Brothers Grimm: Man up!

The two previous Brothers Grimm tales we have explored had young women as main characters and stressed the importance of hard work and humility.  Today’s tale is titled The youth who could not shiver and shake and has a young man as a the main character.  It focuses on the virtues of courage cleverness and strength and the vices of foolishness and cowardice, as well as an act of true love in marriage:

A Father had two sons, the eldest clever and sensible, but the younger was so stupid that he could neither learn nor understand any thing, and people would say, ” What a burden that stupid boy must be to his father.”

Whatever the father wanted done, Jack, the eldest boy, was obliged to do, even to take messages, for his brother was too stupid to understand or remember. But Jack was a terrible coward, and if his father wished him to go anywhere late in the evening, and the road led through the churchyard, he would say, ” Oh ! no, father, I can’t go there, it makes me tremble and shake so,”

Sometimes when they sat round the fire of an evening, while some one related tales that frightened him, he would say, ” Oh ! please don’t go on, it makes me shake all over.”

Our main character Hans is the younger son, the one too stupid to be useful to his father.  He is envious of his older brother’s ability to experience fear, since he has never felt such a thing:

I can’t think what he means by saying it makes him shiver and shake; it must be some­thing very wonderful that could make me shiver and shake.

His father has lost patience with him, and tells him he must learn to earn his own living since he is becoming a man.

Along comes the church sexton and the father explains the situation.  His son needs to learn to work but is instead obsessed with learning to shiver and shake.  The sexton has an idea which should solve both problems.  He enlists the youth to ring the bells of the church at midnight.  Once Hans is in place to ring the bells, the sexton appears disguised as a ghost.  Hans feels no fear and simply orders the unknown figure to leave immediately.  Hans gives a second warning:  speak, if you are an honest man, or I will throw you down the steps.  But the sexton doesn’t take him seriously, and neither moves nor identifies himself.  So Hans matter of factly throws the sexton down the stairs:

and as there was still no answer, he sprung upon the sham ghost, and giving him a push, he rolled down ten steps, and falling into a corner, there remained.

Hans doesn’t think anything more of the incident, and finishes ringing the bells and then returns home and goes to sleep. It isn’t until the next day when the sexton’s wife found him lying in agony on the stairs with a broken leg that the truth of the story came out. Hans’ father disowns him, and orders him out of the house:

There are fifty crowns, take them and go out into the world when you please; but don’t tell any one where you come from, or who is your father, for I am ashamed to own you.” I “Father,” said Hans, “I will do just as you tell me; your orders are very easy to perform.”

Hans hits the road, still bemoaning his inability to experience fear: When shall I learn to shiver and shake,— when shall I learn to be afraid? Another traveler hears this and offers an opportunity. He has Hans sit all night under a tree where the bodies of seven recently hanged men still swing. If Hans learns to shiver and shake, he is to give up his 50 crowns. But instead of experiencing fear, Hans cuts the corpses down and places them around the campfire as company. There is a comical scene where Hans warns them to move away from the heat so they don’t catch fire, but they remain too close and their clothes catch fire. He puts them out and ties them back up where he found them and goes to sleep.

The next day a fellow traveler meets him on the road and questions him, but Hans stays true to his promise to his father:

A wagoner walking along the road by his horses overtook him, and asked who he was.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
The wagoner asked again, “Why are you here?”
” I can’t tell,” said Hans.
“Who is your father?”
“I dare not say,”

Next Hans learns of a cursed and haunted castle:

“not far from here stands an enchanted castle, where you could easily learn to shiver and shake, if you remain in it. The king of the country has promised to give his daughter in marriage to any one who will venture to sleep in the castle for three nights, and she is as beautiful a young lady as the sun ever shone upon. Rich and valuable treasures in the castle are watched over by wicked spirits, and any one who could de­stroy these goblins and demons, and set free the treasures which are rotting in the castle, would be made a rich and a lucky man. Numbers of persons have gone into the castle full of hope that they should succeed, but they have not been heard of since.”

Motivated more by the opportunity to experience fear than the promise of riches and a beautiful wife, Hans eagerly accepts the offer. The bargain requires that Hans bring no living thing with him, but he is granted his request to bring a fire, a turning-lathe, a cutting-board, and a knife. Once situated in the castle around the fire, Hans is set on by two ferocious and large black cats. He handles them with his characteristic way:

two very large black cats sprung forward furiously, seated themselves on each side of the fire, and stared at him with wild, fiery eyes. After a while, when the cats became thoroughly warm, they spoke, and said, ” Comrade, will you have a game of cards?”

“With all my heart,” answered Hans; ” but first stretch out your feet, and let me examine your claws.”

The cats stretched out their paws. “Ah!” said he, “what long nails you have, and now that I have seen your fingers, I would rather be excused from playing cards with you.”

Then he killed them both, and threw them out of the window into the moat.

Hans stayed there three nights, and battled all manner of ghosts, skeletons and monsters. Each time he defeated them by outwitting them, overpowering them, and matter of factly killing them. Each morning the king would come to check, assuming the young man was dead, and each morning Hans greeted him. On the final night one of the apparitions challenges Hans to a contest of strength. The man went first, and cut an anvil in two with an axe. Hans uses the opportunity to his advantage:

“I can do better than that,” said Hans, taking up the axe and going towards another anvil. The monster was so sur­prised at this daring on the part of Hans that he followed him closely, and as he leaned over to watch what the youth was going to do, his long white beard fell on the anvil.  Hans raised his axe, split the anvil at one blow, wedging the old man’s beard in the opening at the same time.

“Now I have got you, old fellow,” cried Hans, “prepare for the death you deserve.” Then he took up an iron bar and beat the old man till he cried for mercy, and promised to give him all the riches that were hidden in the castle.

The ghost keeps his promise and leads Hans to great chests of gold, which are to be divided evenly between Hans, the king, and the poor. In the morning the king returns:

“you have released the castle from en­chantment. I will give you, as I promised, my daughter in marriage.”

“That is good news,” cried Hans. ” But I have not learnt to shiver and shake after all.”

The gold was soon after brought away from the castle, and the marriage celebrated with great pomp. Young Prince Hans, as he was now called, did not seem quite happy after all. Not even the love of his bride could satisfy him. He was always saying : “When shall I learn to shiver and shake ?”

The princess is troubled that her husband is unhappy. She talks to one of her maids who tells her how to solve the problem:

So that night while Hans was in bed and asleep, the Princess drew down the bedclothes gently, and threw the cold water with the gudgeons all over him. The little fish wriggled about as they fell on the bed, and the Prince, waking suddenly, exclaimed, “Oh! dear, how I do shiver and shake, what can it be?” Then seeing the Princess standing by his bed, he guessed what she had done.

“Dear wife,” he said, “now I am satisfied, you have taught me to shiver and shake at last.” and from that hour he lived happily and contented with his wife, for he had learnt to shiver and shake—but not to fear.

This entry was posted in Brothers Grimm, Fatherhood, Manliness and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Brothers Grimm: Man up!

  1. by_the_sword says:

    The hero Sigfried never learned fear either. It was much to his advantage.

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  4. Cthulu says:

    Hans has Aspergers!

    Either that or he is a sociopath.

    Either way: Mind = Blown!

    Great story!

  5. dalrock says:

    Glad you liked it!

    Hans is really tough to read. The best I personally can come up with is that he isn’t meant to make sense as a real person. The story teller seems to be breaking the rules in this regard to make their point. I think one of the messages is not to make things overly complex. Hans doesn’t spend any time soul searching when a hooded figure won’t respond to his challenge to identify itself. He gave it fair warning, so down the stairs with the figure and he goes home to sleep without a second thought. Likewise with the advice from the maid to the wife. Throw a bucket of cold water on him and be done with it. I think the creator of the story started with the assumption that the reader valued intelligence, so they were able to focus on this nuance more than they might otherwise have been able to.

  6. Steve says:

    Good story and interpretation. Hans is not afflicted with nerdy analysis paralysis.

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  8. electricangel says:

    I just read this for the first time, Dalrock. I did not know the story. As your first commenter alluded, it IS the tale of Siegfried from Wagner’s Ring. Fearlessness wins him fame, fortune, and sends him through a wall of flame to find the greatest wife. But she teaches him fear.

    Until now, I never knew that he had used this Grimm’s tale as a source. He did use Puss in Boots in Das Rheingold, showing that he was familiar with Grimm. Thanks for the insight!

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