Image credit: Kristy Barlow
“The Girl without Hands” is very religious for a Grimm tale. A poor miller is approached by a mysterious man who promises the miller to make him rich if he gives the man what’s behind the mill. The miller quickly agrees, thinking he is only giving away the apple tree, but he learns later from his wife that their daughter, innocent, beautiful, “pious,” had been sweeping the yard. It must have been the devil, the wife asserts. The man has promised to come back in three years to retrieve what is his.
For three years, the girl lives “in the fear of God and without sin.” On the appointed day the girl washes herself and stand in the center of the chalk circle. The Devil seems to ignore the circle, but yells at the father to keep water away from the girl, if she’s clean, he can have no power over her. So dad, great guy that he is, takes the water away. After all he’s terrified of the Devil and she’s only his daughter, but the girl cries so much that the next day her hand have been washed by her tears, upsetting the devil again. The Devil orders the father to cut off her hands or the Devil will take him away instead, so Dad cuts off her hands. He’s not worried so much for his daughter as for himself. Not a great fatherly example, surprise, surprise. And daughter is obedient and holds out her hands for him to cut off. But once again, the daughter cries so much that on the third day the stumps that were left were cleaned by her tears. The Devil loses his claim on her.
She leaves her father’s house, and I can’t blame her. How could she possibly have stayed? She cries to God and his angels take care of her several times through the story. She wanders into a garden and a King finds her and marries her, but then he goes off to war and the Devil intervenes again, changing the King’s letters home to insist that the woman and the child she has had in the meantime be killed. Thankfully, the King’s mother sends the young woman away instead, and she finds a small cottage in the wood where she is taken in by an angel.
Remember though, this is a Grimm story and she’s beautiful, kind, obedient, God-fearing, just the kind of young woman the like, so of course she gets a happy ending. Not only does the angel make her hands grow back, the King returns from war and searches until he finds her. The two marry again and live happily every after.
I guess, aside from all the religious additions it really is a typical Grimm story. Dad’s bad, physically injuring the girl in this case and trying to hand her over to the Devil. The good girl gets to marry the king. Nobody’s punished though, and the older woman, the King’s mother, helps the younger woman instead of trying to harm her.
I think the big lesson here is to make sure, in any deal, that you know what you’re giving away and who you’re giving it to.
You can read the story for yourself in several places, including here.
Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.