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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Can we talk about the Brothers Grimm for a minute?

I'm working my way through Ralph Manheim's translation of the Grimms' Tales for Young and Old. 32 stories in, just sitting there on the page, like everything's perfectly normal, is "Clever Hans." (Here's a full translation of it.).  I'll probably have a lot more to say about the Grimms' tales when I'm done with the whole thing. For now, let me tell you about Clever Hans.

It starts out pretty normal. Hans is going to see Gretel. She says he should have brought her something. Of course he replies that he didn't, so she should give him something instead. She gives him a needle. He sticks it in a hay wagon and walks home behind it. His mother asks him what he was doing, and he tells her about the needle. She says, "That was foolish, Hans. You should have stuck it in your sleeve."


The next day, he goes to see Gretel, again without a gift. She gives him a knife, which he sticks in his sleeve, thinking that's the best thing to do based on what his mother told him. But when he gets home, she says this was foolish; he should have put it in his pocket.

by Arthur Rackham
You see the structure starting to take shape already. The days play out the same way. Gretel gives him a goat, which of course he puts in his pocket. Mothers says he should have put a rope around its neck and led it home. Gretel gives him some bacon, which he ties to a rope, but should have put on his head. Puts a calf on his head, should have roped it and led it to trough.

by John D. Gruelle


When he goes to visit Gretel the next day, she says she'll just come home with him. So he ties a rope around her neck and takes her to the feed rack and ties her up there. His mother, in response to this, tells him he should have "cast sheep's eyes at her." Now, I'm presuming that "sheeps' eyes" refers to something romantical. But, you can imagine what happens next. If you can't, I'll quote it directly from Manheim:

Hans goes to the barn, cuts the eyes out of all the sheep, and throws them in Gretel's face. At that Gretel gets angry, tears herself loose, and runs away. She's not engaged to Hans anymore.

Some day I'm going to put together a collection of the greatest short stories humanity has ever produced. Somewhere in the middle, between Hemingway's "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," I'll put "Clever Hans."

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