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The True Bride
Grimm Märchen

The True Bride - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 18 min

There was once on a time a girl who was young and beautiful, but she had lost her mother when she was quite a child, and her step-mother did all she could to make the girl’s life wretched. Whenever this woman gave her anything to do, she worked at it indefatigably, and did everything that lay in her power. Still she could not touch the heart of the wicked woman by that. She was never satisfied. It was never enough. The harder the girl worked, the more work was put upon her, and all that the woman thought of was how to weigh her down with still heavier burdens, and make her life still more miserable. One day she said to her, „Here are twelve pounds of feathers which thou must pick, and if they are not done this evening, thou mayst expect a good beating. Dost thou imagine thou art to idle away the whole day?“ The poor girl sat down to the work, but tears ran down her cheeks as she did so, for she saw plainly enough that it was quite impossible to finish the work in one day. Whenever she had a little heap of feathers lying before her, and she sighed or smote her hands together in her anguish, they flew away, and she had to pick them out again, and begin her work anew. Then she put her elbows on the table, laid her face in her two hands, and cried, „Is there no one, then, on God’s earth to have pity on me?“ Then she heard a low voice which said, „Be comforted, my child, I have come to help thee.“ The maiden looked up, and an old woman was by her side. She took the girl kindly by the hand, and said, „Only tell me what is troubling thee.“ As she spoke so kindly, the girl told her of her miserable life, and how one burden after another was laid upon her, and she never could get to the end of the work which was given to her. „If I have not done these feathers by this evening, my step-mother will beat me. She has threatened she will, and I know she keeps her word.“ Her tears began to flow again, but the good old woman said, „Do not be afraid, my child; rest a while, and in the meantime I will look to thy work.“ The girl lay down on her bed, and soon fell asleep. The old woman seated herself at the table with the feathers, and how they did fly off the quills, which she scarcely touched with her withered hands! The twelve pounds were soon finished, and when the girl awoke, great snow-white heaps were lying, piled up, and everything in the room was neatly cleared away, but the old woman had vanished. The maiden thanked God, and sat still till evening came, when the step-mother came in and marvelled to see the work completed. „Just look, you awkward creature,“ said she, „what can be done when people are industrious; and why couldst thou not set about something else? There thou sittest with thy hands crossed.“ When she went out she said, „The creature is worth more than her salt. I must give her some work that is still harder.“

Next morning she called the girl, and said, „There is a spoon for thee; with that thou must empty out for me the great pond which is beside the garden, and if it is not done by night, thou knowest what will happen.“ The girl took the spoon, and saw that it was full of holes; but even if it had not been, she never could have emptied the pond with it. She set to work at once, knelt down by the water, into which her tears were falling, and began to empty it. But the good old woman appeared again, and when she learnt the cause of her grief, she said, „Be of good cheer, my child. Go into the thicket and lie down and sleep. I will soon do thy work.“ As soon as the old woman was alone, she barely touched the pond, and a vapour rose up on high from the water, and mingled itself with the clouds. Gradually the pond was emptied, and when the maiden awoke before sunset and came thither, she saw nothing but the fishes which were struggling in the mud. She went to her step-mother, and showed her that the work was done. „It ought to have been done long before this,“ said she, and grew white with anger, but she meditated something new.

On the third morning she said to the girl, „Thou must build me a castle on the plain there, and it must be ready by the evening.“ The maiden was dismayed, and said, „How can I complete such a great work?“ – „I will endure no opposition,“ screamed the step-mother. If thou canst empty a pond with a spoon that is full of holes, thou canst build a castle too. I will take possession of it this very day, and if anything is wanting, even if it be the most trifling thing in the kitchen or cellar, thou knowest what lies before thee!“ She drove the girl out, and when she entered the valley, the rocks were there, piled up one above the other, and all her strength would not have enabled her even to move the very smallest of them. She sat down and wept, and still she hoped the old woman would help her. The old woman was not long in coming. She comforted her and said, „Lie down there in the shade and sleep, and I will soon build the castle for thee. If it would be a pleasure to thee, thou canst live in it thyself.“ When the maiden had gone away, the old woman touched the gray rocks. They began to rise, and immediately moved together as if giants had built the walls; and on these the building arose, and it seemed as if countless hands were working invisibly, and placing one stone upon another. There was a dull heavy noise from the ground; pillars arose of their own accord on high, and placed themselves in order near each other. The tiles laid themselves in order on the roof, and when noon-day came, the great weather-cock was already turning itself on the summit of the tower, like a golden figure of the Virgin with fluttering garments. The inside of the castle was being finished while evening was drawing near. How the old woman managed it, I know not; but the walls of the rooms were hung with silk and velvet, embroidered chairs were there, and richly ornamented arm-chairs by marble tables; crystal chandeliers hung down from the ceilings, and mirrored themselves in the smooth pavement; green parrots were there in gilt cages, and so were strange birds which sang most beautifully, and there was on all sides as much magnificence as if a king were going to live there. The sun was just setting when the girl awoke, and the brightness of a thousand lights flashed in her face. She hurried to the castle, and entered by the open door. The steps were spread with red cloth, and the golden balustrade beset with flowering trees. When she saw the splendour of the apartment, she stood as if turned to stone. Who knows how long she might have stood there if she had not remembered the step-mother? „Alas!“ she said to herself, „if she could but be satisfied at last, and would give up making my life a misery to me.“ The girl went and told her that the castle was ready. „I will move into it at once,“ said she, and rose from her seat. When they entered the castle, she was forced to hold her hand before her eyes, the brilliancy of everything was so dazzling. „Thou seest,“ said she to the girl, „how easy it has been for thee to do this. I ought to have given thee something harder.“ She went through all the rooms, and examined every corner to see if anything was wanting or defective; but she could discover nothing. „Now we will go down below,“ said she, looking at the girl with malicious eyes. „The kitchen and the cellar still have to be examined, and if thou hast forgotten anything thou shalt not escape thy punishment.“ But the fire was burning on the hearth, and the meat was cooking in the pans, the tongs and shovel were leaning against the wall, and the shining brazen utensils all arranged in sight. Nothing was wanting, not even a coal-box and water-pail. „Which is the way to the cellar?“ she cried. „If that is not abundantly filled, it shall go ill with thee.“ She herself raised up the trap-door and descended; but she had hardly made two steps before the heavy trap-door which was only laid back, fell down. The girl heard a scream, lifted up the door very quickly to go to her aid, but she had fallen down, and the girl found her lying lifeless at the bottom.

And now the magnificent castle belonged to the girl alone. She at first did not know how to reconcile herself to her good fortune. Beautiful dresses were hanging in the wardrobes, the chests were filled with gold or silver, or with pearls and jewels, and she never felt a desire that she was not able to gratify. And soon the fame of the beauty and riches of the maiden went over all the world. Wooers presented themselves daily, but none pleased her. At length the son of the King came and he knew how to touch her heart, and she betrothed herself to him. In the garden of the castle was a lime-tree, under which they were one day sitting together, when he said to her, „I will go home and obtain my father’s consent to our marriage. I entreat thee to wait for me here under this lime-tree, I shall be back with thee in a few hours.“ The maiden kissed him on his left cheek, and said, „Keep true to me, and never let any one else kiss thee on this cheek. I will wait here under the lime-tree until thou returnest.

The maid stayed beneath the lime-tree until sunset, but he did not return. She sat three days from morning till evening, waiting for him, but in vain. As he still was not there by the fourth day, she said, „Some accident has assuredly befallen him. I will go out and seek him, and will not come back until I have found him.“ She packed up three of her most beautiful dresses, one embroidered with bright stars, the second with silver moons, the third with golden suns, tied up a handful of jewels in her handkerchief, and set out. She inquired everywhere for her betrothed, but no one had seen him. No one knew anything about him. Far and wide did she wander through the world, but she found him not. At last she hired herself to a farmer as a cow-herd, and buried her dresses and jewels beneath a stone.

And now she lived as a herdswoman, guarded her herd, and was very sad and full of longing for her beloved one. She had a little calf which she taught to know her, and fed it out of her own hand, and when she said,

„Little calf, little calf, kneel by my side,
And do not forget thy shepherd-maid,
As the prince forgot his betrothed bride,
Who waited for him ’neath the lime-tree’s shade.“

the little calf knelt down, and she stroked it. And when she had lived for a couple of years alone and full of grief, a report was spread over all the land that the King’s daughter was about to celebrate her marriage. The road to the town passed through the village where the maiden was living, and it came to pass that once when the maiden was driving out her herd, her bridegroom travelled by. He was sitting proudly on his horse, and never looked round, but when she saw him she recognized her beloved, and it was just as if a sharp knife had pierced her heart. „Alas!“ said she, „I believed him true to me, but he has forgotten me.“

Next day he again came along the road. When he was near her she said to the little calf,

„Little calf, little calf, kneel by my side,
And do not forget thy shepherd-maid,
As the prince forgot his betrothed bride,
Who waited for him ’neath the lime-tree’s shade.“

When he was aware of the voice, he looked down and reined in his horse. He looked into the herd’s face, and then put his hands before his eyes as if he were trying to remember something, but he soon rode onwards and was out of sight. „Alas!“ said she, „he no longer knows me,“ and her grief was ever greater. Soon after this a great festival three days long was to be held at the King’s court, and the whole country was invited to it.

„Now will I try my last chance,“ thought the maiden, and when evening came she went to the stone under which she had buried her treasures. She took out the dress with the golden suns, put it on, and adorned herself with the jewels. She let down her hair, which she had concealed under a handkerchief, and it fell down in long curls about her, and thus she went into the town, and in the darkness was observed by no one. When she entered the brightly-lighted hall, every one started back in amazement, but no one knew who she was. The King’s son went to meet her, but he did not recognize her. He led her out to dance, and was so enchanted with her beauty, that he thought no more of the other bride. When the feast was over, she vanished in the crowd, and hastened before daybreak to the village, where she once more put on her herd’s dress.

Next evening she took out the dress with the silver moons, and put a half-moon made of precious stones in her hair. When she appeared at the festival, all eyes were turned upon her, but the King’s son hastened to meet her, and filled with love for her, danced with her alone, and no longer so much as glanced at anyone else. Before she went away she was forced to promise him to come again to the festival on the last evening.

When she appeared for the third time, she wore the star-dress which sparkled at every step she took, and her hair-ribbon and girdle were starred with jewels. The prince had already been waiting for her for a long time, and forced his way up to her. „Do but tell who thou art,“ said he, „I feel just as if I had already known thee a long time.“ – „Dost thou not know what I did when thou leftest me?“ Then she stepped up to him, and kissed him on his left cheek, and in a moment it was as if scales fell from his eyes, and he recognized the true bride. „Come,“ said he to her, „here I stay no longer,“ gave her his hand, and led her down to the carriage. The horses hurried away to the magic castle as if the wind had been harnessed to the carriage. The illuminated windows already shone in the distance. When they drove past the lime-tree, countless glow-worms were swarming about it. It shook its branches, and sent forth their fragrance. On the steps flowers were blooming, and the room echoed with the song of strange birds, but in the hall the entire court was assembled, and the priest was waiting to marry the bridegroom to the true bride.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The true bride“

„The True Bride“ is a fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, also known as „The True Sweetheart“ or „The True Bridegroom.“ It was first published in their collection titled „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ (Children’s and Household Tales) in the early 19th century. As with other Grimm fairy tales, „The True Bride“ has its roots in German folklore and oral tradition.

The Brothers Grimm collected stories like „The True Bride“ from various sources, including oral traditions, written texts, and personal accounts from friends and acquaintances. Their primary goal was to preserve these stories as part of German cultural heritage and folklore. „The True Bride“ is a lesser-known story among the Brothers Grimm’s collection, but it still shares themes and motifs with other popular fairy tales.

„The True Bride“ is a classic tale of love, deception, and the triumph of goodness over evil. The story revolves around a young woman who is mistreated by her stepmother and stepsister but eventually finds happiness and love with the help of a magical helper. The tale incorporates elements of other well-known stories, such as „Cinderella“ and „Donkeyskin,“ where a young woman overcomes adversity to find her true love.

The story of „The True Bride“ also features motifs such as the importance of inner beauty and kindness, magical helpers, and the eventual punishment of evildoers. As with many other fairy tales, the narrative structure of „The True Bride“ is based on the classic „rags to riches“ theme, wherein a deserving protagonist overcomes hardships and ultimately achieves happiness and success.

Overall, „The True Bride“ is an engaging and enchanting tale that reflects the Brothers Grimm’s goal of preserving the rich tapestry of German folklore and oral tradition. Its themes of love, deception, and triumph continue to resonate with readers, highlighting the enduring appeal of these classic stories.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The true bride“

„The True Bride“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, but it contains various themes and motifs that offer multiple interpretations. Here are some possible interpretations of the story:

Overcoming adversity: A key theme in „The True Bride“ is the protagonist’s ability to overcome adversity and hardship. Despite the cruel treatment she endures at the hands of her stepmother and stepsister, the young woman remains resilient and kind-hearted, ultimately finding happiness and love. This theme can be seen as an inspiration to readers to persevere through difficult times and maintain hope for a better future.

Inner beauty and goodness: The story emphasizes the importance of inner beauty and goodness, as the protagonist’s kind nature and pure heart attract the attention of the magical helper and her true love. In contrast, the stepmother and stepsister’s wickedness and deception are eventually exposed and punished. This theme serves as a reminder to value inner beauty and kindness over external appearances and material wealth.

The power of love: „The True Bride“ also highlights the transformative power of love, as the protagonist’s love for the prince and his love for her ultimately lead to their happy union. Love serves as a force for good in the story, allowing the young woman to escape her miserable life and find happiness with her true love.

Magical helpers and intervention: The presence of a magical helper in the story suggests that even in the most challenging circumstances, help and support can come from unexpected places. This theme can be interpreted as a reminder that people may receive assistance from unforeseen sources, providing hope and encouragement during difficult times.

Justice and retribution: The eventual punishment of the stepmother and stepsister in „The True Bride“ reflects the theme of justice and retribution. The story suggests that wickedness and deception will ultimately be exposed and punished, while goodness and virtue will be rewarded.

In summary, „The True Bride“ is a multifaceted tale that explores themes such as overcoming adversity, the importance of inner beauty and goodness, the power of love, the role of magical helpers, and the concept of justice and retribution. These themes contribute to the enduring appeal and relevance of the story, making it an engaging and thought-provoking addition to the Brothers Grimm’s collection of fairy tales.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The true bride“

„The True Bride“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, and as such, it has not been adapted as widely as some of their more famous tales. However, there are a few adaptations and works that have drawn inspiration from the story:

Children’s books: „The True Bride“ has been retold and adapted in various children’s books, often with simplified language and illustrations to make the story more accessible to young readers. These adaptations may take creative liberties with the plot or characters but generally retain the core themes and motifs of the original tale.

Fairy tale anthologies: As a part of the Brothers Grimm’s collection, „The True Bride“ has been included in numerous fairy tale anthologies and collections, alongside other stories from the Brothers Grimm and other authors. These collections often contain retellings or adaptations of the original stories, sometimes with updated language or additional commentary to provide context and analysis.

Television: The television series „Jim Henson’s The Storyteller“ included an adaptation of „The True Bride“ in its first season, titled „Sapsorrow.“ This episode, which aired in 1988, features some differences from the original story but retains the core themes of love, deception, and the triumph of goodness over evil.

Theater and storytelling events: Local and amateur theatre groups or storytelling events occasionally include adaptations of „The True Bride“ as part of a larger program of fairy tales or Brothers Grimm stories. These performances may use various storytelling techniques to bring the story to life, emphasizing the themes of love, deception, and the triumph of the true bride.

Thematic influence: While not a direct adaptation, the themes and motifs found in „The True Bride“ may have influenced other works, such as novels, films, or television shows that feature stories of young women overcoming adversity to find their true love or happiness.

Although „The True Bride“ hasn’t been adapted as widely as some other Brothers Grimm fairy tales, it remains an enchanting and engaging story that can be appreciated by audiences of all ages. The tale’s themes and motifs continue to inspire and influence other works, demonstrating its enduring appeal and relevance in the realm of folklore and storytelling.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The true bride“

„The True Bride“ is a popular fairy tale that has inspired many adaptations in different forms of media. Here are some examples:

Film adaptations: Several films have been based on „The True Bride,“ including the 1951 film „Three Wishes for Cinderella,“ directed by Václav Vorlíček. The film is a Czechoslovak-German fairy-tale film that adapts elements of the story to create a new version.

Literature adaptations: The fairy tale has also been adapted in literature, such as Robin McKinley’s „Deerskin,“ a novel that reinterprets the story’s themes of courage and inner beauty, as well as the 1990 novel „The Snow Child“ by Eowyn Ivey, which blends elements of „The True Bride“ with Russian folklore.

Stage adaptations: „The True Bride“ has also been adapted for the stage, including the 2015 musical adaptation by the Kneehigh Theater company in Cornwall, England.

Television adaptations: The fairy tale has also been adapted for television, including the 2012 episode of the TV series „Grimm,“ which reimagines the story as a murder investigation, and the 2019 episode of the TV series „Into the Dark,“ which uses the story’s themes to explore the idea of a „perfect wife.“

Children’s book adaptations: Many children’s books have been based on „The True Bride,“ including „The Three Sisters“ by Jane Yolen, which tells the story from the perspective of the sisters, and „The True Bride and the Shoemaker“ by Lari Don, which sets the story in a Scottish fishing village.

Summary of the plot

„The True Bride“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm that tells the story of a young woman who overcomes the cruelty of her stepmother and stepsister with the help of a magical helper and eventually finds her true love. Here is a summary of the plot:

A young woman is mistreated by her stepmother and stepsister, who force her to do difficult tasks and treat her with contempt. One day, while fetching water from a well, the young woman accidentally drops her pail, and a magical helper appears. The magical helper, an old woman, agrees to help her complete her tasks in exchange for the young woman’s promise to invite her to her wedding.

With the magical helper’s assistance, the young woman completes her tasks and is rewarded with beautiful clothing and jewelry. She attends a festival where she catches the eye of a prince. Despite her stepmother’s attempts to prevent her from attending the festival, the young woman goes on to meet the prince, who falls in love with her. The prince declares that he will marry her and invites the magical helper to the wedding, as the young woman promised.

The stepmother and stepsister, in a jealous rage, try to deceive the prince by pretending to be the young woman. However, the magical helper intervenes, revealing their deception and causing the stepmother and stepsister to be punished. The young woman is recognized as the true bride, and she and the prince are married, living happily ever after.

In summary, „The True Bride“ is a heartwarming tale of love, deception, and the triumph of goodness over evil. The story emphasizes the importance of inner beauty, kindness, and the power of love, as the protagonist overcomes adversity and finds happiness with her true love. It serves as a reminder to readers of the enduring appeal and relevance of fairy tales in conveying important life lessons and values.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The true bride“

„The True Bride“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their famous anthology, „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales,“ which was first published in 1812. The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, were German scholars, linguists, and cultural researchers who collected and published numerous folktales and legends. Their goal was to preserve the oral traditions and the cultural heritage of Germany and Europe.

The tale of „The True Bride“ (known as „Die wahre Braut“ in German) tells the story of a young girl who is mistreated by her cruel stepmother and stepsister. The girl is given impossible tasks to complete, but she receives help from a mysterious old woman who turns out to be a magical being. Through the girl’s kindness, perseverance, and the assistance of the old woman, she overcomes her hardships, finds her true love, and inherits a magical castle. The story is a classic example of the Brothers Grimm’s fascination with themes such as the power of inner beauty, the triumph of good over evil, and the role of destiny and true love.

„The True Bride“ shares similarities with other well-known fairy tales, such as „Cinderella“ and „The Goose Girl.“ These stories often feature a young, virtuous protagonist who faces adversity but ultimately triumphs due to their inner qualities, with the help of magical or divine intervention. The Brothers Grimm’s collection of fairy tales has become a significant part of world literature, inspiring countless adaptations in various forms, including theater, film, television, and literature.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The true bride“

„The True Bride“ is a classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale that can be interpreted in various ways. Some key themes and interpretations include:

The power of kindness and perseverance: The young girl, despite being mistreated by her stepmother, remains kind-hearted and persistent in completing the tasks given to her. This determination is rewarded when she receives help from the old woman and eventually inherits the magical castle. The story suggests that good qualities like kindness and perseverance can help one overcome obstacles and hardships.

The role of destiny and true love: The girl’s journey to find her lost love demonstrates the idea of destined love. Despite the prince initially forgetting her, their love ultimately prevails when they reunite, and he recognizes her as his true bride. This theme suggests that true love can withstand challenges and will eventually lead to a happy ending.

The transformative power of inner beauty: The story emphasizes the importance of inner beauty, as the girl’s kindness and pure heart attract magical assistance and ultimately lead to her triumph over her cruel stepmother. Her outer beauty is further enhanced by the dresses and jewels she acquires, but it is her inner beauty that ultimately wins the prince’s heart.

The importance of staying true to oneself: The girl remains true to herself and her love for the prince throughout her trials and tribulations. Even when she becomes a cowherd, she holds onto her love and hope for the prince’s return. This theme highlights the significance of loyalty and self-identity in overcoming challenges and achieving happiness.

Divine intervention and the power of faith: The old woman’s magical assistance can be seen as a symbol of divine intervention, coming to the girl’s aid when she is in her darkest moments. This theme suggests that faith in a higher power or destiny can provide comfort and guidance during difficult times.

Summary of the plot

„The True Bride“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm about a young and beautiful girl who is tormented by her wicked stepmother. Her stepmother gives her impossible tasks to complete, such as picking twelve pounds of feathers in one day and emptying a pond with a spoon full of holes. Each time, the girl despairs, but an old woman appears and helps her complete the tasks, making her stepmother angrier and more determined to make her life miserable.

The girl is then tasked with building a castle in one day, which the old woman also helps her complete. However, the stepmother dies, and the castle and its riches now belong to the girl. She becomes betrothed to a prince, but he leaves her waiting under a lime-tree, promising to return. The girl waits for days, but the prince never returns. She sets off in search of him, becoming a cow-herd and hiding her beautiful dresses and jewels.

One day, her betrothed passes by her, but he does not recognize her. She learns that he is to be married to another, so she attends a three-day festival, wearing her beautiful dresses on each night. The prince dances with her, enchanted by her beauty, but he does not recognize her until the third night when she kisses him on the cheek. The scales fall from his eyes, and he recognizes his true bride.

The prince and the girl return to the magic castle, where they live happily ever after.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 186
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 510
Translations DE, EN, ES, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH,
Readability Index by Björnsson31.4
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index79.9
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level7.2
Gunning Fog Index10
Coleman–Liau Index8
SMOG Index8.7
Automated Readability Index7.9
Character Count14.107
Letter Count10.901
Sentence Count131
Word Count2.694
Average Words per Sentence20,56
Words with more than 6 letters293
Percentage of long words10.9%
Number of Syllables3.377
Average Syllables per Word1,25
Words with three Syllables118
Percentage Words with three Syllables4.4%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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