Let’s Talk About Fairytales #5: The Girl Without Hands

Hello, everyone! I hope you’ve enjoyed your last few weeks of summer and are ready to dive into fall! Today I wanted to take a break from reviewing horror movies and talk about my favorite subject: crazy fairytales. I’ve read my “King Thrushbeards” and “The Goose Girl” and even “The Three Little Men in the Wood,” but while all of them are twisted, none quite hold a candle to the special act of cruelty embodied in the Grimm Brother’s tale “The Girl Without Hands.” Even the title is a doozy.

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Our story begins with the age old conflict between man and poverty. A poor miller, the everyman, is cutting wood one day in the forest when he meets an old man offering him riches beyond his dreams…for a small price.

“Why dost thou plague thyself with cutting wood, I will make thee rich, if thou wilt promise me what is standing behind thy mill?” said the old man.

“What can that be but my apple tree?” thought the miller, and said, “Yes,” and gave a written promise to the stranger.

He, however, laughed mockingly and said, “When three years have passed, I will come and carry away what belongs to me.”

Now, a couple key things in this interaction give us some pause. First, why would anyone laugh mockingly about an apple tree? Second, why would anyone trade eternal riches for an apple tree? That seems shady. Third, why would someone talk about transporting an apple tree at a later time? Shouldn’t a miller understand that you can’t easily “carry away” a tree? Any astute reader would balk at this deal, but our miller is the humble everyman, and therefore incredibly stupid. Do you, dear reader, think that this strange man was talking about the apple tree?

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Unaware that he will never be featured in the Donald’s Art of the Deal, the miller returns home to find his wife ecstatic at their newfound wealth. When he tells her how he came about it, she falls into a terror, for it wasn’t the apple tree standing behind the mill, but the miller’s DAUGHTER!

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Yes, my friends, welcome to another wonderful story in which a girl becomes chattel due to her father’s stupidity. To make things even worse, the strange man who the miller bartered his daughter to is also the Devil, so, that’s great. Resigned to her fate, the “pious” daughter lives for the next three years as chastely as possible. When the devil comes, she cleans herself and encircles herself with chalk. One is Evil Incarnate, the other is as pure as a lily. This could be the premise for a hilarious comedy on CBS!

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But imagine Matthew Perry as the Devil

The Devil returns to claim his bride but her cleanliness bars him from approaching. Peeved that he can’t immediately force this girl into marriage, he demands that the miller take away the girl’s water so that she can’t clean herself. The miller does so, but this doesn’t work either. The next morning the Devil returns, only to find that he still can’t force this girl into marriage because she wept so much that she cleaned her hands. God, the Devil cannot catch a break with this whole forced marriage business. So, he does what any Devil would do and orders the miller to cut off his daughter’s hands.

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It’s all for naught.  The girl weeps so hard that her stumps (!) are cleansed so the Devil just gives up on her. What a jerk! You asked for this handless girl, the least you can do is marry her. But who  am I to expect that the Devil  be a faithful partner?

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The miller offers to care for his handless daughter, but she prefers to venture out into the world where “compassionate people will give [her] as much as [she] requires.” You have no hands, girl! Re-evaluate your decision. Anyway, the handless girl goes out into the great wide world and soon realizes that no one cares about her, so she resorts to thievery.

She came to a royal garden…but could not enter for there was much water around it. She knelt down, called on God the Lord, and prayed. And suddenly an Angel came down and made a dam in the water and she could walk through it. She saw a beautiful tree covered with pears…and ate one with her mouth from the tree, but no more. The gardener was watching …but he thought the maiden was a spirit.

This is probably one of the strangest scenes I have encountered in a fairy tale. Girl prays to God to help her break into someone’s special garden, he sends an angel, but the angel only removes the water, so although the girl can enter the garden she still doesn’t have hands! She has to pick that pear with her mouth! Come on, God, the girl’s hunger is a secondary problem, her handlessness is the main one!

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How I imagine this girl eats now

The girl returns to the garden two more times, after which she is snapped up by the king to be his royal wife. Take note, ladies. If you perform a stealthy action three times, the king will immediately make you his wife. It’s actually a good thing that they get married because the king realizes that maybe being handless isn’t such a nice thing and he makes the girl a pair of silver hands. You go, king!

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Alas, their perfect life could not last forever. The king is called away to war and leaves his now pregnant wife in the hands of his mother, who surprisingly isn’t evil. She promises to look after the baby and send a message to the king when it arrives.

 But the messenger rested by a brook on the way…and fell asleep. Then came the Devil, who was seeking to injure the good Queen, and exchanged the letter for another in which was written that the queen had brought a monster into the world.

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Move on, dude! You were the one who rejected her. The king receives the letter and although he is shocked, he’s a standup dude and writes another letting saying that his mother should still take great care of the queen. Guess who steals this letter? Yep, it’s the Devil. He tells the mother to kill the queen and the child. Someone has lingering jealousy issues amirite folks?

But the old mother wept to think such innocent blood was to be shed, and she had a hind brought by night and cut out its tongue and eyes and kept them. Then she said to the Queen, “I cannot have thee killed as the King commands, but here thou mayest stay no longer. Go forth into the wide world with thy child and never come here again.”

May I point out that this story is quite similar to the original telling of Sleeping Beauty, but instead of the evil mother ordering the girl’s death, the devil does that instead. I prefer this one because the evil mother trope gets old real fast. Like Sleeping Beauty, the girl goes into the wilderness with her baby and lives in secrecy for seven years. And also, apparently, her hands grow back, because piety and shit. Thanks, God!

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But still, fuck you! Why didn’t you give her hands back earlier?

The king returns from war to find his wife gone and spends those seven years searching for her until at last he comes to the cottage where he lives and everyone is reunited. The End! They all live happily ever after, including the Devil, because he is definitely going to cut off another girl’s hand in the future.

The Dubious Moral: Make sure you know what is behind your shed. Oh and DON’T MAKE DEALS WITH THE DEVIL, ya stupid.

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