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The Willful Child
Grimm Märchen

The Willful Child - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 2 min

Attention: This is a scary story.

Once upon a time there was a child who was willful, and would not dowh at her mother wished. For this reason God had no pleasure in her, and let her become ill, and no doctor could do her any good, and in a short time she lay on her death-bed. When she had been lowered into her grave, and the earth was spread over her, all at once her arm came out again, and stretched upwards, and when they had put it in and spread fresh earth over it, it was all to no purpose, for the arm always came out again. Then the mother herself was obliged to go to the grave, and strike the arm with a rod, and when she had done that, it was drawn in, and then at last the child had rest beneath the ground.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Willful Child“

„The Willful Child“ is a very short and dark fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, part of their famous collection „Grimm’s Fairy Tales.“ The story is known for its brevity and macabre imagery, offering a striking contrast to the longer, more elaborate tales in the collection.

The tale traces its roots to the German oral storytelling tradition, passed down through generations before being recorded and documented by the Brothers Grimm in the 19th century. Like many of the other stories in the collection, „The Willful Child“ reflects the values, cultural beliefs, and superstitions of the time.

The story revolves around a stubborn and disobedient child who defies their mother’s orders and, as a result, suffers divine punishment. The story does not provide much in the way of character development or detailed narrative, focusing instead on the consequences of the child’s disobedience and the subsequent retribution.

At the core of „The Willful Child“ is a moral lesson about the importance of obedience and the consequences of defying authority figures, particularly parents. The tale serves as a cautionary story to remind children to respect their parents and listen to their guidance.

In summary, „The Willful Child“ is a brief and dark Brothers Grimm fairy tale that emphasizes the importance of obedience and the consequences of defiance. The tale’s origins in the oral storytelling tradition of Germany connect it to a broader cultural context and provide insight into the values and beliefs of the time when it was recorded.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Willful Child“

„The Willful Child“ is a short and dark fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm that can be interpreted in various ways. Some possible interpretations of the story include:

Obedience and Respect for Authority: One of the primary interpretations of „The Willful Child“ is the importance of obedience and respect for authority figures, particularly parents. The story serves as a cautionary tale to remind children to listen to their parents and follow their guidance, as disobedience can lead to serious consequences.

Divine Retribution: The tale can also be interpreted as a story of divine retribution, where the disobedient child is punished by a higher power for their defiance. This interpretation emphasizes the belief in divine justice and the consequences of not adhering to societal and moral norms.

Fear and Control: Another interpretation of „The Willful Child“ relates to the use of fear as a means of control. The story, with its dark and disturbing imagery, can be seen as a tool used by parents or authority figures to instill fear in children, ensuring their obedience and compliance.

The Fragility of Life: The story also highlights the fragility of life and the unpredictability of death. The disobedient child’s life is cut short as a consequence of their actions, reminding readers of the importance of making the most of the time they have and the potential consequences of their choices.

Social Expectations and Conformity: „The Willful Child“ can also be interpreted as a reflection of the societal expectations and pressures to conform during the time when the Brothers Grimm collected and recorded the tale. The story serves as a reminder of the importance of adhering to societal norms and the potential consequences of challenging or defying these expectations.

In summary, „The Willful Child“ offers various interpretations that revolve around themes such as obedience, respect for authority, divine retribution, fear and control, the fragility of life, and societal expectations. The tale’s dark and cautionary nature provides insight into the cultural context and values of the time when it was recorded by the Brothers Grimm.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Willful Child“

„The Willful Child“ is a short and dark fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm that has not been adapted as widely as some of their other stories. However, it has inspired some artists and storytellers. Some examples of adaptations and references to „The Willful Child“ include:

„Tales of the Brothers Grimm“ (Illustrated Book, 2011): Illustrator Natalie Frank adapted a selection of Grimm’s fairy tales, including „The Willful Child,“ in her illustrated book „Tales of the Brothers Grimm.“ The book features striking, expressive illustrations that bring a new visual dimension to the story, emphasizing its dark and cautionary nature.

„Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ (Comic Book, 2014): In the comic book adaptation of „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ published by Zenescope Entertainment, „The Willful Child“ is included as one of the lesser-known stories. The comic book format allows for a visual representation of the dark and macabre themes, appealing to a different audience.

Storytelling Performances and Readings: While specific examples may be hard to find, „The Willful Child“ has likely been included in storytelling performances, live readings, and educational settings as part of a broader exploration of Grimm’s fairy tales. These performances may focus on the moral lessons and darker aspects of the story, providing listeners with an engaging and cautionary experience.

Artworks and Illustrations: Various artists and illustrators have created visual representations of „The Willful Child,“ ranging from traditional illustrations to more contemporary, abstract interpretations. These artworks capture the dark and eerie atmosphere of the story, often emphasizing the consequences of disobedience and defiance.

Although „The Willful Child“ has not been adapted as frequently as some other Grimm’s fairy tales, these examples show that the story continues to inspire artists and storytellers, maintaining its relevance and impact as a cautionary tale about obedience, divine retribution, and the consequences of defiance.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Willful Child“

„The Willful Child“ has been adapted in various forms of media, including theater, film, and literature. Here are some notable adaptations:

Operas: The tale has been adapted into several operas, including „Der eigenwillige Knabe“ by August Ferdinand Riccius and „Der eigensinnige Junge“ by Gustav Rebling.

Films: There have been several film adaptations of „The Willful Child,“ including the 1914 German silent film „Der eigenwillige Knabe“ and the 1978 Soviet animated film „The Stubborn Boy.“

Literature: „The Willful Child“ has been adapted in various forms of literature, including children’s books, such as „The Obstinate Boy“ by Paul Galdone, and graphic novels, such as „The Stubborn Child“ by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross.

Television: The tale has been adapted into several episodes of television shows, such as „The Storyteller“ and „Faerie Tale Theater.“

Modern adaptations: The tale has also been re-imagined in modern contexts, such as the horror film „Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark“ (2010), which draws on elements of the tale to create a modern horror story.

Overall, „The Willful Child“ has proven to be a popular source of inspiration for artists and storytellers, and its themes of obedience, consequences, and arrogance continue to resonate with audiences today.

Summary of the plot

„The Willful Child“ is a brief and dark fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm. The story revolves around a young, disobedient child who refuses to listen to their mother. As a result of their defiance, the child falls ill and dies.

After the child’s death, they are buried in a grave. However, the child’s arm keeps rising from the grave, defying their final resting place. The grieving mother goes to the grave and tries to push the arm back down, but it keeps reappearing above the ground.

In an attempt to discipline the child even after death, the mother takes a rod and strikes the arm. After she does this, the child’s arm finally stays in the grave, and the mother returns home, mourning her loss.

The story of „The Willful Child“ serves as a cautionary tale emphasizing the importance of obedience and respect for authority, particularly parents. The dark and macabre nature of the tale reflects the potential consequences of disobedience and the belief in divine retribution for those who defy societal and moral norms.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Willful Child“

„The Willful Child“ is a short, dark fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection, also known as „KHM 117“ or „A Stubborn Child“ in some translations. The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, were German scholars, linguists, and cultural researchers who collected and published numerous folktales and legends during the 19th century. Their work has had a significant impact on the development of folklore studies and has inspired countless adaptations in literature, film, and other media.

The Brothers Grimm first published „The Willful Child“ in their 1812 collection „Children’s and Household Tales“ (Kinder- und Hausmärchen), which contained 86 stories. They continued to revise and expand the collection, with the final edition featuring over 200 tales. „The Willful Child“ is one of the lesser-known tales and is quite brief compared to other famous stories such as „Cinderella“ or „Snow White.“

The fairy tale reflects the cultural and societal norms of the time when it was written, emphasizing the importance of obedience, religious beliefs, and the role of parents in raising and disciplining their children. Like many other Grimm’s fairy tales, it features dark and cautionary elements, which were intended to convey moral lessons to the readers.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Willful Child“

„The Willful Child“ by Brothers Grimm can be interpreted in several ways. Here are a few interpretations:

Consequences of disobedience: The story serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of disobedience and stubbornness. The willful child’s refusal to listen to her mother leads to her illness and eventual death. This can be seen as a metaphor for the dangers of not following parental guidance, as well as a warning for children to be obedient and respectful.

Parental responsibility: The mother’s role in disciplining her child is also highlighted in the story. She is ultimately responsible for ensuring her daughter’s eternal rest by striking her arm with a rod. This could be interpreted as a reminder to parents about their duty to discipline and teach their children, even when it is difficult or painful.

Divine intervention: The story emphasizes the role of God in the child’s life, as it is God’s displeasure with the child’s behavior that leads to her illness and death. This could be seen as a reminder of the importance of following religious teachings and moral values.

The persistence of character traits: The willful child’s stubbornness continues even after her death, symbolized by her arm refusing to stay buried. This could suggest that certain character traits are deeply ingrained and can be difficult to change, even in the face of severe consequences.

Power of forgiveness and redemption: The mother’s act of striking her daughter’s arm with a rod can also be seen as an act of forgiveness and redemption. Once the mother takes this action, her daughter can finally rest in peace. This may imply that forgiveness and redemption can lead to peace and resolution, even in the most challenging circumstances.

Summary of the plot

In the Brothers Grimm fairy tale „The Willful Child,“ a disobedient and stubborn girl constantly disobeys her mother, leading God to become displeased with her. As a result, the girl falls seriously ill, and despite the efforts of doctors, she dies shortly after. She is buried, but her stubbornness persists even in death. Her arm keeps emerging from the grave, refusing to stay buried no matter how many times it is reburied. Finally, the girl’s mother is forced to visit the grave and strike her daughter’s arm with a rod. This action finally causes the arm to retreat, allowing the willful child to rest peacefully beneath the ground. The story serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of disobedience and stubbornness.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 117
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 779
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson42
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index72.3
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level12
Gunning Fog Index14.3
Coleman–Liau Index5.9
SMOG Index3.3
Automated Readability Index12
Character Count694
Letter Count528
Sentence Count4
Word Count143
Average Words per Sentence35,75
Words with more than 6 letters9
Percentage of long words6.3%
Number of Syllables166
Average Syllables per Word1,16
Words with three Syllables0
Percentage Words with three Syllables0%
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