#FairytaleTuesday: Clever Hans

Nota bene: My posts won’t always match up with the hashtag themes because I’m going straight through the Grimm’s 1812 edition, one after the other.

Not that Clever Hans, y’all

Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index type 1685: The Foolish Bridegroom, 1696: What Should I Have Said?, and 1006: Casting Eyes
[Cw: animal abuse]

Well, for a nice change of pace we have a maiden that is being sought by a man and when she realizes how thoughtless and rude he is, she sends him packing. This is one of the few stories we’ve had that shows a fairytale maiden taking charge of her agency and deciding her own fate, though admittedly, it does take a bit. There are actually two versions of this story within the same section of the book so we’ll go over both of them. The second is essentially a more-detailed version of the first.

John B. Gruelle, 1914

In the first version, we’re introduced to Hans, who wants to marry Gretel (not to be confused with Hansel and Gretel; same names, totally different stories). It’s made clear that Hans is, well, a bit different. He takes leave of his mother one morning and goes to Gretel’s house. She asks if he brought her anything nice. He responds “Didn’t bring anything. Want something from you.” That alone should have a clue but we’re going to assume that Gretel was understanding of Hans’s taciturn manner. She gives him a needle, which he proceeds to stick in a hay wagon on his way home. He tells his mother this and she responds that he should have stuck it in his sleeve.

This starts an inevitable chain of events. He returns to Gretel the next day and she gives him a knife which he sticks in his sleeve. His mother tells him he should have put it in his pocket. The next morning Gretel gives him a goat, which he puts in his pocket. It smothers and his mother tells him he should have used a rope. Gretel then gives him some bacon. He ties the bacon to a rope and tries to drag it home but dogs eat it on the way. His mother tells him he should have carried it on his head. So, the next morning Gretel gives him a calf, which he puts on his head and promptly gets kicked in the face. His mother tells him he should have stabled it. Can you see where this is going?

Yes, he wraps a rope around Gretel, leads her to the stable and tosses her some grass. When he gets home, his mother tells him that he should have tossed her “friendly looks with the eyes.”

If you’re thinking “No, he doesn’t. Does he?” well, he does indeed return to the stable the next day, cuts the eyes out of all the sheep and cows and hucks the entire bloody mess at Gretel. At that point, she’s had enough and leaves and “That was how Hans lost his bride.”

I know, I know! One would think that she would have drawn the line at being tied up in the stable overnight but I guess she was hoping that it would all work out?

Natalie Frank, 2015

The second version of the story fleshes out the narrative. It doesn’t give the names of the players but it tells us where it’s located, and the socioeconomic status of the players involved. Hans is the son of a very rich widow and Gretel is the daughter of a well-respected and distinguished man. Despite this, Gretel’s family is poor but Hans wants her and his mother knows that if she doesn’t allow him to court Gretel, he will become REALLY unruly. and Gretel’s parents know that they haven’t the money to set her up properly so they are forced to accept Hans’s courtship.

So Hans’s mother tries to whip him into shape and sends him on to Gretel. Gretel gifts him a pair of fine leather gloves at this meeting, which he promptly and thoughtlessly ruins. His mother gives him advice and he goes back. When Gretel hears what he’s done, she realizes what kind of person he is and gives him more and more ridiculous gifts. His mother understands that things are going south and goes to see Gretel’s parents.

Before she leaves, Hans’s mother asks him to watch her goose, who has eggs that are near to hatching. This leads to a weird episode where he accidentally kills the goose and then covers himself in feathers in order to try to hatch the eggs himself. His mother finds him and tells him to clean up because Gretel is on her way over. At this point, she gives him the advice to “cast polite eyes” on Gretel. So, he goes to the barn, cuts the eyes out of all of the sheep, and flings them in Gretel’s face when she arrives.

As one can expect, Gretel becomes irate and leaves, thus ending any prospect of marriage. The story then tells us that Hans is still trying to hatch those geese to this day and that “I’m concerned, however, that when the geese wake up, they, too, will become young fools. May the Lord protect us.”

And so we have another weird little tale from the Brothers Grimm that is a bit hard to analyze. My own thoughts are that, while women may not have had many choices in these times, it was still considered a generally good idea to at least try to woo them with sweetness and adoration. Hans displays characteristics that can be taken a number of ways though. I mean, maybe he was socially awkward, or neurodivergent, and so he just didn’t get the nuances of courtship. It’s not like being ND is a new thing; it’s just that we’re finally starting to accept and recognize it. But this isn’t something that would have been taken into account back then.

And for Gretel, well, she is a beautiful young maiden who is expected to marry someone, right? The fact that she was allowed to exercise choice in this matter is good, but it also speaks to what was expected of her as well. Having said that, when Gretel finally breaks it off completely, at the end, she says that “It was clear that the fool was a complete boor and that he was totally berserk and might do anything or everything to her that came to his mind.” So, concerns for how she might fare in a marriage to Hans matter in this instance. She isn’t being sold off, even though Hans is the son of a very rich widow. She will have to marry someone but it seems that she can at least choose someone who won’t fling sheep eyes in her face.

Grimm, Jacob; Grimm, Wilhelm. The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition (p. 110). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

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