5 Forgotten Grimm's Fairy Tales

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This year, cities across Europe are celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publication of the Brothers Grimm’s collection of household fairytales. The first volume of their masterwork, containing 86 stories, appeared in December of 1812—and was such a big deal that everyone is taking a whole year to celebrate, hence celebrations in 2013.

The book was the culmination of several years of collecting, reshaping, and polishing folktales from middle class families and published books, and it was part of a series of works Jacob and his younger brother Wilhelm published on Germanic folklore and literature. They weren’t only interested in fairytales, however; over the rest of their lives, Jacob would publish 21 books, Wilhelm 14, and together eight, many of them respected scholarly works on history, ethnography, lexicography, and law.

Still, it’s the fairytales that we remember them for. The tales are such a part of the fabric of our subconscious that scholars devote reams to their psychological underpinnings, Disney devotes bah-jillions to elevating their princesses to your daughter’s favorite role models, and everyone from NBC and ABC to wine companies are using the stories as touchstones. And even if the modern incarnations of the tales are a bit altered (less wanton child murder, self-administered toe and heel surgery, vindictive pigeons and red hot dance shoes; more plot), we still have the Grimms to thank for them.

But the Brothers collected hundreds of stories. And for every Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White or Rapunzel, there are literally dozens of much more obscure and certainly more bizarre Grimm fairytales. Like the one about the Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage (and no, they don’t walk into a bar). Why not? What about these tales didn’t quite capture the imagination the way the others did? Here, in no particular order, are some of the weirder, more bizarre, and odd Grimms’ tales that didn’t quite merit the Disney treatment—you be the judge.  

1. The Mouse, the Bird, and the Sausage

A mouse, a bird and a sausage set up house together and for awhile, and things were going well: The bird’s job was to fly into the forest every day and bring back wood; the mouse carried the water, lit the fires, and set the table; the sausage did the cooking, making sure their meals were properly flavored by rolling around in them (of course).

But one day, the bird’s friends in the forest started making fun of him, calling him a poor sap and claiming that he did all the hard work while the others got to stay home and relax. He came home that day and demanded that they try a more equitable system of chores, and they drew lots to determine who did what.

Well, the sausage was tasked with gathering wood, but was gobbled up by a dog when entered the forest. The mouse was tasked with making the meal, but when she slid through the vegetables like the sausage used to, she got stuck and died. And the bird was supposed to gather the water and light the fires, but somehow he managed to set the house on fire, and then, while trying to draw up a bucket of water from the well to put it out, get tangled in the bucket and pulled into the well himself, where he drowned. The moral of this story appears to be know your place. Also, don’t shack up with a talking cured meat.

2. The Companionship of the Cat and Mouse

A cat convinced a mouse to move in with him, and for a time all was well for the cross-species couple. Until the mouse and the cat decided to put aside a jar of fat for the lean months, storing the jar under the altar at a nearby church. The greedy cat decided one day that he’d just mosy off to the church and have a taste of the fat, giving the mouse some cooked up story about how he was godfather to a kitten and needed to attend the christening. Three times he gets a hankering for the fat, three times he makes up a newborn kitten and a christening, and until finally, the jar is emptied. Then, when the cold wind blows round their domicile, the mouse suggests that it’s time to break into the jar, but of course, when they rock up at the church, the jar is empty. Mousie puts it all together, so the cat eats her. Never, ever trust a cat. Especially if you’re a mouse.

3. Riffraff

So, a rooster and a hen go out carousing, build a carriage out of nutshells, somehow get a duck to harness herself to it, then pick up a hitchhiking pin and needle, who’ve had a few too many at the last pub and are on their way to an inn. This motley crew reaches the inn, and at first, the innkeeper isn’t too keen on letting them stay—they look a bit rough. But they offer him an egg the hen had laid, plus the duck to sweeten the deal, so he agrees.

The next morning, the rooster and the hen wake early, steal back the egg and eat it (cannibals!), stick the pin in the innkeepers towel and the needle in his armchair, then fly away (anyone who’s ever seen Chicken Run knows that’s just not possible). The duck, meanwhile, had scooted off down to the brook.

The innkeeper wakes up and washes his face—earning himself a terrible scratch from the pin in his towel—and finds the eggshells in the kitchen. Hoping to collect himself after his horrible morning, he sits down in his armchair, only to be stabbed in the buttocks by the needle. He swears then and there never to let “riffraff” stay at his inn. By which we assume he means talking tailor’s tools and anthropomorphized fowl. 

4. The Strange Feast

A blood sausage invited a liver sausage to her house for dinner, and the liver sausage gladly accepted. But when she crossed the threshold of the blood sausage’s abode, she saw a great many strange things: A broom and a shovel fighting on the stairs, a monkey with a wound on his head, and more. The liver sausage was frightened by all of this, of course, and when she entered the blood sausage’s rooms, she told her what she’d seen. The blood sausage pretended not to hear, or just brushed off the liver sausage’s worries, before retreating to the kitchen to check on the meal. While the liver sausage was alone in the room, she heard a voice: “Let me warn you, liver sausage, you’re in a bloody murderous trap. You’d better get out quickly if you value your life!” The voice didn’t have to warn the liver sausage twice—she ran out the door and didn’t stop running until she’d hit the street. When she turned around, she could see the blood sausage high up in the attic window, holding a long, gleaming knife, and shouting, “If I had caught you, I would have had you!”

Say what now…?

5. Hurleburlebutz

Once upon a time, a king was lost in a deep forest when, suddenly, a small white dwarf appeared to him. The dwarf told the king he’d help him find his way out of the forest in return for the king’s youngest daughter. The king, finding himself afraid in the deep, dark wood, agreed. The dwarf delivered the king safely back to his castle and told him he’d be back in a week for his daughter. 

Now, of course the king was sad—his youngest was his favorite. But his daughters, once he’d told them the deal, said not to worry, we’ll soon get rid of the dwarf. A week later, the daughters found an unsuspecting cowherd’s daughter, kitted her out in pretty clothes and told her to go with the first person who came to fetch her. That person was a fox, who said, “Sit down on my furry tail, Hurleburlebutz! Off to the forest!” Off they went, but when the fox ordered the cowherd’s daughter to pick lice out of his fur and she readily agreed, he knew he had the wrong lady. Back to the castle with you! A week later, the fox came back and this time, it was the gooseherd’s daughter he took with him to the forest; another attempted delousing, and he knew he had the wrong lady. Back to the castle!

The third time the fox returned, the king gave over his daughter and the fox carried her into the forest. This time, when he demanded a delousing, she cried, “I’m a king’s daughter and yet I must delouse a fox!” He knew he had the right bride, so he transformed himself back into the little white dwarf from the beginning of the story. The couple lived together happily for awhile, until one day, the dwarf said, “I’ve got to go away, but three white doves will soon come flying here. When they swoop down to the ground, catch the middle one. Once you’ve got it, cut off its head right away. But pay attention and make sure you’ve got the middle dove, or it’ll be disaster.” The doves came, the princess caught the middle one, hacked off its head and poof! A handsome prince appeared! Turns out, the white dwarf had been under a nasty fairy’s spell and this whole complicated charade was the only way to lift it. Obviously.

Now in truth, this one isn’t really all that different from, say, Cinderella or Snow White. But in terms of narrative and plot, you have to wonder—what the…?

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July 31, 2013 - 2:00pm
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