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Wise Folks
Wise Folks Märchen

Wise Folks - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 11 min

One day a peasant took his good hazel-stick out of the corner and said to his wife, „Trina, I am going across country, and shall not return for three days. If during that time the cattle-dealer should happen to call and want to buy our three cows, you may strike a bargain at once, but not unless you can get two hundred thalers for them; nothing less, do you hear?“ – „For heaven’s sake just go in peace,“ answered the woman, „I will manage that.“ – „You, indeed,“ said the man. „You once fell on your head when you were a little child, and that affects you even now; but let me tell you this, if you do anything foolish, I will make your back black and blue, and not with paint, I assure you, but with the stick which I have in my hand, and the colouring shall last a whole year, you may rely on that.“ And having said that, the man went on his way. Next morning the cattle-dealer came, and the woman had no need to say many words to him. When he had seen the cows and heard the price, he said, „I am quite willing to give that, honestly speaking, they are worth it. I will take the beasts away with me at once.“ He unfastened their chains and drove them out of the byre, but just as he was going out of the yard-door, the woman clutched him by the sleeve and said, „You must give me the two hundred thalers now, or I cannot let the cows go.“ – „True,“ answered the man, „but I have forgotten to buckle on my money-belt. Have no fear, however, you shall have security for my paying. I will take two cows with me and leave one, and then you will have a good pledge.“ The woman saw the force of this, and let the man go away with the cows, and thought to herself, „How pleased Hans will be when he finds how cleverly I have managed it!“ The peasant came home on the third day as he had said he would, and at once inquired if the cows were sold? „Yes, indeed, dear Hans,“ answered the woman, „and as you said, for two hundred thalers. They are scarcely worth so much, but the man took them without making any objection.“ – „Where is the money?“ asked the peasant. „Oh, I have not got the money,“ replied the woman; „he had happened to forget his money-belt, but he will soon bring it, and he left good security behind him.“ – „What kind of security?“ asked the man. „One of the three cows, which he shall not have until he has paid for the other two. I have managed very cunningly, for I have kept the smallest, which eats the least.“ The man was enraged and lifted up his stick, and was just going to give her the beating he had promised her. Suddenly he let the stick fail and said, „You are the stupidest goose that ever waddled on God’s earth, but I am sorry for you. I will go out into the highways and wait for three days to see if I find anyone who is still stupider than you. If I succeed in doing so, you shall go scot-free, but if I do not find him, you shall receive your well-deserved reward without any discount.“

He went out into the great highways, sat down on a stone, and waited for what would happen. Then he saw a peasant’s waggon coming towards him, and a woman was standing upright in the middle of it, instead of sitting on the bundle of straw which was lying beside her, or walking near the oxen and leading them. The man thought to himself, „That is certainly one of the kind I am in search of,“ and jumped up and ran backwards and forwards in front of the waggon like one who is not very wise. „What do you want, my friend?“ said the woman to him; „I don’t know you, where do you come from?“ – „I have fallen down from heaven,“ replied the man, „and don’t know how to get back again, couldn’t you drive me up?“ – „No,“ said the woman, „I don’t know the way, but if you come from heaven you can surely tell me how my husband, who has been there these three years is. You must have seen him?“ – „Oh, yes, I have seen him, but all men can’t get on well. He keeps sheep, and the sheep give him a great deal to do. They run up the mountains and lose their way in the wilderness, and he has to run after them and drive them together again. His clothes are all torn to pieces too, and will soon fall off his body. There is no tailor there, for Saint Peter won’t let any of them in, as you know by the story.“ – „Who would have thought it?“ cried the woman, „I tell you what, I will fetch his Sunday coat which is still hanging at home in the cupboard, he can wear that and look respectable. You will be so kind as to take it with you.“ – „That won’t do very well,“ answered the peasant; „people are not allowed to take clothes into Heaven, they are taken away from one at the gate.“ – „Then hark you,“ said the woman, „I sold my fine wheat yesterday and got a good lot of money for it, I will send that to him. If you hide the purse in your pocket, no one will know that you have it.“ – „If you can’t manage it any other way,“ said the peasant, „I will do you that favor.“ – „Just sit still where you are,“ said she, „and I will drive home and fetch the purse, I shall soon be back again. I do not sit down on the bundle of straw, but stand up in the waggon, because it makes it lighter for the cattle.“ She drove her oxen away, and the peasant thought, „That woman has a perfect talent for folly, if she really brings the money, my wife may think herself fortunate, for she will get no beating.“ It was not long before she came in a great hurry with the money, and with her own hands put it in his pocket. Before she went away, she thanked him again a thousand times for his courtesy.

When the woman got home again, she found her son who had come in from the field. She told him what unlooked-for things had befallen her, and then added, „I am truly delighted at having found an opportunity of sending something to my poor husband. Who would ever have imagined that he could be suffering for want of anything up in heaven?“ The son was full of astonishment. „Mother,“ said he, „it is not every day that a man comes from Heaven in this way, I will go out immediately, and see if he is still to be found. He must tell me what it is like up there, and how the work is done.“ He saddled the horse and rode off with all speed. He found the peasant who was sitting under a willow-tree, and was just going to count the money in the purse. „Have you seen the man who has fallen down from Heaven?“ cried the youth to him. „Yes,“ answered the peasant, „he has set out on his way back there, and has gone up that hill, from whence it will be rather nearer. You could still catch him up, if you were to ride fast.“ – „Alas,“ said the youth, „I have been doing tiring work all day, and the ride here has completely worn me out. You know the man, be so kind as to get on my horse, and go and persuade him to come here.“ – „Aha!“ thought the peasant, „here is another who has no wick in his lamp!“ – „Why should I not do you this favor?“ said he, and mounted the horse and rode off in a quick trot. The youth remained sitting there till night fell, but the peasant never came back. „The man from Heaven must certainly have been in a great hurry, and would not turn back,“ thought he, „and the peasant has no doubt given him the horse to take to my father.“ He went home and told his mother what had happened, and that he had sent his father the horse so that he might not have to be always running about. „Thou hast done well,“ answered she, „thy legs are younger than his, and thou canst go on foot.“

When the peasant got home, he put the horse in the stable beside the cow which he had as a pledge, and then went to his wife and said, „Trina, as your luck would have it, I have found two who are still sillier fools than you. This time you escape without a beating, I will store it up for another occasion.“ Then he lighted his pipe, sat down in his grandfather’s chair, and said, „It was a good stroke of business to get a sleek horse and a great purse full of money into the bargain, for two lean cows. If stupidity always brought in as much as that, I would be quite willing to hold it in honor.“ So thought the peasant, but you no doubt prefer the simple folks.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „Wise Folks“

„Wise Folks,“ also known as „Die klugen Leute“ or „The Clever People,“ is a lesser-known German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm and published in their famous collection, „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ (Children’s and Household Tales). This story appears as tale number 104 in the collection.

The story revolves around the concept of wisdom and cleverness, featuring a series of comical anecdotes that showcase the supposedly wise people of a village making foolish decisions and taking part in absurd situations. The tales poke fun at the villagers‘ exaggerated sense of their own wisdom, revealing the irony that their supposed cleverness often leads to foolish actions.

Like other stories in the Brothers Grimm collection, „Wise Folks“ has its roots in the European oral storytelling tradition. The Grimm brothers collected their tales from various sources, including acquaintances, friends, and family members who shared stories they had heard or knew from their own cultural heritage. The tales often underwent revisions and refinements as the brothers sought to compile a comprehensive collection of German folktales.

„Wise Folks“ offers a satirical perspective on wisdom and human behavior, highlighting the irony and humor in the villagers‘ actions. The story serves as a reminder that true wisdom is not always found in those who claim to possess it and that even the most intelligent people can make foolish decisions.

While „Wise Folks“ may not be as popular or widely adapted as other Grimm fairy tales, it offers valuable insights into human nature and the limitations of self-perceived wisdom, providing readers with a humorous and thought-provoking tale.

Interpretations to fairy tale „Wise Folks“

„Wise Folks,“ also known as „Die klugen Leute“ or „The Clever People,“ is a lesser-known fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm that offers several interpretations and insights into themes such as wisdom, cleverness, and human folly. Here are some possible interpretations of the story:

The folly of self-perceived wisdom: The villagers in „Wise Folks“ believe themselves to be wise, yet their actions reveal their foolishness. The story serves as a reminder that self-perceived wisdom can be deceiving and that even the most intelligent people can make mistakes or act foolishly.

The relativity of wisdom: The story highlights that wisdom is relative and situational. What may seem wise in one context may be foolish in another. This interpretation serves as a cautionary tale, reminding readers to be mindful of their actions and to avoid becoming overly confident in their own abilities.

The irony of wisdom: „Wise Folks“ is a satirical tale that uses humor and irony to emphasize the absurdity of the villagers‘ actions. The story illustrates that wisdom is not always synonymous with intelligence or knowledge, and it can sometimes be found in unexpected places or situations.

Human nature and the limitations of knowledge: The story highlights the limitations of human knowledge and understanding. Despite the villagers‘ belief in their own wisdom, they repeatedly make foolish decisions and demonstrate a lack of common sense. This interpretation suggests that wisdom is not solely based on knowledge but also requires practical experience, humility, and an awareness of one’s own limitations.

The power of storytelling: „Wise Folks“ is a collection of comical anecdotes that showcase the absurdity of the villagers‘ actions. The story demonstrates the power of storytelling to entertain, inform, and teach valuable lessons about human nature and the complexities of wisdom.

Overall, „Wise Folks“ offers various interpretations and valuable insights into the nature of wisdom, cleverness, and human folly. The story serves as a humorous reminder that true wisdom is not always found in those who claim to possess it and that even the most intelligent people can make foolish decisions.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „Wise Folks“

„Wise Folks“ (also known as „Die klugen Leute“ or „The Clever People“) is a lesser-known fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, and as such, it has not been adapted as frequently as some of their more famous tales. However, there are still a few adaptations and retellings of this humorous story in various forms of media:

Literature: „Wise Folks“ has been included in various fairy tale collections and anthologies, sometimes under different names or translations. These retellings may adapt the story slightly to make it more accessible to modern audiences or to emphasize certain themes or morals.

Theater and puppet shows: „Wise Folks“ has been adapted for the stage as part of larger productions featuring multiple Grimm fairy tales or as stand-alone plays. The humorous nature of the story lends itself well to live performances, and audiences can enjoy the comical situations and ironic lessons presented in the tale.

Storytelling and oral performances: Due to its roots in the oral storytelling tradition, „Wise Folks“ can be adapted and shared through live storytelling performances. Professional storytellers and performers may use their skills to bring the story to life and engage audiences with its humorous anecdotes and lessons about wisdom and human folly.

Educational materials: The story’s themes of wisdom, cleverness, and human folly can be used in educational contexts to teach children about the importance of humility, critical thinking, and the limitations of self-perceived wisdom. „Wise Folks“ can be included in lesson plans, study materials, or discussion prompts to encourage reflection and critical thinking.

While specific examples of adaptations of „Wise Folks“ may be limited due to its lesser-known status, the story’s humorous nature and valuable lessons make it a fitting candidate for retellings and reinterpretations across various forms of media.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „Wise Folks“

The fairy tale „Wise Folks“ (also known as „The Three Old Men“) from the Brothers Grimm has inspired various adaptations in literature, film, and other media. Here are some notable examples:

„The Three Old Men“ (2001): This children’s book by Ukrainian author Yaroslava Pulinovich is a modern retelling of the fairy tale. In this version, the old men are replaced by three women who teach the young protagonist valuable lessons about life.

„Three Wishes for Cinderella“ (1973): This Czechoslovakian film is a loose adaptation of „Wise Folks“ and other fairy tales. In this version, Cinderella gains three magical items from the Wise Woman (who replaces the three old men in the story) that help her escape from her wicked stepmother.

„The Three Wishes“ (2007): This picture book by Irish author Sean O’Brien is a retelling of the story with a twist. In this version, the young protagonist is granted three wishes by the old men, but he quickly learns that the consequences of his wishes can be unpredictable and dangerous.

„Three Old Men“ (2017): This short film by Nigerian filmmaker Odera Ozokwor is a modern adaptation of the story set in a rural African village. In this version, the young protagonist seeks wisdom and guidance from three elderly men who live in the village.

„The Wise Men of Helm“ (1960): This children’s book by American author Donald J. Sobol is a retelling of the story set in the fictional village of Helm. In this version, the young protagonist seeks advice from the Wise Men of Helm, who are known for their wisdom and cleverness.

These adaptations and others demonstrate the enduring popularity and relevance of the fairy tale „Wise Folks“ and its themes of wisdom, self-improvement, and the importance of learning from others.

Summary of the plot

„Wise Folks,“ also known as „Die klugen Leute“ or „The Clever People,“ is a lesser-known fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm that revolves around a series of comical anecdotes involving the supposedly wise villagers. The story humorously illustrates the folly of self-perceived wisdom and the irony that those who believe themselves to be wise often make foolish decisions.

The plot of „Wise Folks“ is not a linear narrative but rather a collection of amusing episodes highlighting the absurdity of the villagers‘ actions. Each anecdote showcases a different situation in which the villagers, convinced of their own wisdom, make ridiculous and nonsensical choices.

For example, one anecdote tells of a group of villagers who try to count themselves but consistently miscount because they forget to include the person doing the counting. In another story, a farmer is asked to divide a beehive equally between two sons, but he ends up killing all the bees in the process by trying to split the hive in half.

These stories, along with others in the collection, serve to demonstrate the limitations of self-perceived wisdom and the importance of humility, common sense, and the awareness of one’s own limitations. Through humor and irony, „Wise Folks“ teaches valuable lessons about the complexities of wisdom and the absurdity of human folly.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „Wise Folks“

„Wise Folks“ is a fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who were German academics, linguists, and folklorists. Their collection of fairy tales, known as „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ or „Children’s and Household Tales,“ was first published in 1812 and contained 86 stories. Over time, the collection expanded to include over 200 tales, with the final edition being published in 1857.

The Brothers Grimm collected these tales from various sources, including oral traditions, written documents, and storytellers they encountered during their travels. Many of the stories in their collection have origins in traditional European folklore, often with roots in ancient mythology and legends. The tales were initially intended for adults, but over time, they became popular children’s stories.

„Wise Folks“ is a lesser-known tale in the collection, but it shares common themes with other Grimm stories, such as the importance of common sense and the consequences of foolishness. The story also reflects the socio-cultural context of the time, showcasing the daily lives and concerns of peasants in rural Germany during the early 19th century.

The Brothers Grimm had a significant impact on the development of folklore studies and the preservation of European cultural heritage. Their collection of fairy tales has been translated into numerous languages and adapted into various forms of media, including theater, film, and television. The stories continue to captivate audiences worldwide, offering valuable life lessons and insights into the human experience.

Interpretations to fairy tale „Wise Folks“

„Wise Folks“ offers several interpretations, focusing on themes such as the value of common sense, the consequences of gullibility, and the importance of perspective.

Value of common sense: The story illustrates the importance of using common sense in everyday life. Trina’s lack of critical thinking when dealing with the cattle-dealer and the woman’s and her son’s naïve belief in Hans‘ tale about Heaven lead to their exploitation. The story serves as a cautionary tale, encouraging readers to be more mindful and rely on their common sense to avoid being taken advantage of.

Consequences of gullibility: The story also emphasizes the negative consequences of gullibility. The characters who are deceived by others suffer losses and humiliation, demonstrating that being overly trusting or failing to question the situation can lead to misfortune. This interpretation serves as a reminder for readers to be more skeptical and question things that seem too good to be true.

Importance of perspective: The story highlights how different perspectives can affect one’s judgment. While Hans perceives Trina’s actions as foolish, he later encounters people who are even more foolish, making him appreciate his wife’s actions in a new light. This interpretation reminds readers to be open to different perspectives and to not hastily judge others based on their actions.

Exploitation and morality: The story raises questions about the morality of exploiting others‘ foolishness for personal gain. Hans benefits from the gullible actions of the woman and her son, which could be seen as unethical. This interpretation invites readers to consider the moral implications of taking advantage of others, even if they are foolish or naïve.

Irony and humor: The tale employs irony and humor as the supposedly „wise“ Hans exploits the „simple folks“ for his own benefit. The title „Wise Folks“ is itself ironic, as the characters in the story display anything but wisdom. The humor and irony provide a lighthearted and entertaining approach to the tale, allowing readers to enjoy the story while reflecting on the underlying messages.

Summary of the plot

„Wise Folks“ is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm that tells the story of a peasant named Hans who entrusts his wife, Trina, to sell their three cows for no less than two hundred thalers. He warns her that if she does anything foolish, he will beat her with a stick. A cattle-dealer visits Trina and agrees to pay the asked price, but he forgets his money-belt. He takes two cows, leaving the smallest one as a pledge. When Hans returns, he is angry at Trina’s foolishness but decides not to beat her if he can find someone even more foolish in three days.

Hans waits by the road and soon spots a woman standing upright in a wagon instead of sitting or walking beside the oxen. She believes Hans has fallen from Heaven and asks about her deceased husband there. Hans plays along, explaining the man’s difficulties with shepherding and his tattered clothes. The woman decides to send her husband money through Hans, who hides the purse in his pocket. The woman’s son later tries to find the man from Heaven, and Hans tricks him into lending his horse to find the man.

In the end, Hans returns home with the horse and the money, and Trina is spared a beating because Hans has found two people even more foolish than her. They both acknowledge the benefits they reaped from others‘ stupidity, and the story concludes with the reader being asked to appreciate the simple folks.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 104
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 1384
Translations DE, EN, DA, ES, PT, FI, HU, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH,
Readability Index by Björnsson29.2
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index84
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level6.5
Gunning Fog Index9.1
Coleman–Liau Index6.7
SMOG Index7.5
Automated Readability Index6.6
Character Count8.085
Letter Count6.098
Sentence Count80
Word Count1.592
Average Words per Sentence19,90
Words with more than 6 letters148
Percentage of long words9.3%
Number of Syllables1.932
Average Syllables per Word1,21
Words with three Syllables44
Percentage Words with three Syllables2.8%
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