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Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales: The Wolf and the Man

“A Fox was one day talking to a Wolf about the strength of man. ‘No animals,’ he said, ‘could withstand Man, and they were obliged to use cunning to hold their own against him.’ The Wolf answered, ‘If ever I happen to see a Man, I should attack him all the same.’ ‘Well, I can help you to that,’ said the Fox. ‘Come to me early tomorrow, and I will show you one!'”

And so continues the Wolf and Fox saga. Although “Man” is in the title of this fairy tale, the Fox once again plays a large part.

This is the 50th Grimm’s Fairy Tale I have read and written about! Despite the short lengths of these stories, it still feels monumental to have reached this point. If you have read my posts since I began writing them back in February of 2017, thank you! And if this happens to be the first post you’ve read of this series, welcome!
Only 161 tales left to go!

The next morning, the Fox brought the Wolf to where the edge of the forest meets a road so that the Wolf could have his chance to attack a Man. The first person to appear is a soldier, and when the Wolf asks “‘Is that a man?'” the Fox replies “‘He has been a man.'”

Next comes a boy, and the Wolf repeats his question, to which the Fox answers “‘No, he is going to be a man.'” Then…

At last the Huntsman made his appearance, his gun on his back, and his hunting-knife at his side. The Fox said to the Wolf, “Look! There comes a Man. You may attack him, but I will make off to my hole!”

The Wolf set on the Man, who said to himself when he saw him, “What a pity my gun isn’t loaded with ball,” and fired a charge of shot in the Wolf’s face. The Wolf made a wry face, but he was not to be so easily frightened, and attacked him again. Then the Huntsman gave him the second charge. The Wolf swallowed the pain, and rushed at the Huntsman. But the Man drew his bright hunting-knife, and hit out right and left with it, so that, streaming with blood, the Wolf ran back to the Fox.

The fox asks the Wolf (sarcastically, I like to imagine, as the Wolf is clearly “streaming with blood”) “‘how did you get on with the Man?'” and the Wolf explains what happened, although with some minor changes due to the fact that the Wolf is unfamiliar with man-made weapons (calls the gun a stick into which the hunter blew, and says the knife was a “‘shining rib'” from the Huntsman’s body). The Fox’s next statement ends the tale, and offers up a lesson to the Wolf and, of course, the reader:

“Now, you see,” said the Fox, “what a braggart you are. You throw your hatchet so far that you can’t get it back again.”

The Fox clearly knew enough about the Huntsman to stay away (and enough about weapons to incorporate “hatchet” into his lesson), and while I found the Fox to be sly and cunning in the previous tale, I do admit that in this one he very clearly does the Wolf a favor by giving him a warning about Man. If the Wolf had just taken the Fox’s word for it, there wouldn’t be much tale to tell. But alas, the Wolf’s nature, character, and/or ego prevented him from backing down after deciding to attack Man at his first opportunity.

Once again the “rule of threes” comes into play, as it takes not one or two rounds of retaliation for the Wolf to back down, but three. Of course, each round is more gruesome than the next, but that is sort of the point, right?

As for the Fox’s lesson at the end (or really, during the entire story), it reminds the Wolf (and the reader) not to overstep or exaggerate the boundary of our limits—physical, emotional, mental— to the point of no return; doing so could lead to some sort of irreversible harm (in this case, critical injury and potentially death). It also says something about trusting someone who knows more than you do about a situation, regardless of your own confidence or boldness. If the Wolf had simply heeded the Fox’s initial warning, he would likely not currently be “‘more dead than alive.'”

What do you think about the Fox’s lesson here?

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EXTRAS:

  • I recommend listening to this audio recording of The Wolf and the Man. It’s not word-for-word identical to the version in my Grimm tome, but it’s not inferior or off-track by any means. There is also a couple of minutes of analysis at the end, which is definitely worth listening to as well. While I didn’t necessarily interpret this as a “know your place” sort of tale, that perspective (in the analysis portion) is interesting to consider.
  • Aarne-Thompson classification system157: Learning to Fear Men

Reading Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales | Featured Image

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