After a series of obscure Grimms Märchen, it is time for a familiar one! At least I hope that you also know Das tapfere Schneiderlein or The Bold Little Tailor. If not, or if you would like to review it before our discussion, you can find it here: Link.
As I recall, I didn’t like the tapfere Schneiderlein as a hero. I thought he was fake because he only pretends to be great. He boasts to everyone that he has killed “sieben auf einen Streich” — seven in one blow — and lets them think that means seven men instead of seven flies. How is that different from lying? I prefered heroes who were more honest.
And I felt bad for the princess of the story. When she learns that the hero whom she has just married is a low-born tapferer Schneiderlein, she orders the royal servants to grab him in his sleep and put him on a ship to a far-off land. This is also not very honest of her, but I remember sympathizing with her anyway.
The retelling I remember best was very faithful to the Grimm brothers’ version, changing only the ending to say: “. . . and eventually the princess learned to love her husband.” We can’t have a happy ending with a sad marriage, can we?
Going Back to Grimm
I was surprised to learn that the tapfere Schneiderlein is suppposed to be an anti-hero. At the time the Grimm brothers were collecting and rewriting their Märchen, tailors were not popular figures in Germany. Thanks to the industrial revolution, they had difficulty finding work in one place and had to wander like gypsies. People with more stable jobs unfairly looked down on them. It was hard to see that many tailors truly wanted to make an honest living. (Source)
And the tapfere Schneiderlein does make “an honest living” in a way. He saves the kingdom from two giants, a unicorn, and a wild boar. He may not be very strong, but he is very clever — tricking even the animals! Although he isn’t a typical hero, that doesn’t mean he isn’t a real hero. And if we continue to doubt it, we can look back at the number seven at the beginning of the story.
In the post on Der Wolf und die sieben jungen Geißlein, I linked the seven little goats to the seven sacraments. (Link) And we can also say that Christ gave us sieben sacraments auf einen Streich! In Das tapfere Schneiderlein, however, I think that the seven flies also represent another set of seven: The deadly sins. This is even more obvious in the Grimm brothers’ first version, in which the seven flies are drawn to an apple. (Source) I can only wonder why the second edition replaced the apple with “Mus” (jam). To nineteenth-century readers, was “Mus” automatically “Apfelmus”?
Ultimately, however, I think Das tapfere Schneiderlein is more of a “social-problem Märchen” than a Christian allegory. Our hero challenges and defeats both traditional symbols of evil (the giants) and traditional symbols of high social rank (the unicorn and the wild boar). The only strong Christian connection is the number seven. And my bold guess is that the Grimm brothers included it, to say that a low-born but valiant Schneiderlein can be the equal of a Königssohn (King’s son).
Next Märchen Monday: Die weiße Schlange
Let’s do famous Märchen one week, then obscure Märchen the next week. You may know Das tapfere Schneiderlein, but I bet you’ll be surprised by Die weiße Schlange or The White Snake! Read it here: Link.