Thursday’s Tale: How Some Children Played at Slaughtering

Grimm's Fairy Tales

Today’s tale is actually a two for one Grimm selection. “How Some Children Played at Slaughtering” was in the Grimms’ first collection in 1812, but was not included in later editions and I can see why- even for the Grimms it’s pretty horrible.

There are two stories under this title. The first starts with some five and six-year-olds playing together. One boy is designated the butcher. The other children pretend to be cooks, a cook’s assistant and the pig. The “butcher” attacks the little boy playing the pig and slits his throat. Then, the cook’s assistant catches the blood in a bowl.

An adult walking by, sees what happens and takes the “butcher” to the mayor’s house, where they summon the council. The council can’t decide what to do since it was just part of a children’s game. Finally, one old man advises the judge to put an apple in one hand and a gold coin in the other. If the child takes the apple, he is free. If he takes the coin, he is to be killed. The judge does this and the boy takes the apple so he is set free.

I guess if the boy reasoned that the gold coin was worth more than the apple, he would have been grown enough to realize how wrong it had been to kill the other child, even as part of a game, but by taking the apple, he showed he still thought like a little child and should therefore not be held responsible for his choices. The story’s horrible for two reasons to me. First the image of children killing each other is always tragic, but then the adults just accept it in the end. There’s no punishment, no teaching moment. Scary, especially when we see today what kids of all ages do to each other, from bullying to assaulting.

In the second story, two brother are playing, one is the butcher and the other the pig. Of course, you see where this is going: the “butcher” takes a knife and slices his little brother’s throat, killing him. Their mother, who was upstairs bathing the third child, hurries downstairs when she hears the ruckus. In a rage, she takes the knife out of the boys throat and stabs the older child through the heart. Then, she runs upstairs to take care of the third child, only to find he has drowned in the tub. Mom is so frightened and desperate she hangs herself. Father, who had been working in the fields, comes home, sees everything that has happened, and becomes so depressed he eventually dies.

Not a happy ending- a whole family dead. These two stories are shocking, frightening. There’s definitly a lack of respect for human life in both. Of course, I don’t think that the Grimms really expected these to be read to children and I would like to believe that when they took them out of later collections when they realized how many children were hearing the tales.

I read the stories here on-line from the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University

And, as a bonus, here’s an interesting interpretation of the story I found on YouTube, done with shadow puppets. It lasts about 5 minutes.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.

This was my second short story for R.I.P. VII, a reading event embracing the ghastly and ghostly, mysterious and grim. R.I.P. VII is hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.

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7 Comments

  1. TBM

    I don’t even know how to respond to this one…it’s horrible. I actually didn’t read a lot of these stories, even their popular ones, when I was a kid. I’m glad they stopped putting this one in the collections, though.

  2. Just a random reader

    Actually, the Grimm brothers didn’t remove the stories on their own – they were advised to do it because people thought the stories were too violent, and I believe it was Willhelm who actually defended the stories. He said that he’d heard them as a child and they made him very careful while he was playing – so yeah, the brothers probably wanted children to read and learn from them….

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