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The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean
Grimm Märchen

The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 4 min

An old woman lived in a village. She had gathered a serving of beans and wanted to cook them, so she prepared a fire in her fireplace. To make it burn faster she lit it with a handful of straw. While she was pouring the beans into the pot, one of them fell unnoticed to the floor, coming to rest next to a piece of straw. Soon afterward a glowing coal jumped out of the fireplace and landed next to them.

The straw said, „Dear friends, where do you come from?“ The coal answered, „I jumped from the fireplace, to my good fortune. If I had not forced my way out, I surely would have died. I would have burned to ash.“ The bean said, „I too saved my skin. If the old woman had gotten me into the pot I would have been cooked to mush without mercy, just like my comrades.“

„Would my fate have been any better?“ said the straw. „The old woman sent all my brothers up in fire and smoke. She grabbed sixty at once and killed them. Fortunately I slipped through her fingers.“ – „What should we do now?“ asked the coal. „Because we have so fortunately escaped death,“ answered the bean, „I think that we should join together as comrades. To prevent some new misfortune from befalling us here, let us together make our way to another land.“

This proposal pleased the other two, and they set forth all together. They soon came to a small brook, and because there was neither a bridge nor a walkway there, they did not know how they would get across it. Then the straw had a good idea, and said, „I will lay myself across it, and you can walk across me like on a bridge.“ So the straw stretched himself from one bank to the other.

The coal, who was a hot-headed fellow, stepped brashly onto the newly constructed bridge, but when he got to the middle and heard the water rushing beneath him, he took fright, stopped, and did not dare to go any further. Then the straw caught fire, broke into two pieces, and fell into the brook. The coal slid after him, hissed as he fell into the water, and gave up the ghost.

The bean who had cautiously stayed behind on the bank had to laugh at the event. He could not stop, and he laughed so fiercely that he burst. Now he too would have died, but fortunately a wandering tailor was there, resting near the brook. Having a compassionate heart, he got out a needle and thread and sewed the bean back together. The bean thanked him most kindly. However, because he had used black thread, since that time all beans have had a black seam.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“

„The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ is a lesser-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their anthology „Grimm’s Fairy Tales.“ The story is rooted in various elements that contribute to its background:

Oral tradition: Similar to other stories in the Grimm’s collection, „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ originated from the oral tradition of storytelling. The tale was passed down through generations by word of mouth before being documented and published by the Brothers Grimm. The tales were primarily drawn from oral traditions, collected through interviews with various storytellers from different regions of Germany. These tales were not originally intended for children but were shared among adults for entertainment and moral lessons. Over time, they were adapted to suit a younger audience, and the Brothers Grimm continued to revise and edit their collection throughout their lives, resulting in several editions.

German folklore: The story is an example of German folklore, as it features characters, settings, and themes typical of tales from the region. The Brothers Grimm sought to preserve the cultural heritage of Germany by collecting such stories. „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ is a lesser-known tale in the Grimms‘ collection. While the origins of this particular story are not well-documented, it likely has roots in European folktales passed down through generations before being collected by the Brothers Grimm. The tale provides readers with moral lessons and wisdom through its simple narrative and fantastical characters, highlighting themes such as friendship, courage, and the consequences of one’s actions.

Humorous tale: Unlike many Grimm’s fairy tales that often convey moral lessons through serious themes, „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ is primarily a humorous story. It tells the amusing adventure of three inanimate objects as they try to escape their impending doom, providing light-hearted entertainment.

The Brothers Grimm: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were German academics who collected and published folktales as part of their efforts to preserve the cultural history of their country. Their work was part of the larger Romantic movement, which sought to reclaim and elevate traditional folk culture.

Influence of other tales: The story shares some similarities with other folktales involving personified objects or animals that embark on adventures together. The exchange of stories between different cultures and regions may have influenced the development and evolution of these tales.

In summary, „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ is a product of the oral storytelling tradition, German folklore, and the Brothers Grimm’s efforts to collect and preserve these tales. Its humorous nature sets it apart from many of the other stories in the Grimm’s collection, offering readers a light-hearted diversion.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“

„The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ is a light-hearted and whimsical fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm. While the story is primarily humorous, it can still be subject to various interpretations:

Overcoming adversity: The tale of the straw, the coal, and the bean can be seen as a story about overcoming obstacles and working together to survive. Each character faces a challenge that could lead to their destruction, yet they find a way to escape their predicament through collaboration.

Unlikely friendships: The story highlights the formation of an unusual bond between three inanimate objects that would not typically be associated with each other. This interpretation emphasizes the importance of friendship and unity, even among the most unlikely companions. The story highlights the value of friendship and unity in the face of adversity. The straw, coal, and bean form an unlikely alliance, supporting each other in their attempt to escape their unfortunate fates. This interpretation encourages readers to work together with others, despite differences, to overcome challenges.

Humor and amusement: One of the primary purposes of the story is to entertain and amuse readers. Unlike many other Grimm’s fairy tales that focus on serious themes or moral lessons, „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ serves as a reminder that not every tale has to carry a weighty message. It celebrates the joy of storytelling for the sake of fun and laughter.

Anthropomorphism: The tale is an example of anthropomorphism, a literary technique that attributes human traits and emotions to non-human entities. This can be seen as a way of making the story more relatable and engaging for readers, as they can empathize with the characters despite their inanimate nature.

The unpredictability of life: The story can also be interpreted as a reflection on the unpredictability of life and the unexpected twists and turns that can occur. The characters in the story find themselves in unusual circumstances and must adapt to survive, demonstrating the resilience and adaptability necessary to navigate life’s uncertainties.

Fate and Choices: Each character in the story escapes their initial fate (burning, cooking, or being used as fuel) through their choices and actions. This suggests that individuals can change their destiny through determination, resourcefulness, and adaptability. However, the story also warns that rash or unwise decisions can lead to unintended consequences, as seen with the coal’s untimely demise.

Fear and Courage: The tale demonstrates the role of fear and courage in life. The coal’s fear of the rushing water beneath it leads to its downfall. This can serve as a reminder for readers to face their fears and not let them hinder their progress or success.

Humor and Resilience: The bean’s laughter in the face of the others‘ demise highlights the importance of humor and resilience. Despite the tragic events that befall the characters, the bean is able to find humor in the situation, demonstrating the power of laughter in overcoming adversity. The bean’s survival and repair by the tailor further emphasize the idea of resilience.

The Ripple Effect: The story illustrates how one’s actions can have lasting consequences, as evidenced by the black seam on beans after the tailor’s repair job. This interpretation can remind readers to consider the long-term impacts of their actions and the interconnectedness of events in the world.

Overall, „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ is a playful and light-hearted tale that offers various interpretations, ranging from the importance of friendship and overcoming adversity to the sheer joy of storytelling for entertainment. While it may not carry the moral weight of other Grimm’s fairy tales, it still provides a charming and engaging narrative for readers of all ages.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“

„The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ is a fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, who were German academics and cultural researchers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The Brothers Grimm are famous for their compilation of folktales and fairy tales, many of which have become classics, such as „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ „Rapunzel,“ and „Hansel and Gretel.“ Their collections were published under the name „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ or „Children’s and Household Tales“ (Kinder- und Hausmärchen). „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection, and as such, it has not been adapted as extensively as some of their more famous tales. However, there are a few examples of adaptations that have been inspired by this whimsical story:

Children’s books: The story has been adapted and retold in various children’s books, often with illustrations to bring the tale to life. One example is the book „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean: A Brothers Grimm Tale Told in English and German“ by Margot Bettauer Dembo, which presents the story in a bilingual format. Some of these books feature illustrations and simplify the story for younger readers. The tale has been adapted into various forms of literature, including poetry, short stories, and modern retellings.

Theater: The tale has also been adapted for the stage, including a 2018 musical adaptation by the children’s theatre company Theaterhaus Ensemble in Germany. Some smaller theatre productions have included „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ as part of their performances, often combining it with other lesser-known fairy tales to create a unique and engaging show for audiences.

Animated shorts: Although there may not be any full-length animated films or television episodes based solely on „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean,“ it is possible that the story has been adapted into animated shorts as part of larger collections of fairy tales.

Animated films: „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ has been adapted into several animated films, including a 1957 Soviet stop-motion animated film, a 1983 German animated film, and a 1996 French animated film.

Storytelling events: The story may also be included in storytelling events, where performers share lesser-known fairy tales to entertain and engage audiences. The humorous nature of „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ makes it a fitting choice for such events, as it offers a light-hearted alternative to more serious tales.

Educational materials: The story can be found in various educational materials that focus on teaching children about folktales, fairy tales, or the Brothers Grimm. Its simple narrative and amusing characters make it an accessible and enjoyable choice for introducing young learners to the world of traditional storytelling. „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ has also been used as an educational resource, particularly in language and literature classes. It has been used to teach students about fables, fairy tales, and moral lessons.

„The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ is a popular fairy tale that has been adapted in various forms over the years. While „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ may not have been adapted as widely as some of the more popular Grimm’s fairy tales, its charming narrative and humorous tone still provide opportunities for adaptations that entertain and engage audiences.

Summary of the plot

„The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ is a humorous fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm. The story revolves around the adventures of three inanimate objects — a piece of straw, a coal, and a bean — as they try to escape their respective fates. The tale begins with an old woman who is preparing to cook a pot of beans. As she cleans the beans, she accidentally throws out one good bean along with the bad ones. Meanwhile, a piece of straw falls from the roof, and a piece of coal falls from the fire. The three discarded items find themselves together outside the house and strike up a conversation.

The straw, the coal, and the bean decide to embark on a journey together to avoid being destroyed—the straw by being burnt, the coal by being consumed in a fire, and the bean by being cooked. They come across a small stream, and they must find a way to cross it without getting wet, as it would spell doom for all three of them.

The straw suggests that it can lay itself across the stream to create a bridge, allowing the coal and the bean to cross safely. The coal goes first, but as it reaches the middle of the straw, it hesitates, fearing that it might be extinguished by the water below. This hesitation causes the straw to catch fire, and the coal falls into the stream, extinguishing the fire and the coal itself.

As the bean watches the unfortunate demise of its companions, it can’t help but laugh. It laughs so hard that it bursts open. Fortunately, a traveling tailor comes across the bean and sews it back together with a piece of black thread. The bean is grateful for the tailor’s help and lives on, bearing the black seam as a constant reminder of its adventure with the straw and the coal. The story of „The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ is a light-hearted and amusing tale that showcases the unlikely friendship and adventures of three inanimate objects, providing entertainment and laughter for its readers.

Abstract

„The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean“ is a fairy tale by Brothers Grimm that tells the story of three unlikely companions – a straw, a coal, and a bean – who escape their impending deaths and decide to seek a better life together. As the old woman prepares to cook the beans, one bean falls to the floor, while a piece of straw escapes her grasp. A coal also jumps out of the fireplace, and the three form a bond, deciding to venture to another land. On their journey, they encounter a brook with no bridge or walkway to cross.

The straw comes up with the idea of laying himself across the water to serve as a bridge. However, as the coal reaches the middle, it becomes frightened by the sound of rushing water, causing the straw to catch fire and break apart, falling into the brook. The coal follows suit, hissing and extinguishing itself in the water. The bean, who had stayed behind, finds the situation amusing and laughs so hard that it bursts. Luckily, a compassionate wandering tailor happens upon the scene and sews the bean back together using black thread. As a result, all beans have had a black seam ever since.

Informations for scientific analysis


Fairy tale statistics
Value
NumberKHM 18
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 295
Translations DE, EN, DA, ES, FR, PT, HU, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH,
Readability Index by Björnsson27
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index85.4
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level4.9
Gunning Fog Index7.5
Coleman–Liau Index8.2
SMOG Index7.9
Automated Readability Index4.9
Character Count2.482
Letter Count1.906
Sentence Count33
Word Count467
Average Words per Sentence14,15
Words with more than 6 letters60
Percentage of long words12.8%
Number of Syllables591
Average Syllables per Word1,27
Words with three Syllables22
Percentage Words with three Syllables4.7%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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