#FairytaleTuesday: The Fisherman and His Wife

Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index type 555: The Fisherman and his Wife

Flounder, flounder, in the sea,
if you’re a man, then speak to me.
Though I don’t agree with my wife’s request,
I’ve come to ask it nonetheless.


This version of the story was told to the brother’s by Philipp Otto Runge. The story has variations all of the world, however, including the German “Hanns Dudeldee”, the Russian “The Old Man, His Wife, and the Fish”, the Japanese “The Stonecutter”, and the Indian “The Bullock’s Balls.” There’s also a delightful French version from Edouard Laboulaye called “The Fairy Crawfish.”

This classic tale of “be careful what you wish for,” which I mentioned briefly when discussing the Ceasg, is considered an anti-fairy tale in that the ending isn’t “happily ever after” but is instead “you should have been happy with what you had.” Essentially, a poor fisherman comes across a talking, wish-granting flounder that he returns to the sea, without asking for a boon, because he’s not an asshole. Upon returning home, the fisherman’s wife scolds him for not making a wish and sends him back out to ask the flounder for a nice house.

Mike Lyon, 1996

The wish is granted but instead of being satisfied, the fishwife begins demanding more and more and making her husband harass the flounder over and over again until, finally, she requests the power of God, at which point the flounder nopes right on out of there, taking back everything that he had granted, leaving the fishwife in the hovel she started out with. She apologizes to her husband for her greediness, he forgives her, and they realize that all they ever needed was love.

Ofra Amit, 2017

Unlike some of the stories that I’ve covered before, the lesson here is clear and easy to understand. There’s appears to be no deeper analysis then the simple concept that your wants shouldn’t outstrip your means. You got the nice house now be happy with it instead of demanding more. Having said that, and now that I think about it, perhaps there is a deeper, less pleasant lesson here, about how the poor should be happy with whatever bits of largess they receive and not entertain dreams of rising above their station. There is the idea that if you dream too big, you will inevitably tumble back down to your dirt-poor roots. But stories that tell the poor that they should be happy with the scraps they receive is just a silly idea, right? That would never happen!

I do find it interesting, though, that this is considered an anti-fairy tale with no happy ending. I mean, the couple come together at the end and understand that all they needed was love so how is that not the happiest of endings? They may live in a shack by the sea where everything smells of fish and all they eat is fish and their entire lives are consumed by fish even as they consume these fish to live, but they have love so… actually, screw that, go find that talking flounder!

Larry and Vivian Snipes’ production of The Fisherman and His Wife, directed by Nestor Bravo Goldsmith, 2014

Work Cited:
Grimm, Jacob; Grimm, Wilhelm. The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition. Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition. 

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