Study Guide

Grimms' Fairy Tales Tales 1-10

By Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Tales 1-10

Tale 1: The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich

  • There's this beautiful princess who loves to play with her golden ball so of course she freaks out when it rolls down a well.
  • While she's crying, a frog asks her what's wrong. You know, how frogs do.
  • She tells him about the ball and he offers to get it for her…for a price. She offers him her jewels, crown, clothes (what, is she gonna strip for him?), but all he wants is to be her companion and hang out, eat, drink, and sleep with her (again, getting kind of creepy).
  • The princess agrees, but she knows she isn't going to keep her promise, so she grabs the ball as soon as the frog finds it and then runs home to her swanky palace.
  • The next day, while she's eating from her little golden plate with her father the king and all the courtiers (see what we mean by swanky?) the frog knocks super-loudly at the door and reminds the princess of her promise.
  • Frightened, she confesses to her dad and he tells her to keep her promise. 
  • She unhappily shares her meal with the frog and then has to carry him upstairs to her silken bed. The very thought of the slimy critter sharing her clean sheets grosses her out, but her father gets ticked at her for not helping someone who helped her, so she has to.
  • She puts the frog in a corner of the bedroom but he insists on sharing the bed with her, which enrages her so much that she picks him up and throws him against the wall. 
  • But then he turns into a prince. Bonus
  • The two talk a bunch so he can reveal that he was cursed by a wicked witch, and then they (chastely?) share the bed.
  • The next morning, some pimped-out carriages come to retrieve the new couple so the prince can go back to his kingdom. 
  • The prince's servant Iron Heinrich is there, and during the carriage ride there's this weird cracking noise that turns out to be each of the three iron bands Heinrich had secured around his heart to keep it from breaking of sorrow at his master's enchantment. 
  • So everyone lived happily ever after…but man, they don't make servants like they used to.

Tale 2: The Companionship of the Cat and the Mouse

  • A cat befriends a mouse and convinces her to go in on a jar of fat together, which they store in a church. 
  • The kitty-cat lies three times about being asked to be a godfather for his cousin's kittens, all while eating up the fat, making up a clever name for the kitten each time (Half-Gone and All-Gone, for example). 
  • Finally, when winter comes, the mouse suggests that they go eat the fat they've been saving. They go to the church, the mouse realizes what has actually happened, and starts ranting at the cat, who promptly threatens to eat up the mouse if she says another word. 
  • The mouse doesn't shut up, so the cat eats her. (Duh.)
  • The tale ends: "You see, that's the way of the world" (7). That's…cheery.

Tale 3: The Virgin Mary's Child

  • A poor woodcutter and his wife can't take care of their kid. The Virgin Mary shows up and offers to take care of the daughter. Phew, no need to ditch the kid in the woods.
  • Living in Heaven is pretty sweet: this girl gets to eat cake and drink sweet milk. Angels play with her. She wears gold clothes. Like ya do.
  • One day the Virgin Mary tells the girl she's going on a trip, and gives her the keys to the thirteen doors to the kingdom of heaven to look after. She can look into the first twelve doors but not the final one. We all know how this is going to go, right?
  • The girl looks into the first twelve rooms and sees dazzling light and apostles and other cool stuff. She's tempted to open the final door and all the angels tell her not to since it'd be a sin, it's been forbidden, bad things will happen to her, blah blah blah. 
  • Of course she opens the door. She sees the Holy Trinity sitting there in light and splendor and gets a smudge of golden light on her finger, which won't come off no matter how hard she scrubs it. Hey, it's better than super glue.
  • The Virgin Mary comes home and asks whether she opened the door. The girl denies it. She asks again, and a third time, and the girl still refuses to admit that she disobeyed the order.
  • So the Virgin Mary boots the girl from heaven, and she has to live in this horrible forest. She basically lives in a tree, eating nuts and berries, and all her clothes shred and fall off until she's only covered in her long golden hair.
  • The king of the land is hunting and he sees this beautiful girl covered in golden hair. Which is not creepy or anything. By the way, she's at least fourteen years old, which was probably legal back then? We hope.
  • He chats her up, or, well, tries, since the Virgin Mary had caused her mouth to shut when she was cast out of heaven (how did she eat? Maybe juice diets were popular back then?).
  • The king asks if she'd like to go back to his castle, and she nods a little, so at least it's not like he kidnaps her. 
  • And of course, he falls in love with her because she's so beautiful. They get married. 
  • But wait. The story doesn't end here. No siree.
  • The girl (now a queen) gives birth to a child, and the Virgin Mary appears and demands that she tells the truth about opening the forbidden door. 
  • She offers to open the queen's mouth if she confesses, but threatens to take away the newborn baby if she denies it. 
  • This girl is one stubborn queen, so she refuses to confess that she opened the door. You can guess what happens next.
  • The same thing happens twice more, at which point the people are convinced that the queen is an ogress who eats her own children. The king is persuaded to let her be burned at the stake.
  • Finally, looking at the fire surrounding her, the queen wishes she could repent, and magically, she can. 
  • The Virgin Mary loosens her tongue and restores her three kids to her (they were also living the high life in heaven) and reminds the readers, er, the maiden, that those who confess their sins will be forgiven.

Tale 4: A Tale About the Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was

  • A father has two boys. The elder one is hard-working and the younger one is, well, stupid. 
  • He's so stupid, in fact, that he doesn't understand what people mean when they say they have the creeps or are afraid. Much mockery ensues.
  • A sexton (basically a church-dude) offers to teach the boy the creeps, so he takes the boy and gives him the task of ringing the church bell. 
  • The sexton dresses in white to scare the boy while he's ringing the bell, but things don't go as planned and the boy tosses him down the stairs instead. 
  • Horrified, the sexton's wife complains about how the boy broke her husband's leg, so the boy's father kicks him out of their village.
  • The boy walks along muttering about how he wants to get the creeps so he can see what all the fuss is about. 
  • One guy tries to take advantage of him by charging him for advice: he tells the boy to sleep with a bunch of corpses on the gallows, but this doesn't faze the kid.
  • There's a haunted castle nearby with a ton of treasures, but people keep dying when they try to spend three nights there. Whoever succeeds will wed the king's daughter, who's the most beautiful maiden in the land. Sweet deal if you can survive.
  • The boy accepts the challenge and asks for a fire, a lathe, and a carpenter's bench to take in with him. 
  • Freaky things show up—demonic cats, a bed that runs around with him on it, dismembered but animated corpses, a malevolent old man—but the boy either beats them up or ignores them altogether.
  • Boom. He's accomplished his feat. He gets the riches and the maiden. When he's still complaining about not knowing what the creeps are, she pours a bucket of cold water full of minnows on him so he can finally get the creeps. Now that's love.
  • Also, side lesson: don't try scaring kids, because you'll get your leg broken.

Tale 5: The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids

  • A mother goat has seven kids (which is actually what they call baby goats—for real). She goes to the forest, and warns the kids to keep an eye out for the wolf, who can be recognized by his black feet and rough voice.
  • The wolf comes knocking and disguises his feet and voice. The kids all scramble to hide, but he finds and gobbles up all but the youngest.
  • Mama goat returns and is distraught to only find the youngest at home. 
  • They locate the wolf snoozing, and suspect that the other kids are still alive in his belly. The wolf is sleeping so deeply they cut open his belly, and out leap the kids, all safe and sound. 
  • They stitch stones into the wolf's belly, and he drowns when he goes to take a drink in the well. Problem solved.
  • By the way, if you're looking for another tale like this one, you might check out "Tale 26," a.k.a. "Little Red Cap."

Tale 6: Faithful Johannes

  • This king knows he's dying, so he instructs his servant Faithful Johannes to look after his son in every way but not to let him see the portrait of the Princess of the Golden Roof, because then he'll fall in love with her. Which will put him in danger, apparently.
  • Old king dies; new king wants to see all his new stuff. Faithful Johannes shows him everything but the forbidden room. Young king flips out and demands to see it, then faints when he sees the portrait of this princess.
  • When he comes to, the king goes on about how much he loves her, needs to win her, blah blah blah. 
  • So Faithful Johannes comes up with a plan: this chick really digs gold (does that make her a gold-digger?) so they commission a bunch of pretty things from goldsmiths and set sail.
  • Faithful Johannes goes incognito, lures the princess onto the ship to look at their golden wares, and they sail off. Not shady at all, right? 
  • Luckily she consents to be the king's wife upon meeting him.
  • On the voyage back, Faithful Johannes overhears three ravens talking. You know, as they do.
  • Each one reveals a threat to the maiden, king, or both; however, if someone reveals that Faithful Johannes knows this info, he'll turn entirely to stone. Faithful Johannes is mildly angsty about all this but decides to serve his master even if it means giving up his life.
  • First threat? An amazing horse will steal away the king forever. Faithful Johannes shoots it. Other servants are all, what the what? King is like, let it be, he's my loyal servant.
  • Second threat? A dazzling bridal outfit that will burn the king alive. Faithful Johannes tosses it into the fire. Again, other servants get ticked off, and again, the king is like whatevs.
  • Third threat? At the wedding celebration, the bride falls down as though dead. Faithful Johannes knows to take her to a room and suck three drops of poisoned blood from her right breast. The king is there the whole time, so this is awkward.
  • Finally, the king is pissed enough to throw Faithful Johannes into prison and sentence him to death…for saving his new wife's life.
  • Faithful Johannes confesses why he did everything, and is subsequently turned to stone. The king and queen are super sad about this. 
  • The stone figure communicates to the king that he'd be turned back if the king beheads his new kids and rubs the statue with their blood.
  • The king kills his kids while his wife's in church, thus disenchanting Faithful Johannes.
  • Luckily he can put their heads back on and bring them back to life. So they all live happily ever after.

Tale 7: The Good Bargain

  • A farmer tosses money into a pond so frogs can count it and gives his slaughtered cow to dogs so they can sniff it. He's not the brightest crayon in the box.
  • The farmer goes to the king to complain about the behavior of the frogs and dogs, which makes the king's daughter laugh. Apparently the king has promised her hand to whoever makes her laugh. 
  • The farmer doesn't want another wife, though, and manages to say so in the most insulting way possible.
  • The king says he'll give the farmer "five hundred" if he comes back. Thinking it's money, the farmer promises some to a guard and the rest to a Jew. 
  • Turns out the king meant lashes, so now the Jew's whining about the pain, but the king thinks it's funny so he gives the farmer some actual money.
  • Wanting revenge, the Jew slanders the farmer in front of the king, but due to some trickery, the Jew is beaten again and the farmer feels like he's finally made a good bargain. Because other people's pain is hilarious (and at the time, so was casual and offensive anti-Semitism).

Tale 8: The Marvelous Minstrel

  • A minstrel is walking alone in the woods and wants someone to hang with. 
  • He plays a tune and a wolf, fox, and rabbit all show up, but he tricks each of them into getting stuck somewhere so they quit bothering him. We guess they're not cool enough.
  • The animals all free themselves, then go to exact revenge on the minstrel. 
  • Luckily, the minstrel attracts with his music a human buddy—a woodcutter with an ax—who drives off the animals. 
  • The minstrel is pleased with himself, plays another tune for the woodcutter, and wanders off again. Minstrels gonna minst.

Tale 9: The Twelve Brothers

  • A king and queen have twelve sons. The king for whatever screwed-up reason says to his wife that if their next child is a girl, he's going to kill the boys so she can inherit the whole kingdom. Okay then.
  • The king's a proactive kind of guy, so he has twelve coffins made just in case. 
  • The queen, who's super-sad and cries all the time, eventually breaks the news to her youngest son. 
  • The kids, obviously, freak out. They devise a system where the queen'll raise a different colored flag based on the gender of the newborn so the kids know whether to flee or not.
  • Surprise! It's a girl! The boys run off into the wilderness and angrily vow to kill every girl they meet since a girl cost them everything, almost their lives. Yeah, that sounds totally fair.
  • The girl grows up not knowing she had siblings, but eventually finds her brothers' shirts and asks whose they are. Her mother spills the truth, and the girl goes off to find her brothers.
  • She shows up: youngest brother is like, who are you? She's also like, who are you? 
  • Luckily she brought the twelve shirts along so they recognize each other. He tricks the other brothers, who are out hunting, into agreeing not to kill the next girl they meet. Family reunion. Everyone's happy. (So it's not like an actual family reunion in that sense. Those things are way more fun on paper.)
  • One day the maiden accidentally picks some enchanted lilies, which turn her brothers into ravens. Oops. An old woman advises her that if she spends seven years silent, neither speaking nor laughing, that she can change them back. So she finds a tree to sit in and spins silently for a long time.
  • A king comes hunting and sees this beautiful maiden sitting in a tree. She also has a golden star on her forehead, like ya do. He asks her to be his wife, and she nods. Close enough.
  • The king's mother is a grinch so she begins to say evil things about the maiden. The king doesn't listen for a while, but eventually has to give in, listen to the accusations, and sentence her to death.
  • Luckily, the seven years are almost up. As the maiden's bound to the burning pyre, the twelve ravens come swooping in, touch down, and turn into her twelve brothers. 
  • Now the maiden can explain why she had to be quiet. The king's mother is killed instead and everyone except her lives happily ever after.

Tale 10: Riffraff

  • A rooster and a hen build a carriage, to which they harness a duck. 
  • A pin and a needle hitch a ride from them, and they bargain with an innkeeper to let them stay in exchange for an egg from the hen and for the duck (because selling your companions into slavery is totally cool). 
  • The rooster and hen wake up early, eat their own egg (cannibalism, much?), position the needle and pin maliciously, and take off. 
  • The innkeeper wakes up and stabs himself on the eggshells, the pin, and the needle. No one's around to pay the tab, so between all these annoyances, he swears never to let riffraff stay at his inn again. Good idea, innkeeper.

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