Grimm's Fairy Tales (Selected)

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

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Grimm's Fairy Tales (Selected) | Plot Summary



The Brave Little Tailor

A tailor exults when he's able to kill seven flies with one swat. He decides to seek his fortune. After tricking two giants into killing each other, he wins the hand of the king's daughter. The king doesn't like this idea and sets the tailor more feats, all of which he accomplishes. But when he and the daughter marry, she is horrified to learn that he was once a tailor. She plots to have him kidnapped, but he foils the plan. The story says the tailor remains a king, but it does not address what happens to the tailor and his bride's marriage.

The Bremen Town Musicians

Four aging animals—a donkey, a dog, a cat, and a rooster—decide to leave their cruel masters and become musicians in the town of Bremen. On their way, they find a house occupied by robbers. The animals arrange themselves to resemble a huge monster; then each of them makes as much noise as he can. The terrified robbers flee and the animals settle in. But the robbers return that night to scope out the situation. One robber steals into the house. In the dark, he struggles with the dog and the cat and then flees. Back outside, he is frightened by the rooster and kicked by the donkey. He reports to the robber chief that the property is too dangerous to reoccupy. The robbers leave, and the four friends enjoy a comfortable life together.

Briar Rose

After a long wait, a king and queen have a beautiful baby daughter. The king arranges a celebratory feast and invites 12 Wise Women to ensure their support of the child. One Wise Woman, enraged at not having been invited, curses the baby: when she is 15, she will prick her finger on a spindle and die. Another Wise Woman is able to soften the curse, but the king makes sure to purge the kingdom of spindles, just in case.

When the princess turns 15, she discovers a hidden room in which an old woman is spinning. Curious, Briar Rose touches the spindle and immediately falls asleep, as do all the other sentient beings in the castle. The princess sleeps for a century. On the day the spell ends, a prince makes his way into the castle, falls in love with the sleeping princess, and kisses her. She wakes up, they fall in love and marry, and everyone is happy.


A rich man's wife dies, leaving him with their daughter. The man remarries, and his new wife and her two daughters are cruel to his daughter. They make her sleep on the hearth—hence the name "Cinderella"—and work as their servant. A local prince announces his intention to marry by holding a series of balls. With a bit of supernatural help, Cinderella attends the dances but always makes it home before being discovered. When she leaves one of her golden shoes behind, the prince finds her by having every woman in the kingdom try on the shoe. Cinderella is the only one it fits, and the prince marries her.

Clever Gretel

A confident, self-assured girl named Gretel works as a cook. One day her master tells her to roast two chickens for him and the guest he's expecting. When they're roasted, the chickens look so tempting that Gretel can't resist eating both of them and drinking all the wine meant for the two diners. She quickly comes up with a clever ruse in which the guest believes Gretel's master wants to cut off his ears and the master believes the guest has made off with the food and drink. The terrified guest runs home, and Gretel's secret is safe.

The Fisherman and His Wife

A fisherman and his wife, Ilsebill, are so poor they live in a pigsty. One day, the fisherman catches a huge flounder who turns out to be an enchanted prince. The fisherman frees the fish and returns home.

When his wife hears about the adventure, she becomes angry. She orders her husband to return to the sea, find the flounder, and ask him for a little cottage to replace the pigsty.

The fisherman returns home to find a nice little cottage waiting for him. For a little while his wife is content. But then she decides the cottage isn't big enough and tells the fisherman to find the flounder again. He obeys with a heavy heart and returns home to find a castle.

The fisherman's wife keeps asking for more, and the flounder keeps granting her wishes. She's even dissatisfied at becoming pope, deciding she now wants to be "like our dear God."

An apocalyptic storm rages as the fisherman reaches the shore. When the fish learns what the fisherman's wife wants this time, he says, "Go back home. She's sitting in her pigsty again." They live in the pigsty from then on.

The Frog King, or Iron Heinrich

On a hot day, a beautiful young princess is playing with a golden ball near a spring. The ball rolls into the water. A frog offers to fetch the ball if the princess lets him live with her. She promises, he brings up the ball, and the princess rushes away before he can catch up to her. The next day, the frog turns up at the palace. The king tells his daughter she must honor the bargain she made. Sulkily, she obeys. But that night, when the frog demands to be put into her bed, the princess throws him against the wall. He turns into a handsome prince. They fall in love and get married right away. Then they depart for the prince's kingdom.

The prince's servant, Heinrich, had put iron hoops around his chest to keep his heart from breaking when his master became a frog. He's so happy to see the prince back that his heart swells and the iron hoops burst one by one.


In this early version of "Cinderella," the king's beautiful wife dies after making him promise to marry only someone as beautiful as she. Their daughter grows into a young woman exactly as beautiful as her mother, and the king decides she's the one he should marry.

The daughter pretends to agree. She stalls her father by asking for three magical dresses and a cloak made of snippets of fur from every animal in the kingdom. These are made, and the girl escapes with her few possessions, carrying the dresses in a bag and wearing the cloak. She comes to a neighboring kingdom and finds work in the castle kitchen, but her life is wretched.

Furrypelts attends three balls in disguise, and the king of the neighboring kingdom falls in love with her. Each evening she slips away and resumes the drab appearance of a servant. On the third night, while dancing with her, the king slips a gold ring onto her finger without her noticing. This ring enables him to find her soon afterward, and they are married.

The Girl Without Hands

A miller makes a bad deal with a devil: if the miller gives the devil "what is standing behind your mill," the devil will make him rich. Unfortunately, what's standing behind the mill is not a tree, as the miller thinks, but his daughter. When the devil comes to claim her, he's unable to touch her because she's too clean. Furious, he orders the miller to cut his daughter's hands off. The miller obeys, and his daughter leaves home with her arms tied behind her back.

At length the girl without hands comes to a beautiful garden, where she helps herself to a single pear. She's spotted by the gardener, who alerts the king. He falls in love with the girl, fits her with silver hands, and marries her.

The devil hasn't forgotten about the girl. While the king is traveling, the devil sends him a forged letter telling him the new queen has given birth to a monster. Next he sends a forged letter to the king's mother to say that the king wants her to kill the new mother and her child. Unable to make herself obey, the king's mother banishes them instead.

An angel takes charge of the queen and her baby, keeping them safe in a little house in the wood. They live there for seven years, during which time the queen's hands grow back. At length the king, who has been searching all that time, finally finds his wife and their child. He brings them back to the palace, and all turns out well.

The Golden Goose

A man has three sons, the youngest of whom is called Dummy. The two older sons set out to chop wood. In the forest, each meets a little gray man who begs for food and drink. Both refuse him, with the result that both have axe accidents. Dummy sets out in his turn, but he shares his meager fare with the old man. As a reward, the man tells him where to find a golden goose. As Dummy walks along with the goose, seven people become stuck to each other in a line behind him.

In time, Dummy arrives at a city where the king's daughter never laughs. But when she sees Dummy with the seven people trailing along behind him, she bursts into laughter. Her father has promised her hand to anyone who can make her laugh, but he's now disinclined to honor the bargain. He sets Dummy three impossible-sounding tasks. With the help of the little gray man and his friends, Dummy meets each challenge. Finally the king relents, and Dummy and the princess are married. When the king dies, they inherit the kingdom.

The Goose Girl

A princess is betrothed to a faraway prince. Laden with riches, she sets out for his kingdom, accompanied by a maid. The maid tricks her into switching her clothes for the maid's. This accomplished, the maid pretends to be the princess and forces the princess to act as her maid. Once they arrive at the prince's palace, the disguised princess finds work as a goose girl. The boy she works with tells the king there's something strange about her. The king investigates and learns that the goose girl is the true princess. She and the prince are married, and the false princess is put to death.

Hansel and Gretel

Cast out by their parents, the starving brother and sister stumble on the edible house of an old woman. They don't know she's built the house specifically to lure children to their death. The old woman cages Hansel and forces Gretel to work as a servant, but in the end Gretel manages to kill the woman and free her brother. They return home with riches from the house in the woods to find their stepmother dead and their father overjoyed to see them.

The Hare and the Hedgehog

One late-summer day, a hare and a hedgehog are arguing. The hare insults the hedgehog's stubby legs, and the hedgehog challenges him to a race. Before the race begins, the hedgehog secretly brings his wife to the race course and stations her out of sight near the finish line. He takes up his position at the starting line next to the hare, who soon outstrips him. But just before the hare arrives at the finish line, the hedgehog's wife (who looks just like him) pops out and claims she's won. The hare, incredulous, insists on racing 73 more times, always with the same result. On the 74th race, the hare's heart gives out, and he dies. The hedgehog collects his winnings and returns home with his wife.

Jorinda and Joringel

Two young lovers take a walk and happen to enter a witch's magic circle. The witch turns Jorinda, the girl, into a nightingale and brings the bird back to her castle. She puts the bird into one of her 7,000 cages with other girls she has turned into birds. Joringel begs the witch to release Jorinda, but the witch refuses. Luckily, Joringel finds a magic flower. Flower in hand, he's able to enter the castle and free Jorinda, who returns to normal. Joringel turns the other 7,000 birds back into girls, and he and Jorinda go home.

Little Brother and Little Sister

Because their stepmother is making their lives miserable, Little Brother and Little Sister decide to leave home. Little Brother drinks from an enchanted stream and turns into a fawn. He and Little Sister vow never to be parted. They live comfortably in the woods until a king meets Little Sister and falls in love with her. She agrees to marry him if the fawn can stay with her.

The evil stepmother is furious when she hears that Little Brother and Little Sister are thriving. She kills the new queen—who has just had a baby—and uses a ruse to make the king believe her own daughter is his wife. The true queen's ghost regularly visits her child and the fawn and is spotted by the baby's nurse, who alerts the king. The king witnesses his dead queen and goes to her, and she returns to life. The king puts the false queen and her mother to death. The stepmother's death breaks her spell, the fawn changes back into Little Brother, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Little Red Riding Hood

A red-cloaked little girl walks through the woods to take a basket of provisions to her grandmother. On the way, she meets a wolf who suggests that she also pick some flowers for the old woman. The wolf then heads for the grandmother's house and eats her up. He puts on the grandmother's nightclothes and climbs into her bed. Little Red Riding Hood is somehow fooled, and the wolf devours her as well. Grandmother and granddaughter are rescued by a passing huntsman.

Mother Holle

A widow has an ugly, lazy daughter and a beautiful, hardworking stepdaughter. Naturally, she favors her biological child. Each girl is given the chance to work for a strange woman named Mother Holle, who has massive teeth and lives at the bottom of a well. The beautiful sister does her job well and is rewarded with a shower of gold. The ugly sister refuses to work and is punished by being covered with tar that never washes off.


As punishment for stealing from her garden, an enchantress seizes a couple's newborn baby daughter, Rapunzel, and raises her as her own. When the girl turns 12, the witch imprisons her at the top of a doorless tower and uses Rapunzel's long hair as a ladder to go up and down from her chamber. One day a prince catches sight of the enchantress climbing the tower. He tries the same thing, and the two young people fall in love. But when Rapunzel inadvertently tells the enchantress about him, she and the prince are banished to the wilderness. They're happily reunited—the prince with Rapunzel and their twin children—several years later.


A poor miller lies to the king, saying his daughter can spin straw into gold. The king summons the daughter to his palace and sets her the task of spinning three roomfuls of straw into gold. A gnome accomplishes the task for her and asks for her first-born child in return. The miller's daughter and the king are married. When their first child is born, the new queen is loath to turn him over to the gnome, who relents and says he won't take the child if the queen guesses his name within three days. Thanks to a servant, the queen learns the gnome's name. When he hears her speak it, he tears himself in two.

The Six Servants

An aged evil sorceress, whose only goal is luring people to their deaths, offers her beautiful daughter in marriage to anyone who can accomplish the tasks she sets. Many try, but none succeed, and the sorceress beheads them all.

A prince who has heard of the maiden's beauty sets out to try his luck with her. On his way to her home, he meets six men, each with a superhuman skill. With the help of the men, the prince is able to complete the tasks set for him. He and the daughter become engaged, but she's angry and unhappy. The prince pretends he's actually a swineherd and makes his wife work alongside him. When he decides the wife has been properly chastised, the prince brings her to his palace. There the wedding is held.

Snow White

Snow White's mother dies giving birth to her. Her evil stepmother, jealous of the girl's growing beauty, decides to have her killed. Set free by the huntsman who was meant to murder her, Snow White wanders off until she finds a little cottage belonging to seven dwarfs. They invite her to stay with them. Life is happy until Snow White's evil stepmother learns that the girl is still alive. Three times she disguises herself and tries to kill Snow White; on the third try, it looks as if she's succeeded. The dwarfs place the unconscious Snow White in a glass coffin that's discovered by a prince. Through a lucky accident, Snow White is revived. She and the prince marry, and the evil queen is put to death at their wedding.


A wife gives birth to a boy no bigger than a thumb. His parents name him Thumbling. Thumbling is a bright, cheerful boy who comes up with ingenious ways to help his father on the farm. Two men offer Thumbling's father a large sum for the boy, planning to exhibit him. Thumbling insists his father take the money and goes off with the men. With various tricks, he manages to escape them and make his way home to his relieved—and now rich—parents.

The Twelve Brothers

A king and his wife have 12 sons. When the wife gets pregnant again, the king vows to kill all the boys if the new baby is a girl. The boys' mother helps them escape, then gives birth to a girl. Meanwhile, the boys find an enchanted hut deep in the forest. When the baby has grown into a little girl, she discovers 12 unfamiliar shirts. Her mother explains that the girl's 12 brothers are in hiding somewhere, and the girl decides to seek them. After walking all day, she finds the enchanted hut. Her 12 brothers are happy to meet her.

Life is peaceful until the sister mistakenly picks 12 enchanted flowers, turning her brothers into ravens. The only way she can free them is to avoid smiling or talking for seven years. One day a king discovers her, and they marry. The king's mother persuades him that his wife's silence proves she's concealing some misdeed. The king decides the queen must be burned at the stake. Just in time, the seven years of the spell end. The brothers return and stamp out the fire. The king's mother is put to death, and harmony is restored.

The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats

A mother goat goes out to forage for food, leaving her seven children at home. Before leaving, she warns the kids to watch out for the wolf, who's good at disguising himself. The kids promise, and they do manage to foil the wolf on his first two attempts to get into the house. But he finally outsmarts them and devours six of the seven kids. The horrified mother goat finds the wolf asleep and carefully cuts open his stomach to free the six kids. Then she and all seven kids fill the wolf's belly with stones and she sews him up again. When the wolf finally awakes, he goes to the well to get a drink. The stones overbalance him, and he falls into the well and drowns.

The Cat and Mouse in Partnership

A cat and mouse decide to live together. For winter sustenance, they hide a pot of fat in a church. The cat can't resist visits to the church, and in time the fat is gone. When winter comes, the mouse suggests that they get some fat from the pot. She excoriates the cat when she discovers what's happened. In response, the cat eats her.

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