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The Three Languages
Grimm Märchen

The Three Languages - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 8 min

An aged count once lived in Switzerland, who had an only son, but he was stupid, and could learn nothing. Then said the father, „Hark thee, my son, I can get nothing into thy head, let me try as I will. Thou must go from hence, I will give thee into the care of a celebrated master, who shall see what he can do with thee.“ The youth was sent into a strange town, and remained a whole year with the master. At the end of this time, he came home again, and his father asked, „Now, my son, what hast thou learnt?“ – „Father, I have learnt what the dogs say when they bark.“

„Lord have mercy on us!“ cried the father. „Is that all thou hast learnt? I will send thee into another town, to another master.“ The youth was taken thither, and stayed a year with this master likewise. When he came back the father again asked, „My son, what hast thou learnt?“ He answered, „Father, I have learnt what the birds say.“ Then the father fell into a rage and said, „Oh, thou lost man, thou hast spent the precious time and learnt nothing. Art thou not ashamed to appear before mine eyes? I will send thee to a third master, but if thou learnest nothing this time also, I will no longer be thy father.“

The youth remained a whole year with the third master also, and when he came home again, and his father inquired, „My son, what hast thou learnt?“ he answered, „Dear father, I have this year learnt what the frogs croak.“ Then the father fell into the most furious anger, sprang up, called his people thither, and said, „This man is no longer my son, I drive him forth, and command you to take him out into the forest, and kill him.“ They took him forth, but when they should have killed him, they could not do it for pity, and let him go, and they cut the eyes and the tongue out of a deer that they might carry them to the old man as a token.

The youth wandered on, and after some time came to a fortress where he begged for a night’s lodging. „Yes,“ said the lord of the castle, „if thou wilt pass the night down there in the old tower, go thither; but I warn thee, it is at the peril of thy life, for it is full of wild dogs, which bark and howl without stopping, and at certain hours a man has to be given to them, whom they at once devour.“ The whole district was in sorrow and dismay because of them, and yet no one could do anything to stop this. The youth, however, was without fear, and said, „Just let me go down to the barking dogs, and give me something that I can throw to them.

They will do nothing to harm me.“ As he himself would have it so, they gave him some food for the wild animals, and led him down to the tower. When he went inside, the dogs did not bark at him, but wagged their tails quite amicably around him, ate what he set before them, and did not hurt one hair of his head. Next morning, to the astonishment of everyone, he came out again safe and unharmed, and said to the lord of the castle, „The dogs have revealed to me, in their own language, why they dwell there, and bring evil on the land.

They are bewitched, and are obliged to watch over a great treasure which is below in the tower, and they can have no rest until it is taken away, and I have likewise learnt, from their discourse, how that is to be done.“ Then all who heard this rejoiced, and the lord of the castle said he would adopt him as a son if he accomplished it successfully. He went down again, and as he knew what he had to do, he did it thoroughly, and brought a chest full of gold out with him. The howling of the wild dogs was henceforth heard no more. They had disappeared, and the country was freed from the trouble.

After some time he took it into his head that he would travel to Rome. On the way he passed by a marsh, in which a number of frogs were sitting croaking. He listened to them, and when he became aware of what they were saying, he grew very thoughtful and sad. At last he arrived in Rome, where the Pope had just died, and there was great difficulty as to whom they should appoint as his successor. They at length agreed that the person should be chosen as pope who should be distinguished by some divine and miraculous token.

And just as that was decided on, the young count entered into the church, and suddenly two snow-white doves flew on his shoulders and remained sitting there. The ecclesiastics recognized therein the token from above, and asked him on the spot if he would be pope. He was undecided, and knew not if he were worthy of this, but the doves counselled him to do it, and at length he said yes. Then was he anointed and consecrated, and thus was fulfilled what he had heard from the frogs on his way, which had so affected him, that he was to be his Holiness the Pope. Then he had to sing a mass, and did not know one word of it, but the two doves sat continually on his shoulders, and said it all in his ear.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Three Languages“

„The Three Languages“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their famous book, „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales,“ also known as „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ (Children’s and Household Tales). It was first published in 1812 and went through several editions, with the final version published in 1857. The tale is also known as „KHM 33“ referring to its number in the collection.

The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, were German scholars and linguists who aimed to collect and preserve the rich oral tradition of German and European folklore. Their goal was to present an authentic representation of the stories that had been passed down through generations, while also providing moral guidance for children and promoting a sense of national identity. „The Three Languages“ tells the story of a young man who, despite his father’s attempts to educate him, does not seem to learn anything. Frustrated, his father sends him away. Over the course of three years, the young man learns the languages of dogs, frogs, and birds. Upon returning home, he encounters a haunted castle, where he uses his newfound abilities to understand the animals‘ warnings and avoid danger.

The story has its roots in German and European folklore, featuring themes of wisdom, perseverance, and the importance of unique talents. It also highlights the idea that seemingly insignificant skills can prove to be valuable in certain circumstances. The Brothers Grimm collected their stories from various sources, including friends, acquaintances, and other literary works. It is likely that „The Three Languages“ was derived from multiple sources, combining different oral traditions and existing tales. While not as well-known or frequently adapted as some other Grimm fairy tales, „The Three Languages“ offers an engaging story that emphasizes the importance of recognizing and valuing individual talents and skills.

The tales in their collection have become some of the most famous and enduring stories in the world, with many being adapted into various forms of media, such as films, television shows, and books. „The Three Languages“ is one of the lesser-known tales in the collection, but it still carries the charm and moral lessons often found in Grimm’s stories. The Brothers Grimm collected their stories from a variety of sources, including oral traditions, existing written texts, and the accounts of friends and acquaintances. Many of the tales they collected have roots in older European folklore and are shared across different cultures, with variations in plot and characters. The story of „The Three Languages“ is a reflection of the diverse cultural influences and moral values that shaped the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The three languages“

„The Three Languages“ is a fairy tale from the collection „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ (Children’s and Household Tales) by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. The collection was first published in 1812, with multiple editions and revisions being released in subsequent years. The Brothers Grimm were German scholars, linguists, and authors who collected and published a vast array of folklore and fairy tales during the 19th century. Although „The Three Languages“ is not as well-known or frequently adapted as some other Grimm fairy tales, it has still inspired various adaptations and retellings over the years. Here are a few examples:

Literature: „The Three Languages“ by Giambattista Basile: Italian writer Giambattista Basile wrote a version of „The Three Languages“ in his collection of fairy tales called „The Pentamerone.“ In his version, the protagonist learns three different languages from three different women, rather than animals. „The Three Languages“ by Andrew Lang: Scottish writer Andrew Lang included a version of „The Three Languages“ in his collection of fairy tales called „The Blue Fairy Book.“ In Lang’s version, the protagonist is a prince who is sent away by his father until he can learn to speak all languages. „The Three Languages“ by Anna Ciddor: Australian author Anna Ciddor wrote a retelling of „The Three Languages“ in her book „The Runaway Umbrella.“ In her version, the protagonist is a young girl who sets out on a journey to learn three different languages in order to become a successful trader.

Children’s Books: Many illustrated children’s books have retold „The Three Languages,“ often simplifying the story or emphasizing its moral aspects to appeal to young readers. These retellings can be found in various fairy tale collections or as standalone picture books, allowing children to engage with the story in an accessible format. „The Three Languages“ by Paul Heyse: German writer Paul Heyse wrote a version of „The Three Languages“ that was published in „The Fairy Book“ in 1857. Heyse’s version is similar to the original Brothers Grimm story, but with some differences in the way the protagonist learns the languages. „The Three Languages“ by Janosch: German children’s author Janosch wrote a picture book adaptation of „The Three Languages.“ In his version, the protagonist is a young bear who learns three different languages from three different animals.

Theater: Local and regional theater groups have adapted „The Three Languages“ into stage plays, sometimes combining the story with other Grimm fairy tales to create a unique theatrical experience. For instance, the story has been performed as part of a compilation of Brothers Grimm stories in theatrical productions like „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ or „The Brothers Grimm Spectaculathon.“

Puppet shows: Puppet shows have been used to bring „The Three Languages“ to life, particularly for children’s audiences. These shows often emphasize the story’s moral lessons and the protagonist’s unique abilities, making it appealing to a younger audience.

Educational materials: „The Three Languages“ has also been used as a basis for educational materials, such as lesson plans and teaching resources. Teachers may use the story to explore themes like the value of unique talents, wisdom, perseverance, and communication, as well as to introduce students to the Brothers Grimm and the broader tradition of European folklore.

Although „The Three Languages“ may not have the same level of recognition as some other Grimm fairy tales, its enduring appeal and adaptability have led to various retellings and adaptations over the years, introducing new generations to the inspiring and thought-provoking tale. These are just a few examples of the many adaptations of „The Three Languages“ that have been created over the years. Each version brings its own unique spin to the classic fairy tale, but the underlying themes of education, communication, and personal growth remain the same.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The three languages“

„The Three Languages“ offers several interpretations and themes that can be drawn from the story. Some of these include:

The value of unconventional knowledge: The count’s son is initially considered stupid because he cannot learn in traditional ways. However, his unique ability to understand the languages of animals proves to be valuable and transformative, leading to his eventual rise to the position of the Pope. This theme encourages readers to appreciate the diverse forms of intelligence and knowledge that might not fit conventional expectations.

Destiny and self-discovery: The son’s journey in the story can be seen as a path of self-discovery, where he uncovers his true potential and purpose. Despite being disowned and cast out, he learns valuable skills and fulfills a prophecy that ultimately leads him to a significant role in society. This interpretation suggests that one’s destiny may be revealed in unexpected ways and through unexpected events.

Compassion and redemption: The father’s men and the lord of the castle both show compassion toward the son, leading to life-changing consequences. The men’s decision to spare his life allows him to continue his journey and eventually become the Pope. The lord’s willingness to adopt the son gives him a new family and a chance to prove his worth. This theme highlights the power of compassion and second chances to change lives and create opportunities for redemption.

Divine guidance and intervention: Throughout the story, the son receives assistance from unexpected sources, such as the dogs, doves, and frogs. These animals can be seen as symbols of divine guidance and support, helping the son navigate challenges and fulfill his destiny. This interpretation suggests that there may be a higher power at work in our lives, guiding us toward our purpose and providing help when needed.

Overall, „The Three Languages“ is a tale of self-discovery, the value of unconventional knowledge, the power of compassion, and the importance of recognizing and embracing one’s destiny.

Summary of the plot

„The Three Languages“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm about a count’s son who is considered stupid as he cannot learn anything. The father sends his son to three different masters, hoping that they can educate him. However, after each year spent with a master, the son only learns the language of dogs, birds, and frogs, respectively. The furious father disowns the son and orders his men to kill him, but they spare his life, providing the father with a deer’s eyes and tongue as proof of the deed.

The son wanders until he finds a castle plagued by wild dogs guarding a treasure. As he can understand their language, he stays unharmed among them and learns how to free them from their curse. He retrieves the treasure, ending the dogs‘ torment, and the lord of the castle adopts him as his son. After some time, the son decides to travel to Rome. During his journey, he overhears frogs speaking about his future, which makes him sad and thoughtful.

In Rome, the Pope has just died, and the clergy are seeking a successor marked by divine intervention. As the son enters the church, two doves land on his shoulders, marking him as the chosen one. He accepts the position, guided by the doves, who help him during his papacy, including teaching him the words to a mass. Thus, the prophecy he had heard from the frogs is fulfilled, and the once-considered stupid son becomes the Pope.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 33
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 671
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, FR, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson31.4
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index80.1
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level7.6
Gunning Fog Index10.2
Coleman–Liau Index7.3
SMOG Index8.3
Automated Readability Index8.1
Character Count4.872
Letter Count3.720
Sentence Count43
Word Count947
Average Words per Sentence22,02
Words with more than 6 letters89
Percentage of long words9.4%
Number of Syllables1.168
Average Syllables per Word1,23
Words with three Syllables34
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.6%
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