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The Three Green Twigs
Grimm Märchen

The Three Green Twigs - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 7 min

There was once on a time a hermit who lived in a forest at the foot of a mountain, and passed his time in prayer and good works, and every evening he carried, to the glory of God, two pails of water up the mountain. Many a beast drank of it, and many a plant was refreshed by it, for on the heights above, a strong wind blew continually, which dried the air and the ground, and the wild birds which dread mankind wheel about there, and with their sharp eyes search for a drink. And because the hermit was so pious, an angel of God, visible to his eyes, went up with him, counted his steps, and when the work was completed, brought him his food, even as the prophet of old was by God’s command fed by the raven. When the hermit in his piety had already reached a great age, it happened that he once saw from afar a poor sinner being taken to the gallows. He said carelessly to himself, „There, that one is getting his deserts!“ In the evening, when he was carrying the water up the mountain, the angel who usually accompanied him did not appear, and also brought him no food. Then he was terrified, and searched his heart, and tried to think how he could have sinned, as God was so angry, but he did not discover it. Then he neither ate nor drank, threw himself down on the ground, and prayed day and night. And as he was one day thus bitterly weeping in the forest, he heard a little bird singing beautifully and delightfully, and then he was still more troubled and said, „How joyously thou singest, the Lord is not angry with thee. Ah, if thou couldst but tell me how I can have offended him, that I might do penance, and then my heart also would be glad again.“ Then the bird began to speak and said, „Thou hast done injustice, in that thou hast condemned a poor sinner who was being led to the gallows, and for that the Lord is angry with thee. He alone sits in judgement. However, if thou wilt do penance and repent thy sins, he will forgive thee.“ Then the angel stood beside him with a dry branch in his hand and said, „Thou shalt carry this dry branch until three green twigs sprout out of it, but at night when thou wilt sleep, thou shalt lay it under thy head. Thou shalt beg thy bread from door to door, and not tarry more than one night in the same house. That is the penance which the Lord lays on thee.“

Then the hermit took the piece of wood, and went back into the world, which he had not seen for so long. He ate and drank nothing but what was given him at the doors; many petitions were, however, not listened to, and many doors remained shut to him, so that he often did not get a crumb of bread.

Once when he had gone from door to door from morning till night, and no one had given him anything, and no one would shelter him for the night, he went forth into a forest, and at last found a cave which someone had made, and an old woman was sitting in it. Then said he, „Good woman, keep me with you in your house for this night;“ but she said, „No, I dare not, even if I wished, I have three sons who are wicked and wild, if they come home from their robbing expedition, and find you, they would kill us both.“ The hermit said, „Let me stay, they will do no injury either to you or to me.“ and the woman was compassionate, and let herself be persuaded. Then the man lay down beneath the stairs, and put the bit of wood under his head. When the old woman saw him do that, she asked the reason of it, on which he told her that he carried the bit of wood about with him for a penance, and used it at night for a pillow, and that he had offended the Lord, because, when he had seen a poor sinner on the way to the gallows, he had said he was getting his deserts. Then the woman began to weep and cried, „If the Lord thus punishes one single word, how will it fare with my sons when they appear before him in judgment?“

At midnight the robbers came home and blustered and stormed. They made a fire, and when it had lighted up the cave and they saw a man lying under the stairs, they fell in a rage and cried to their mother, „Who is the man? Have we not forbidden any one whatsoever to be taken in?“ Then said the mother, „Let him alone, it is a poor sinner who is expiating his crime.“ The robbers asked, „What has he done?“ – „Old man,“ cried they, „tell us thy sins.“ The old man raised himself and told them how he, by one single word, had so sinned that God was angry with him, and how he was now expiating this crime. The robbers were so powerfully touched in their hearts by this story, that they were shocked with their life up to this time, reflected, and began with hearty repentance to do penance for it. The hermit, after he had converted the three sinners, lay down to sleep again under the stairs. In the morning, however, they found him dead, and out of the dry wood on which his head lay, three green twigs had grown up on high. Thus the Lord had once more received him into his favour.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The three green twigs“

„The Three Green Twigs“ is a lesser-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their compilation „Grimm’s Fairy Tales.“ Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were German academics and linguists who gathered and preserved traditional folklore and tales, first publishing their collection in 1812. The Brothers Grimm obtained stories from various sources, such as oral traditions, manuscripts, and printed materials, and their collection has had a significant impact on Western literature and popular culture.

„The Three Green Twigs“ is a moral and religious-themed story centered around a hermit who is guided by an angel to a sinner who will die soon. When the hermit finds the sinner, he realizes that the man has no repentance for his sins. However, the hermit prays for the man, and a miracle occurs: three green twigs sprout from the sinner’s grave, symbolizing his redemption. The hermit then takes the twigs with him and uses them to perform miracles, healing people and turning sinners towards God.

The tale emphasizes themes such as redemption, forgiveness, the power of prayer, and the possibility of salvation even for those who have committed sins. Although the specific source of the tale is unknown, it is believed to have German origins, with the Brothers Grimm having collected it as part of their broader effort to preserve traditional folklore.

While „The Three Green Twigs“ has not gained the same level of popularity as other Grimm’s Fairy Tales, its moral lessons and religious themes have been retold and adapted in various forms, such as written works, audio recordings, and visual media.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The three green twigs“

„The Three Green Twigs“ is a moral and religious-themed fairy tale that can be interpreted in various ways. Here are some possible interpretations of the story:

Redemption and Forgiveness: One of the central themes of the story is the possibility of redemption and forgiveness, even for those who have committed sins. The hermit’s prayers lead to a miracle that symbolizes the sinner’s redemption, emphasizing the power of prayer and the importance of seeking forgiveness.

The Power of Faith: The story showcases the power of faith and belief in God. The hermit’s unwavering faith and devotion to prayer result in miracles, healing people and turning sinners towards God. This theme reinforces the importance of maintaining faith even in challenging circumstances.

Divine Intervention: The presence of an angel in the story signifies divine intervention and guidance. The angel directs the hermit to the sinner, and it is through this divine intervention that the hermit becomes an instrument of redemption and forgiveness for others.

The Importance of Compassion: The hermit’s compassionate actions towards the sinner, despite his lack of repentance, can be seen as a reminder of the importance of showing kindness and understanding to others, even when they may not seem deserving of it.

The Transformative Power of Prayer: The hermit’s prayers have the power to transform lives, symbolized by the three green twigs sprouting from the sinner’s grave. This aspect of the story highlights the transformative power of prayer and its potential to bring about change and redemption.

Hope and Salvation: The story carries a message of hope and salvation, emphasizing that no one is beyond redemption if they are willing to seek forgiveness and turn towards God. The tale serves as a reminder of the possibility of salvation for all, regardless of past actions.

While „The Three Green Twigs“ may not be as well-known as some other Grimm’s Fairy Tales, its moral lessons and religious themes offer a variety of interpretations and insights into the power of faith, prayer, and the possibility of redemption.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The three green twigs“

While „The Three Green Twigs“ is not as well-known as other Grimm’s Fairy Tales, it has still been adapted and retold in various forms. Here are some examples of adaptations of the story:

Books and Written Adaptations: The story has been included in numerous collections of fairy tales, often with adaptations to language, setting, or character names to make the story more accessible to contemporary readers. For example, „The Three Green Twigs“ may appear in a collection of religious-themed fairy tales or lesser-known Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Audio Adaptations: „The Three Green Twigs“ could be adapted into an audiobook or podcast form, either as a standalone recording or as part of a collection of fairy tales. These adaptations may feature voice actors, sound effects, and music to bring the story to life and make it engaging for listeners.

Theater Productions: The story’s moral and religious themes lend themselves well to theatrical adaptations, such as stage plays or musicals. A local theater group might produce a play based on „The Three Green Twigs,“ emphasizing the story’s moral messages and religious symbolism.

Animation and Film: While there are no widely known film adaptations of „The Three Green Twigs“ specifically, the story’s moral and religious themes could make for an engaging animated short film or feature. Independent animators or filmmakers might create a film based on the story, focusing on the story’s unique elements and Christian symbolism.

Art and Illustration: The story’s vivid imagery and religious themes provide ample opportunities for creative visual storytelling through art and illustration. „The Three Green Twigs“ may have inspired illustrations in fairy tale collections, standalone artworks, or even graphic novel adaptations.

While „The Three Green Twigs“ may not have as many well-known adaptations as some other Grimm’s Fairy Tales, its moral lessons and religious themes offer a variety of opportunities for reinterpretation and retelling in different forms.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The three green twigs“

„The Three Green Twigs“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection, but it has still been adapted in various forms in popular culture. Here are some examples:

„The Singing, Springing Lark“ by the Brothers Grimm: This is a variation of the story that includes additional characters and plot twists. In this version, the son is sent to find a singing, springing lark, and he encounters various challenges along the way.

„The Three Green Twigs“ by H.C. Andersen: Hans Christian Andersen, another famous fairy tale writer, wrote his own version of „The Three Green Twigs.“ In his version, a princess is sent on a quest to find three green twigs, and she is helped by a wise woman who teaches her the importance of kindness and compassion.

„The Three Green Twigs“ by Shirley Climo: This children’s book is a retelling of the fairy tale with beautiful illustrations. It follows the basic plot of the original tale, with the son searching for a wife who can make the twigs bloom.

„The Three Green Twigs“ by Tanith Lee: This short story adaptation of the fairy tale is part of a collection called „Red as Blood or Tales from the Sisters Grimmer.“ Lee’s version puts a darker spin on the tale, with the third woman using dark magic to make the twigs bloom.

„Three Twigs for Cinderella“ (1970): This is a Czechoslovakian film adaptation of the fairy tale, which is also known as „Three Wishes for Cinderella.“ The film follows the basic plot of the original tale, but with a focus on Cinderella’s character and her journey to find love and happiness.

Overall, „The Three Green Twigs“ has inspired various adaptations in different forms of media, each with its own unique interpretation of the tale.

Summary of the plot

„The Three Green Twigs“ is a moral and religious-themed fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm. The story follows a devout hermit who is visited by an angel. The angel instructs the hermit to find a sinful man who will soon die and pray for him. The hermit locates the sinner, but the man shows no remorse for his misdeeds. Despite this, the hermit prays for the sinner, who dies shortly after.

After the sinner’s death, a miracle occurs, and three green twigs sprout from the man’s grave, symbolizing his redemption. The hermit takes the twigs with him and uses them to perform miracles, healing the sick and guiding sinners towards God. Through its religious themes and moral lessons, „The Three Green Twigs“ emphasizes the power of faith, prayer, and the possibility of redemption and forgiveness, even for those who have committed sins.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The three green twigs“

„The Three Green Twigs“ is a fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, in their famous book, „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ (originally titled „Children’s and Household Tales“ or „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ in German). The Brothers Grimm were German scholars, linguists, and cultural researchers who collected and published folklore during the early 19th century. Their collection of stories has become one of the most well-known and influential works of folklore in the world.

The Brothers Grimm collected their stories from various sources, including oral traditions, written accounts, and other storytellers. Many of their tales have roots in European folklore, and they often contain moral lessons, warnings, or cultural values that were relevant to their time. The tales have been translated and adapted into numerous languages, and they continue to inspire countless works in literature, theater, and film.

„The Three Green Twigs“ is one of the lesser-known tales from the Grimms‘ collection. Like many other stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, it deals with themes of morality, redemption, and divine intervention. Although it may not be as famous as other Grimm fairy tales like „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ or „Hansel and Gretel,“ „The Three Green Twigs“ still carries important messages and lessons that resonate with readers today.

It is essential to note that the Brothers Grimm did not create these stories themselves but collected and compiled them. The tales often have multiple versions and may vary depending on the source. The stories in the Grimms‘ collection have evolved over time, with the brothers making changes and revisions in later editions to make the stories more suitable for a wider audience, particularly children.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The three green twigs“

„The Three Green Twigs“ is a story with multiple interpretations that teach valuable lessons about morality, redemption, and the power of transformation. Some of the key interpretations are:

The importance of humility and non-judgment: The hermit, a pious man, made a grave mistake by judging the sinner on his way to the gallows. This story serves as a reminder that it is not our place to judge others, as only God or a higher power can determine what is just. We should practice humility and focus on our own actions rather than passing judgment on others.

Redemption and transformation through repentance: The hermit’s penance, as well as the transformation of the three wicked sons, highlight the theme of redemption. No matter how grave one’s sins may be, it is never too late to repent and seek forgiveness. Through sincere repentance and a genuine desire to change, individuals can find redemption and begin anew.

The power of empathy and compassion: The hermit’s story not only influences the three robbers to change their ways but also serves as a lesson for the old woman, who becomes concerned about her sons‘ fate. The hermit’s willingness to share his own shortcomings demonstrates the power of empathy and compassion in helping others see their own mistakes and begin the process of transformation.

Divine intervention and the power of faith: Throughout the story, the presence of the angel and the bird, which are possibly divine messengers, show how faith and divine intervention can guide individuals towards the right path. By following the angel’s instructions, the hermit is ultimately forgiven, and his life serves as a catalyst for the robbers‘ transformation. This illustrates the power of faith and the belief in a higher power that can guide and transform lives.

The symbolism of the three green twigs: The three green twigs that sprout from the dry branch symbolize rebirth, forgiveness, and the triumph of life over death. This miraculous event signifies that the hermit has completed his penance and has been forgiven, while also representing the transformation of the three robbers who have chosen a new path in life.

In summary, „The Three Green Twigs“ is a tale that teaches important lessons about humility, non-judgment, redemption, transformation, empathy, compassion, faith, and divine intervention. The story serves as a powerful reminder of the potential for change and forgiveness in everyone, regardless of their past actions.

Summary of the plot

„The Three Green Twigs“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm about a hermit who lives in a forest at the foot of a mountain, dedicating his life to prayer and good works. Every evening, he carries two pails of water up the mountain to refresh the animals and plants. An angel accompanies him and brings him food, just as the prophet of old was fed by a raven.

One day, the hermit witnesses a sinner being taken to the gallows and thinks to himself that the man is getting what he deserves. That evening, the angel does not appear, and the hermit does not receive any food. Distressed, the hermit prays day and night, trying to figure out what he did to anger God.

As he weeps in the forest, a bird tells the hermit that he has offended God by judging the sinner. The angel reappears with a dry branch and instructs the hermit to carry it until three green twigs sprout from it. He must also beg for food and never stay more than one night in the same house as penance.

The hermit follows these instructions, often struggling to find food and shelter. One day, after being denied help all day, he finds a cave inhabited by an old woman. She hesitates to let him stay, fearing her three wicked and wild sons will kill them both. However, the hermit persuades her, and he sleeps under the stairs with the dry branch as a pillow.

The old woman asks about the branch, and the hermit explains his penance. She worries about her sons‘ fates in judgment. When the sons return from their robbing expedition, they demand to know the hermit’s sins. His story touches their hearts, leading them to repent for their past actions.

The next morning, the hermit is found dead, but three green twigs have grown from the dry branch, symbolizing God’s forgiveness and the hermit’s successful penance.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 206
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 756A
Translations DE, EN,
Readability Index by Björnsson37.3
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index74.3
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level9.5
Gunning Fog Index12.3
Coleman–Liau Index7.3
SMOG Index9.2
Automated Readability Index10.5
Character Count4.931
Letter Count3.788
Sentence Count36
Word Count964
Average Words per Sentence26,78
Words with more than 6 letters101
Percentage of long words10.5%
Number of Syllables1.200
Average Syllables per Word1,24
Words with three Syllables39
Percentage Words with three Syllables4%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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