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The Three Spinners
Grimm Märchen

The Three Spinners - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 8 min

There was once a girl who was lazy and would not spin, and her mother could not persuade her to it, do what she would. At last the mother became angry and out of patience, and gave her a good beating, so that she cried out loudly. At that moment the Queen was going by. As she heard the crying, she stopped; and, going into the house, she asked the mother why she was beating her daughter, so that every one outside in the street could hear her cries.

The woman was ashamed to tell of her daughter’s laziness, so she said, „I cannot stop her from spinning. She is for ever at it, and I am poor and cannot furnish her with flax enough.“ Then the Queen answered, „I like nothing better than the sound of the spinning-wheel, and always feel happy when I hear its humming. Let me take your daughter with me to the castle – I have plenty of flax, she shall spin there to her heart’s content.“ The mother was only too glad of the offer, and the Queen took the girl with her.

When they reached the castle the Queen showed her three rooms which were filled with the finest flax as full as they could hold. „Now you can spin me this flax,“ said she, „and when you can show it me all done you shall have my eldest son for bridegroom. You may be poor, but I make nothing of that – your industry is dowry enough.“ The girl was inwardly terrified, for she could not have spun the flax, even if she were to live to be a hundred years old, and were to sit spinning every day of her life from morning to evening.

And when she found herself alone she began to weep, and sat so for three days without putting her hand to it. On the third day the Queen came, and when she saw that nothing had been done of the spinning she was much surprised; but the girl excused herself by saying that she had not been able to begin because of the distress she was in at leaving her home and her mother. The excuse contented the Queen, who said, however, as she went away, „Tomorrow you must begin to work.“

When the girl found herself alone again she could not tell how to help herself or what to do, and in her perplexity she went and gazed out of the window. There she saw three women passing by, and the first of them had a broad flat foot, the second had a big under-lip that hung down over her chin, and the third had a remarkably broad thumb. They all of them stopped in front of the window, and called out to know what it was that the girl wanted. She told them all her need, and they promised her their help, and said, „Then will you invite us to your wedding, and not be ashamed of us, and call us your cousins, and let us sit at your table. If you will promise this, we will finish off your flax-spinning in a very short time.“

„With all my heart,“ answered the girl. „Only come in now, and begin at once.“ Then these same women came in, and she cleared a space in the first room for them to sit and carry on their spinning. The first one drew out the thread and moved the treddle that turned the wheel, the second moistened the thread, the third twisted it, and rapped with her finger on the table, and as often as she rapped a heap of yarn fell to the ground, and it was most beautifully spun. But the girl hid the three spinsters out of the Queen’s sight, and only showed her, as often as she came, the heaps of well-spun yarn. And there was no end to the praises she received.

When the first room was empty they went on to the second, and then to the third, so that at last all was finished. Then the three women took their leave, saying to the girl, „Do not forget what you have promised, and it will be all the better for you.“ So when the girl took the Queen and showed her the empty rooms, and the great heaps of yarn, the wedding was at once arranged, and the bridegroom rejoiced that he should have so clever and diligent a wife, and praised her exceedingly.

„I have three cousins,“ said the girl, „and as they have shown me a great deal of kindness, I would not wish to forget them in my good fortune. May I be allowed to invite them to the wedding, and to ask them to sit at the table with us?“ The Queen and the bridegroom said at once, „There is no reason against it.“ So when the feast began in came the three spinsters in strange guise, and the bride said, „Dear cousins, you are welcome.“ – „Oh,“ said the bridegroom, „how come you to have such dreadfully ugly relations?“ And then he went up to the first spinster and said, „How is it that you have such a broad flat foot?“

„With treading,“ answered she, „with treading.“ Then he went up to the second and said, „How is it that you have such a great hanging lip?“ – „With licking,“ answered she, „with licking.“ Then he asked the third, „How is it that you have such a broad thumb?“ – „With twisting thread,“ answered she, „with twisting thread.“ Then the bridegroom said that from that time forward his beautiful bride should never touch a spinning-wheel. And so she escaped that tiresome flax-spinning.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Three Spinners“

„The Three Spinners“ is a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection, showcasing themes and elements typical of European folklore. Here are some aspects that contribute to its background:

Oral tradition: As with many other fairy tales, „The Three Spinners“ has its origins in the oral tradition, with the story being passed down through generations by word of mouth. The Grimm brothers collected and recorded the tale as part of their efforts to preserve German folklore.

German folklore: The story is an example of German folklore, featuring characters, settings, and themes that are typical of tales from the region. The use of magic, a test of character, and the transformation of the protagonist’s life are all elements that contribute to the distinctive atmosphere of this classic tale. The Brothers Grimm aimed to preserve German folk stories and cultural heritage by collecting these oral narratives from various sources, including friends, family members, and acquaintances. They intended to capture the essence of the traditional folk narrative, reflecting the language and culture of the common people at the time. These fairy tales often include elements of fantasy and magic, and they convey moral and ethical lessons that were important in the context of the culture from which they originated.

Folk motifs: „The Three Spinners“ contains several common folk motifs found in fairy tales across different cultures. These include magical helpers, a test or trial that the protagonist must pass, and the idea of transformation or change. The tale also emphasizes the importance of gratitude and kindness. Although it is not as widely known as some of the other Grimm’s tales, it carries similar themes of resourcefulness, keeping promises, and challenging societal expectations. The tale also reflects the historical context in which it was written, as spinning was a common household chore for women, and the skills associated with it were highly valued. The story serves both as a form of entertainment and a medium to impart cultural values and lessons.

The Brothers Grimm: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were German academics, linguists, and cultural researchers who dedicated themselves to collecting and preserving the folktales of their country. „The Three Spinners“ is one of many stories in their famous anthology.

Influence of other tales: The story of „The Three Spinners“ shares similarities with other folktales and legends, such as the popular tale of „Rumpelstiltskin.“ The exchange of stories between different cultures and regions may have influenced the development and evolution of these tales. „Rumpelstiltskin“ by the Brothers Grimm: This story, which was also collected by the Brothers Grimm, has many similarities to „The Three Spinners.“ In „Rumpelstiltskin,“ a young woman must spin straw into gold, and a mysterious creature helps her in exchange for a promise. The story has been adapted in many forms, including operas, plays, and movies. „The Three Golden Hairs“ by the Brothers Grimm: This story, also collected by the Brothers Grimm, has similarities to „The Three Spinners“ in its themes of kindness and reward. In „The Three Golden Hairs,“ a poor boy is helped by three old men, and in return, he must retrieve three golden hairs from the head of the king. The story has been adapted in various forms, including picture books and animated films.

In summary, „The Three Spinners“ has its roots in the oral storytelling tradition and German folklore. Collected by the Brothers Grimm as part of their efforts to preserve the cultural history of their country, the story includes common folk motifs and shares elements with other tales, contributing to its rich background and enduring appeal.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Three Spinners“

„The Three Spinners“ is a classic fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection that can be interpreted in various ways, offering different perspectives on its themes and messages:

The power of kindness and gratitude: The protagonist is kind to the three spinners, offering them food and expressing her gratitude for their help. This kindness is rewarded, as the spinners assist her in accomplishing her task, ultimately leading to her prosperity. The story emphasizes the importance of treating others with kindness and being grateful for their help.

Magical helpers and transformation: The three spinners represent magical helpers, a common motif in fairy tales. Their intervention leads to a transformation in the protagonist’s life, taking her from a difficult situation to a life of happiness and wealth. This theme of transformation through magical assistance is prevalent in many fairy tales.

The role of women in society: The story highlights the expectations placed upon women during the time it was written, such as the importance of domestic skills like spinning. The protagonist’s inability to meet these expectations puts her in a vulnerable position. However, through her resourcefulness and kindness, she overcomes this challenge, suggesting that women can defy societal norms and succeed.

The importance of resourcefulness: The protagonist demonstrates resourcefulness by seeking the help of the three spinners when faced with an impossible task. Her willingness to ask for assistance and form alliances contributes to her eventual success. This theme of resourcefulness and finding solutions in difficult situations is common in many fairy tales.

The reversal of fortune: The tale shows a reversal of fortune, as the protagonist’s life changes dramatically from one of hardship to one of wealth and happiness. This theme is prevalent in many fairy tales, providing hope and inspiration to readers facing their own challenges.

Resourcefulness: The lazy girl, despite being unable to spin, finds a solution to her predicament by enlisting the help of the three women. This demonstrates that even in seemingly impossible situations, being resourceful and seeking help can lead to success.

Keeping Promises: The girl keeps her promise to the three women by inviting them to her wedding and treating them as her cousins. In return, the women help her avoid a life of spinning flax. This emphasizes the importance of keeping one’s promises and honoring commitments, as they can lead to mutually beneficial outcomes.

Appearances vs. Skills: The story challenges the traditional values of beauty and highlights the importance of skills and hard work. The three women, despite their physical deformities, possess incredible spinning skills that save the girl. On the other hand, the girl, who is presumably beautiful, lacks the spinning abilities expected of her. This contrast emphasizes that appearances can be deceiving, and it is essential to recognize and appreciate people’s abilities rather than judge them based on their looks.

Gender Roles and Expectations: The fairy tale also reflects the expectations placed on women in traditional societies, such as being skilled in domestic tasks like spinning. The girl’s inability to meet these expectations initially brings shame to her family, but eventually, she finds a way to escape this societal expectation, highlighting the limitations and constraints of strict gender roles.

Consequences of Deception: While the girl and her mother deceive the Queen, they are ultimately rewarded with a better life. This creates a complex message about honesty, deception, and their consequences, suggesting that deception can sometimes lead to a favorable outcome.

Overall, „The Three Spinners“ offers a range of interpretations, exploring themes such as the power of kindness and gratitude, magical helpers and transformation, the role of women in society, the importance of resourcefulness, and the reversal of fortune. The story resonates with readers for its moral lessons and engaging narrative.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Three Spinners“

„The Three Spinners“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, who were well-known linguists, cultural researchers, and authors. The tale was included in their famous collection, „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ or „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ (Children’s and Household Tales), which was first published in 1812. The Brothers Grimm collected and published over 200 fairy tales, many of which are still popular today, such as „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ and „Hansel and Gretel.“ While „The Three Spinners“ may not be as well-known as some other Brothers Grimm tales, it has still inspired various adaptations across different media. Some specific examples include:

Retellings and illustrated children’s books: The story has been adapted and published in various editions, often accompanied by illustrations that bring the tale to life. For instance, „The Three Spinners“ has been included in collections like „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ illustrated by Arthur Rackham, which features the story alongside other classics from the Brothers Grimm. „The Three Spinner“ by Theodor Storm: This German novella, written in the 19th century, retells the story of „The Three Spinners“ with some variations. In this version, the three spinners are young and beautiful, and the lazy girl is punished for not spinning by being forced to dance until she is exhausted. „The Three Spinners“ by Laurel Long: This children’s book retells the story of „The Three Spinners“ with beautiful illustrations. The story follows the classic plot of the original tale, but with some added details and poetic language.

Audiobooks and radio plays: „The Three Spinners“ has been adapted into audiobook and radio play formats, allowing listeners to enjoy the story through a different medium. For example, BBC Radio 4 aired a dramatization of the story as part of their series „Grimm Thoughts.“

Theater and puppet shows: The tale has inspired stage adaptations, with both live-action performances and puppet shows presenting the story to audiences. For instance, „The Three Spinners“ has been adapted into a marionette show by the Salzburg Marionette Theater in Austria.

Animated films and television series: Although there may not be many well-known animated adaptations of „The Three Spinners,“ the story’s themes and elements can be found in various animated series and films inspired by fairy tales.

Artwork and visual representations: The story’s imagery and narrative have inspired artists to create visual representations of the tale, with paintings, drawings, and other art forms depicting key scenes and characters from the story.

While „The Three Spinners“ may not have as many high-profile adaptations as some other fairy tales, it remains a classic story with timeless themes and a compelling narrative. The tale continues to be enjoyed and reimagined by new generations of artists and audiences. Overall, „The Three Spinners“ has been adapted and retold in many forms over the years, demonstrating its enduring popularity and relevance.

Summary of the plot

„The Three Spinners“ is a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection that tells the story of a young girl who receives help from three magical spinners to complete an impossible task.

The tale begins with a lazy girl who dislikes spinning. Her mother becomes frustrated and beats her, causing the girl to cry out loudly. The queen, passing by, hears the commotion and asks the mother about the cause of the girl’s distress. The mother, ashamed of her daughter’s laziness, lies and claims that the girl loves spinning so much that she becomes inconsolable when she runs out of flax to spin.

The queen, intrigued, takes the girl to her castle and presents her with three rooms full of flax, promising her hand in marriage to the prince if she can spin all the flax into thread within three days. If she fails, she will be put to death. The girl, knowing she cannot complete the task, becomes distraught.

On the first day, as the girl despairs, an old woman with a large, flat foot enters the room and offers to help her spin the flax if the girl invites her to her wedding and seats her at the head table. The girl agrees, and the old woman spins one room full of flax into thread. On the second day, another old woman with a large, hanging lip appears, offering to help with the same conditions. The girl agrees, and the second room of flax is spun. On the third day, a third old woman with a broad thumb arrives, offering her assistance under the same conditions. The girl agrees, and the third room of flax is spun into thread.

When the queen returns to find the task completed, she fulfills her promise and marries the girl to the prince. When the wedding day comes, the three old women appear as guests, revealing themselves as magical spinners. The new queen graciously welcomes them and honors the promises she made. The spinners then explain the reasons behind their unusual physical features: the flat foot from treading the spinning wheel, the hanging lip from moistening the thread, and the broad thumb from twisting the thread. The queen’s husband is so horrified by the spinners‘ appearances that he forbids his wife from spinning ever again, ensuring that the young queen never has to engage in the activity she despises.

„The Three Spinners“ is a story of kindness, resourcefulness, and the importance of keeping promises, with a narrative that highlights the power of magical assistance and the value of gratitude.


„The Three Spinners“ is a fairy tale by Brothers Grimm about a lazy girl who refuses to spin flax. One day, after her mother beats her in frustration, the Queen hears her cries and visits their house. The mother, ashamed of her daughter’s laziness, lies to the Queen, claiming her daughter loves spinning but lacks enough flax. The Queen, delighted by the prospect of having a spinner in her castle, takes the girl with her and shows her three rooms filled with flax, offering her eldest son’s hand in marriage if she completes the task.

Overwhelmed, the girl despairs, unable to complete the task. Three strange women with deformities visit her and offer to spin the flax in exchange for invitations to her wedding and acknowledgement as her cousins. The girl agrees, and the women miraculously spin all the flax. As promised, the girl invites the women to the wedding, and when the bridegroom inquires about their deformities, they reveal that they were caused by spinning, licking, and twisting thread. Appalled, the bridegroom vows that his bride will never spin again, thus freeing her from the burdensome task.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 14
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 501
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, FR, PT, FI, HU, IT, JA, NL, PL, RO, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson33.2
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index79.8
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level7.7
Gunning Fog Index10.1
Coleman–Liau Index7.6
SMOG Index8
Automated Readability Index8.4
Character Count4.981
Letter Count3.809
Sentence Count43
Word Count957
Average Words per Sentence22,26
Words with more than 6 letters105
Percentage of long words11%
Number of Syllables1.181
Average Syllables per Word1,23
Words with three Syllables30
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.1%
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