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The Three Army Surgeons
Grimm Märchen

The Three Army Surgeons - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 9 min

Attention: This is a scary story.

Three army-surgeons who thought they knew their art perfectly, were travelling about the world, and they came to an inn where they wanted to pass the night. The host asked whence they came, and whither they were going? „We are roaming about the world and practising our art.“ – „Just show me for once in a way what you can do,“ said the host. Then the first said he would cut off his hand, and put it on again early next morning. The second said he would tear out his heart, and replace it next morning. The third said he would cut out his eyes and heal them again next morning. „If you can do that,“ said the innkeeper, „you have learnt everything.“ They, however, had a salve, with which they rubbed themselves, which joined parts together, and they carried the little bottle in which it was, constantly with them. Then they cut the hand, heart and eyes from their bodies as they had said they would, and laid them all together on a plate, and gave it to the innkeeper. The innkeeper gave it to a servant who was to set it in the cupboard, and take good care of it. The girl, however, had a lover in secret, who was a soldier. When therefore the innkeeper, the three army-surgeons, and everyone else in the house were asleep, the soldier came and wanted something to eat. The girl opened the cupboard and brought him some food, and in her love forgot to shut the cupboard-door again; She seated herself at the table by her lover, and they chattered away together. While she sat so contentedly there, thinking of no ill luck, the cat came creeping in, found the cupboard open, took the hand and heart and eyes of the three army-surgeons, and ran off with them. When the soldier had done eating, and the girl was taking away the things and going to shut the cupboard she saw that the plate which the innkeeper had given her to take care of, was empty. Then she said in a fright to her lover, „Ah, miserable girl, what shall I do? The hand is gone, the heart and the eyes are gone too, what will become of me in the morning?“ – „Be easy,“ said he, „I will help thee out of thy trouble there is a thief hanging outside on the gallows, I will cut off his hand. Which hand was it?“ – „The right one.“ Then the girl gave him a sharp knife, and he went and cut the poor sinner’s right hand off, and brought it to her. After this he caught the cat and cut its eyes out, and now nothing but the heart was wanting. „Have you not been killing, and are not the dead pigs in the cellar?“ said he. „Yes,“ said the girl. „That’s well,“ said the soldier, and he went down and fetched a pig’s heart. The girl placed all together on the plate, and put it in the cupboard, and when after this her lover took leave of her, she went quietly to bed. In the morning when the three army-surgeons got up, they told the girl she was to bring them the plate on which the hand, heart, and eyes were lying. Then she brought it out of the cupboard, and the first fixed the thief’s hand on and smeared it with his salve, and it grew to his arm directly. The second took the cat’s eyes and put them in his own head. The third fixed the pig’s heart firm in the place where his own had been, and the innkeeper stood by, admired their skill, and said he had never yet seen such a thing as that done, and would sing their praises and recommend them to everyone. Then they paid their bill, and travelled farther.

As they were on their way, the one with the pig’s heart did not stay with them at all, but wherever there was a corner he ran to it, and rooted about in it with his nose as pigs do. The others wanted to hold him back by the tail of his coat, but that did no good. He tore himself loose, and ran wherever the dirt was thickest. The second also behaved very strangely. He rubbed his eyes, and said to the others, „Comrades, what is the matter? I don’t see at all. Will one of you lead me, so that I do not fall.“ Then with difficulty they travelled on till evening, when they reached another inn. They went into the bar together, and there at a table in the corner sat a rich man counting money. The one with the thief’s hand walked round about him, made a sudden movement twice with his arm, and at last when the stranger turned away, he snatched at the pile of money, and took a handful from it. One of them saw this, and said, „Comrade, what art thou about? Thou must not steal shame on thee!“ – „Eh,“ said he, „but how can I stop myself? My hand twitches, and I am forced to snatch things whether I will or not.“

After this, they lay down to sleep, and while they were lying there it was so dark that no one could see his own hand. All at once the one with the cat’s eyes awoke, aroused the others, and said. „Brothers, just look up, do you see the white mice running about there?“ The two sat up, but could see nothing. Then said he, „Things are not right with us, we have not got back again what is ours. We must return to the innkeeper, he has deceived us.“ They went back therefore, the next morning, and told the host they had not got what was their own again. That the first had a thief’s hand, the second cat’s eyes, and the third a pig’s heart. The innkeeper said that the girl must be to blame for that, and was going to call her, but when she had seen the three coming, she had run out by the backdoor, and not come back. Then the three said he must give them a great deal of money, or they would set his house on fire. He gave them what he had, and whatever he could get together, and the three went away with it. It was enough for the rest of their lives, but they would rather have had their own proper organs.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Three Army Surgeons“

„The Three Army Surgeons“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, part of their famous collection „Grimm’s Fairy Tales.“ Like other stories in their anthology, „The Three Army Surgeons“ has its origins in the oral storytelling tradition of Germany.

The story revolves around three army surgeons who travel together, boasting of their remarkable surgical skills. They make a bet with an innkeeper, claiming that they can perform extraordinary feats, such as removing and reattaching their own body parts, without any negative consequences. The innkeeper, intrigued by their claims, agrees to provide them with food and lodging if they can prove their abilities.

The three surgeons demonstrate their skills by removing their own organs and body parts, such as eyes, hands, and hearts. They carefully preserve these parts in a jar of alcohol and plan to reattach them the following day. However, during the night, the innkeeper’s maid accidentally mixes up the jar with another one, leading to a series of mishaps and misunderstandings when the surgeons attempt to reattach the mixed-up body parts.

The central theme of „The Three Army Surgeons“ is the consequences of hubris and overconfidence. The surgeons‘ arrogant belief in their own abilities ultimately leads to their undoing. The tale also emphasizes the importance of humility, caution, and the unpredictability of life.

As with other Grimm’s fairy tales, „The Three Army Surgeons“ can be traced back to the oral storytelling tradition of Germany. These stories were passed down through generations, with each storyteller adding their own unique touch to the narrative. The Brothers Grimm began collecting and documenting these stories in the early 19th century, as part of their efforts to preserve German cultural heritage. Their anthology of fairy tales has since become an integral part of the Western literary canon, influencing countless writers and artists.

In summary, „The Three Army Surgeons“ is a tale that explores the themes of hubris, overconfidence, and the unpredictable nature of life. Rooted in the oral storytelling traditions of Germany, its inclusion in the Brothers Grimm’s collection ensures that it remains a part of the broader cultural landscape of fairy tales and continues to be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Three Army Surgeons“

„The Three Army Surgeons“ is a lesser-known Brothers Grimm fairy tale that offers various interpretations and themes. Some possible interpretations of the story include:

Hubris and Overconfidence: The tale primarily revolves around the consequences of the surgeons‘ hubris and overconfidence in their abilities. They boast about their surgical skills and make a bet with the innkeeper, which ultimately leads to their undoing. This theme serves as a reminder of the importance of humility and the potential negative consequences of excessive pride and arrogance.

Unpredictability of Life: The story emphasizes the unpredictable nature of life, as the surgeons‘ careful plans are derailed by the innkeeper’s maid’s accidental mix-up. This theme highlights the fact that even the most skillful and intelligent individuals cannot control every aspect of their lives and that unexpected events can lead to unforeseen consequences.

The Importance of Caution: As the surgeons‘ overconfidence leads to their downfall, the story also emphasizes the importance of exercising caution and restraint in one’s actions. It suggests that being overly bold or reckless can have dire consequences.

The Ambiguity of Good and Evil: The innkeeper’s maid inadvertently causes the surgeons‘ misfortunes, but her actions are not malicious or intentional. The story demonstrates that not all negative events are caused by evil intentions, and sometimes, unfortunate incidents can arise from simple accidents or misunderstandings.

The Power of Storytelling and Exaggeration: The surgeons boast about their extraordinary surgical skills, and their claims become increasingly exaggerated and fantastical. This theme showcases the power of storytelling and the human tendency to exaggerate one’s abilities or accomplishments, which can be both entertaining and a cautionary reminder of the potential consequences of such exaggerations.

In summary, „The Three Army Surgeons“ offers multiple interpretations, allowing readers to explore themes such as hubris, overconfidence, the unpredictability of life, the importance of caution, and the power of storytelling. The story also provides insights into the cultural and historical context of the time when it was collected and recorded by the Brothers Grimm.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Three Army Surgeons“

While „The Three Army Surgeons“ is not as well-known as some other Grimm’s fairy tales, there have been a few adaptations and references to the tale in different media. Some examples include:

„Die drei Feldscherer“ (Animated Film, 1988): An animated film adaptation of „The Three Army Surgeons“ was produced in 1988 in Germany. The film, titled „Die drei Feldscherer,“ provides a vivid animated retelling of the story, making the cautionary tale of hubris and the unpredictable nature of life accessible to audiences of different cultures and ages.

„The Three Army Surgeons“ (Illustrated Book): Illustrated books and retellings of „The Three Army Surgeons“ offer a way for readers to experience the story with the help of visual aids. These adaptations typically feature illustrations and modified language, making the story more accessible to younger readers.

Theater and Puppet Shows: „The Three Army Surgeons“ has been adapted for the stage in various forms, including theater performances and puppet shows. These live adaptations provide an engaging and entertaining way for audiences to experience the story and its themes.

Radio Plays: Although specific examples may be difficult to find, radio plays can be an adaptation of „The Three Army Surgeons.“ Radio plays offer a unique way for audiences to experience the story, as they rely on voice acting, music, and sound effects to bring the tale to life.

While „The Three Army Surgeons“ may not have as many adaptations or be as well-known as some other Grimm’s fairy tales, these examples demonstrate that the story still captures the imagination of storytellers and provides entertainment to audiences in various forms.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Three Army Surgeons“

„The Three Army Surgeons“ has been adapted and reimagined in various forms over the years. Here are some notable adaptations of the fairy tale:

„The Three Army Surgeons“ was adapted into an animated short film by Lotte Reiniger in 1926. Reiniger was a pioneering German animator who used intricate silhouette cutouts to create her films.

The story was adapted into a ballet called „The Three Army Surgeons“ by the Australian Ballet in 1969. The ballet was choreographed by Robert Helpmann and featured music by Margaret Sutherland.

In 2007, the story was adapted into a graphic novel by Paul Grist and Phil Elliott. The graphic novel reimagined the story in a futuristic setting and added elements of science fiction.

The story has been adapted into a number of children’s books, including „The Three Army Surgeons“ by James Riordan and Victor Ambrus and „The Three Army Surgeons: A Grimm Tale“ by Wende and Harry Devlin.

The story has also been adapted into a number of plays, including „The Three Army Surgeons“ by Michael Harrison and Christopher Pilling and „The Three Army Surgeons“ by William Glennon.

Overall, „The Three Army Surgeons“ has been adapted and reimagined in various forms, demonstrating its enduring popularity and relevance.

Summary of the plot

„The Three Army Surgeons“ is a lesser-known Brothers Grimm fairy tale that tells the story of three skilled army surgeons who travel together and boast about their extraordinary surgical abilities. They arrive at an inn and make a bet with the innkeeper, claiming that they can remove and reattach their own body parts without any consequences.

To prove their skills, the first surgeon removes his own hands, the second takes out his own heart, and the third extracts his eyes. They preserve their organs in a jar filled with alcohol, intending to reattach them the next day. Intrigued by their claims, the innkeeper agrees to provide them with food and lodging if they can demonstrate their abilities.

That night, the innkeeper’s maid accidentally switches the jar containing the surgeons‘ body parts with another jar containing a similar-looking liquid. Unaware of the mix-up, the surgeons reattach the organs the next morning, but they unknowingly end up with the wrong body parts. The first surgeon finds that he has a thief’s hands, which now cause him to steal without control. The second surgeon receives the heart of a pig, causing him to develop a gluttonous appetite. The third surgeon gets the eyes of a cat, which allow him to see in the dark but impair his vision during the day.

Realizing that they have been deceived, the surgeons confront the innkeeper and demand compensation. The innkeeper, fearful of the consequences, agrees to pay them a large sum of money to avoid being reported to the authorities. The three surgeons, now wealthy but forever changed by their experience, continue their journey.

In summary, „The Three Army Surgeons“ is a cautionary tale that explores themes of hubris, overconfidence, and the unpredictable nature of life. The story serves as a reminder of the potential consequences of excessive pride and the importance of humility and caution in one’s actions.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Three Army Surgeons“

„The Three Army Surgeons“ is a lesser-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their compilation titled „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ (Children’s and Household Tales), which was first published in 1812. The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, were German academics, linguists, and authors who collected and published folklore during the 19th century. Their collection of fairy tales and folk stories became one of the most influential and popular works of its kind, leaving a significant impact on Western literature and culture.

The stories in their collection, including „The Three Army Surgeons,“ were derived from various sources such as oral tradition, written texts, and personal accounts. The Brothers Grimm were interested in preserving the cultural heritage of the German-speaking world, and they sought to capture the essence of these stories in their compilation.

Fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm often featured magical elements, moral lessons, and fantastical characters. They often address universal themes, such as love, greed, and the struggle between good and evil, making them relatable across different cultures and time periods.

„The Three Army Surgeons“ shares similarities with other stories in the Grimm’s collection, such as the exploration of human nature, the consequences of one’s actions, and the interplay of fate and personal choice. The story’s unique blend of magical elements, dark humor, and moral undertones make it an intriguing example of the Grimm Brothers‘ work.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Three Army Surgeons“

„The Three Army Surgeons“ can be interpreted in various ways, but several themes and messages can be derived from the story.

The dangers of arrogance: The three army surgeons are confident in their skills and feel invincible because of their unique abilities. Their arrogance ultimately leads them to make reckless decisions, such as removing their body parts, which results in long-term consequences.

The consequences of deceit and dishonesty: The servant girl’s secret affair with the soldier leads her to neglect her responsibility and opens the door for the cat to steal the surgeons‘ body parts. Her attempt to cover up the theft with replacement parts causes further damage. Both the girl and the innkeeper face consequences for their dishonesty.

Greed and the desire for recognition: The innkeeper’s desire to witness the surgeons‘ incredible abilities and gain admiration from others contributes to the entire situation. The surgeons‘ quest for fame and validation also plays a role in their decisions.

The importance of personal responsibility: The story highlights the need for each individual to take responsibility for their actions. The girl and the innkeeper are held accountable for their dishonesty, while the surgeons must face the repercussions of their arrogance and desire for recognition.

The potential for transformative experiences: The story suggests that when people face challenges or setbacks, they may be forced to change or adapt. The surgeons, now altered by their new body parts, have to learn how to cope with their new circumstances, potentially leading to personal growth or transformation.

Summary of the plot

„The Three Army Surgeons“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm about three skilled surgeons who travel the world to practice their art. One day, they come to an inn where the innkeeper challenges them to demonstrate their abilities. The first surgeon says he will cut off his hand and reattach it the next morning, the second says he will remove his heart and replace it the following day, and the third says he will cut out his eyes and heal them the next day. The surgeons use a special salve that can join body parts back together, and they store it in a small bottle.

After they remove their body parts, they put them on a plate and give it to the innkeeper, who entrusts a servant girl to safeguard it. However, the girl has a secret soldier lover, and when she brings him food from the cupboard, she accidentally leaves the cupboard door open. As the couple chats, a cat sneaks in and steals the surgeons‘ body parts.

In a panic, the girl and her lover try to find replacements: they cut off a hand from a thief hanging on a gallows, take out the cat’s eyes, and get a pig’s heart from the cellar. The girl places these items on the plate and returns it to the cupboard.

The next morning, the surgeons unknowingly attach these replacement parts to their bodies, and the innkeeper praises their skills. As they continue their journey, they notice strange behavior in one another: the one with the pig’s heart is attracted to dirt, the one with the thief’s hand is compelled to steal, and the one with the cat’s eyes can see in the dark. Realizing they have not received their original body parts, they return to the inn and confront the innkeeper, who blames the servant girl who has since disappeared. They demand money from him, and though they are compensated, they lament the loss of their original organs.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 118
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 660
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson28.3
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index85.5
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level5.9
Gunning Fog Index9.1
Coleman–Liau Index7.3
SMOG Index8.3
Automated Readability Index6.3
Character Count5.614
Letter Count4.292
Sentence Count59
Word Count1.092
Average Words per Sentence18,51
Words with more than 6 letters107
Percentage of long words9.8%
Number of Syllables1.324
Average Syllables per Word1,21
Words with three Syllables46
Percentage Words with three Syllables4.2%
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