Course Hero. "Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) Study Guide." Course Hero. 6 Oct. 2017. Web. 21 Sep. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fairy-Tales-of-Hans-Christian-Andersen-Selected/>.
Course Hero. (2017, October 6). Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 21, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fairy-Tales-of-Hans-Christian-Andersen-Selected/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) Study Guide." October 6, 2017. Accessed September 21, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fairy-Tales-of-Hans-Christian-Andersen-Selected/.
Course Hero, "Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) Study Guide," October 6, 2017, accessed September 21, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fairy-Tales-of-Hans-Christian-Andersen-Selected/.
Little Claus is so poor he and his one horse must work for Big Claus six days a week just so Big Claus will let him have his four horses on Sunday to do his own work. At first Little Claus seems naïve about the arrangement. He proudly calls the horses his own while he talks to folks on their way to church—a habit that angers Big Claus so much, he kills the one horse belonging to Little Claus.
Little Claus skins the dead animal and carries the hide in a sack to sell in town. On his way he comes to a farmhouse, and looking in a window sees the farmer's wife entertaining the sexton with a wonderful feast in the absence of the farmer. The approach of her husband causes the wife to hide the sexton in a trunk and remove all the food from the table. As soon as the farmer reaches the door, he spots Little Claus and invites him inside.
Little Claus tries to persuade the husband and wife he has a conjurer in his sack. Knowing where the wife has hidden all the good food and drink, Little Claus tells them where the sacked conjurer has hidden food, and the farmer's wife has no option but to pull everything out. A bit drunk, the farmer asks if the conjurer can summon a devil. Little Claus is more than happy to comply, saying there's one in the trunk, but to be careful because he's particularly ugly. The farmer, who can't stand sextons, opens the lid and sees the cowering sexton hiding in the trunk. He is convinced the sexton is a devil.
The farmer thinks he'd very much like to buy the conjurer in the sack from Little Claus, since he's so handy to have around. Little Claus demurs until offered a bushel filled to the brim with money. The farmer adds that Little Claus might as well also take the trunk away with him, so the devil in it won't be a bother. Little Claus loads the bushel of money and the trunk onto his wheelbarrow, intending to toss the trunk into the river with the sexton in it. The sexton pleads for his life and gives Little Claus another bushel of money to let him go.
Big Claus wonders how Little Claus came into so much money, and when told about the sale of the sack with the horsehide in it, he kills all his own horses. He skins them, but fails to get any money for the hides. Realizing Little Claus has tricked him, he attempts to murder Little Claus in the middle of the night while he's sleeping in his bed. Big Claus doesn't know little Claus's grandmother has died, and Little Claus has placed the body in his own bed.
Little Claus isn't done with his grandmother's remains. He manages to gain another bushel of money by convincing the innkeeper the latter has killed his grandmother in a fit of temper. Big Claus is very interested in how Little Claus has managed to profit from his dead grandmother. In an attempt to duplicate this lucrative outcome, he kills his own grandmother.
Yet again Big Claus is disappointed to discover dead grandmothers do not bring in money. Folks around town are starting to think Big Claus is dangerously crazy. Big Claus captures Little Claus, puts him in a sack, and rolls him into the river to drown. But Little Claus has exchanged places with a cattle drover who is very old and wants to die. Big Claus is astonished to see Little Claus alive and with a fine herd of cattle, which Little Claus tells him were given to him by a river maiden. Never one to question his own greed, Big Claus persuades Little Claus to tie him up in a sack and dump him in the river so he, too, can get cattle from the river maiden.
Through clever manipulation of opportune events, withholding some information while revealing other details, and wise observation of human nature, Andersen's trickster Little Claus manages to turn the envy and greed of Big Claus entirely against him.
This story closely parallels the Norse tale of "Big Peter and Little Peter." Its Danish title is "Big Brother and Little Brother," suggesting sibling rivalry that would be familiar to young children. At the same time, the extreme violence and mounting death toll in the tale suggest its origins in the oral tradition rather than a children's story purely from Andersen's imagination. Folktales around the world abound with similar stories about poor but clever tricksters who manage to outwit more wealthy and foolish opponents.