Grimms' Fairy Tales (Selected) | Study Guide

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

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Grimms' Fairy Tales (Selected) | The Hare and the Hedgehog | Summary



On a beautiful Sunday morning, a hedgehog who lives near a field decides to check on the turnip crop, where he's used to helping himself. When he arrives, he sees a hare checking out the cabbages for the same reason. The snobbish hare refuses to answer the hedgehog's cheerful greeting. Instead, he asks what the hedgehog is doing there.

"I am taking a walk," the hedgehog tells him. At this the hare smiles and answers, "You might use your legs for a better purpose." The hedgehog is furious at the joke about his short, crooked legs. He offers the hare a bet: "If we run a race, I will outstrip you." Though the hare thinks this is a ridiculous idea, he agrees. The two animals decide the stakes will be a gold coin and a bottle of brandy.

The hedgehog hurries home and tells his wife to dress herself quickly and come with him. On their way to the field, the hedgehog explains that his wife should station herself at the end of the racecourse. As the rabbit arrives, the wife must call out, "I am here already." With the hedgehog at one end of the course and his wife at the other, they can easily outlast the hare. After all, he can't tell the hedgehog husband from his wife.

Again and again the hare runs the race. Every time he reaches the finish line, the hedgehog's wife calls, "I am here already." Every time he returns to the starting line, the hedgehog husband is already there. When the hare has run the course 73 times, he drops dead. The hedgehog and his wife collect the gold and brandy and return home rejoicing.


This charming story may have been inspired by Aesop's fable "The Tortoise and the Hare." The Grimms enrich the fable in several ways. First, they open with a lovely description of the weather, not the kind of beginning they usually use. They make the hedgehog and hare into recognizable characters, each with his own personality, and a rather unexpected personality at that. The hare is not only boastful but snobbish and supercilious. The hedgehog, a simple soul, becomes surprisingly angry when the hare pokes fun at his funny little legs. He might have said something like, "Yes, but you don't have spines to protect you." Instead, he chooses a contest he'd be certain to lose under ordinary circumstances.

The hedgehog's scheme to use his wife in the race is cheating, of course. But the reader is able to root for him because the hare has been so nasty—and also because it's endearingly humble of the hedgehog to realize that, to a hare, all hedgehogs look the same. Nor do readers have to feel sorry for the hare, whose own pride is what keeps him racing so much longer than he should.

There's no magic in this unassuming story, unless talking animals may be considered magic. Nor is there a struggle between good and evil or a predatory stepmother. It's not a typical Grimm tale, but it's cozy and satisfying, and the reader is happy to see the hedgehogs go home with such nice prizes.

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