Märchen Monday: Der Wolf und die sieben jungen Geißlein

Today we discuss the Märchen that made me want to do a Märchen Monday series! Der Wolf und die sieben jungen GeißleinThe Wolf and the Seven Young Kids — seems to be one of the more obscure stories in the Grimm brothers’ collection. Although I was lucky to have read it as a child, I had completely forgotten it until I found it again in my Bavarian tutor’s book. I remembered the main story, but needed to reread it to recall some details. If you want to review it as well, it’s available in multiple languages on GrimmStories.com (Link).

Märchen Memories

Der Wolf und die sieben jungen Geißlein is one of the more obscure Märchen. I recall it from my own childhood (I think I read it in a picture book), but few others also do. After asking family members, friends, and even people at work, I found only one other person who could remember it. The others thought I was asking about The Three Billy Goats Gruff, a Norwegian story!

Of course, this is my own experience. Perhaps Der Wolf und die sieben jungen Geißlein is more popular where you live! But I think it’s safe to say that when we hear of a “big bad wolf” and clever little animals who outsmart him, most of us think of pigs before we remember goats!

Going Back to Grimm

Again, I am reading the Grimms’ Märchen for their Christian heart. As I mentioned in the first Märchen Monday post, I learned to do this with Aschenputtel, thanks to an Orthodox podcast. (Link) But I wasn’t used to reading children’s stories or folktales this way. And it was not until I read the first sentence of Die sieben jungen Geißlein that I saw how to do it myself.

That sentence was: “Es war einmal eine alte Geiß, die hatte sieben jungen Geißlein, und hatte sie lieb, wie eine Mutter ihre Kinder lieb hat.” (My translation: There was once an old goat, who had seven little kids, and who loved them as any mother loves her children.) And it was just obvious to me that the loving mother was the Church. Every loving mother reflects Holy Mother Church, of course, but our extra clue is this mother’s Kinder. There are sieben jungen Geißlein because there are seven sacraments.

When the wolf enters the house, the Geißlein all try to find hiding places. A friend and I had fun checking if the hiding places had sacramental symbolism. While there were some easy matches (the Waschschüssel — wash basin — would be Baptism), we didn’t have a perfect analogy. The Ofen (oven) and the Küche (kitchen) could both represent the Eucharist; but we don’t have anything that clearly suggests Reconciliation. The Grimm brothers rewrote all their Märchen very carefully, but I think they could have worked on this story a little more. (I’d recommend a curtain for Reconciliation.) Nevertheless, they picked the perfect hiding place for the smallest Geißlein: der Kasten der Wanduhr — the clock case. When time is running out and everything seems lost, the sacrament of Extreme Unction can still save souls from the wolf.

Next Monday: Marienkind

Read it here: Link

3 thoughts on “Märchen Monday: Der Wolf und die sieben jungen Geißlein

  1. It’s interesting comparing the Spanish version to the English; the Spanish version mentions God several: ¡Qué sobresalto, Dios mío!, ¡Santo Dios, lo que vio!, ¡Válgame Dios! They are all casual expressions that you would find in ordinary conversation, but it’s an example of how casual expressions of that sort can affect the tone — ¡Válgame Dios! is quite different from ‘Dear me!’ or ‘My goodness!’, even if they are functioning the same way. Spanish is a more implicitly Catholic language than English.

    I have difficulty thinking of the kitchen as a distinctive hiding place of its own — I wonder what kind of house layout is in view when the kitchen/cocina is a different hiding place from the oven, the sink, and the cupboard. Presumably the cupboard is in the same room as the table (the Spanish word here, armario, suggests more of a storage space for cups and plates you don’t regularly use than a kitchen cupboard, although armario can also mean a wardrobe); probably the oven is in the main room, doing double duty for cooking and heating. But it’s definitely not a modern layout, and I have difficulty imagining what the kitchen would involve once you set aside the rest.

    If we took out the kitchen and assigned the sink/fregadera to Baptism and the table/mesa (as altar) to the Eucharist, then oven/horno would make sense for Orders — it’s what confects the bread for the table. I like your curtain idea, but actually my first thought that the bed/cama would work for Reconciliation, since in it you lie down and sleep, which is like death, but are raised again refreshed — but then, of course, the question would become, “What obvious household hiding-place would go with Matrimony if not the bed?” None of the ones given really work in any obvious way. A sewing chest/costurero instead of the kitchen, maybe? (I definitely had to look up what the Spanish for ‘sewing chest or basket’ was!) That would leave cupboard/armario for Confirmation — and I think the Spanish word, if interpreted as the wardrobe rather than the cupboard, would work best for that.

    1. Cristina @Linguavert

      I also have difficulty imagining the layout of the house where the Geißlein live! The Küche/cocina is the oddest element. Replace it with anything else and the story would be less confusing immediately!

      My friend’s interpretation was that the Schrank/armario was more of a cabinet for clothes — that is, vestments, representing Holy Orders. But I think you’re right that it’s more of a Confirmation symbol, with the table for Holy Orders. A cradle or anything associated with babies would do for matrimony, but I like your sewing basket idea, too. (And I also had to look up Nähkorb — a sign of how little sewing goes on in modern households, perhaps?)

  2. Incidentally, as this is a nice story for looking at some words that are commonly known but not likely to come up in most conversations often, I looked at the Finnish version just to find the passage where the kids hide, to see what words were used, and then had some fun trying figure out the root word (since Finnish is a suffix-heavy language). They are pretty close to those in other languages, but they are interesting:

    pöytä — table
    sänky — bed
    uuni — oven
    kyökki — kitchen (this was hard to find; it doesn’t seem to be a common word)
    arkku — chest/trunk
    peso-astia — washbasin (an astia is a basin, bucket, or barrel)
    seinäkello-kaappi — clock case (also a difficult one; the phrase seems to mean something literally like ‘wall-clock cabinet’)

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