Grimm Brothers Household Stories

The Wonderful Musician

Headpiece from The Wonderful MusicianThree is a number appearing frequently in the Grimm brothersHousehold Stories, in titles, characters, for example, or scene structure. In “The Wonderful Musician” three is a repetitive motif, three wild animals, three confrontations, three magical entrapments, three characters: the three animals represent the woods or nature, the musician society, and the woodcutter our protection or defence, a bridge. But what do they mean?

Nature

In German myth, as in many medieval/pagan worldviews, the woods are both magical and dangerous. The latter is the metaphor here, a dangerous wood or wild, uncontrollable nature represented by the three wild animals, the wolf, the fox and the hare who respond to the musician’s call for companionship. Each animal represents progressively less threat, a succinct history of society as it learned to use nature, rather than submit.

Society

The musician stands for humanity in all its social structure and tradition; his fiddle speaks of technology; his music its beauty and creative aspects. The musician wants companionship, something with which we can all identify. On the other hand, the musician (society) must use magic (technology) to subdue the animals (nature), but he is not entirely successful. Nature is forever escaping its bindings.

The Bridge Between Nature and Society

The woodcutter is our defender, his axe (transforming from tool to weapon as needed) our defence against nature, using it to threaten or kill nature, making it clear that nature and its wild animals have no place in the civilized world. Society’s success depends upon the woodcutter’s presence. He frees society to go about its business of building, creating, socializing. He is the bridge between wild nature and structured society in his capacity as controller, provider and companion, yet another triple motif.

As we read deeply, threes within threes add complex layers to this story, using metaphor to show us a unique interaction, fear, and need to subdue nature to our will.

Notes

This is my entry for Unit 1 in the course offered by Eric Rabkin, University of Michigan, entitled: “Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World”. Reading for Unit 1 is Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm, and Professor Rabkin recommended we choose the edition from 1886, translated by Lucy Crane and illustrated by her brother, Thomas Crane.

Our — meaning the students — assignment each week is to write an essay on the week’s reading, in 270 to 320 words, which will enrich the reading experience of fellow students.

Check out coursera.com to see what courses are on offer. You can study and learn for free online, which is a great way to keep learning. They offer a variety of course in many disciplines, offered from 16 universities worldwide.

I have no connection to Coursera other than as a student, very thrilled to be able to take advantage of this opportunity. Science Fiction and Fantasy are favoured genres on my reading lists, and this course offers an opportunity to expand my understanding of both.

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2 thoughts on “Grimm Brothers Household Stories”

  1. I found that your relationship with the number ‘3’ between the past and present and also its interaction bridging between society and nature intriguing. That correlation has given me several thoughts to ponder. It has also given me the impetus to read a few of Grimms Brothers tales for my own edification.

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