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The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear
The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear Märchen

The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 27 min

Attention: This is a scary story.

A certain father had two sons, the elder of whom was smart and sensible, and could do everything, but the younger was stupid and could neither learn nor understand anything, and when people saw him they said, „There’s a fellow who will give his father some trouble!“ When anything had to be done, it was always the elder who was forced to do it; but if his father bade him fetch anything when it was late, or in the night-time, and the way led through the churchyard, or any other dismal place, he answered „Oh, no, father, I’ll not go there, it makes me shudder!“ for he was afraid. Or when stories were told by the fire at night which made the flesh creep, the listeners sometimes said „Oh, it makes us shudder!“ The younger sat in a corner and listened with the rest of them, and could not imagine what they could mean. „They are always saying ‚it makes me shudder, it makes me shudder!‘ It does not make me shudder,“ thought he. „That, too, must be an art of which I understand nothing.“

Now it came to pass that his father said to him one day „Hearken to me, thou fellow in the corner there, thou art growing tall and strong, and thou too must learn something by which thou canst earn thy living. Look how thy brother works, but thou dost not even earn thy salt.“ – „Well, father,“ he replied, „I am quite willing to learn something – indeed, if it could but be managed, I should like to learn how to shudder. I don’t understand that at all yet.“ The elder brother smiled when he heard that, and thought to himself, „Good God, what a blockhead that brother of mine is! He will never be good for anything as long as he lives. He who wants to be a sickle must bend himself betimes.“ The father sighed, and answered him „thou shalt soon learn what it is to shudder, but thou wilt not earn thy bread by that.“

Soon after this the sexton came to the house on a visit, and the father bewailed his trouble, and told him how his younger son was so backward in every respect that he knew nothing and learnt nothing. „Just think,“ said he, „when I asked him how he was going to earn his bread, he actually wanted to learn to shudder.“ – „If that be all,“ replied the sexton, „he can learn that with me. Send him to me, and I will soon polish him.“ The father was glad to do it, for he thought, „It will train the boy a little.“ The sexton therefore took him into his house, and he had to ring the bell. After a day or two, the sexton awoke him at midnight, and bade him arise and go up into the church tower and ring the bell. „Thou shalt soon learn what shuddering is,“ thought he, and secretly went there before him; and when the boy was at the top of the tower and turned round, and was just going to take hold of the bell rope, he saw a white figure standing on the stairs opposite the sounding hole. „Who is there?“ cried he, but the figure made no reply, and did not move or stir. „Give an answer,“ cried the boy, „or take thy self off, thou hast no business here at night.“ The sexton, however, remained standing motionless that the boy might think he was a ghost. The boy cried a second time, „What do you want here? – speak if thou art an honest fellow, or I will throw thee down the steps!“ The sexton thought, „he can’t intend to be as bad as his words,“ uttered no sound and stood as if he were made of stone. Then the boy called to him for the third time, and as that was also to no purpose, he ran against him and pushed the ghost down the stairs, so that it fell down ten steps and remained lying there in a corner. Thereupon he rang the bell, went home, and without saying a word went to bed, and fell asleep. The sexton’s wife waited a long time for her husband, but he did not come back. At length she became uneasy, and wakened the boy, and asked, „Dost thou not know where my husband is? He climbed up the tower before thou didst.“ – „No, I don’t know,“ replied the boy, „but some one was standing by the sounding hole on the other side of the steps, and as he would neither give an answer nor go away, I took him for a scoundrel, and threw him downstairs, just go there and you will see if it was he. I should be sorry if it were.“ The woman ran away and found her husband, who was lying moaning in the corner, and had broken his leg.

She carried him down, and then with loud screams she hastened to the boy’s father. „Your boy,“ cried she, „has been the cause of a great misfortune! He has thrown my husband down the steps and made him break his leg. Take the good-for-nothing fellow away from our house.“ The father was terrified, and ran thither and scolded the boy. „What wicked tricks are these?“ said he, „the devil must have put this into thy head.“ – „Father,“ he replied, „do listen to me. I am quite innocent. He was standing there by night like one who is intending to do some evil. I did not know who it was, and I entreated him three times either to speak or to go away.“ – „Ah,“ said the father, „I have nothing but unhappiness with you. Go out of my sight. I will see thee no more.“ – „Yes, father, right willingly, wait only until it is day. Then will I go forth and learn how to shudder, and then I shall, at any rate, understand one art which will support me.“ – „Learn what thou wilt,“ spake the father, „it is all the same to me. Here are fifty thalers for thee. Take these and go into the wide world, and tell no one from whence thou comest, and who is thy father, for I have reason to be ashamed of thee.“ – „Yes, father, it shall be as you will. If you desire nothing more than that, I can easily keep it in mind.“

When day dawned, therefore, the boy put his fifty thalers into his pocket, and went forth on the great highway, and continually said to himself, „If I could but shudder! If I could but shudder!“ Then a man approached who heard this conversation which the youth was holding with himself, and when they had walked a little farther to where they could see the gallows, the man said to him, „Look, there is the tree where seven men have married the ropemaker’s daughter, and are now learning how to fly. Sit down below it, and wait till night comes, and you will soon learn how to shudder.“ – „If that is all that is wanted,“ answered the youth, „it is easily done; but if I learn how to shudder as fast as that, thou shalt have my fifty thalers.

The story of the youth who went forth to learn what fear was Fairy TaleImage: Paul Hey (1867 – 1952)

Just come back to me early in the morning.“ Then the youth went to the gallows, sat down below it, and waited till evening came. And as he was cold, he lighted himself a fire, but at midnight the wind blew so sharply that in spite of his fire, he could not get warm. And as the wind knocked the hanged men against each other, and they moved backwards and forwards, he thought to himself „Thou shiverest below by the fire, but how those up above must freeze and suffer!“ And as he felt pity for them, he raised the ladder, and climbed up, unbound one of them after the other, and brought down all seven. Then he stirred the fire, blew it, and set them all round it to warm themselves. But they sat there and did not stir, and the fire caught their clothes. So he said, „Take care, or I will hang you up again.“ The dead men, however, did not hear, but were quite silent, and let their rags go on burning. On this he grew angry, and said, „If you will not take care, I cannot help you, I will not be burnt with you,“ and he hung them up again each in his turn. Then he sat down by his fire and fell asleep, and the next morning the man came to him and wanted to have the fifty thalers, and said, „Well, dost thou know how to shudder?“ – „No,“ answered he, „how was I to get to know? Those fellows up there did not open their mouths, and were so stupid that they let the few old rags which they had on their bodies get burnt.“ Then the man saw that he would not get the fifty thalers that day, and went away saying, „One of this kind has never come my way before.“

The youth likewise went his way, and once more began to mutter to himself, „Ah, if I could but shudder! Ah, if I could but shudder!“ A waggoner who was striding behind him heard that and asked, „Who are you?“ – „I don’t know,“ answered the youth. Then the waggoner asked, „From whence comest thou?“ – „I know not.“ – „Who is thy father?“ – „That I may not tell thee.“ – „What is it that thou art always muttering between thy teeth.“ – „Ah,“ replied the youth, „I do so wish I could shudder, but no one can teach me how to do it.“ – „Give up thy foolish chatter,“ said the waggoner. „Come, go with me, I will see about a place for thee.“ The youth went with the waggoner, and in the evening they arrived at an inn where they wished to pass the night. Then at the entrance of the room the youth again said quite loudly, „If I could but shudder! If I could but shudder!“ The host who heard this, laughed and said, „If that is your desire, there ought to be a good opportunity for you here.“ – „Ah, be silent,“ said the hostess, „so many inquisitive persons have already lost their lives, it would be a pity and a shame if such beautiful eyes as these should never see the daylight again.“ But the youth said, „However difficult it may be, I will learn it and for this purpose indeed have I journeyed forth.“ He let the host have no rest, until the latter told him, that not far from thence stood a haunted castle where any one could very easily learn what shuddering was, if he would but watch in it for three nights. The King had promised that he who would venture should have his daughter to wife, and she was the most beautiful maiden the sun shone on. Great treasures likewise lay in the castle, which were guarded by evil spirits, and these treasures would then be freed, and would make a poor man rich enough. Already many men had gone into the castle, but as yet none had come out again. Then the youth went next morning to the King and said if he were allowed he would watch three nights in the haunted castle. The King looked at him, and as the youth pleased him, he said, „Thou mayest ask for three things to take into the castle with thee, but they must be things without life.“ Then he answered, „Then I ask for a fire, a turning lathe, and a cutting-board with the knife.“

The King had these things carried into the castle for him during the day. When night was drawing near, the youth went up and made himself a bright fire in one of the rooms, placed the cutting-board and knife beside it, and seated himself by the turning-lathe. „Ah, if I could but shudder!“ said he, „but I shall not learn it here either.“ Towards midnight he was about to poke his fire, and as he was blowing it, something cried suddenly from one corner, „Au, miau! how cold we are!“ – „You simpletons!“ cried he, „what are you crying about? If you are cold, come and take a seat by the fire and warm yourselves.“ And when he had said that, two great black cats came with one tremendous leap and sat down on each side of him, and looked savagely at him with their fiery eyes. After a short time, when they had warmed themselves, they said, „Comrade, shall we have a game at cards?“ – „Why not?“ he replied, „but just show me your paws.“ Then they stretched out their claws. „Oh,“ said he, „what long nails you have! Wait, I must first cut them for you.“ Thereupon he seized them by the throats, put them on the cutting-board and screwed their feet fast. „I have looked at your fingers,“ said he, „and my fancy for card-playing has gone,“ and he struck them dead and threw them out into the water. But when he had made away with these two, and was about to sit down again by his fire, out from every hole and corner came black cats and black dogs with red-hot chains, and more and more of them came until he could no longer stir, and they yelled horribly, and got on his fire, pulled it to pieces, and tried to put it out. He watched them for a while quietly, but at last when they were going too far, he seized his cutting-knife, and cried, „Away with ye, vermin,“ and began to cut them down. Part of them ran away, the others he killed, and threw out into the fish-pond. When he came back he fanned the embers of his fire again and warmed himself. And as he thus sat, his eyes would keep open no longer, and he felt a desire to sleep. Then he looked round and saw a great bed in the corner. „That is the very thing for me,“ said he, and got into it. When he was just going to shut his eyes, however, the bed began to move of its own accord, and went over the whole of the castle. „That’s right,“ said he, „but go faster.“ Then the bed rolled on as if six horses were harnessed to it, up and down, over thresholds and steps, but suddenly hop, hop, it turned over upside down, and lay on him like a mountain.

But he threw quilts and pillows up in the air, got out and said, „Now any one who likes, may drive,“ and lay down by his fire, and slept till it was day. In the morning the King came, and when he saw him lying there on the ground, he thought the evil spirits had killed him and he was dead. Then said he, „After all it is a pity, he is a handsome man.“ The youth heard it, got up, and said, „It has not come to that yet.“ Then the King was astonished, but very glad, and asked how he had fared. „Very well indeed,“ answered he; „one night is past, the two others will get over likewise.“ Then he went to the innkeeper, who opened his eyes very wide, and said, „I never expected to see thee alive again! Hast thou learnt how to shudder yet?“ – „No,“ said he, „it is all in vain. If some one would but tell me.“

The second night he again went up into the old castle, sat down by the fire, and once more began his old song, „If I could but shudder.“ When midnight came, an uproar and noise of tumbling about was heard; at first it was low, but it grew louder and louder. Then it was quiet for awhile, and at length with a loud scream, half a man came down the chimney and fell before him. „Hollo!“ cried he, „another half belongs to this. This is too little!“ Then the uproar began again, there was a roaring and howling, and the other half fell down likewise. „Wait,“ said he, „I will just blow up the fire a little for thee.“ When he had done that and looked round again, the two pieces were joined together, and a frightful man was sitting in his place. „That is no part of our bargain,“ said the youth, „the bench is mine.“ The man wanted to push him away. The youth, however, would not allow that, but thrust him off with all his strength, and seated himself again in his own place. Then still more men fell down, one after the other. They brought nine dead men’s legs and two skulls, and set them up and played at nine-pins with them. The youth also wanted to play and said „Hark you, can I join you?“ – „Yes, if thou hast any money.“ – „Money enough,“ replied he, „but your balls are not quite round.“ Then he took the skulls and put them in the lathe and turned them till they were round. „There, now, they will roll better!“ said he. „Hurrah! Now it goes merrily!“ He played with them and lost some of his money, but when it struck twelve, everything vanished from his sight. He lay down and quietly fell asleep. Next morning the King came to inquire after him. „How has it fared with you this time?“ asked he. „I have been playing at nine-pins,“ he answered, „and have lost a couple of farthings.“ – „Hast thou not shuddered then?“ – „Eh, what?“ said he, „I have made merry. If I did but know what it was to shudder!“

The third night he sat down again on his bench and said quite sadly, „If I could but shudder.“ When it grew late, six tall men came in and brought a coffin. Then said he, „Ha, ha, that is certainly my little cousin, who died only a few days ago,“ and he beckoned with his finger, and cried „Come, little cousin, come.“ They placed the coffin on the ground, but he went to it and took the lid off, and a dead man lay therein. He felt his face, but it was cold as ice. „Stop,“ said he, „I will warm thee a little,“ and went to the fire and warmed his hand and laid it on the dead man’s face, but he remained cold. Then he took him out, and sat down by the fire and laid him on his breast and rubbed his arms that the blood might circulate again. As this also did no good, he thought to himself „When two people lie in bed together, they warm each other,“ and carried him to the bed, covered him over and lay down by him. After a short time the dead man became warm too, and began to move. Then said the youth, „See, little cousin, have I not warmed thee?“ The dead man, however, got up and cried, „Now will I strangle thee.“ – „What!“ said he, „is that the way thou thankest me? Thou shalt at once go into thy coffin again,“ and he took him up, threw him into it, and shut the lid. Then came the six men and carried him away again. „I cannot manage to shudder,“ said he. „I shall never learn it here as long as I live.“

Then a man entered who was taller than all others, and looked terrible. He was old, however, and had a long white beard. „Thou wretch,“ cried he, „thou shalt soon learn what it is to shudder, for thou shalt die.“ – „Not so fast,“ replied the youth. „If I am to die, I shall have to have a say in it.“ – „I will soon seize thee,“ said the fiend. „Softly, softly, do not talk so big. I am as strong as thou art, and perhaps even stronger.“ – „We shall see,“ said the old man. „If thou art stronger, I will let thee go – come, we will try.“ Then he led him by dark passages to a smith’s forge, took an axe, and with one blow struck an anvil into the ground. „I can do better than that,“ said the youth, and went to the other anvil. The old man placed himself near and wanted to look on, and his white beard hung down. Then the youth seized the axe, split the anvil with one blow, and struck the old man’s beard in with it. „Now I have thee,“ said the youth. „Now it is thou who will have to die.“ Then he seized an iron bar and beat the old man till he moaned and entreated him to stop, and he would give him great riches. The youth drew out the axe and let him go.

The story of the youth who went forth to learn what fear was Fairy TaleImage: Paul Hey (1867 – 1952)

The old man led him back into the castle, and in a cellar showed him three chests full of gold. „Of these,“ said he, „one part is for the poor, the other for the king, the third is thine.“ In the meantime it struck twelve, and the spirit disappeared. The youth, therefore, was left in darkness. „I shall still be able to find my way out,“ said he, and felt about, found the way into the room, and slept there by his fire. Next morning the King came and said „Now thou must have learnt what shuddering is?“ – „No,“ he answered; „what can it be? My dead cousin was here, and a bearded man came and showed me a great deal of money down below, but no one told me what it was to shudder.“ – „Then,“ said the King, „thou hast delivered the castle, and shalt marry my daughter.“ – „That is all very well,“ said he, „but still I do not know what it is to shudder.“

Then the gold was brought up and the wedding celebrated; but howsoever much the young king loved his wife, and however happy he was, he still said always „If I could but shudder – if I could but shudder.“ And at last she was angry at this. Her waiting-maid said, „I will find a cure for him. He shall soon learn what it is to shudder.“ She went out to the stream which flowed through the garden, and had a whole bucketful of gudgeons brought to her. At night when the young king was sleeping, his wife was to draw the clothes off him and empty the bucketful of cold water with the gudgeons in it over him, so that the little fishes would sprawl about him. When this was done, he woke up and cried „Oh, what makes me shudder so? What makes me shudder so, dear wife? Ah! now I know what it is to shudder!“

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The story of the youth who went forth to learn what fear was“

„The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was,“ also known as „The Boy Who Learned Fear“ or „The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers,“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm. The original German title is „Märchen von einem, der auszog das Fürchten zu lernen.“ The tale, categorized as ATU 326 (The Youth Who Wanted to Learn What Fear Was) in the Aarne-Thompson-Uther classification system, has been told and retold in various forms across Europe.

The story centers around a naive and fearless young man who embarks on a journey to understand the meaning of fear. His father, a widower, and his older brother believe the boy is foolish for not understanding fear. The young man leaves his home and takes on various challenges in his quest to experience fear, including spending nights in a haunted castle, confronting supernatural beings, and facing other eerie events.

Throughout his journey, the protagonist remains undaunted by the challenges he encounters, which ultimately leads him to great fortune and a royal marriage. However, he still does not experience fear. It is not until his wife playfully throws cold water and fish on him while he sleeps that he experiences a shiver, finally learning what fear feels like.

As with many other Grimm fairy tales, „The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was“ has its roots in European oral storytelling traditions. The tale has been passed down through generations, with its origins likely dating back to ancient folklore.

The story carries several underlying themes, such as the importance of courage, the value of determination, and the idea that naivete can sometimes lead to success. The tale also incorporates a strong sense of irony and humor, as the young man only learns what fear is through a seemingly trivial experience after facing numerous supernatural challenges.

„The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was“ continues to be a popular fairy tale, with its themes of determination, courage, and humor resonating with audiences of all ages.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The story of the youth who went forth to learn what fear was“

„The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was“ has been subject to various interpretations over the years. Some common themes and interpretations found in this fairy tale are:

The value of courage and determination: The protagonist’s fearless nature and his determination to learn what fear is propel him through various challenges and eventually lead him to success. The story emphasizes the importance of being brave and persistent in the face of adversity.

Naivete and innocence: The young man’s lack of understanding of fear and his naive approach to the world are both a source of strength and a source of humor throughout the tale. This innocence allows him to confront supernatural beings and eerie events without being scared, leading him to great fortune.

Irony and humor: One of the most striking aspects of the story is the ironic twist at the end, where the protagonist learns what fear is through an everyday, mundane experience after facing numerous supernatural challenges. This twist adds humor to the story and highlights the unexpected ways in which life can teach us valuable lessons.

Knowledge and self-discovery: The tale is also about the pursuit of knowledge and self-discovery. The protagonist embarks on a journey to understand fear, which can be seen as a metaphor for the human desire to learn and grow. The story suggests that we must sometimes venture beyond our comfort zones to gain new insights and experiences.

Facing the unknown: The protagonist’s quest to learn about fear can be interpreted as a metaphor for facing the unknown and embracing the mysteries of life. The story encourages readers to confront their own fears and uncertainties, whether supernatural or mundane, and to persevere in the face of challenges.

Overall, „The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was“ is a rich and thought-provoking tale that combines themes of courage, determination, irony, humor, and self-discovery. These themes continue to resonate with audiences today, making the story an enduring classic in the world of fairy tales.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The story of the youth who went forth to learn what fear was“

Although „The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was“ may not be as well-known as some other Grimm fairy tales, it has still inspired adaptations and retellings in various forms of media, including literature, film, and television. Here are a few examples:

„The Boy Who Couldn’t Shudder“ (1945) by Leon Garfield: This novel is a retelling of the original story, following a young protagonist as he embarks on a quest to learn what fear is. The novel maintains the themes of courage, determination, and humor while offering a fresh take on the classic tale.

„The Youth Who Wanted to Shudder“ (1982): This animated short film by John Sutherland adapts the story for a younger audience, retelling the tale with a modern touch. The film stays true to the original story while incorporating new elements and visual storytelling techniques.

„Jim Henson’s The Storyteller: The Soldier and Death“ (1988): Although not a direct adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale, this episode from the television series „Jim Henson’s The Storyteller“ features a similar storyline and themes. The episode tells the tale of a soldier who, like the protagonist in the original story, is unable to feel fear and embarks on a journey to understand it.

Various theatrical adaptations and performances have been staged over the years, bringing „The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was“ to life for live audiences. These adaptations often include elements of humor and audience interaction, while staying true to the original story’s themes of courage, determination, and self-discovery.

While „The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was“ may not have as many adaptations as some other Grimm fairy tales, its themes of courage, determination, humor, and self-discovery continue to inspire storytellers and captivate audiences. The story’s enduring appeal demonstrates the power of these themes to resonate with readers and viewers of all ages.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The story of the youth who went forth to learn what fear was“

„The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was“ has been adapted into various forms of media, including:

Film: The story has been adapted into several films, including „The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers“ (1984) and „The Fearless Four“ (1997). Both films offer their own interpretation of the story, but retain the basic plot elements and themes.

Literature: The story has been adapted into numerous children’s books, including „The Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was“ by Vera Southgate, and „The Boy Who Went on His Own“ by Wilhelm Grimm.

Television: The story has been adapted into several television episodes, including „Grimm’s Fairy Tale Classics“ and „Faerie Tale Theater.“

Video Games: The story has also been adapted into video games, such as „The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav“ (2012), which is loosely based on the story and features a similar plot and themes.

Overall, „The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was“ has proven to be a popular and enduring fairy tale, inspiring numerous adaptations across a variety of media. Each adaptation offers its own interpretation of the story, but all retain the timeless themes of bravery, maturation, and the importance of facing one’s fears.

Summary of the plot

„The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was“ is a fairy tale about a young man who does not understand the concept of fear. His father, a widower, and his older brother think he is foolish for not understanding fear. Determined to learn what fear is, the young man leaves home and embarks on a journey.

The young man takes on a series of challenges to learn about fear. First, he encounters a man who teaches him to shudder by hanging him from a gallows among the dead, but this experience still does not make him understand fear. Then, he hears about a haunted castle where he could learn to fear if he spends three nights there. The king promises him great wealth and his daughter’s hand in marriage if he can accomplish this task.

During his stay in the castle, the young man encounters several supernatural beings and eerie events, including animated playing cards, a giant black cat, and a group of dismembered limbs that come together to form aggressive men. However, the young man remains undaunted and bravely faces each challenge without fear.

At the end of the three nights, the young man succeeds in his task and marries the king’s daughter. Despite his newfound wealth and happiness, he still does not understand fear. One day, his wife grows tired of his constant lamentation about not knowing fear and decides to teach him a lesson. She fetches a bucket of cold water and some small fish, and pours the water and fish over him while he is asleep. The sudden cold and the wriggling of the fish cause the young man to shudder, finally teaching him what fear feels like.

The story concludes with the young man finally understanding fear, having experienced it through a trivial event after facing numerous supernatural challenges. The tale emphasizes themes of courage, determination, irony, and self-discovery as the protagonist’s journey leads him to learn about fear in an unexpected way.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The story of the youth who went forth to learn what fear was“

„The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, in their famous book „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ (also known as „Children’s and Household Tales“ or „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ in German). The tale is designated as KHM 4 in the collection and is categorized as Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 326, „The Youth Who Wanted to Learn What Fear Is.“

The Brothers Grimm were linguists, cultural researchers, and scholars who lived in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They sought to preserve German folklore and cultural heritage by collecting oral and written stories from various regions of the country. The first edition of „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ was published in 1812, and it went through several revisions and expansions until the seventh and final edition, published in 1857. The collection has become a foundational work in the study of folklore and fairy tales.

In „The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was,“ the protagonist is a young man who is considered foolish because he does not know what it means to be afraid. His father believes that he will never make a living because of this perceived deficiency. Determined to learn what fear is, the young man leaves home and embarks on a series of adventures. Along the way, he faces various supernatural and terrifying experiences, including encounters with ghosts, haunted castles, and talking animals. Despite these encounters, the youth remains unafraid. Ultimately, his courage and resourcefulness lead him to succeed in his quests and become a respected member of society.

The story has been interpreted in various ways, as outlined in the previous answer, with many scholars focusing on the themes of fear, courage, and personal development.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The story of the youth who went forth to learn what fear was“

Various interpretations of „The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was“ have been proposed by different scholars and critics. Some of the most notable interpretations are:

Søren Kierkegaard: The philosopher used the fairy tale to demonstrate how fear within one’s belief system can lead to freedom. He believed that experiencing fear was a necessary part of human development and self-awareness.

Hedwig von Beit: Beit interprets the presence of cats and spirits of the dead in the story as symbolic of the unconscious mind. She argues that the naive and fearless protagonist is able to confront and overcome these unconscious fears because he does not panic, allowing him to fixate on and address his inner conflicts.

Fear as a human dimension: East German writer Franz Fühmann suggests that the hero lacks a human dimension, as he is unable to feel fear. This interpretation points to the need for a full range of emotions to be considered a complete human being.

Language and emotional understanding: Peter O. Chotjewitz argues that the protagonist was never taught the words for feelings and therefore connects his inability to feel fear with his supposed stupidity.

Bruno Bettelheim: This psychologist believes that the fairy tale shows the importance of confronting one’s repressed fears to achieve human happiness. He suggests that children can relate to the protagonist’s journey, as they too experience repressed fears that surface at night.

Egon Fabian and Astrid Thome: They view the fairy tale as an insight into the psychological need to perceive fear, which otherwise remains internally inaccessible as primal fear („Urangst“).

Maria Tatar: Tatar focuses on the narrative structure and the protagonist’s role in the story, highlighting how he defies the traditional fairy tale hero archetype by accomplishing tasks through his own skill and courage.

These interpretations offer various perspectives on the story’s themes, symbols, and messages. They collectively emphasize the importance of understanding and experiencing fear as a crucial aspect of human development and self-awareness.

Summary of the plot

„The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was“ is a German folktale collected by the Brothers Grimm. The story revolves around a dimwitted younger son who sets out to learn what fear is. After injuring a sexton dressed as a ghost, he is turned out of his house by his father and embarks on a journey to learn how to shudder. Along the way, he encounters various supernatural experiences, including visiting a haunted castle and spending three nights facing unusual challenges, such as black cats and dogs, walking beds, half-bodied men, and a coffin with a supposedly dead cousin. Despite his lack of fear throughout these experiences, he still doesn’t know what fear is. After marrying the king’s daughter, his wife, frustrated with his continuous complaints, throws cold water on him while he’s asleep, causing him to shudder. Though he learns to shudder, he still doesn’t know what true fear is.

The story explores themes of fear, courage, and the power of naivety. In various interpretations, the protagonist is viewed as lacking a human dimension or being unaware of his feelings. The tale has been adapted into numerous literary works, operas, and television shows.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 4
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 326
TranslationsDE, EN, EL, DA, ES, FR, PT, FI, HU, IT, JA, NL, KO, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson25.9
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index87.6
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level5.2
Gunning Fog Index7.8
Coleman–Liau Index7
SMOG Index7.2
Automated Readability Index5.1
Character Count19.657
Letter Count14.791
Sentence Count229
Word Count3.821
Average Words per Sentence16,69
Words with more than 6 letters352
Percentage of long words9.2%
Number of Syllables4.620
Average Syllables per Word1,21
Words with three Syllables106
Percentage Words with three Syllables2.8%
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