Genre of the Week: The Fisherman and his Wife


There is an old saying worth noting as we look at this week’s Genre of the Week: Be careful with what you wish for, for you may get more than what you bargained.  Sometimes when a person wishes for something better, it comes at a price. Most of that it comes at an expense of others and in the end, the person is just as unhappy as before, but the mess is much bigger than before.

The theme for this genre, The Fisherman and his Wife, another literary work published by the Grimm Brothers, is satisfaction and the strive for something better. The plot of the story features a fisherman in the north of Germany, who lives in a hut (Lower German: Pissputt/ High German: Hütte) that is messy and somewhat broken down. He has a lovely wife Isebill and everyday, he tries to make a living with fishing. One day, he catches a flounder, who asks him to be released, for he was proclaimed a prince. He sets him free, but see’s a trail of blood in the water before he leaves. He explains to Isebill what had happened and she demands that because he had set the flounder free, that the fisherman asks him for a wish. Despite his hesitancy, he concedes and goes to the sea shore, where he catches his fish. There, he says this enchantment which brings forth the flounder prince:

Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!
Flounder, flounder, in the sea!
My wife, my wife Ilsebill,
Wants not, wants not, what I will

The flounder asks what the fisherman wishes for and the response:

Go back! It has been done! 

The first wish is an orderly cottage, which starts a greedy trend where the wife wants more. But unfortunately her wishes become more extravagant and they come at a price…..

The story was first conceived by Philip Otto Runge in 1806, but after three failed attempts to convince publishers to release his work (despite the changes in variations), the piece landed onto the desk of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who translated it from Lower German (Plattdeutsch) to High German and released it as part of the Aarne-Thompson series of literary works in 1812, classified as ATU 555. It was later translated into several languages, included English, which you can view by clicking here. The story was later adapted into several forms, including a poem by Aleksndr Puskin in 1833, Emmanuale Luzzati’s story “Punch and the Magic Fish” and Günter Grass’ novel “The Flounder.” Several German versions were adapted for print and medial purposes, which included a 60-90 minute film produced by German TV station NDR in 2013, which you can see below:

The story brings the question of happiness and satisfaction in our lives to the forefront, especially in today’s society, where the advancement of globalization and technology has played a key role in our decisions. This includes the strive to improve our lifestyle to compete with and conform with others. Yet when we do that, it comes at a painful price. That price is we have to give up something we cherish for something that may be newer but it cannot match what we had given up for.  There are many examples where our strive for a better life has resulted in sacrifices which we regret in the end. This includes putting career in front of family, replacing a partner with a newer partner, moving from a town where we grew up to a bigger city with all the conveniences and jobs available, and the like. Sometimes we look at these decisions and not regret them, as we march on and forward to bigger things. Yet many times, we regret our decisions and end up either living a life full of dissatisfaction or return to what we had before.  While there is an ending in The Fisherman and his Wife where both characters were happy with, as seen in the film and literary example, sometimes our decisions do not have happy endings unless we find something where we can feel comfortable with.

So if you are unhappy with your life and intend to strive for something better, sit down first and make a list of benefits and drawbacks to making changes for the better, talk to some people about it, and maybe even read or watch this classical genre. If you intend to make your change for the better, ask yourself why. Because once the decision is made, chances are likely that there is no turning back. Furthermore, your decision will come at a price of the people surrounding you. So be careful with your wish for change……

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Genre of the Week: The Twelve Dancing Princesses (Ger.: Die zertanzten Schuhe)

Amanda and her 11 sisters after being discovered dancing. Photo taken during the MDR film produced in 2011. Courtesy of Nik Konietzny and MDR. Used with permission

Love: How far can a man go to win the love of the woman of his dreams? Even more so when the woman is not in love with him at the beginning? Sometimes it takes courage to even make the attempts to capture a woman’s heart. In many cases these attempts take time, patience and in the case of this week’s genre profile, a lot of curiosity to get inside a woman’s inner self, find that secret that is revealed, and in the end, the key that will open the gates of love and live happily after after.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses was one of over 300 works of literature written by the Grimm Brothers. Between 1812 and 1857, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected and wrote many German folklore tales, most of which have either been adapted to film, used in the classroom or found in many book collections found at a book store or library. One will never get an appreciation of literature, regardless of language, without reading at least three works by Grimm. Some of them were most likely read aloud by the parents without the child knowing who wrote it (click here to see the list).

The Twelve Dancing Princesses was one of the first tales written in 1815 and has since been produced in different variants, all of which are structured around the 12 dancing daughters of the king, the soldier who wins the love of the oldest, and Amanda (or Azalea) the oldest of the 12 daughters. The plot is as follows: The king has 12 daughters who have a secret that leaves him perplexed. Each of them has a new pair of shining shoes which mysteriously have holes in them the next morning, The King offers his kingdom and the hand in marriage to the eldest daughter, Amanda, to the person who can discover the secret within three days. A soldier returning from war takes up the king’s offer and is well received. His role varies from variation to variation of the book and film. In the MDR-film version produced in 2011, he was a puppeteer and an actor. In either case, he is offered a glass of wine various times by the eldest, Amanda, which he rejects indirectly by pouring it out when she left. The wine was meant to put him to a deep sleep while the girls go dancing in the night.  He later pretended to sleep in order to find out the secret of the 12 princesses. which when he does, he’s due for a surprise that is unexpected.  The explanations will not go on further as one should watch the versions below to find out how the story ended. The German versions feature both the shortened cartoon version as well as the longer version produced by MDR. There is an English version featuring Barbie, yet they are rarer to find than in the German version. In either case, enjoy the films but don’t forget to scroll down to the commentary at the end. 🙂

Die zertanzte Schuhe (Shortened version)

Die zertanzte Schuhe (lange Version) Produced by MDR in 2011

The Twelve Princesses (English Version)

The theme of the 12 Princesses is love and ways to win it, no matter what the cost and the number of rejections the pursuer faces. This was a topic of a recent discussion I had with some students at a private firm, especially as one of them had taken an interest in a student colleague of his during a project- a rather religious girl in her mid-20s living in the eastern part of Germany. When he said that she was not interested in him at all despite his attempts of even befriending her, my response was to give it time, for the worst thing a person can do is to rush into a relationship, only to find that neither partner would be happy in the end. Put love on cruise control  and let things unfold. Sometimes women can be coconuts: they need time to soften before they can be opened.   I hope he takes this advice seriously, as it appears that the person  fits the description of the eldest daughter- not interested in someone lower than her because of differences in personality, and other items unknown. Sometimes by letting things fall into place, love will blossom in more colorful ways than in a shotgun relationship. This was my experience meeting my wife during my days in college in the US, almost 20 years ago.  Sometimes it’s better off to leave it and find someone else. And sometimes, maybe that person would rather be a friend than a partner. I had those experiences and it’s also ok. It shows interest but not all the way. Sometimes if you really want to love that person  of your dreams and you refuse to give up, you might have to have to play her game in order to find her secret and what you are looking for. In either case, the main character in the story found his way to her heart by revealing more than he thought, but it came at a price, which is what you can expect from love. So in other words, be careful with who you are pursuing to love. As shown in this Grimm piece, you may end up receiving more than you expected. Sometimes the unexpected can be an everlasting one. 🙂

Love was one of the main themes that the Grimm brothers wrote about in their 40+ years of collaboration together. There are other themes that they covered, but these will be discussed later, for more of their work will be profiled in the Files in the near future. In the meantime, have a look at the film and think about the following questions:

Was/Is there a person who you are/were truly interested, yet that person was/is not interested? If so, what attempts did you make to win her love/attention? Were they successful? What could you have done differently?

Think about it and discuss it with others. Perhaps others may have some advice for you. 🙂 <3

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Author’s Note: The photo was taken during the filming of The 12 Dancing Princesses by MDR in 2011. The author would like to thank Nik Konietzny and the public TV station for its use in the article. MDR stands for Mitteldeutsche Rundfunk and is based in Leipzig/Halle, serving east central Germany.

2013 Christmas Market Tour Pop Quiz II:

The second Pop Quiz on the 2013 Christmas Market Tour in Germany takes us back to Gera, Thuringia, where the Christmas Market provides some surprises to people who drive through the city and want to spend a few hours there. As mentioned in the article (which you can find here), Gera’s Christmas Markets feature a combination of murals and statues that depict the fairy tales that were written by various German and Danish children’s writers, including the Grimm Brothers and Hans-Christen Andersen.  Take a look at the following 10 murals/statues below (with some hints accompanying them). Can you guess from which stories they come from? Place your answers in the Comments section of the Files as well as in the Files’ facebook pages. Answers will come before Christmas. Good luck! 🙂

Picture 1

Picture 2 (Hint: The Giant is being challenged by a wizard- not Jack!)

Picture 3 (Hint: The title includes the name of a famous German city)

Picture 4 (Hint: Cinderella and bats do NOT get along!)

Picture 5

Picture 6 (Hei Ho! Hei Ho! Faa laaa la laa la laa!)

Picture 7 (You have to kiss many of these in order to find the prince of your dreams)

Picture 8

Picture 9 (Sorry! While Jack cut down the beanstalk and brought home dinner, he was never depicted as a statue at  the Christmas Market)

Picture 10