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The Spirit in the Bottle
Grimm Märchen

The Spirit in the Bottle - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 13 min

Once upon a time there was a poor woodcutter who worked from morning until late at night. When he had finally saved up some money he said to his boy, „You are my only child. I want to spend the money that I have earned by the sweat of my brow on your education. Learn an honest trade so you can support me in my old age when my limbs have grown stiff and I have to sit at home.“ Then the boy went to a university and studied diligently. His teachers praised him, and he remained there for some time. After he had worked through a few classes, but was still not perfect in everything, the little pittance that the father had saved was all spent, and the boy had to return home to him. „Oh,“ said the father sadly, „I cannot give you anything more, and in these hard times I cannot earn a heller more than what we need for our daily bread.“ – „Father, dear,“ answered the son, „don’t worry about it. If it is God’s will everything will turn out well for me. I will do all right.“ When the father said he was going into the woods and earn some money by cutting cordwood, the son said, „I will go with you and help you.“ – „No, my son,“ said the father, „you will find it too difficult. You are not used to hard work, and will not be able to do it. Furthermore, I have only one ax and no money left to buy another one with.“ – „Just go to the neighbor,“ answered the son. „He will lend you his ax until I have earned enough to buy one for myself.“

So the father borrowed an ax from the neighbor, and the next morning at daybreak they went out into the woods together. The son helped his father and was quite cheerful and full of energy. When the sun was directly above them, the father said, „Let us rest now and eat our noon meal. Then all will go twice as well.“ The son picked up his bread and said, „Just you rest, father. I am not tired. I will walk about a little in the woods and look for birds‘ nests.“ – „Oh, you fool,“ said the father, „why do you want to run about? Afterwards you will be tired and no longer able to lift an arm. Stay here, and sit down beside me.“

But the son went into the woods, ate his bread, was very cheerful, and looked into the green branches to see if he could find a bird’s nest. He walked to and fro until at last he came to an enormous oak that was certainly many hundred years old, and that five men would not have been able to span. He stood there looking at it, and thought, „Many a bird must have built its nest in that tree.“ Then suddenly he thought that he heard a voice. Listening, he became aware of someone calling out with a muffled voice, „Let me out. Let me out.“ He looked around but could not see anything. Then he thought that the voice was coming out of the ground, so he shouted, „Where are you?“ The voice answered, „I am stuck down here among the oak roots. Let me out. Let me out.“ The student began to scrape about beneath the tree, searching among the roots, until at last he found a glass bottle in a little opening. Lifting it up, he held it against the light, and then saw something shaped like a frog jumping up and down inside. „Let me out. Let me out,“ it cried again, and the student, thinking no evil, pulled the cork from the bottle. Immediately a spirit ascended from it and began to grow. It grew so fast that within a few moments a horrible fellow, half as big as the tree, was standing there before the student. „Do you know,“ he cried in an terrifying voice, „what your reward is for having let me out?“ – „No,“ replied the student fearlessly. „How should I know that?“

The Spirit in the Bottle Fairy Tale

„Then I will tell you,“ shouted the spirit. „I must break your neck for it.“ – „You should have said so sooner,“ answered the student, „for then I would have left you shut up inside. However, my head is going to stay where it is until more people have been consulted.“ – „More people here, more people there,“ shouted the spirit. „You shall have the reward you have earned. Do you think that I was shut up there for such a long time as a favor? No, it was a punishment. I am the mighty Mercurius. I must break the neck of whomsoever releases me.“ – „Calm down,“ answered the student. „Not so fast. First I must know that you really were shut up in that little bottle, and that you are the right spirit. If you can indeed get inside again, then I will believe it, and you may do with me whatsoever you want.“ The spirit said arrogantly, „that is an easy trick,“ pulling himself in and making himself as thin and short as he had been before. He then crept back into the opening and through the neck of the bottle. He was scarcely inside when the student pushed the cork back into the bottle, and threw it back where it had been among the oak roots. And thus the spirit was deceived.

The student was about to return to his father, but the spirit cried out pitifully, „Oh, do let me out. Oh, do let me out.“ – „No,“ answered the student, „not a second time. I will not release a person who once tried to kill me, now that I have captured him again.“ – „If you will set me free,“ cried the spirit, „I will give you so much that you will have enough for all the days of your life.“ – „No,“ answered the student, „you would cheat me like you tried to the first time.“ – „You are giving away your own good fortune,“ said the spirit. „I will not harm you, but instead will reward you richly.“ The student thought, „I will venture it. Perhaps he will keep his word, and in any event he will not get the better of me.“ So he pulled out the cork, and the spirit rose up from the bottle as before, and extended himself, becoming as large as a giant. „Now you shall have your reward,“ he said, handing the student a little rag that looked just like a small bandage. He said, „If you rub a wound with the one end, it will heal, and if you rub steel or iron with the other end, it will turn into silver.“ – „I have to try that,“ said the student. He went to a tree, scratched the bark with his ax, then rubbed it with the one end of the bandage. It immediately closed together and was healed. „Now it is all right,“ he said to the spirit, „and we can part.“ The spirit thanked him for having freed him, and the student thanked the spirit for the present, and returned to his father.

„Where have you been running about?“ said the father. „Why have you forgotten your work? I said that you wouldn’t get anything done.“ – „Don’t be concerned, father. I will make it up.“ – „Make it up indeed,“ said the father angrily. „Don’t bother.“ – „Just watch, father. I will soon cut down that tree there and make it crash.“ Then he took his bandage, rubbed the ax with it, and struck a mighty blow, but because the iron had turned into silver, the cutting edge bent back on itself. „Hey, father, just look what a bad ax you’ve given me. It is all bent out of shape.“ The father was shocked and said, „Oh, what have you done! Now I’ll have to pay for the ax, and I don’t know what with. That is all the good I have from your work.“ – „Don’t get angry,“ said the son, „I will pay for the ax.“ – „Oh, you blockhead,“ cried the father, „How will you pay for it? You have nothing but what I give you. You have students‘ tricks stuck in your head, but you don’t know anything about chopping wood.“

After a little while the student said, „Father, I can’t work any longer after all. Let’s quit for the day.“ – „Now then,“ he answered, „do you think I can stand around with my hands in my pockets like you? I have to go on working, but you may head for home.“ – „Father, I am here in these woods for the first time. I don’t know my way alone. Please go with me.“ His anger had now subsided, so the father at last let himself be talked into going home with him. There he said to the son, „Go and sell the damaged ax and see what you can get for it. I will have to earn the difference, in order to pay the neighbor.“ The son picked up the ax and took it into town to a goldsmith, who tested it, weighed it, and then said, „It is worth four hundred talers. I do not have that much cash with me.“ The student said, „Give me what you have. I will lend you the rest.“ The goldsmith gave him three hundred talers and owed him one hundred. Then the student went home and said, „Father, I have some money. Go and ask the neighbor what he wants for the ax.“ – „I already know,“ answered the old man. „One taler, six groschens.“ – „Then give him two talers, twelve groschens. That is double its worth and is plenty. See, I have more than enough money.“ Then he gave the father a hundred talers, saying, „You shall never need anything. Live just like you want to.“ – „My goodness,“ said the old man. „Where did you get all that money?“ Then the son told him everything that had happened, and how by trusting in his luck he had made such a catch. With the money that was left he went back to the university and continued his studies, and because he could heal all wounds with his bandage he became the most famous doctor in the whole world.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Spirit in the Bottle“

„The Spirit in the Bottle“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their famous anthology, „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ (first published in 1812 as „Children’s and Household Tales“). This story, like many others in the collection, is rooted in European folktales and oral storytelling traditions. The Grimm brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, were scholars and linguists who aimed to preserve and document these stories for future generations.

The story of „The Spirit in the Bottle“ has its roots in an ancient motif of a spirit or genie being trapped in a container, such as a bottle or a lamp, and released by a human. This theme has been present in many cultures and times, dating back to the Arabian Nights and even earlier. The motif has evolved and taken various forms across different regions and cultures. The tale explores themes of wisdom, cunning, and the consequences of human desires.

In „The Spirit in the Bottle,“ a poor woodcutter sends his son to school in the hope that he will gain knowledge and improve their lives. One day, while walking in the forest, the son encounters a trapped spirit inside a bottle. The spirit promises the boy great wealth if he releases him, but the boy is cautious and clever, fearing that the spirit might be evil. He tricks the spirit into proving its power, and then negotiates better terms for his release. As a result, the boy gains not only wealth but also wisdom, which allows him to live a prosperous and fulfilling life.

The fairy tale serves as a cautionary tale about the importance of wisdom and prudence when dealing with powerful and potentially dangerous forces. It also highlights the value of education and the power of cleverness in overcoming adversity. As with many fairy tales, the story has been adapted and retold in various forms over the years, reflecting the cultural values and sensibilities of different societies and audiences.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Spirit in the Bottle“

„The Spirit in the Bottle“ offers several valuable lessons and interpretations that can be gleaned from its narrative. Some of the main themes and interpretations include:

The importance of wisdom and education: The woodcutter’s son is sent to school to gain knowledge, which ultimately helps him to make wise decisions when faced with challenging situations. This story emphasizes the value of education and its ability to empower individuals and improve their lives.

Cleverness and caution: When the son encounters the spirit in the bottle, he is cautious and doesn’t immediately release it. Instead, he uses his wit to test the spirit’s power and intentions. This demonstrates the importance of being clever and cautious when confronted with potentially dangerous or unknown situations.

The power of negotiation: The son doesn’t blindly accept the spirit’s initial offer of wealth in exchange for his freedom. Instead, he negotiates better terms that not only secure his own prosperity but also protect him from the spirit’s potential malevolence. This theme highlights the value of negotiation and the importance of standing up for oneself.

Moral integrity: The woodcutter’s son ultimately uses his newfound wealth and wisdom to benefit his community, instead of using it solely for personal gain. This teaches readers the importance of moral integrity and the responsibility that comes with power and wealth.

Consequences of desires: The spirit in the bottle is a representation of human desires and the potential consequences that come with pursuing them. By cautiously handling the spirit and using his wisdom to control the situation, the son can safely reap the benefits of his desires without falling victim to their potential dangers.

The duality of power: The spirit in the bottle is both a source of wealth and wisdom and a potential danger if mishandled. This illustrates the dual nature of power, which can be both beneficial and destructive, depending on how it is used.

Overall, „The Spirit in the Bottle“ teaches readers about the value of wisdom, education, and moral integrity, while also warning against the potential dangers of unchecked desires and the misuse of power.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Spirit in the Bottle“

While „The Spirit in the Bottle“ may not be as widely adapted as some other Grimm fairy tales, it has still inspired a few adaptations and retellings across various media. These adaptations often take creative liberties with the story, altering or expanding on the original to suit different formats or audiences. Some examples include:

„The Fisherman and His Wife“ by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm: This is another fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm that shares similarities with „The Spirit in the Bottle.“ In this story, a fisherman catches a magical fish that grants wishes. The fisherman and his wife make increasingly grand wishes, which eventually leads to their undoing. While not a direct adaptation, the story explores similar themes of desire, power, and consequences.

„The Bottle Imp“ by Robert Louis Stevenson: This 1891 short story by the famous author of „Treasure Island“ and „Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde“ is inspired by the motif of a spirit trapped in a bottle. Stevenson’s story follows a man who buys a bottle with an imp that can grant wishes but is cursed to bring misfortune upon its owner. The story explores themes of greed, moral dilemmas, and the consequences of one’s actions.

Aladdin and the Magic Lamp: Although not a direct adaptation of „The Spirit in the Bottle,“ the story of Aladdin shares the motif of a magical spirit trapped in a container (in this case, a lamp). Aladdin’s encounters with the genie lead to adventures and challenges, with themes of power, responsibility, and the importance of making wise choices.

Television and film adaptations: Some TV shows and films, particularly those featuring anthologies of fairy tales or supernatural stories, have incorporated elements of „The Spirit in the Bottle“ into their narratives. Examples include episodes of shows like „Jim Henson’s The Storyteller“ or „Faerie Tale Theater,“ which may adapt or reinterpret the story for a modern audience.

Children’s books and illustrated editions: Various authors and illustrators have retold „The Spirit in the Bottle“ in the form of children’s books or illustrated editions. These adaptations often simplify the story, making it more accessible for younger readers while preserving the core themes and lessons of the original tale.

Adaptations in other languages and cultures: „The Spirit in the Bottle“ has been adapted and retold in many languages and cultures worldwide. These versions might feature local folklore elements, culturally specific details, or unique narrative twists, reflecting the diverse ways in which the story has resonated with audiences across different regions and societies.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Spirit in the Bottle“

„The Spirit in the Bottle“ is a popular fairy tale from Brothers Grimm, and it has been adapted in various forms over the years. Here are some notable adaptations:

Operas: The story has been adapted into several operas, including „Der fliegende Holländer“ (The Flying Dutchman) by Richard Wagner and „The Bottle Imp“ by Eugene Goossens.

Films: The story has also been adapted into several films, including the 1950 film „The Baron of Arizona,“ which was loosely based on the tale.

TV shows: The story has been adapted into several TV shows, including the episode „The Spirit in the Bottle“ of the popular 1980s show „Faerie Tale Theater.“

Children’s books: The story has been adapted into several children’s books, including „The Spirit in the Bottle“ by Arnold Lobel and „The Spirit in the Bottle: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm“ by Margaret Early.

Plays: The story has been adapted into several plays, including „The Spirit in the Bottle“ by Nathan Hartswick.

Graphic novels: The story has been adapted into a graphic novel by Scott Roberts, titled „The Bottle Imp.“

Video games: The story has also been adapted into a video game called „The Spirit in the Bottle,“ which was released in 2019.

Overall, „The Spirit in the Bottle“ has been adapted in various forms, highlighting its enduring popularity and relevance.

Summary of the plot

„The Spirit in the Bottle“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm that tells the story of a poor woodcutter who sends his son to school to gain knowledge in the hope of improving their lives. One day, as the boy is walking through the forest, he discovers a bottle with a spirit trapped inside. The spirit promises the boy great wealth if he releases it from the bottle.

Instead of immediately releasing the spirit, the boy cautiously tests its power and intentions by asking it to prove its abilities. The spirit demonstrates its power by returning to the bottle, and the boy then negotiates better terms for releasing the spirit. He requests that the spirit grant him wealth and wisdom without any hidden tricks or malevolence.

Upon his release, the spirit grants the boy’s wishes, and he returns home a wealthy and wise young man. With his newfound prosperity and wisdom, the boy not only helps his family but also benefits his community. The story concludes with the boy leading a prosperous and fulfilling life, demonstrating the value of wisdom, education, and moral integrity in overcoming adversity and making the most of one’s opportunities.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Spirit in the Bottle“

„The Spirit in the Bottle“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, in their famous book „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ (originally titled „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ or „Children’s and Household Tales“). The first edition of this book was published in 1812, and it has since been translated into numerous languages and become an essential part of the Western literary canon.

The Brothers Grimm were German philologists, lexicographers, and folklorists who lived during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They sought to preserve and document Germanic folklore, which was rapidly disappearing due to industrialization and urbanization. To collect these stories, the brothers interviewed people from various social backgrounds, including peasants, middle-class families, and the aristocracy. Their fairy tale collection is considered one of the most significant works of German literature and has had a profound impact on children’s literature worldwide.

The fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm often contain elements of magic, adventure, and moral lessons. „The Spirit in the Bottle“ is no exception, as it revolves around a magical spirit and a clever protagonist who uses his wit to overcome challenges and improve his life. The story reflects themes common to many fairy tales, such as the importance of education, resourcefulness, trusting in one’s abilities, and the transformative power of magic.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Spirit in the Bottle“

„The Spirit in the Bottle“ offers several interpretations that can be drawn from its narrative:

The value of education: The woodcutter recognizes the importance of education in improving his son’s future prospects. Despite their poverty, he invests in his son’s education, which eventually leads to the son becoming a renowned doctor.

Cleverness and resourcefulness: The student demonstrates his wit and resourcefulness by outsmarting the spirit twice. First, he tricks the spirit back into the bottle, and later, he negotiates a beneficial deal with the spirit, gaining a magical rag that ultimately improves their lives.

Trust in one’s abilities and fortune: The son trusts his abilities and instincts throughout the story, which helps him make the most of the opportunities that arise. His trust in his luck and intelligence allows him to succeed, even when faced with adversity.

The power of good intentions: The student’s good intentions in helping his father and seeking an honest way to support him in his old age are rewarded when he discovers the magical spirit. This can be interpreted as a message that good intentions and hard work can lead to positive outcomes.

The transformative power of magic: The magical rag symbolizes the potential for transformation and growth, both in terms of material wealth and personal development. The son uses the rag to heal wounds and convert steel into silver, which helps him become a successful doctor and provide for his family.

Overall, „The Spirit in the Bottle“ offers a narrative that emphasizes the importance of education, resourcefulness, trust in oneself, good intentions, and the power of transformation in overcoming challenges and improving one’s life.

Summary of the plot

„The Spirit in the Bottle“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm about a poor woodcutter and his son who stumble upon a magical spirit trapped inside a bottle. The woodcutter sends his son to university, but when their money runs out, the son returns home to help his father. One day, while resting in the woods, the son discovers the bottle with the spirit inside.

After releasing the spirit, it grows into a giant and threatens to kill the boy. The clever student tricks the spirit back into the bottle, only to be persuaded to release it again in exchange for a magical rag that can heal wounds and turn steel into silver. The spirit keeps its word, and the student uses the rag to transform the damaged ax into silver.

The son takes the silver ax to a goldsmith, who values it at four hundred talers. The goldsmith only has three hundred talers, so the son lends him the difference. Returning home, the son gives his father the money and pays off the neighbor’s ax, doubling its value. The father is astonished by their newfound wealth.

With the remaining money, the son returns to university and becomes a famous doctor, thanks to the magical rag that can heal any wound. The story emphasizes the importance of trusting one’s luck and cleverness to overcome challenges and improve one’s circumstances.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 99
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 331
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, FR, PT, HU, IT, JA, NL, PL, RO, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson23.1
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index87.9
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level4.3
Gunning Fog Index6.5
Coleman–Liau Index7.2
SMOG Index7
Automated Readability Index3.5
Character Count8.953
Letter Count6.731
Sentence Count131
Word Count1.724
Average Words per Sentence13,16
Words with more than 6 letters172
Percentage of long words10%
Number of Syllables2.152
Average Syllables per Word1,25
Words with three Syllables56
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.2%
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