its lasting impact and relevance.

Theater: „The Robber Bridegroom“ has been adapted for the stage as well. One notable example is the 1975 Broadway musical of the same name, with music by Robert Waldman and book and lyrics by Alfred Uhry. This musical adaptation, set in the American South, adds elements of humor and Southern folklore while retaining the dark and suspenseful atmosphere of the original tale. The tale has been adapted for the stage, including a 1987 musical adaptation by Alfred Uhry and Robert Waldman, and a 2017 production by the Rude Mechs theatre company.

Film and Television: Although „The Robber Bridegroom“ has not been directly adapted into a feature film or television series, its themes and motifs have inspired various film and TV productions, including a 1940 film directed by Albert S. Rogell and a 1967 horror film directed by James H. Nicholson. For example, the tale’s exploration of deception, danger, and the darker side of human nature can be seen in movies like „Crimson Peak“ and TV shows like „Penny Dreadful,“ which draw on elements from multiple Gothic tales and folklore.

Opera: The story has also been adapted into an opera, „The Robbers,“ by the Hungarian composer Jenő Hubay. The opera premiered in 1898 and further explores the themes of deception, love, and justice present in the original story. The tale has been adapted into several operas, including an 1860 opera by Albert Lortzing and a 2018 opera by American composer David Hertzberg.

Art and Illustration: „The Robber Bridegroom“ has inspired numerous artists to create visual representations of the story, either as standalone artworks or as illustrations accompanying written versions of the tale. These illustrations often emphasize the dark, Gothic atmosphere and suspenseful elements of the story.

While „The Robber Bridegroom“ might not have as many adaptations as some other Grimm’s fairy tales, it remains a captivating and intriguing story that has inspired creative reinterpretations across various forms of media. Its themes of deception, danger, and the darker aspects of human nature continue to resonate with audiences today. Overall, „The Robber Bridegroom“ has been adapted and reimagined in various ways, reflecting the enduring appeal of its themes and characters.

Summary of the plot

„The Robber Bridegroom“ is a dark fairy tale by Brothers Grimm about a miller who seeks a suitable husband for his beautiful daughter. A seemingly decent suitor appears, but the girl has an uneasy feeling about him. Despite her reluctance, the bridegroom convinces her to visit his house deep in the woods. She scatters peas and lentils along her way to help her find her way back. Upon reaching the house, the girl hears a bird warning her of evil inside. She finds the house empty, except for an old woman in the cellar, who reveals that the bridegroom and his gang are cannibals.

The old woman hides her, and they witness the robbers kill another young woman, even chopping off her finger to steal a ring. The old woman drugs the robbers‘ wine, and the two women escape, guided by the sprouted peas and lentils. Back home, the girl tells her father about the horrifying events. On the wedding day, she recounts her story as a dream during the feast, revealing the severed finger with the ring as evidence. The shocked robber tries to escape but is caught and, along with his gang, is executed for his crimes.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 40
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 955
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, FR, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson27.4
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index85.3
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level5.9
Gunning Fog Index8.6
Coleman–Liau Index7.3
SMOG Index7.5
Automated Readability Index6.2
Character Count6.909
Letter Count5.240
Sentence Count73
Word Count1.337
Average Words per Sentence18,32
Words with more than 6 letters122
Percentage of long words9.1%
Number of Syllables1.627
Average Syllables per Word1,22
Words with three Syllables41
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.1%
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