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The Water Nixie
Grimm Märchen

The Water Nixie - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 3 min

A little brother and sister were once playing by a well, and while they were thus playing, they both fell in. A water-nix lived down below, who said, „Now I have got you, now you shall work hard for me!“ and carried them off with her. She gave the girl dirty tangled flax to spin, and she had to fetch water in a bucket with a hole in it, and the boy had to hew down a tree with a blunt axe, and they got nothing to eat but dumplings as hard as stones. Then at last the children became so impatient, that they waited until one Sunday, when the nix was at church, and ran away. But when church was over, the nix saw that the birds were flown, and followed them with great strides. The children saw her from afar, and the girl threw a brush behind her which formed an immense hill of bristles, with thousands and thousands of spikes, over which the nix was forced to scramble with great difficulty; at last, however, she got over. When the children saw this, the boy threw behind him a comb which made a great hill of combs with a thousand times a thousand teeth, but the nix managed to keep herself steady on them, and at last crossed over that. Then the girl threw behind her a looking-glass which formed a hill of mirrors, and was so slippery that it was impossible for the nix to cross it. Then she thought, „I will go home quickly and fetch my axe, and cut the hill of glass in half.“ Long before she returned, however, and had hewn through the glass, the children had escaped to a great distance, and the water-nix was obliged to betake herself to her well again.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Water Nixie“

„The Water Nixie“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their work „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ (Kinder- und Hausmärchen). As with many other stories in the collection, the tale has its roots in the rich oral storytelling traditions of Europe. The Brothers Grimm aimed to preserve and document these folktales, which they believed played a significant role in cultural heritage and understanding.

The story of „The Water Nixie“ centers around a water spirit or nymph, known as a Nixie, who captures and imprisons a miller’s wife and two children. The tale follows the youngest child, who escapes the Nixie’s clutches and goes on a quest to save his family. Along the way, he encounters magical beings and overcomes various challenges using his courage and resourcefulness.

„The Water Nixie“ explores themes such as bravery, perseverance, family, and the power of good over evil. The story also features supernatural elements that were common in European folklore, such as magical creatures and enchanted objects. These elements contribute to the story’s appeal as a cautionary tale with a moral lesson.

The background of „The Water Nixie“ is tied to European oral storytelling traditions, reflecting the Brothers Grimm’s dedication to preserving cultural heritage through the collection and documentation of folktales. Their work ensures that stories like „The Water Nixie“ continue to be shared and enjoyed by generations, imparting important lessons and insights about life and human nature.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Water Nixie“

„The Water Nixie“ is a fascinating fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection that offers several interpretations and themes for readers to explore. Some of the main interpretations and themes in the story include:

Bravery and perseverance: The protagonist’s journey to save his family highlights the importance of courage and determination in the face of adversity. Despite the challenges he encounters along the way, the youngest child never gives up, showcasing the power of perseverance.

Good versus evil: The tale presents a classic conflict between good and evil, with the water Nixie representing the malevolent force and the youngest child symbolizing the force of good. The story ultimately conveys the message that good can triumph over evil when one is courageous and resourceful.

The power of family: Throughout the story, the importance of family bonds is emphasized. The protagonist’s determination to save his mother and sibling demonstrates the strength of familial love and the lengths one will go to protect their loved ones.

Cleverness and resourcefulness: The youngest child’s ability to outwit the Nixie and overcome various challenges highlights the value of intelligence and resourcefulness. This theme underscores the idea that clever thinking and problem-solving skills can be as powerful as physical strength.

Cautionary tale: The story of the Water Nixie can also be interpreted as a cautionary tale that warns against the dangers of making deals with supernatural beings. The miller’s wife and children fall into the Nixie’s trap due to their naivety, serving as a lesson for readers to be cautious and discerning in their choices.

These interpretations of „The Water Nixie“ provide valuable insights into human nature, morality, and the complexities of life. The tale serves as both an entertaining story and a source of lessons and wisdom for readers of all ages.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Water Nixie“

While „The Water Nixie“ may not be as well-known as some other fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm collection, it has been adapted in various forms, allowing the story and its themes to reach different audiences. Some examples of these adaptations include:

Literature: The story has been retold in various books and anthologies containing collections of fairy tales or Brothers Grimm stories. These adaptations may feature updated language, illustrations, or minor changes to the plot to make it more accessible or engaging for modern readers.

Audiobooks and audio dramas: „The Water Nixie“ has been adapted into audiobook and audio drama formats as part of collections of Brothers Grimm stories. These adaptations use skilled narrators, sound effects, and music to bring the story to life, allowing listeners to engage with the tale in a different way.

Theater and puppet shows: The story has been adapted for the stage in the form of plays, puppet shows, or storytelling performances. These live adaptations use costumes, sets, and creative storytelling techniques to share the tale with audiences in a captivating and interactive manner.

Animated adaptations: While there are no major film adaptations of „The Water Nixie,“ some independent filmmakers or animation students may have adapted the story into short films or animations. These adaptations use visual storytelling and unique artistic styles to explore the themes and narrative of the original tale.

Artwork: Illustrators and artists have created visual adaptations of „The Water Nixie“ in the form of paintings, drawings, or prints, bringing the characters and scenes to life in their own unique styles.

These adaptations of „The Water Nixie“ help to keep the story alive and relevant, allowing it to continue to impart important lessons about bravery, perseverance, family, and the power of good over evil.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Water Nixie“

„The Water Nixie“ is a popular fairy tale that has been adapted into various forms of media over the years. Here are some notable adaptations:

Operas: Several operas have been based on the story of „The Water Nixie,“ including Dvořák’s „Rusalka“ and Tchaikovsky’s „Undine.“

Films: There have been several film adaptations of the story, including the 1920 silent film „The Water Nixie“ and the 1954 West German film „The Water Nixie of the Rhine.“

Television: The story has also been adapted for television, including a 1982 episode of the British TV series „Faerie Tale Theater“ and a 1993 episode of the Japanese anime series „Mermaid’s Forest.“

Literature: „The Water Nixie“ has been retold and reimagined in various works of literature, including Patricia C. Wrede’s young adult novel „The Enchanted Forest Chronicles“ and Diana Wynne Jones‘ novel „Fire and Hemlock.“

Music: The story has also inspired various musical works, including the song „The Water Nixie“ by Swedish folk rock band Garmarna and the song „Undine“ by German band In Extremo.

These adaptations often put their own spin on the original story, exploring different themes and adding their own creative elements.

Summary of the plot

„The Water Nixie“ is a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection that follows the story of a miller, his wife, and their three children. The tale begins when the miller makes a deal with a water Nixie, a magical water spirit, and promises her whatever is born in his house in exchange for help with his mill. Unfortunately, his wife soon gives birth to a child, and the Nixie comes to collect her due.

The Nixie takes the miller’s wife and two oldest children, but the youngest child manages to escape. As he grows up, he decides to rescue his family from the Nixie’s clutches. On his journey, he encounters a magical fish who gives him a special rod that can transform into anything he wishes. The fish also provides the young man with instructions on how to find the Nixie’s dwelling.

Following the fish’s guidance, the young man locates the Nixie’s underwater home. He uses the magical rod to create a bridge over the water, which distracts the Nixie and allows him to sneak in and rescue his family. When the Nixie realizes what has happened, she chases after them, but the young man uses the magical rod to create a series of obstacles that prevent her from catching them.

The family escapes, and the young man tosses the magical rod back into the water, thanking the fish for its help. The story concludes with the family reunited and free from the Nixie’s grasp, emphasizing themes of bravery, perseverance, and the power of good over evil.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Water Nixie“

„The Water Nixie“ is a lesser-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859) Grimm, who were German academics, linguists, cultural researchers, and authors. They are best known for their collection of folktales, which they started compiling in the early 19th century. Their work, „Children’s and Household Tales“ („Kinder- und Hausmärchen“), was published in 1812 and went through multiple editions and revisions over the years.

The Brothers Grimm collected and preserved traditional stories from various sources, including oral traditions and written texts. Their aim was to document and preserve the cultural heritage of the German-speaking people. They were part of the Romantic movement in literature, which emphasized the importance of folklore and the natural world as sources of inspiration.

The water nixie or nix is a mythological creature found in European folklore, particularly in Germanic and Scandinavian traditions. It is a water spirit or supernatural being that is often associated with rivers, lakes, or wells. These beings can be either malevolent or benevolent, depending on the specific tale. In „The Water Nixie,“ the creature is portrayed as an antagonist who enslaves the children and forces them to endure hardship.

While „The Water Nixie“ may not be as well-known as some of the Grimm Brothers‘ other stories, it shares common themes and motifs with their broader body of work, such as the struggle between good and evil, the importance of family, and the resourcefulness of children.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Water Nixie“

„The Water Nixie“ offers various interpretations and themes:

The Struggle for Freedom: The story demonstrates the importance of personal freedom and the willingness to fight for it. The children’s determination to escape the nix’s control is a testament to their resilience and courage in the face of adversity.

Overcoming Obstacles: The children use their resourcefulness to create barriers that slow down the nix. This theme emphasizes the idea that, with clever thinking and determination, one can overcome obstacles and achieve their goals.

The Power of Cooperation: The brother and sister work together to evade the nix. Their collaborative efforts and trust in one another prove to be the key to their successful escape. This theme highlights the value of teamwork and the bonds of family.

The Duality of Good and Evil: The tale showcases the struggle between the innocent children and the malicious water nix. It highlights the contrast between the pure intentions of the children and the malevolent nature of the nix, emphasizing the age-old battle between good and evil.

The Resourcefulness of Youth: The children’s ability to outwit the nix despite their young age and limited resources illustrates the potential for resourcefulness and intelligence in young people. This theme encourages readers to never underestimate the power of a child’s imagination and problem-solving skills.

The Importance of Persistence: Throughout the story, the children face various challenges but never give up on their quest for freedom. This theme underscores the importance of perseverance in overcoming difficult situations and the value of staying true to one’s goals.

Summary of the plot

„The Water Nixie“ is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale that tells the story of a little brother and sister who accidentally fall into a well while playing. They are captured by a water-nix, a water spirit, who forces them to work for her. The girl is tasked with spinning dirty, tangled flax, fetching water in a leaky bucket, while the boy must cut down a tree with a blunt axe. Their food consists only of hard, stone-like dumplings.

Tired of their harsh life, the children decide to escape one Sunday when the nix is attending church. When the nix realizes the children have fled, she pursues them with giant strides. The children use magical objects to slow her down. The girl throws a brush behind her, creating a massive, spiked hill that the nix struggles to climb over. The boy then throws a comb, forming a vast hill of combs with countless teeth, which the nix laboriously crosses. Finally, the girl throws a looking-glass, creating a slippery hill of mirrors that the nix cannot cross.

Desperate, the nix returns home to fetch her axe to cut through the glass hill. By the time she breaks through, the children have already reached a safe distance. Defeated, the water nix returns to her well, while the brother and sister are free from her clutches.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 79
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 313
Translations DE, EN, DA, ES, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, TR, VI, ZH,
Readability Index by Björnsson40.5
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index74.4
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level9.7
Gunning Fog Index12.1
Coleman–Liau Index7.8
SMOG Index8.1
Automated Readability Index11.3
Character Count1.573
Letter Count1.220
Sentence Count11
Word Count304
Average Words per Sentence27,64
Words with more than 6 letters39
Percentage of long words12.8%
Number of Syllables375
Average Syllables per Word1,23
Words with three Syllables8
Percentage Words with three Syllables2.6%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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