Grimm's Fairy Tales (Selected)

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

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Grimm's Fairy Tales (Selected) | The Brave Little Tailor | Summary



One summer day a tailor is working near his open window. Pestered by flies, he snatches up a rag and manages to kill seven at once. He's so proud that he makes himself a belt embroidered with the words "Seven at one blow!"

Feeling that a tailor's workshop is no place for such a hero, the tailor puts a piece of old cheese in his pocket and leaves to seek his fortune. At the city gates he spots a bird stuck in a bush. He frees the bird and stuffs it into his pocket next to the cheese.

The tailor strides briskly along, and in time the road takes him to a mountain. He climbs to the summit, where he finds a giant enjoying the view. Seeing the embroidered belt, the giant assumes the tailor has killed seven men at one blow and challenges the tailor to a show of strength.

First the giant picks up a rock and squeezes it so hard that water begins to drip out. Nothing daunted, the tailor pulls the cheese from his pocket and squeezes drops of whey out of it. Amazed, the giant picks up another rock and hurls it so high that it disappears from view. Now the tailor pulls the bird from his pocket and throws it into the air, whereupon the bird flies away.

Mightily impressed, the giant asks the tailor to help him get a huge felled oak tree out of the forest. The tailor says he'll take the "harder" part—the back end. But as soon as the giant begins to lift the trunk, the tailor scrambles onto a branch and relaxes as the giant lugs the heavy load.

The giant invites the tailor to spend the night in a cave with the rest of the giants. Since the bed is much too big, the tailor sleeps in a corner of the huge room instead. At midnight, the giant steals over and smashes the bed with a blow from his iron club. Now, the giant thinks, the tailor won't bother him again. But when all the giants are taking a walk, the tailor suddenly joins them. The giants are afraid he'll kill them. They race away out of sight.

The tailor travels to a castle whose king offers his daughter's hand in marriage if the tailor will kill two local marauding giants. The tailor manages to trick the giants into believing that each is hitting the other until finally the enraged pair battle each other to the death. The tailor uses his sword to slash each giant in a couple of places, and then proudly returns to the palace to claim his bride.

But the king's not ready to give up his daughter so easily. He asks that the tailor perform one more heroic deed. He must capture a wild unicorn in the forest. This the tailor manages easily, so the king sets him the task of catching a dangerous wild boar. The tailor lures the boar into a church, jumps out a window, and slams the door, trapping the boar inside.

At last the king must keep his half of the bargain. Mournfully he agrees to a marriage between the princess and the tailor, who becomes a king. Some time passes until one night the young queen hears the tailor talking in his sleep. She's horrified to learn that her new husband was once a tailor, and she begs her father to get her out of the marriage.

The old king tells her to leave open her bedroom door that night, which will permit his servants to kidnap the tailor and put him on a sea-bound ship. But a friendly servant tells the tailor about the plot. That night, when the servants are about to sneak into the bedroom, the tailor pretends he's once again talking in his sleep. "I've slain seven at one blow, killed two giants, captured a unicorn, and caught a wild boar," he shouts. "Why should I be afraid of anyone who is standing outside my door?"

The servants flee in fear. After that, no one bothers the tailor again. He remains a king, although the story doesn't say how he and the queen get along from then on.


"The Brave Little Tailor" is an example of the cheerful fairy-tale archetype known as "The Trickster." He's not malicious, as many tricksters are. The tricks he plays are for his own amusement, though they always help the tailor gain something he wants.

There's an element of the picaresque, a type of story featuring a roguish protagonist having adventures, to the tailor's wanderings. He strides along with no direction in mind, taking in the world and dealing with whatever he meets. But notice that his tricks assume increasing importance as the story progresses. He starts out by killing some flies and tricking a giant. He progresses to dispatching two more giants, catching a unicorn, and trapping a wild boar. With the last three feats, all tasks set by the king, the tailor shows that no matter what his wife thinks, he's competent to lead the country.

There are three sleeping scenes in this story, and they all involve deceit. The tailor avoids being killed by giants when he decides to sleep in a corner instead of one of their beds. He tricks two more giants while they're asleep, causing them to kill each other. And his wife tries to have him kidnapped while he himself is asleep.

"The Brave Little Tailor" is a classic story of the little guy winning against the odds. The giants, wild boar, and unicorn are more physically powerful than he, while the king and his court have more social status. The tailor's boundless self-confidence means he can be neither frightened nor embarrassed; it never occurs to him that a task is too big for him. When faced with physical danger, as he is with the boar and the unicorn, the tailor shrugs cheerfully. When he learns that his wife is plotting to get rid of him, he foils her plan, but the story mentions no retribution or even hard feelings.

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