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The Wise Servant
Grimm Märchen

The Wise Servant - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 3 min

How fortunate is the master, and how well all goes in his house, when he has a wise servant who listens to his orders and does not obey them, but prefers following his own wisdom. A clever John of this kind was once sent out by his master to seek a lost cow. He stayed away a long time, and the master thought, „Faithful John does not spare any pains over his work!“ As, however, he did not come back at all, the master was afraid lest some misfortune had befallen him, and set out himself to look for him. He had to search a long time, but at last he perceived the boy who was running up and down a large field. „Now, dear John,“ said the master when he had got up to him, „hast thou found the cow which I sent thee to seek?“ – „No, master,“ he answered, „I have not found the cow, but then I have not looked for it.“ – „Then what hast thou looked for, John?“ – „Something better, and that luckily I have found.“ – „What is that, John?“ – „Three blackbirds,“ answered the boy. „And where are they?“ asked the master. „I see one of them, I hear the other, and I am running after the third,“ answered the wise boy. Take example by this, do not trouble yourselves about your masters or their orders, but rather do what comes into your head and pleases you, and then you will act just as wisely as prudent John.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The wise servant“

„The Wise Servant,“ also known as „The Clever Servant“ or „Der kluge Knecht“ in German, is a lesser-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their famous anthology „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales.“ It was first published in the 1812 edition of their collection and has been retold in various forms since then.

The story revolves around a shrewd servant who serves a young count. The count is set to inherit his father’s estate, but the father is worried about his son’s ability to manage the property. The count’s father, on his deathbed, gives the servant a riddle to test the son’s intelligence, saying that if the young count can solve it, the servant will become his son’s counselor and help him manage the estate.

The riddle consists of three tasks: 1) to find a hundredweight of feathers that weigh the same as a hundredweight of lead, 2) to find a ship that sails just as fast on land as on water, and 3) to find a dead man who is still alive.

The servant cleverly solves each task, showing his wisdom and creativity. He finds a hundredweight of feathers that weigh the same as a hundredweight of lead by placing a scale with feathers on one side and lead on the other, balancing the weights precisely. He finds a ship that sails on land by constructing a cart with sails, allowing it to be propelled by the wind. Finally, he finds a dead man who is still alive by presenting a drunk man lying unconscious in the street. The young count recognizes the servant’s wisdom and accepts him as his counselor.

The origin of „The Wise Servant“ can be traced back to European folklore, which features many tales of cunning and resourcefulness. The Brothers Grimm collected stories from various oral and written sources, so it’s likely they came across this tale during their research.

The story shares similarities with other tales of clever individuals, such as „The Master Thief“ or „The Brave Little Tailor,“ where intelligence and resourcefulness are key to overcoming challenges. „The Wise Servant“ offers a unique perspective on the importance of wisdom and creativity, making it an intriguing addition to the Grimms‘ Fairy Tales collection.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The wise servant“

„The Wise Servant“ is a captivating tale from the Brothers Grimm that can be interpreted in several ways. Here are a few perspectives to consider:

The value of intelligence and resourcefulness: One of the central themes of the story is the importance of intelligence and resourcefulness in overcoming challenges. The servant demonstrates his wit and creativity by solving each riddle, proving that cleverness can be more valuable than brute strength or wealth.

The role of mentors and advisors: The story also highlights the significance of wise counsel and the role of mentors in guiding those who are inexperienced or lack knowledge. The count’s father, recognizing his son’s shortcomings, ensures that his son will have a wise advisor to help him manage the estate. This demonstrates the importance of seeking guidance and the value of learning from those who possess greater wisdom and experience.

The transformative power of challenges: The three tasks presented in the riddle serve as a catalyst for the servant to showcase his intelligence and resourcefulness. This can be seen as a metaphor for the transformative power of challenges, as they often push individuals to realize their full potential and bring out their best qualities.

The importance of self-reliance: Another interpretation of the story is the emphasis on self-reliance and the ability to find creative solutions to problems. The servant does not rely on anyone else to solve the riddles; instead, he uses his own wit and resourcefulness. This theme encourages individuals to be self-sufficient and think critically when faced with obstacles.

A cautionary tale about underestimating others: The tale can also be seen as a cautionary tale about underestimating the abilities of others, especially those who may seem insignificant or powerless. The servant, despite being a humble servant, possesses great wisdom and resourcefulness, which ultimately benefits the young count. This theme serves as a reminder to recognize and appreciate the talents and contributions of all individuals, regardless of their social status or position.

In summary, „The Wise Servant“ offers a variety of interpretations and themes that make it an engaging and thought-provoking fairy tale. Through the story, readers can explore the importance of intelligence, resourcefulness, mentorship, self-reliance, and the value of not underestimating others, making it a timeless tale with valuable lessons for all ages.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The wise servant“

While „The Wise Servant“ may not be as well-known as some other Brothers Grimm fairy tales, it has still inspired various adaptations and retellings over time. Here are a few specific examples:

Literature: „The Wise Servant“ has been retold and adapted in various anthologies, short story collections, and books focused on fairy tales. These adaptations often include modern language, illustrations, or variations on the plot to make the story more accessible or engaging for contemporary readers.

Theater: As a lesser-known tale, „The Wise Servant“ may not have a significant number of stage adaptations, but it has occasionally been included in theater productions that focus on multiple Grimm fairy tales. In such productions, the story might be adapted as a short play or skit, showcasing the servant’s cleverness in solving the riddles.

Audiobooks: There are audiobook versions of „The Wise Servant“ available, both as standalone recordings or as part of larger Grimm fairy tale collections. These adaptations bring the story to life through voice acting and can be found on platforms like Audible or other audiobook services.

Art: „The Wise Servant“ has inspired visual artists to create illustrations, paintings, and other works of art over the years. These artistic interpretations often depict scenes from the story, such as the servant solving one of the riddles or presenting his solutions to the young count.

Educational materials: The story of „The Wise Servant“ has been included in various educational materials, such as lesson plans, study guides, or teaching resources focused on fairy tales and folklore. These materials often explore the themes, motifs, and interpretations of the story, helping students understand its cultural and historical significance.

Although „The Wise Servant“ might not have as many adaptations as other popular Grimm fairy tales, its themes of intelligence, resourcefulness, and the importance of wise counsel continue to inspire retellings and adaptations in different forms of media.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The wise servant“

„The Wise Servant“ is a classic fairy tale that has inspired many adaptations over the years. Here are a few examples:

„The Clever Servant“: This is a 1956 Soviet film that is based on the „The Wise Servant“. The film follows the story of a young prince who falls in love with a princess but must pass several tests before he can marry her. His clever servant helps him to overcome each challenge and win the princess’s hand.

„The Wise Little Hen“: This is a Disney animated short film from 1934 that is loosely based on „The Wise Servant“. The story follows a mother hen who enlists the help of her lazy friends in planting and harvesting corn. When they refuse to help, the hen uses her own intelligence and hard work to complete the task.

„The Golden Goose“: This is a fairy tale that is very similar to „The Wise Servant“. In this story, a young man helps an old man who rewards him with a golden goose. When the young man takes the goose to market, he is able to outsmart several people who try to steal it from him.

„The Foolish Servant“: This is a Russian folk tale that is similar to „The Wise Servant“. In this story, a servant is able to outsmart his master by pretending to be foolish. This allows him to avoid punishment and even gain some rewards.

„The Adventures of Pinocchio“: This classic children’s story features a clever puppet who uses his wit and intelligence to overcome various challenges and achieve his dream of becoming a real boy. Although not directly based on „The Wise Servant“, it shares similar themes of using intelligence and perseverance to achieve one’s goals.

Overall, „The Wise Servant“ has inspired many adaptations and variations over the years, each adding their own unique twist to the classic tale.

Summary of the plot

„The Wise Servant“ is a lesser-known Brothers Grimm fairy tale that tells the story of a shrewd servant who works for a young count. The count’s father, concerned about his son’s ability to manage the estate, gives the servant a riddle on his deathbed to test his son’s intelligence. If the young count can solve the riddle, the servant will become his counselor and help him manage the estate.

The riddle consists of three tasks: 1) find a hundredweight of feathers that weigh the same as a hundredweight of lead, 2) find a ship that sails just as fast on land as on water, and 3) find a dead man who is still alive. The servant cleverly solves each task, demonstrating his wisdom and resourcefulness.

Having proven his intelligence and capability, the servant is accepted as the young count’s counselor, helping him manage the estate. The tale highlights themes such as the importance of intelligence, resourcefulness, and the value of wise counsel.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The wise servant“

„The Wise Servant“ is a short fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, two German scholars, linguists, and cultural researchers named Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. The brothers collected and published numerous folktales and legends, aiming to preserve the traditional stories of their culture. Their collection, titled „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ or „Children’s and Household Tales“ (in German, „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“), was first published in 1812 and gained significant popularity.

The Brothers Grimm were instrumental in the development of German philology and folklore studies. Their work has had a lasting impact on Western literature and folklore, and their tales have been translated into various languages and adapted into numerous forms, including films, plays, and even ballets.

„The Wise Servant“ is one of the lesser-known tales from their collection, and it stands out due to its ironic and humorous tone. Unlike many other Grimm’s fairy tales, it does not feature magical creatures or enchanted objects. Instead, it focuses on the interaction between a master and his servant, exploring themes like wisdom, authority, and individualism. The story’s simplicity and wit make it an enjoyable read and provide an opportunity for various interpretations.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The wise servant“

„The Wise Servant“ can be interpreted in several ways:

Irony and humor: The story is filled with irony and humor, as John’s actions and responses to his master’s inquiries are contrary to what is expected from a servant. The author’s use of irony challenges the reader’s expectations and adds an amusing twist to the story.

Rebellion against authority: The tale can be seen as a commentary on the importance of questioning authority and not blindly following orders. John does not follow his master’s commands and instead chooses to follow his own path, suggesting that one should not be limited by the constraints set by others.

Trust in one’s instincts: The story can also be interpreted as a message about trusting one’s instincts and intuition. John decides to pursue something he deems more valuable than the lost cow, representing the idea that following one’s instincts can lead to better outcomes than simply obeying orders.

Satirical critique of wisdom: The tale can be seen as a satirical critique of the conventional wisdom that one should always obey their master’s orders. John’s actions and the author’s suggestion that they are wise challenge this conventional wisdom, urging the reader to question what constitutes true wisdom.

Individualism vs. conformity: The story also explores the theme of individualism versus conformity. John’s decision to prioritize his own interests over his master’s orders highlights the importance of pursuing personal goals and desires, rather than simply conforming to societal expectations.

It’s important to note that interpretations may vary, and readers may find different meanings within the story based on their own perspectives and experiences.

Summary of the plot

„The Wise Servant“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm that tells the story of a master and his clever servant, John. When the master sends John to find a lost cow, John takes a long time, causing the master to worry about his well-being. Eventually, the master sets out to find John himself and discovers him running around a large field.

When the master asks if John has found the cow, John admits that he hasn’t been looking for it, but has instead found something better: three blackbirds. The master, curious, inquires about their whereabouts. John replies that he sees one, hears another, and is chasing the third.

The tale highlights the idea that one should not concern themselves with their master’s orders or expectations but rather follow their own instincts and desires. This unconventional wisdom, as demonstrated by John, serves as the main takeaway of the story.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 162
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 1681B
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson27.1
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index86
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level5.4
Gunning Fog Index8
Coleman–Liau Index7.2
SMOG Index7.4
Automated Readability Index5.3
Character Count1.314
Letter Count983
Sentence Count15
Word Count252
Average Words per Sentence16,80
Words with more than 6 letters26
Percentage of long words10.3%
Number of Syllables309
Average Syllables per Word1,23
Words with three Syllables8
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.2%
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