“These little wights have made us rich, and we ought to be thankful to them, and do them a good turn if we can. I am quite sorry to see them run about as they do; and indeed it is not very decent, for they have nothing upon their backs to keep off the cold. I’ll tell you what, I will make each of them a shirt, and a coat and waistcoat, and a pair of pantaloons into the bargain; and do you make each of them a little pair of shoes.”Elves and the Shoemaker, The Brother’s Grimm
Origins of the Quote
Written in 1806 by the famous Brother’s Grimm, the story was originally the first and longest story in a series. It consisted of three fairy tales entitled ‘The Elves’. This version of the story, The Elves and the Shoemaker was sourced from The Fairy Tales of Grimm, with very special illustrations. It was illustrated by the Scottish artist Anne Anderson.
This short story follows a declining shoemaker at Christmas time. Who on waking up one morning awakes to discover a perfect pair of shoes, sitting at his work table. Every morning the same mysterious occurrence takes place. This helps him reverse his run of bad luck.
A tale of hard work rewarded, the perfect treat for a frosty afternoon. Also a tale of paying back kindness whenever possible, and it is always possible. The shoemaker and his wife put clothes and shoes on the tiny creatures and are rewarded with a lifetime of income.
The Person Behind the Words
The Brothers Grimm (Die Brüder Grimm) are unique within the literary world. Despite their work being well-known, Jacob and Wilhelm were not, actually writers. They were librarians.
The brothers Grimm were born in Hanau, east of Frankfurt, Germany, over a span of fourteen months. Jacob Ludwig Carl arrived on 4th January 1785 and was followed by Wilhelm Carl on 24th February 1786. In 1791, the Grimm family moved to the countryside town of Steinau. Here they received strict Calvinist instruction and a deep love of rural life.
The brothers’ lost their father in 1796, plunging the family into financial hardship. Two years later, Jacob and Wilhelm moved to Kassel to attend the prestigious Friedrichs gymnasium. A generous aunt funded their education. After graduating, the brothers attended the University of Marburg. Due to their social standing, they were excluded from much of student life.
In 1808, Jacob Grimm was appointed court librarian to the King of Westphalia. Shortly, both he and Wilhelm became librarians in Kassel. Under the eye of their patron, Clemens Brentano, the brothers began to scour the Kassel archives for ancient folk tales. They also began to invite storytellers to their homes. Here they would transcribe their stories.
Despite the image the brothers would develop of these tales emerging naturally out of an ancient and oral German culture, in actual fact, many came from well-educated or aristocratic people, and even occasionally from French or Italian sources.
Some Final Thoughts
This famous tale about two sneaky little elves and their shoe-making adventures is a Christmas classic. There are several layers to the story. As folklore is often wanting to have – many teachings in its fold. It becomes a Christmas special when understood against the background of the real spirit of Christmas – which was charity.
The old couple did not have much to share – but they had it in their hearts to share with what they had. And for that, they will always be remembered.
Check out our Quote of the Day archive where we bring you quotes hand picked by me, Divvya Nirula. Sharing the stories, people, moments behind the inspiration and thought provoking words.