A discharged soldier had nothing to live on and did not know how to
make his way. So he went out into the forest, and when he had walked
for a short time, he met a little man who turned out to be the devil.
The little man said to him, “What ails you? You seem so very
sorrowful?” Then the soldier said, “I am hungry but have no money.”
The devil said, “If you will hire yourself to me and be my
serving man, you shall have enough for all your life.
You shall serve me for seven years, and after that, you shall again be free. But
one thing I must tell you, and that is, you must not wash, comb, or
trim yourself, or cut your hair or nails, or wipe the water from your
eyes.” The soldier said, “All right, if there is no help for it,” and
went off with the little man, who straightway led him into hell.
Then he told him what he had to do. He was to poke the fire under
the kettles wherein the hell-broth was stewing, keep the house clean,
drive all the sweepings behind the doors, and see that everything was
in order, but if he once peeped into the kettles, it would go ill
The soldier said, “Good, I will take care.” And then the
old devil went out again on his wanderings, and the soldier entered
upon his new duties, made the fire, and swept the dirt well behind
the doors, just as he had been bidden.
When the old devil came back again, he looked to see if all had been
done, appeared satisfied, and went forth a second time. The soldier
now took a good look on every side, the kettles were standing all
around hell with a mighty fire below them, and inside they were
boiling and sputtering.
He would have given anything to look inside
them if the devil had not so particularly forbidden him.
At last, he could no longer restrain himself, slightly raised the lid
of the first kettle and peeped in, and there he saw his former
“Aha, old bird,” said he, “do I meet you here? You
once had me in your power; now I have you.” And he quickly let the
lid fall, poked the fire, and added a fresh log. After that, he went
to the second kettle, raised its lid a little, and peeped in and
sat his former ensign. “Aha, old bird, I find you here; you
once had me in your power; now I have you.” He closed the lid again
and fetched another log to make it hot.
Then he wanted to see who might be sitting up in the third kettle – and who should it
be but his general. “Aha, old bird, do I meet you here? Once you
had me in your power, now I have you.” And he fetched the bellows and
made hell-fire blaze right under him.
So he did his work seven years in hell, did not wash, comb, or trim
himself, or cut his hair or nails, or wash the water out of his eyes,
and the seven years seemed so short to him that he thought he had
only been half a year. When the time had gone by, the
devil came and said, “Well, Hans, what have you done?” “I poked the
fire under the kettles and swept all the dirt well behind the
“But you have peeped into the kettles as well, and it is lucky for you
that you added fresh logs to them, or else your life would have been
forfeited. Now that your time is up, will you go home again?” “Yes,”
said the soldier, “I should very much like to see what my father is
doing at home.”
The devil said, “So that you may receive the
wages you have earned, go and fill your knapsack full of the
sweepings, and take it home with you. You must also go unwashed and
uncombed, with long hair on your head and beard, and with uncut nails
and dim eyes, and when you are asked whence you come, you must say,
from hell, and when you are asked who you are, you are to say, the
devil’s sooty brother, and my king as well.”
The soldier held his peace and did as the devil bade him, but he was
not satisfied with his wages. Then as soon as he was up in the
forest again, he took his knapsack from his back to empty it, but on
opening it, the sweepings had become pure gold.
“I should never have expected that,” said he, and was well pleased and entered the town.
The landlord was standing in front of the inn, and when he saw the
soldier approaching, he was terrified because Hans looked like such a
horrible sight, worse than a scarecrow.
He called to him and asked, “Whence do you come?”
“Who are you?”
“The devil’s sootybrother, and my king as well.”
Then the host would not let him enter,
but when Hans showed him the gold, he came and unlatched the door
himself. Hans then ordered the best room and attendance, ate, and
drank his fill, but neither washed nor combed as the devil
had bidden him and at last lay down to sleep. But the knapsack full
of gold remained before the eyes of the landlord and left him no
peace, and during the night, he crept in and stole it away.
The next morning, however, when Hans got up and wanted to pay the landlord and
travel further, his knapsack was gone. But he soon composed
himself and thought, you have been unfortunate from no fault of your
own. And straightway went back again to hell, complained of his
misfortune to the old devil, and begged for his help. The devil
said, “Seat yourself; I will wash, comb, and trim you, cut your hair
and nails, and wash your eyes for you.” And when he had done with
him, he gave him the knapsack back again full of sweepings and said,
“Go and tell the landlord that he must return your money, or else
I will come and fetch him, and he shall poke the fire in your place.”
Hans went up and said to the landlord, “You have stolen my money. If
you do not return it, you shall go down to hell in my place and will
look as horrible as I.” Then the landlord gave him the money, and
more besides, only begging him to keep it secret. And Hans was now a
He set out on his way home to his father and bought himself a shabby
smock to wear, and strolled about making music, for he had learned to
do that while he was with the devil in hell.
There was, however, an old king in that country before whom he had to
play, and the king was so delighted with his playing that he
promised him his eldest daughter in marriage. But when she heard
that she was to be married to an ordinary fellow in a smock, she said,
“Rather than do that, I would go into the deepest water.” Then the
king gave him the youngest, who was quite willing to do it to please
her father, and thus the devil’s sooty brother got the king’s
daughter, and when the aged king died, the whole kingdom likewise.
The Devil in Children’s Fairy Tales is common. But no other story stands out as much as the ‘devil and his sooty brother’ does. Written by the Grimm brother’s, it is a monumental piece of children’s literature.
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About Grimm Brothers:
The Brothers Grimm (die Brüder Grimm or die Gebrüder Grimm), Jacob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm (1786–1859), were German academics, philologists, cultural researchers, lexicographers, and authors who together collected and published folklore. They are among the best-known storytellers of folk tales, popularizing stories such as “Cinderella” (“Aschenputtel”), “The Frog Prince” (“Der Froschkönig”), “Hansel and Gretel” (“Hänsel und Gretel”), “Little Red Riding Hood” (“Rotkäppchen”), “Rapunzel”, “Rumpelstiltskin” (“Rumpelstilzchen”), “Sleeping Beauty” (“Dornröschen”), and “Snow White” (“Schneewittchen”). Their first collection of folk tales, Children’s and Household Tales (Kinder- und Hausmärchen), began publication in 1812.
The brothers spent their formative years in the town of Hanau in the Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel. Their father’s death in 1796 (when Jacob was eleven and Wilhelm was ten) caused great poverty for the family and affected the brothers many years after. Both brothers attended the University of Marburg, where they developed a curiosity about German folklore, which grew into a lifelong dedication to collecting German folk tales.
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The rise of romanticism in the 19th century revived interest in traditional folk stories, which to the brothers represented a pure form of national literature and culture. With the goal of researching a scholarly treatise on folk tales, they established a methodology for collecting and recording folk stories that became the basis for folklore studies. Between 1812 and 1857 their first collection was revised and republished many times, growing from 86 stories to more than 200. In addition to writing and modifying folk tales, the brothers wrote collections of well-respected German and Scandinavian mythologies, and in 1838 they began writing a definitive German dictionary (Deutsches Wörterbuch) which they were unable to finish during their lifetimes.
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The popularity of the Grimms’ collected folk tales has endured well. The tales are available in more than 100 translations and have been adapted by filmmakers (including Lotte Reiniger and Walt Disney), with films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In the mid-20th century, the tales were used as propaganda by Nazi Germany; later in the 20th century, psychologists such as Bruno Bettelheim reaffirmed the value of the work in spite of the cruelty and violence in original versions of some of the tales, which were eventually sanitized by the Grimms.