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The Three Sluggards
Grimm Märchen

The Three Sluggards - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 2 min

A certain King had three sons who were all equally dear to him, and he did not know which of them to appoint as his successor after his own death. When the time came when he was about to die, he summoned them to his bedside and said, „Dear children, I have been thinking of something which I will declare unto you; whichsoever of you is the laziest shall have the kingdom.“ The eldest said, „Then, father, the kingdom is mine, for I am so idle that if I lie down to rest, and a drop falls in my eye, I will not open it that I may sleep.“ The second said; „Father, the kingdom belongs to me, for I am so idle that when I am sitting by the fire warming myself, I would rather let my heel be burnt off than draw back my leg.“ The third said, „Father, the kingdom is mine, for I am so idle that if I were going to be hanged, and had the rope already round my neck, and any one put a sharp knife into my hand with which I might cut the rope, I would rather let myself be hanged than raise my hand to the rope.“ When the father heard that, he said, „Thou hast carried it the farthest, and shalt be King.“

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The three sluggards“

„The Three Sluggards“ is another humorous German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their anthology „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ (also known as „Children’s and Household Tales“), numbered as KHM 138. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm aimed to document and preserve European folktales, which were gradually fading due to industrialization and urbanization. The tales they collected were often passed down through generations as part of an oral tradition, with variations reflecting the customs and values of different regions and time periods.

Similar to „The Twelve Idle Servants,“ „The Three Sluggards“ centers around the theme of laziness, featuring characters who go to great lengths to avoid work. In this tale, a king sets a challenge for his three sons to determine who will inherit the kingdom. He tells them that whoever can prove to be the laziest will become the ruler. Each of the sons then shares their story of idleness, attempting to outdo the others with their laziness.

Like many fairy tales, „The Three Sluggards“ likely has roots in oral storytelling, with variations of the tale appearing across different cultures. The story might have evolved from anecdotes and humorous tales shared among working people who found amusement in the exaggerated laziness of the characters. The tale may have served as a humorous way to critique idleness and promote a strong work ethic, as well as a means for people to connect with their cultural traditions and reinforce shared values.

Although „The Three Sluggards“ is not as well-known as some other Grimm fairy tales, it offers a unique take on the theme of laziness, providing readers with an entertaining story that also carries an underlying moral lesson about the importance of hard work and responsibility.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The three sluggards“

„The Three Sluggards“ is a fairy tale that can be interpreted in various ways, depending on the reader’s perspective and cultural background. Here are some common interpretations of the story:

Humor and satire: The story can be seen as a humorous and satirical take on laziness, as the three sons try to outdo each other in idleness. The exaggerated tales of the characters‘ laziness are meant to entertain and amuse the audience, providing a lighthearted and comical reading experience.

Morality and work ethic: The tale can also be read as a moral lesson about the importance of hard work and the consequences of idleness. By portraying the three sons as sluggards who compete for the throne based on their laziness, the story serves as a cautionary tale, reminding readers of the importance of responsibility and a strong work ethic.

Subversion of expectations: „The Three Sluggards“ can be interpreted as a subversive story that challenges traditional ideas about inheritance and leadership. Instead of the typical „quest“ narrative, where the hero must prove their worth through courageous acts or feats of strength, the king’s challenge in this story revolves around laziness. This twist on the usual formula can be seen as a critique of the arbitrary nature of power and inheritance.

Cultural values and tradition: The tale can be viewed as a reflection of the cultural values and traditions of the time when it was first told. The story may have been a way for people to connect with their past and reinforce their shared values, such as the importance of hard work and community contribution. Additionally, the act of sharing the story through oral tradition may have served as a means of social bonding and the preservation of cultural identity.

Human nature and universal themes: Lastly, „The Three Sluggards“ can be seen as an exploration of human nature and the universal themes of laziness, ambition, and competition. The story highlights the lengths to which people might go to avoid work and the absurdity of competing over who can be the laziest. This focus on human nature allows the tale to resonate with audiences across different cultures and time periods, reflecting the shared experiences and challenges of the human condition.

These interpretations showcase the richness and complexity of „The Three Sluggards“ and the various ways in which the tale can be understood and appreciated by readers from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The three sluggards“

Although „The Three Sluggards“ is not as well-known or widely adapted as some other Brothers Grimm fairy tales, it has inspired some adaptations and reinterpretations in different formats:

Theater and Puppet Shows: The story of „The Three Sluggards“ has been adapted into plays and puppet shows for children and families. These adaptations emphasize the humor and exaggerated aspects of the story, providing entertaining experiences for the audience.

Illustrated Books: Illustrated children’s books have been created that retell the story of „The Three Sluggards.“ These books often feature colorful and detailed illustrations that bring the lazy characters and their amusing antics to life.

Modern Retellings: Some authors have taken inspiration from „The Three Sluggards“ and created their own stories based on the themes and ideas presented in the original tale. A modern retelling might reimagine the lazy characters as employees at a company competing for a promotion based on their ability to avoid work.

Educational and Moral Applications: The story of „The Three Sluggards“ has been used in educational settings as a way to teach children about the importance of hard work and the consequences of laziness. Teachers and parents may share the story as a cautionary tale, encouraging children to develop a strong work ethic and take responsibility for their actions.

While „The Three Sluggards“ may not have as many direct adaptations as some other Grimm fairy tales, its themes and characters continue to resonate with audiences today. The story’s timeless message about the importance of hard work and the consequences of idleness is still relevant, and the humorous elements make it an enjoyable tale for readers of all ages.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The three sluggards“

„The Three Sluggards“ has inspired several adaptations in various forms of media. Here are a few examples:

Film Adaptations: The story has been adapted into several films, including „The Three Lazy Ones“ (1927), „The Three Sluggards“ (1930), and „Three Lazy Sons“ (1949). These films often adapt the story to different settings and time periods, but they retain the basic plot and characters.

Literary Adaptations: The story has also been adapted into numerous children’s books, often with illustrations to accompany the text. One example is „The Three Sluggards“ by Eliza Lee Follen, which was published in 1856.

Musical Adaptations: In 1938, the composer Paul Hindemith wrote an opera based on the story called „The Three Lazy Ones“. The opera was first performed in Zurich, Switzerland, and has since been performed in various countries.

Animated Adaptations: The story has also been adapted into several animated films and TV shows, including „The Three Lazy Ones“ (1970), „The Three Lazy Brothers“ (1985), and „The Three Lazy Boys“ (1990). These adaptations often simplify the story and characters for younger audiences.

Variations and Parodies: The story has also inspired numerous variations and parodies, such as „The Three Little Pigs“ and „The Three Stooges“. These adaptations often use the basic plot and characters of the story but add humorous or satirical elements to create a new twist on the original tale.

Overall, „The Three Sluggards“ has proven to be a popular and enduring fairy tale that continues to inspire new adaptations and interpretations in various forms of media.

Summary of the plot

„The Three Sluggards“ is a humorous fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm that revolves around a king who wants to determine which of his three sons will inherit the kingdom. The king sets an unusual challenge: the laziest son will be named the successor.

Each of the sons attempts to prove their exceptional laziness to win the throne. The first son shares a story of how he once lay in the sun and saw a hare pass by, but he was too lazy to catch it, even though it could have been an easy meal. The second son tells a tale of how he saw a fence fall on his wife, but he was too lazy to help her, telling her to wait until someone else came along to lift the fence off her.

The third son’s story is the most outrageous. He claims that while lying by the fire, a drop of hot fat fell on his nose, but he was too lazy to wipe it away. Instead, he let the drop burn through his nose, creating a hole. The king, amused and impressed by the third son’s extreme laziness, declares him the winner of the challenge and the new ruler of the kingdom.

„The Three Sluggards“ serves as a lighthearted critique of laziness, showing the absurd lengths to which the characters go to avoid work. The story offers an entertaining and ironic lesson on the importance of hard work and responsibility, as well as the consequences of idleness.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The three sluggards“

„The Three Sluggards“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the collection of German folktales compiled by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. The brothers, who were both academics and linguists, collected and published these tales during the early 19th century, with their first volume, „Children’s and Household Tales“ („Kinder- und Hausmärchen“), released in 1812. The collection eventually grew to include over 200 stories, and the Grimm Brothers‘ work became one of the most influential contributions to the genre of fairy tales.

The Brothers Grimm collected their stories from various sources, including oral traditions, manuscripts, and printed books. Their primary aim was to preserve the German cultural heritage and folklore, which they believed was in danger of being lost. The tales they compiled often featured themes like morality, cautionary lessons, and magical elements. The Grimm Brothers‘ collection includes some of the most well-known fairy tales, such as „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ „Rapunzel,“ and „Hansel and Gretel.“

„The Three Sluggards,“ like many other fairy tales in the Grimm Brothers‘ collection, reflects the values and beliefs of the time and place in which it was collected. The story may have served as a form of entertainment or a source of moral instruction. Its focus on laziness and the potential consequences of such a trait can be seen as a reflection of the societal values that emphasized hard work and diligence.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The three sluggards“

„The Three Sluggards“ can be interpreted in various ways, offering different lessons and insights:

Satirical commentary on leadership: The story may be a satirical commentary on the idea of leadership and the qualities deemed necessary for rulers. The King’s decision to reward laziness could be seen as a critique of leaders who inherit their positions without having to work for them or demonstrate any real skills.

A test of honesty: The King’s challenge to his sons can also be interpreted as a test of honesty. By asking them to admit their most significant flaws, he is assessing their ability to be truthful, even when it might not be in their best interest. In this sense, the third son’s extreme laziness might be secondary to his honesty, making him a more suitable ruler than his siblings.

The importance of self-awareness: Another interpretation highlights the importance of self-awareness. The sons openly acknowledge their weaknesses, which may suggest that recognizing and accepting one’s limitations is a valuable trait. By admitting their flaws, the sons display a level of self-awareness that could be beneficial in a ruler.

Irony and humor: The story can be read as a humorous and ironic tale, poking fun at the idea of laziness as a desirable trait. The sons‘ increasingly outlandish claims of laziness may be intended to entertain and amuse readers, rather than provide any profound lesson or moral.

A cautionary tale: Lastly, the story can be seen as a cautionary tale about the dangers of laziness. By choosing the laziest son as the new King, the father may have unwittingly set the kingdom on a path to decline and misfortune, illustrating the potential consequences of valuing idleness over hard work and dedication.

Summary of the plot

„The Three Sluggards“ is a fairy tale by Brothers Grimm about a King who decides to appoint his laziest son as his successor. The King has three sons who are all equally dear to him, but he cannot choose which one should inherit the kingdom. As he lies on his deathbed, he declares that the laziest son will inherit the throne.

The eldest son claims the kingdom should be his, as he is so lazy that if a drop falls in his eye while resting, he won’t open it to continue sleeping. The second son argues that he should be King, as he is so idle that he would rather let his heel burn off while warming himself by the fire than move his leg. The third son says that the kingdom belongs to him because he is so lazy that even if he were about to be hanged with the rope around his neck and a sharp knife in his hand to cut the rope, he would rather let himself be hanged than raise his hand to cut the rope.

Upon hearing their claims, the father decides that the third son has demonstrated the greatest laziness and proclaims him as the new King.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 151
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 1950
Translations DE, DE, EN, EN, DA, ES, FR, PT, FI, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH,
Readability Index by Björnsson47.2
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index66.6
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level12
Gunning Fog Index16
Coleman–Liau Index6.1
SMOG Index9
Automated Readability Index12
Character Count1.104
Letter Count835
Sentence Count6
Word Count224
Average Words per Sentence37,33
Words with more than 6 letters22
Percentage of long words9.8%
Number of Syllables271
Average Syllables per Word1,21
Words with three Syllables6
Percentage Words with three Syllables2.7%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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