Study Guide

Grimms' Fairy Tales Quotes

  • Coming of Age

    Soon the twig grew and quickly became a beautiful tree. Three times every day Cinderella would go and sit beneath it and weep and pray, and each time, a little white bird would also come to the tree. Whenever Cinderella expressed a wish, the bird would throw her whatever she had requested. (Cinderella.80)

    Yeah, it sucks when your mother dies, but Cinderella teaches us to turn lemons into lemonade: pray at the tree growing over your mother's grave, and it'll help you get ahead in life. Definitely a smart strategy for young orphans, and a useful lesson for budding adults.

    [Hans] met the shabby little man in gray clothes, who asked him what he had in the basket. In reply, Hans said that he had apples for the king's daughter to help her regain her health. "Well," said the little man, "then so be it, and so shall it remain." (The Griffin.489)

    Characters like Hans demonstrate their maturity by telling the truth about their intentions, even to weird-looking strangers in the forest. And that almost always pays off.

    Since the old woman had spoken so kindly to her, the maiden plucked up her courage and agreed to enter her service. She took care of everything to the old woman's satisfaction and always shook the bed so hard that the feathers flew about like snowflakes. In return, the woman treated her well: she never said an unkind word to the maiden, and she gave her roasted or boiled meat every day. (Mother Holle.89)

    Being a humble and hardworking young person is pretty much the way to guarantee that you are treated as an adult. Which is kind of still true today, right?

    My God!" exclaimed the old man. "You are indeed my son," and the love for his child aroused his heart. "But," he added, "how can you be my son? You're a grand gentleman and live in wealth and luxury. How did you come by all of this?" (The Master Thief.553)

    Kids change when they grow up, sometimes so much that even their own parents don't recognize them. The son's physical appearance being different than his father remembers also reflects how he has changed. No longer their little darling, he's now a professional thief with a rather loose set of morals. So yeah, the parenting didn't go so well in this one.

    [T]he second son set out to look for the golden bird. Like the oldest son, he too met the fox, who gave him good advice that he did not heed. He came to the two inns and saw his brother at the windows of the inn in which there were sounds of carousing. When he his brother called out to him, he could not resist; he went inside and began living only to satisfy his lust. (The Golden Bird.200)

    Part of being an adult involves delaying pleasure and gratification. But we can start that tomorrow….

    Now the maiden lived all alone in the cottage. She kept herself bust by spinning, weaving, and sewing. The blessings of the good old woman graced everything she did. It seemed as though the flax in the room increased by itself, and whenever she had woven a piece of clothing or a rug or had sewn a shirt, then a buyer immediately appeared and gave her plenty of money. (Spindle, Shuttle, and Needle.546)

    Being industrious is a good way to attract a wealthy patron or mate. Double bonus points for girls who are awesome at domestic tasks. In this case, a prince chooses to marry this maiden because she embodies being simultaneously rich and poor (the implication being that external poverty is okay if you're industrious and humble). And if the goal of growing up is to get yourself hitched, well this is definitely one way to go about it.

    The gate was locked, but she was prepared to take out the drumstick. Yet, when she began unfolding the cloth, she found it was empty. […] She wanted to rescue her brothers but did not have a key to the glass mountain. So the good sister took a knife, cut off a little finger, stuck it in the gate, and was fortunate enough to unlock it. (The Seven Ravens.92)

    Sacrifice. It's not for the weak. You didn't need that finger anyway, right?

    The witch intended to close the oven door once Gretel had climbed inside, for the witch wanted to bake her and eat her too. But Gretel sensed what she had in mind and said, "I don't know how to do it. How do I get in?" […] Then Gretel gave her a push that sent her flying inside and shut the iron door and bolted it. (Hansel and Gretel.57-58)

    Gretel has spent a lot of this tale crying (when their parents abandon them multiple times, when the witch captures them, and so on), but in this scene she finally grows up and shows that she has what it takes to survive childhood.

    At length the three of them traveled together and came to an anthill. The two oldest wanted to smash it and watch small ants crawl around in fright and carry away their eggs, but Simpleton said, "Leave the little creatures in peace. I won't let you disturb them." (The Queen Bee.232)

    Once a bully, always a bully. Kindness always goes a long way in fairy tales, especially when it comes to gaining help that aids you in winning a princess's hand. Being a brute, on the other hand, probably means you'll remain princess-less for a while yet.

    There is also another tale about how Little Red Cap returned to her grandmother one day to bring some baked goods. Another wolf spoke to her and tried to entice her to leave the path, but this time Little Red Cap was on her guard. (Little Red Cap.95-96)

    Learn your lessons, children. Or get eaten by a wolf and never advance to adolescence or adulthood.

  • Religion

    Once upon a time there was a hermit who lived in the forest at the foot of a mountain, and he passed the time by praying and doing good deeds. To honor God he would carry several pails of water up the mountainside each evening. Since there was always a hard wind that dried out the air and soil in the mountain peak, many an animal was able to quench its thirst because of the water he carried, and many a plant was refreshed. (The Three Green Twigs.590)

    The best Christians, it's implied, lead a Christ-like life, devoid of, say, running water. We hope they're not too attached to fancy things like toilet paper.

    "My!" exclaimed the Jew. "What's the sense of all this fiddling? Please stop all this fiddling, sir. I have no desire to dance." The servant kept playing nevertheless, for he thought, You've skinned plenty of people, so now the thorns will give you some of your own treatment in return. (The Jew in the Thornbush.368)

    Holy anti-Semitism, Batman! This tale, along with a few others in the Grimms, expresses the negative attitudes that many European Christians held toward Jews, representing them as shrewd and deserving of punishment. It ain't pretty, but that's history.

    Then she fell to her knees, called out to the Lord, and prayed. Suddenly an angel appeared who closed one of the locks in the stream so the moat became dry and she could walk through it. Now she went into the garden accompanied by the angel. She caught sight of a beautiful tree of pears… she approached the tree and ate one of the pears with her mouth to satisfy her hunger. (The Maiden Without Hands.110)

    Even if your dad chops off your hands, the Lord will take care of you. Just, like, pray and stuff. Later in the tale, God even restores her hands, demonstrating that faith pays off.

    A light erupted above her, and the Virgin Mary descended with the two little sons at either side and the newborn daughter in her arms. She said to the queen kindly, "Those who repent their sins and confess will be forgiven." (The Virgin Mary's Child.10)

    But until you repent, holy figures like the Virgin Mary might make your life totally miserable. Religion is kind of a mixed bag in these tales, if we're being honest.

    So the Lord turned around and went across the street to the small house. No sooner had he knocked than the poor man already had the door open and asked the traveler to enter. (The Poor Man and the Rich Man.289)

    Attention: this is only a test. This is only a test. This is—oh, well, if you turned away God in disguise, you didn't just fail the test. You freakin' bombed it. Welcome to a religion where religious figures can test you incognito at any time and dole out rewards or punishments based on your actions.

    The old lady looked and saw her two children there. One was hanging on the gallows, the other broken on the wheel. "You see, that's what would have happened to them if they had lived longer and God had not taken them to himself as innocent children." The old lady went home trembling and thanked God on her knees for having shown her more kindness than she had been able to understand. (The Little Old Lady.593)

    The lesson here is (and yes, this is yelling): DO NOT QUESTION GOD'S JUDGMENT. Just don't. Seriously. Don't.

    The village priest had taken a liking to the farmer's wife and kept wishing he could spend one whole day alone with her in pleasure. The woman would have liked that too. (Old Hildebrand.321)

    Even priests aren't always holy in these tales. In fact, sometimes they're cads and deserve the punishments that the protagonists dole out. Did we mention religion was a mixed bag in Grimms'?

    "If the devil comes home and finds you, it will cost you your neck." (The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs.104)

    Not only does the devil want your soul, he also wants to eat you! Sounds like a great guy.

    "If you hire yourself out to me and will be my servant," the devil said, "you'll have enough for the rest of your life. But you've got to serve me seven years, and after that you'll be free." (The Devil's Sooty Brother.337-338)

    The devil's not all bad once you get on his good side. So we end up getting a pretty multifaceted image of the devil (like all religious figures) in these tales. What are some other tales that feature the devil? And what kind of impression do you get of the guy?

    Eventually, the children lost their patience, and one Sunday they waited until the nixie was in church and then ran away. (The Water Nixie.267)

    Nixies are supernatural critters, but they still go to church? Yeah, it's mind-bending, but just go with it. Non-humans in fairy tales (ranging from nixies to animals) are often given human ideals and identities (a little thing we like to call anthropomorphism, and religion's just one of 'em.

  • Transformation

    The king had never seen a flower as beautiful as that. His son then said to him, "Now I'll show her to you in her true form," and he wished the flower to become a maiden. All at once she was there and so beautiful that no painter could ever have made her look more beautiful. (The Pink Flower.264)

    It is kind of cool when your boyfriend can transform you into a flower for safekeeping. Oh wait. It's creepy.

    Marlene went to her dresser and took out her best silk neckerchief from the bottom drawer, gathered all the bones from beneath the table, tied them up in her silk kerchief, and carried them outside the door. There she wept bitter tears and laid the bones beneath the juniper tree. […] Then a beautiful bird flew out of the fire and began singing magnificently. […] Marlene was very happy and gay. It was as if her brother were still alive. (The Juniper Tree.160-161)

    We sure hope someone gathers our bones and puts them under a juniper tree when we die. This tale gives a tantalizing glimpse of life after death, as accomplished through multiple transformations.

    When they came to the third spring, the sister heard the babbling of the spring. "Whoever drinks of me will be turned into a deer. Whoever drinks of me will be turned into a deer." "Oh, brother!" the sister exclaimed. "Please don't drink, or else you'll be turned into a deer and run away from me." But the brother, who was already kneeling at the spring, leaned over and drank some of the water. Immediately after a few drops had touched his lips, he lay there in the form of a fawn. (Brother and Sister.39)

    Whoops. Curse those tricksy talking transformation springs. Although, this one does show how nature is often helpful when someone enters the wilderness with good intentions. The spring couldn't help being cursed, but it did warn the kids what would happen. The boy just wasn't paying attention. Silly kid.

    Once again the king danced with the beautiful maiden and thought that she had never been more beautiful. […] Then All Fur ran into the kitchen and cooked soup for the king. When the cook was away, she put the golden reel into the bowl. So, when the king found the reel at the bottom of the bowl, he summoned All Fur […] Then he seized her hand and held it tight, and when she tried to free herself and run away, the fur cloak opened a bit, and the dress of bright stars was unveiled. The king grabbed the cloak and tore it off her. Suddenly her gold hair toppled down, and she stood there in all her splendor unable to conceal herself any longer. (All Fur, 242)

    Though it seems a bit, er, forced, this scene shows the transformation of beautiful mystery woman to kitchen maid and back again. Makeover reality TV shows got nothing on fairy tales (and, in fact, their popularity may be linked; you read fairy tales as a kid, and graduate to reality TV when you're older and presumably have more sophisticated tastes, though still the same hunger for viewing transformations).

    This made the princess extremely angry, and after she picked him up, she threw him against the wall with all her might. "Now you can have your rest, you nasty frog!" However, when he fell to the ground, he was no longer a frog but a prince with kind and beautiful eyes. (The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich.4)

    Nope, she doesn't have to kiss the frog to turn him back into a prince in every version of this tale. Thank goodness; clammy kisses are disgusting. She'd much rather hurl the poor guy against a stone wall.

    In return the little man spun the straw into gold once again. (Rumpelstiltskin.195)

    It'd sure be nice to be able to spin straw into gold, though it'd probably wreak havoc on the economy. Given that the Industrial Revolution was one social context for these tales, though, it might make sense that they ponder the effects of the magically enhanced production of goods.

    The bridegroom was astonished and thought, She looks just like my Maid Maleen; I'd swear it was really her, but I'm sure she's a prisoner in the tower, or she's dead. (Maiden Maleen.575)

    Lovers, longtime friends, and even parents and children don't always recognize each other in fairy tales because of the transformations (both magical ones and natural ones like aging) that occur. It makes for some really awkward encounters.

    The fox went with him to a spring, dunked itself in the water, and came out as a market vendor who sold animals. The young man had to dunk himself into the water as well and was transformed into a little hamster. (The Little Hamster From the Water.551)

    Some transformations get you more bang for your buck. And, in this tale, the transformations are life-saving (the guy survives courting the princess) as well as spouse-obtaining. Bonus.

    "My father's after us, and he'll soon catch up. Wait, I'll turn you into a rosebush and myself into a rose, and I'll protect myself by hiding in the middle of the bush." (The Two Kings' Children.378)

    Giving your lover roses is so last century. Turning them into roses, on the other hand….

    When the witch was safe from the animals, she jumped down, touched him with a switch, and he was turned to stone. (The Two Brothers.225)

    Narnia has nothing on the Grimms.

  • Cunning and Cleverness

    So Brother Lustig handed him the knapsack through the bars of the gate, and Saint Peter hung it up beside his chair. Suddenly Brother Lustig said, "Now I wish myself into my knapsack." Within seconds he was inside the knapsack and inside heaven as well. So Saint Peter was obliged to let him stay there. (Brother Lustig.276)

    Tricking your way into heaven does take some craftiness. Of course, it also helps to have a magic wishing sack. But still, we can't imagine Brother Lustig's going to be all that popular up there.

    She looked at everything for many hours, and in her joy she did not notice that the ship had sailed. […] "Oh!" she cried out in horror. "You've deceived me!" (Faithful Johannes)

    Apparently, tricking a princess into accompanying you onto a ship is okay if you intend to marry her, and if your social status actually matches hers. This tale actually contains layers of deceit, which is all presented as totally justified so long as it's for a good cause (as when Faithful Johannes follows the advice of ravens to save his king, but has to lie about his intentions).

    Naturally, none of what the cat had said was true. He did not have a cousin, nor had he been asked to be godfather. He went straight to the church, crept to the little jar of fat, and began licking and licking until he had licked the skin off the top. (The Companionship of the Cat and the Mouse.5)

    Gotta watch out for those cats, they're tricksy fellows (especially gotta watch out if you're a mouse). And it just goes to show that if you make a pact with someone in these tales, we'll it's a fifty-fifty shot if you'll come out of it as planned.

    When the bear saw this, he felt like having some nuts too. So the little tailor reached into his pocket and gave him a handful. However, these were not nuts but small stones. The bear put them into his mouth and could not crack open any of them, no matter how much he tried. (The Clever Little Tailor.381)

    Yes, my friends, this tailor was clever enough to outwit a bear. And not just any bear, but a talking bear. Let's see you do that, Dwight Schrute.

    Gretel ran to see who was there, and when she saw the guest, she put her finger to her lips and whispered, "Shhh, be quiet! Get out of here as quick as you can! If my master catches you, you'll be done for. It's true he invited you to dinner, but he really wants to cut off both your ears. Listen to him sharpening his knife!" (Clever Gretel.265)

    Gretel, the servant, eats both the chickens intended for dinner that night, and tricks both the master and his guest into thinking something else is afoot. An early form of class-consciousness, or good clean fun?

    However, he granted her one last request; she could take the dearest and best thing that she could think of with her, and that was to be her parting gift. […] Then she embraced him, kissed him, and asked him to drink to her parting. He agreed, and she ordered a strong sleeping potion. The king took a big swig, but she only drank a little. Soon he fell into a deep sleep, and […] she drove him to her house and put him to bed. (The Clever Farmer's Daughter.321)

    There sure are a lot of tales with "clever" in the title, aren't there? In this case, interpreting a command literally is a way of getting away with something, and one-upping the commander when it comes to cunning.

    She put her two sisters into a basket and covered them completely with gold until nothing could be seen of them at all. Then she called the sorcerer to her and said, "Now take the basket away. But don't you dare stop and rest along the way! I'll be keeping an eye on you from my window." The sorcerer lifted the basket onto his back and went on his way. The basket, however, was so heavy that sweat ran down his face. At one point he sat down and wanted to rest for a while, but one of the sisters called from the basket, "I can see through my window that you're resting. Get a move on at once!" (Fitcher's Bird.157)

    Devising a way to smuggle your sisters out of a murderous sorcerer's house? That requires cunning times two, at least. This tale condones constructive cleverness (using it to save your own life) over destructive cleverness (how the sorcerer deceives girls when he gives them an egg to guard, basically setting them up to fail).

    "It's yours," the devil answered, "if you give me half of what your field produces during the next two years. […]" The peasant agreed to the bargain. "Just so that we do not quarrel about how to divide everything," he said, "you shall have everything that grows above the earth and I shall get everything beneath it." The devil was quite satisfied with the proposal, but the cunning little pleasant had planted turnips. (The Peasant and the Devil.548)

    Yep, in some fairy tales you can even trick the devil himself.

    Once upon a time there was an old fox with nine tails who believed that his wife was unfaithful to him and wanted to put her to the test. So he stretched himself out under the bench, kept perfectly still, and pretended to be dead as a doornail. (The Wedding of Mrs. Fox.136)

    When it doubt, play dead. It works every time.

    When the apple was ready, the queen painted her face and dressed herself up as a peasant woman, and crossed the seven mountains to the cottage of the seven dwarfs. (Snow White.186)

    What's the point of being an evil sorceress if you don't also get to disguise yourself from time to time? Not like it's all that necessary; Snow White lets the evil queen in disguise give her three poisonous things (the apple being the last) over time. Sometimes you don't even have to be all that cunning to off your naively trusting stepchild.

  • Loyalty

    Then Lena said to Foundling, "If you won't forsake me, I won't forsake you." "Never ever," said Foundling. (Foundling.175)

    How sweet: the kids are bonding. In order to escape their cannibalistic cook. Like ya do.

    Whenever he rejoined the shoemaker, he always had more in his knapsack than his companion, and the sullen shoemaker would look peevish and remark, "The bigger the fool, the greater his luck." But the tailor would only burst out laughing and begin singing. Whatever he earned, he would share with his companion. (The Two Travelers.354)

    Aw, the tailor is a sweet guy and always shares things with his traveling buddy, the shoemaker. Which in return gets him…his eyes poked out. Which, in the end, gets the shoemaker killed. So be brotherly, bro, or else.

    "If you ever should separate, stick this knife into a tree at the crossroad. Then if one of you comes back, he can see how his absent brother is doing, for the side of the blade facing the direction he took will rust if he's dying but stay bright as long as he's alive." (The Two Brothers.214)

    It's nice when family members keep tabs on each other. Though, at that point, you might as well tag 'em with a GPS chip.

    Since Unfaithful Ferdinand kept a grudge against Faithful Ferdinand, and since he also kept hearing the king lament, he finally said, "You have the outrider, don't you? Well, why don't you send him to find her, and if he doesn't bring her back, have him beheaded." (Faithful Ferdinand and Unfaithful Ferdinand.412)

    Obviously someone with your name will betray you. There can be only one.

    Now Hans put the maiden into the basket and ordered his companions to pull her up. The basket came down again, but Hans did not trust his two companions and thought, They have already shown themselves to be untrustworthy by not telling you about the dwarf. Who knows what they have up their sleeve now? So he put his staff into the basket, and it was lucky he did this, for they let the basket drop when it was halfway up, and if Hans had really been sitting in it, he would have died. (Strong Hans.497-498)

    Hans didn't give his companions any reason to betray him, but they did so because they felt jealous and threatened. Jealousy seems to be a major divisive force in these tales, doesn't it? It sure does explain why a lot of folks betray people they should definitely be loyal to.

    The sparrow realized that the wagon was heading straight down the lane in which the dog was lying and that it was not going to swerve. "Wagoner, don't do that, or I'll make you a poor man!" the sparrow cried out. "You won't make me poor!" the wagoner bellowed as he whipped the horses and drove the wagon over the dog, killing him with the wheels. (The Dog and the Sparrow.205)

    Interspecies friendships are the best. And the most vengeful. The sparrow goes on to wreak havoc on the wagoner's life, including killing him. So the loyalty of even small critters shouldn't be discounted.

    However, because it was so difficult to find them and everything went so slowly, he sat down on a stone and began to weep. While he was sitting on the stone and weeping, the king of the ants whose life he had once saved came along with five thousand ants, and it did not take long before the little creatures had gathered the pearls together and stacked them in a pile." (The Queen Bee.233)

    Friendly animals repay their debts. So quit stepping on ants.

    The king was horrified when he heard that he himself would have to kill his precious children. He recalled, nevertheless, the great fidelity of Faithful Johannes and how he had died for him. (Faithful Johannes)

    Faithfulness. Totally worth killing your kids for.

    One day Reginer said to her, "Dear sister, I want to paint your picture so that I may always see you before my eyes. My love for you is so great that I want to see you constantly." (The White Bride and the Black Bride.440)

    Okay, this line's kind of creepy, but it's still touching. And creepy. Brother-sister relationships are generally benevolent in these tales, though, so let's not go too far down the rabbit hole.

    "Oh," she said, "please be careful; don't kiss your parents on the right cheek when you arrive. Otherwise, you'll forget everything, and I'll remain alone and abandoned here in the field." "How can I forget you?" he said, and he gave her his oath that he would return very soon. (The Drummer.563)

    Ah, to be young again, and torn between feelings for your lover and loyalty to your family. Good times.

  • Marriage

    Now it happened that a prince came to the forest one day, and when he arrived at the dwarfs' cottage, he decided to spend the night. Then he went to the mountain and saw the coffin with beautiful Snow White inside. […] he said to the dwarfs, "Let me have the coffin, and I'll pay whatever you want." (Snow White.188)

    We're not sure which is more disturbing, the fact that he's basically trying to buy a bride, or the fact that he's attracted to a dead chick. Still, let's roll with it.

    The king then went over to the tree and saw the beautiful princess with the gold star on her forehead. He was so enraptured by her beauty that he called up to her and asked her if she would be his wife. She did not respond but nodded a little with her head. (The Twelve Brothers.35)

    Because marrying someone you just met who can't even give verbal consent is awesome. Oh wait, that's not right.

    So the king sent a message to the other bride telling her to return to her own kingdom, for he already had a wife, and whoever finds his old key does not need a new one. (The Twelve Huntsmen.246)

    You know, since wives are just like keys. At least the tale ended in marriage for someone.

    Then the king said, "You've saved the castle and shall marry my daughter." (A Tale About the Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was.18)

    You saved us! Here, have a princess.

    What!" said the wife. "I'm king, and you're just my husband. I want you to go there at once! And I mean, at once! If he can make a king, he can also make an emperor! Go to there at once!" (The Fisherman and His Wife.70)

    Wives are such nags. Why doesn't she give her poor husband (and the wish-granting flounder) a rest already? Okay okay, in all seriousness: what do you think is the point of depicting unhappy marriages in fairy tales?

    The king had a daughter who was very beautiful but also very strange, for she had made a vow that she would accept as her lord and master only a man who would let himself be buried alive with her if she should die first. (The Three Snake Leaves.59)

    Yeah, strange is one word for it. Aside from the fact that this girl has clearly lost her marbles, this quotes yet another example of the emphasis on marriage as a contract in these tales.

    "Could you tell me whether my bridegroom is here?" asked the bride. "Oh, you poor child!" the old woman answered. "Do you realize where you are? This is a murderers' den! You think you're a bride soon to be celebrating your wedding, but the only marriage you'll celebrate will be with death." (The Robber Bridegroom.143)

    Because marriage is a safe and sacred institution, which nobody ever uses as an excuse to abuse people. Oh, and next time, filter out "cannibalism" on your online dating preferences, okay?

    Just then the two sisters came in all dressed up in their best gowns, and when they saw that the handsome young man had chosen the youngest sister and had turned out to be Bearskin, they ran outside in rage and anger. One drowned herself in a well, the other hanged herself from a tree. (Bearskin.343)

    Marriage drama – from before reality TV, even. This quote also reinforces the idea that every woman's life goal should be to marry, and the richer the spouse, the better.

    So the marriage was celebrated, but the king's daughter was disturbed because her husband was a commoner who wore a shabby hat and an old knapsack on his back. She wanted very much to get rid of him and was constantly thinking of ways to do it. (The Knapsack, the Hat, and the Horn.192)

    This is why royalty should only ever marry royalty. Duh. Yet another example of fairy tales reinforcing social stereotypes.

    In times of old there lived a king and queen, and every day they said, "Oh, if only we had a child!" Yet, they never had one. (Brier Rose.171)

    According to these tales, no marriage is complete without children. Get to the baby-making already! Sheesh.

  • Appearances

    "Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who in this realm is the fairest of all?" (Snow White.181)

    Because being the fairest of all is the most important thing. Oh, and it's worth killing for, too.

    Meanwhile, the daughter that their mother, the queen, had brought into the world had grown to be a little girl. She had a kind heart and beautiful features and a gold star on her forehead. (The Twelve Brothers.33)

    We don't know what's up with the gold star, but the beauty = goodness equation is pretty clear here.

    [T]he rich man had a second wife, who brought along her two daughters. They had beautiful and fair features but nasty and wicked hearts. (Cinderella.79)

    Someone can be beautiful but still evil, so watch out. Remember, things aren't always what they seem.

    When he glimpsed the maiden's magnificent portrait, which glistened with gold and jewels, he fell to the ground unconscious. (Faithful Johannes.21)

    Looks can kill in fairy tales (almost).

    A poor widow lived all alone in a small cottage, and in front of this cottage was a garden with two rosebushes. One bore white roses and the other red. The widow had two children who looked like the rosebushes: one was called Snow White and the other Rose Red. (Snow White and Rose Red.475)

    Don't ask us how people look like rosebushes. Stuff like that just happens in fairy tales. The description also sets up a contrast between the two titular characters, leading us to expect different behavior from them.

    Nevertheless, the two oldest sons kept pestering the king until he set a third condition and proclaimed that whoever brought home the most beautiful woman would inherit the kingdom. (The Three Feathers.235)

    Do we get a kingdom for bringing home a beautiful woman, too? Probably not. But then again, we don't live in the countryside of early modern Europe, so things look a bit different from where we stand.

    Now, the king had a daughter who was just as beautiful as her dead mother, and she also had the same golden hair. When she was grown-up, the king looked at her one day and realized that her features were exactly the same as those of his dead wife. Suddenly he fell passionately in love with her and said to his councilors, "I'm going to marry my daughter, for she is the living image of my dead wife." (All Fur, 239)

    (1) Creepy creepy creepy creepy. (2) Genetics in fairy tales seem to work, um, in interesting ways since people can grow up looking exactly like one parent. To be fair, it would be even creepier if she had, say, her dad's eyes.

    The next morning Simpleton took the goose in his arm, set out, and did not bother himself about the three sisters who were stuck to the goose. They were compelled to run after him constantly, left and right, wherever his legs took him. In the middle of a field they came across the parson, and when he saw the procession, he said, "Shame on you, you naughty girls! Is that the right way to behave?" (The Golden Goose.237)

    Sometimes appearances, whether truthful or deceptive, are just hilarious. It's a good reminder that in addition to their other social functions, fairy tales are meant to entertain.

    The wedding day had been set, and the bride-to-be had already arrived, but because of her ugliness she had locked herself in her chamber and would not let anyone see her. (Maid Maleen.575)

    Sucks to be ugly in a fairy tale. No seriously. It's really bad news.

    Once again the fox implored him to shoot him dead and cut off his head and paws. This time the prince did it, and no sooner was it done than the fox turned into none other than the brother of the beautiful princess, who was finally released from a magic spell that had been cast over him. (The Golden Bird.204)

    Appearances can be deceiving. Which is why it's important to be nice to everyone you meet in fairy tales.

  • Justice and Judgment

    She then told the king how the evil witch and her daughter had committed cruel crimes against her. So the king had them led before the court, and they received their sentences. The daughter was taken into the forest, where wild beasts tore her to pieces, while the witch was thrown into a fire and miserably burned to death. (Brother and Sister.42)

    If you commit a crime in a fairy tale, for goodness' sake don't get caught. Maybe the punishments are so harsh because we're in fantasyland, and maybe because parents are trying to scare kids into behaving properly. Plus, kids can be a bloody-thirsty lot; maybe these bits were in there to appease the little savages.

    Along the way, however, they were attacked by so many lizards and snakes that they could not protect themselves. The wicked girl was finally stung to death, and the mother was stung all over her feet for not having raised her daughter in a proper way. (Saint Joseph in the Forest.586)

    If you are guilty of poor child-rearing practices, be prepared for some nasty animal bites. Oh, and watching one of your kids die.

    The greedy king set out as fast as he could, and when he came to the river, he signaled the ferryman to take him across. The ferryman came and told him to get into the boat, and when they reached the other side, the ferryman put the pole into his hand and ran away. From then on the king was compelled to ferry people back and forth a punishment for his sins. (The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs.106)

    Yeah, let's punish all the greedy people with eternal forced servitude. Hm, how many people would that leave in the world?

    "There will be no mercy," said the old king. "He was ready to die with you and brought you back to life, but you killed him in his sleep, and now you shall receive your just reward." (The Three Snake Leaves.61)

    Betrayal often has the most severe consequences in these tales. Why do you think that is?

    The evil queen was so petrified with fright that she could not budge. Iron slippers had already been heated over a fire, and they were brought over to her with tongs. Finally, she had to put on the red-hot slippers and dance until she fell down dead. (Snow White.188)

    What a way to go. Then again, she did try to kill her stepdaughter like four times. So maybe dancing to death isn't so cruel and unusual here. Either way, we're glad we don't own those shoes.

    And the ungrateful son had to feed the toad every day; otherwise, it would have eaten away part of his face. Thus the son wandered about the world without a moment of rest. (The Ungrateful Son.459)

    Getting really creative with the punishments, eh? This is one of those tales with a super-important moral, though: don't hoard food and don't be unkind to your parents. Which makes sense, given that these tales were supposed to indoctrinate kids with proper values (among which would be the message to be grateful to their parents).

    Then he used force and beat the Jew until he was nearly dead. Just as the Jew was on the point of death, he uttered his last words, "The bright sun will bring it to light!" Upon saying this, he died. (The Bright Sun Will Bring It to Light.383)

    Spoiler: the sun brings this dude's crimes to light, and he's punished. So cross murder off the list of things you can get away with in fairy tales.

    "Can your name be Rumpelstiltskin?" "The devil told you! The devil told you!" the little man screamed, and he stamped so ferociously with his right foot that his leg went deep into the ground up to his waist. Then he grabbed the other foot angrily with both hands and ripped himself in two. (Rumpelstiltskin.196)

    Because it's totally fair for him to have to die when the stupid miller's daughter tried to get out of her side of the bargain by keeping her child in exchange for guessing his name. Wait. None of this is fair.

    On the day that the wedding was to take place, the two false sisters came to ingratiate themselves and to share in Cinderella's good fortune. When the bridal couple set out for the church, the oldest sister was on the right, the younger on the left. Suddenly the pigeons pecked out one eye from each of them. And as they came back from the church later on the oldest was on the left and the youngest on the right, and the pigeons pecked out the other eye from each sister. Thus they were punished with blindness for the rest of their lives due to their wickedness and malice. (Cinderella.84)

    The quote says it all, so Shmoop shall say nothing.

    When she looked at him, she saw it was King Thrushbeard again, and he said to her in a friendly way, "Don't be afraid. I and the minstrel who lived with you in the wretched cottage are one and the same person. I disguised myself out of love for you, and I was also the hussar who rode over your pots and smashed them to pieces. I did all that to humble your proud spirit and to punish you for the insolent way you behaved toward me." (King Thrushbeard.180)

    Gotta keep those women down so they don't get too proud. Hey, that's the Grimms' take—not Shmoop's.

  • Society and Class

    "We'll never accept Simpleton as king!" They demanded that preference be shown to the one whose woman could jump through a hoop hanging in the middle of the hall, for their thought, Peasant women can do that easily. They're very strong, but the delicate maiden will jump to her death. (The Three Feathers.235)

    Peasants. Can't live with 'em, can't treat 'em like property…oh wait, yeah, you can.

    After they lived together for a few years, the king's mother, who was an evil woman, began to slander the young queen and said to the king, "The maiden you brought home with you is nothing but a common beggar girl! Who knows what godless mischief she's been secretly plotting?" (The Twelve Brothers.35)

    Apparently this woman's take is that poor people are inherently awful. And for proof, she presents…nothing.

    There was once a lazy maiden who did not want to spin, and no matter what her mother said, she refused to spin. Finally, her mother became so angry and impatient that she beat her, and her daughter began to cry loudly. (The Three Spinners.50)

    If there's one lot that's worse than being poor in these tales, it's being lazy. Because how can you rise above your poverty, if you're not industrious?

    Now Gambling Hans began gambling in earnest, and soon he was on the verge of winning half the world. At this point Saint Peter said to God, "Lord, this won't do. Soon he'll win the whole world. We must send Death after him." (Gambling Hans.276)

    The message here seems to be something along the lines of, we must keep the natural social order in place, or else. Perhaps this is one of the reasons gambling is so frowned upon: it contains the possibility of upsetting the social order, and showering money on folks who've barely seen a dime.

    "Not at all," said Saint Peter. "You're just as dear to us as anybody else, and you are entitled to all the heavenly joys just as much as the rich man. But, look, poor fellows like you come to heaven every day, while a rich man like this comes to us only once in a hundred years." (The Peasant in Heaven.499)

    Oh, snap.

    "I served the king faithfully, but he sent me away and let me starve. Now I want to get my revenge for that." "What shall I do?" asked the dwarf. "Late tonight, when the king's daughter is in bed, I want you to bring her here in her sleep. I shall make her work like a maid for me." (The Blue Light.385)

    Poor or rich, turning the tables is hilarious.

    The princess had to put up with that. Moreover, the chambermaid spoke rudely to her and ordered her to take off her royal garments and to put on the maid's shabby clothes. Finally, she had to swear under open skies that she would never tell a soul at the royal court what the chambermaid had done. If the princess had not given her word, she would have been killed on the spot. (The Goose Girl.297-298)

    Those servants with their ambitions! They're always getting in the way of royalty's desires.

    So the rich brother had the turnip loaded on his wagon and driven to his home. Once there he did not know on whom to vent his anger and frustration. Finally, some evil thoughts came to him, and he decided to kill his brother. He hired murderers and showed them a place where they were to ambush his brother. (The Turnip.460)

    Rich people can be really bratty in these tales, sure. But does that mean they deserve all the nasty things that happen to them (servants rising up, peasants trying to marry their daughters, etc.)?

    There once was a village where all the farmers were rich except one who was poor, and he was called Little Farmer. He did not even have a cow, much less the money to buy one. (Little Farmer.227)

    Bam! Social inequality right at the tale's start! Better yet, the poor guy triumphs over his rich neighbors, so we do get to watch the inequality evaporate.

    Once upon a time there was a poor but pious girl who lived alone with her mother. When they had nothing left to eat, the girl went out into the forest, where she met an old woman who already knew about her troubles and gave her a small pot. She instructed the girl to say to it, "Little pot, cook," for it would then make a good, sweet millet porridge. (The Sweet Porridge)

    Grinding poverty: the breakfast of champions.

  • Humility

    Once upon a time there was a man who was about to go on a long journey, and right before his departure he asked his three daughters what he should bring back to them. The oldest wanted pearls, the second, diamonds, but the third said, "Dear Father, I'd like to have a singing, springing lark." (The Singing, Springing Lark.292)

    Asking for riches is a surefire way to get your butt handed to you in fairy tales. But if you're patient and willing to undergo many trials and tribulations, as this heroine does, you're sure to be rewarded in the end…with a pet bird (and probably a husband).

    When they entered the hall, her husband was standing there in his royal attire, but she did not recognize him until he took her into his arms, kissed her, and said, "I suffered a great deal for you, and it was only right that you should also suffer for me." (The Six Servants.439)

    What, your new bride doesn't know the meaning of humility? Teach her a lesson, fair and square. But only if you're in a Grimm tale.

    "For he who worships God in every way, who suffers, waits, is meek, and prays, who keeps his faith and conscience pure, God will keep him safe and sure." (The Sparrow and His Four Children.473)

    There you have it, straight from the mouths (beaks?) of sparrows. This kind of anthropomorphic behavior is an effective way of showing just how universal the Christian belief system is believed to be in these tales.

    "Flounder, flounder, in the sea, if you're a man, then speak to me. Though I do not care for my wife's request, I've come to ask it nonetheless." "Well, what does she want?" the flounder asked. "Oh," he said, "she wants to be like God." "Go back home. She's sitting in your hovel again." (The Fisherman and His Wife.72-73)

    The lesson here? Be content with what you have, or it'll all be taken away. By a magical talking fish.

    [The] Virgin Mary appeared before her and said, "If you'll tell me the truth and confess that you unlocked the forbidden door, I'll open your mouth and give you back the power of speech. If you persist in your sin and stubbornly deny it, I shall take your newborn baby away with me." (The Virgin Mary's Child.9)

    And yet another lesson. This time, it's be humble and confess your sins, or bad stuff will happen. And when it's the Virgin Mary who's telling you this, well you'd better shut up and listen.

    "Can you tell me how to get to heaven?" "By poverty and humility," the old man answered. "Put on my tattered clothes, wander about the world for seven years, and learn all about its misery. Do not take any money, but when you're hungry, ask for a piece of bread from kindhearted people. This is how you'll find the way to heaven." (Poverty and Humility Lead to Heaven.588)

    The title says it all.

    He stopped his horse, looked through the window into the room that was brightened by the sunlight, and saw the maiden sitting at the spindle and spinning busily. She looked up, and when she noticed that the prince was peering inside, she blushed until her face became red, lowered her eyes, and continued spinning. (Spindle, Shuttle, and Needle.546)

    In this case, modesty is always the appropriate reaction when some guy you don't know peeks in your window all creepy-like (it must've worked, since they ended up married). Yeah, we've come a long way from the wayback days.

    After he rode on for a while, he came to a sea, where he discovered a fish lying on the shore and gasping for air. "Wait, my little fish," he said, "and I'll help you back into the water." (Faithful Ferdinand and Unfaithful Ferdinand.412)

    What a thoughtful guy. He's not above helping a poor fish out. As with other downtrodden protagonists, this act of kindness comes back to aid him later.

    At the old man's request she prepared some good soup, and when the bowl was on the table, she said, "I'm certainly not going to sit down and eat when these good animals have nothing. There's everything I need outside, and I'm going to take care of them first." (The House in the Forest.502)

    This tale's all about teaching young ladies to be so humble, giving, and selfless that they always delay their own gratification.

    The fox, consumed by his own arrogance, examined the cat from head to toe and pondered for some time whether he should deign to answer or not. (The Fox and the Cat.260)

    One character in this tale is super-arrogant, the other isn't. Guess which one makes it out alive.