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The Girl Without Hands

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A CERTAIN miller2 had little by little fallen into poverty, and had nothing left but his mill3 and a large apple-tree4 behind it. Once when he had gone into the forest5 to fetch wood, an old man stepped up to him whom he had never seen before, and said, "Why dost thou plague thyself with cutting wood, I will make thee rich, if thou wilt promise me what is standing behind thy mill?" "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," and then he went. When the miller got home, his wife came to meet him and said, "Tell me, miller, from whence comes this sudden wealth into our house? All at once every box and chest was filled; no one brought it in, and I know not how it happened." He answered, "It comes from a stranger who met me in the forest, and promised me great treasure. I, in return, have promised him what stands behind the mill; we can very well give him the big apple-tree for it." "Ah, husband," said the terrified wife, "that must have been the devil!6 He did not mean the apple-tree, but our daughter, who was standing behind the mill sweeping the yard."

The miller's daughter was a beautiful, pious girl,7 and lived through the three years in the fear of God and without sin. When therefore the time was over, and the day came when the Evil-one was to fetch her, she washed herself clean, and made a circle round herself with chalk.8 The devil appeared quite early, but he could not come near to her. Angrily, he said to the miller, "Take all water away from her,9 that she may no longer be able to wash herself, for otherwise I have no power over her." The miller was afraid, and did so. The next morning the devil came again, but she had wept on her hands, and they were quite clean. Again he could not get near her, and furiously said to the miller, "Cut her hands off,10 or else I cannot get the better of her." The miller was shocked and answered, "How could I cut off my own child's hands?" Then the Evil-one threatened him and said, "If thou dost not do it thou art mine, and I will take thee thyself." The father became alarmed, and promised to obey him. So he went to the girl and said, "My child, if I do not cut off both thine hands, the devil will carry me away, and in my terror I have promised to do it. Help me in my need, and forgive me the harm I do thee." She replied, "Dear father, do with me what you will, I am your child." Thereupon she laid down both her hands, and let them be cut off. The devil came for the third time, but she had wept so long and so much on the stumps, that after all they were quite clean. Then he had to give in, and had lost all right over her.

The miller said to her, "I have by means of thee received such great wealth that I will keep thee most delicately as long as thou livest." But she replied, "Here I cannot stay,11 I will go forth, compassionate people will give me as much as I require." Thereupon she caused her maimed arms to be bound to her back, and by sunrise she set out on her way, and walked the whole day until night fell. Then she came to a royal garden, and by the shimmering of the moon12 she saw that trees covered with beautiful fruits grew in it, but she could not enter, for there was much water round about it. And as she had walked the whole day and not eaten one mouthful, and hunger tormented her, she thought, "Ah, if I were but inside, that I might eat of the fruit, else must I die of hunger!" Then she knelt down, called on God the Lord, and prayed. And suddenly an angel13 came towards her, who made a dam in the water, so that the moat became dry and she could walk through it. And now she went into the garden and the angel went with her. She saw a tree covered with beautiful pears,14 but they were all counted. Then she went to them, and to still her hunger, ate one15 with her mouth from the tree, but no more. The gardener was watching; but as the angel was standing by, he was afraid and thought the maiden was a spirit, and was silent, neither did he dare to cry out, or to speak to the spirit. When she had eaten the pear, she was satisfied, and went and concealed herself among the bushes. The King to whom the garden belonged, came down to it next morning, and counted, and saw that one of the pears was missing, and asked the gardener what had become of it, as it was not lying beneath the tree, but was gone. Then answered the gardener, "Last night, a spirit came in, who had no hands, and ate off one of the pears with its mouth." The King said, "How did the spirit get over the water, and where did it go after it had eaten the pear?" The gardener answered, "Some one came in a snow-white garment from heaven who made a dam, and kept back the water, that the spirit might walk through the moat. And as it must have been an angel, I was afraid, and asked no questions, and did not cry out. When the spirit had eaten the pear, it went back again." The King said, "If it be as thou sayest, I will watch with thee to-night."

When it grew dark the King came into the garden and brought a priest with him, who was to speak to the spirit. All three seated themselves beneath the tree and watched. At midnight the maiden came creeping out of the thicket, went to the tree, and again ate one pear off it with her mouth, and beside her stood the angel in white garments. Then the priest went out to them and said, "Comest thou from heaven or from earth? Art thou a spirit, or a human being?" She replied, "I am no spirit, but an unhappy mortal deserted by all but God." The King said, "If thou art forsaken by all the world, yet will I not forsake thee." He took her with him into his royal palace,16 and as she was so beautiful and good, he loved her with all his heart, had silver hands17 made for her, and took her to wife.

After a year the King had to take the field, so he commended his young Queen to the care of his mother and said, "If she is brought to bed take care of her, nurse her well, and tell me of it at once in a letter." Then she gave birth to a fine boy. So the old mother made haste to write and announce the joyful news to him. But the messenger rested by a brook on the way, and as he was fatigued by the great distance, he fell asleep. Then came the Devil, who was always 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. When the King read the letter he was shocked and much troubled, but he wrote in answer that they were to take great care of the Queen and nurse her well until his arrival. The messenger went back with the letter, but rested at the same place and again fell asleep. Then came the Devil once more, and put a different letter in his pocket, in which it was written that they were to put the Queen and her child to death. The old mother was terribly shocked when she received the letter, and could not believe it. She wrote back again to the King, but received no other answer, because each time the Devil substituted a false letter, and in the last letter it was also written that she was to preserve the Queen's tongue and eyes18 as a token that she had obeyed.

But the old mother wept to think such innocent blood was to be shed, and had a hind brought by night and cut out her tongue and eyes, and kept them. Then said she to the Queen, "I cannot have thee killed as the King commands, but here thou mayst stay no longer. Go forth into the wide world with thy child, and never come here again." The poor woman tied her child on her back, and went away with eyes full of tears. She came into a great wild forest, and then she fell on her knees and prayed to God,19 and the angel of the Lord appeared to her and led her to a little house on which was a sign with the words, "Here all dwell free." A snow-white maiden came out of the little house and said, 'Welcome, Lady Queen," and conducted her inside. Then they unbound the little boy from her back, and held him to her breast that he might feed, and laid him in a beautifully-made little bed. Then said the poor woman, "From whence knowest thou that I was a queen?" The white maiden answered, "I am an angel sent by God, to watch over thee and thy child." The Queen stayed seven years20 in the little house, and was well cared for, and by God's grace, because of her piety, her hands which had been cut off, grew once more.

At last the King came home again from the war, and his first wish was to see his wife and the child. Then his aged mother began to weep and said, "Thou wicked man, why didst thou write to me that I was to take those two innocent lives?" and she showed him the two letters which the Evil-one had forged, and then continued, "I did as thou badest me," and she showed the tokens, the tongue and eyes. Then the King began to weep for his poor wife and his little son so much more bitterly than she was doing, that the aged mother had compassion on him and said, "Be at peace, she still lives; I secretly caused a hind to be killed, and took these tokens from it; but I bound the child to thy wife's back and bade her go forth into the wide world, and made her promise never to come back here again, because thou wert so angry with her." Then spoke the King, "I will go as far as the sky is blue, and will neither eat nor drink until I have found again my dear wife and my child, if in the meantime they have not been killed, or died of hunger."

Thereupon the King travelled about for seven long years, and sought her in every cleft of the rocks and in every cave, but he found her not, and thought she had died of want. During the whole of this time he neither ate nor drank, but God supported him. At length he came into a great forest, and found therein the little house whose sign was, "Here all dwell free." Then forth came the white maiden, took him by the hand, led him in, and said, "Welcome, Lord King," and asked him from whence he came. He answered, "Soon shall I have travelled about for the space of seven years, and I seek my wife and her child, but cannot find them." The angel offered him meat and drink,21 but he did not take anything, and only wished to rest a little. Then he lay down to sleep, and put a handkerchief over his face.

Thereupon the angel went into the chamber22 where the Queen sat with her son, whom she usually called "Sorrowful,"23 and said to her, "Go out with thy child, thy husband hath come." So she went to the place where he lay, and the handkerchief fell from his face. Then said she, "Sorrowful, pick up thy father's handkerchief, and cover his face again." The child picked it up, and put it over his face again. The King in his sleep heard what passed, and had pleasure in letting the handkerchief fall once more. But the child grew impatient, and said, "Dear mother, how can I cover my father's face when I have no father in this world? I have learnt to say the prayer, 'Our Father, which art in Heaven,' thou hast told me that my father was in Heaven, and was the good God, and how can I know a wild man like this? He is not my father." When the King heard that, he got up, and asked who they were. Then said she, "I am thy wife, and that is thy son, Sorrowful." And he saw her living hands, and said, "My wife had silver hands." She answered, "The good God has caused my natural hands to grow again;" and the angel went into the inner room, and brought the silver hands, and showed them to him. Hereupon he knew for a certainty that it was his dear wife and his dear child, and he kissed them, and was glad, and said, "A heavy stone has fallen from off mine heart." Then the angel of God gave them one meal with her, and after that they went home to the King's aged mother. There were great rejoicings everywhere, and the King and Queen were married again,,24 and lived contentedly to their happy end.

1.  Maiden without Hands:  Source is Marie Hassenpflug (Paradiz 90). The story was changed greatly from the original 1812 version to the 1854 and the major changes are noted below.
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2.  Miller:  While not noble, millers did have some rank in society as their job, grinding flour, was needed by all. In the Industrial Revolution, mills went from manual labor in terms of hoisting the flour bags to "an early form of automation" (Hagley) powered by water that hoisted the bags. By the mid 1800s used a water turbine (Hagley 16). The fact that the miller is so poor indicates hard times, possibly caused by a famine, a war, or even the Industrial Revolution (perhaps the mill is out of date). The miller can not even make a living doing his normal job. In the 1812 version, the miller is simply poor and not sliding into poverty (Zipes, Brothers, 176).
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3.  Mill:  A mill "represents the equalizing effect of fate, which provides equal justice in the same way that a mill grinds every grain without prejudice" (Biedermann 221-222).
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4.  Large apple tree:  According to Frazer, in Germany and other parts of Europe there was a tradition of planting a tree at the birth of a child, the growth of the tree representing the growth of the child (682). The tree was "tended with special care" (682). In the story, the father does not show this special care for he is willing to trade the tree so quickly. In Switzerland, a pear tree was planted for a girl, an apple tree for a boy (Frazer 682) "and the people think that the child is then believed to grow with the tree" (Frazer 682).

In the language of flowers, an apple blossom means, "Will the glow of lover finally redden your delicate cheeks?" (Biedermann 136). Apples are the sacred fruit of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and can also symbolize sexual knowledge (Biedermann 16). The Latin word for apple (malus/malum) is similar to the word for evil (malum) (Biedermann 16). The apple can also symbolize both the fall from the Garden of Eden as well as the fact that Christ makes a return to innocence possible (in some paintings Christ is either holding or reaching for an apple) {Biedermann 16-17).
The crab apple means "This rigor that seems harsh chastises evil and conserves virtue" (Biedermann 17) in heraldry.
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5.  Into the forest: The forest is a place of change. It can also be a place of danger. There is also a connection to meeting gods in the forest, and when the devil appears in the forest he is being connected to the old gods (Biedermann 158).
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6.  That must have been the devil:  Pacts with the devil have long been a literary tradition, dating as far back as the Old Testament (Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow 360). Usually the hero tricks the devil or "is eventually saved by his repentance and inner transformation" (Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow 360). Here the miller is guilty of stupidity. He makes a pact with the devil, but he doesn't know it until his wife tells him. The story makes it clear that the father is not wholly to blame and absolve him of all that follows because he was tricked (Ashliman).

The word devil comes from the Greek diabolos which means "adversary, prosecutor" (Lindemans). The Greek term is a translation of the Hebrew Satan (Lindemans).
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7.  Beautiful, pious girl:  Her looks are very important and there is a tendency in stories to have beauty and goodness paired together. The description strengthens the blamelessness and goodness of the girl. In the 812 version, she simply "lived though the three years in the fear of God and without sin" (Zipes, Brothers, 176).
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8.  Circle around her with chalk:  A circle is drawn to protect a magician from the demon that he/she has summoned (Biedermann 70), but according to Jung, the circle can also symbolize the whole self (Nataf 66).
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9.  Take all water away from her:  In the 1812 version, it is cleansing water (perhaps meaning holy water) (Zipes, Brothers, 176). Water can symbolize life, fertility, destruction, and submission (Biedermann 373). There is a belief that some types of moving water could be used to cast off an evil spirit if a person washes with the water (Biedermann 374).

The story, in both versions, makes it clear that the father acts because he is fearful of the devil. Zipes writes,

The father is not terribly concerned about the future of his daughter. He is worried about his impoverishment, and he does not hesitate to chop off her hands. He is a frustrated man, concerned about his inability to succeed- perhaps his virility-and he finds a way to vent his frustration by attacking his child and then rationalizing it. He simply expects her to forgive because he cannot help himself, because he is afraid of the devil. His violation of her is not treated as a crime but rather as an emergency; she is made to feel guilty if she does not relent. (Brothers, 172-173).

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10.  Cut off her hands:  Hands connect a person to god (though the act of prayer) and mean loyalty and (Biedermann 163). It should also be noted that the father was the head and controlling figure of the family.

In a variant of the story that the Grimms recorded, the father cuts off the hands and the breasts of his daughter when she refuses to marry him. Most, if not all, critics see this tale as a tamed down and coded story about incest. The best known essay is the "The Psychoanalytic Study of the Grimms' Tales with Special Reference to 'The Maiden without Hands (AT 706)" by Alan Dundes. Ashliman sums up the main support for the incest theme when he says, "These tales too {where the father has a stand in such as the devil} are dealing with molested children, but the storytellers suppress the fact that the threat is coming from within the girl's own household".

Ashliman continues, "It is easy to see how a child, abused by the principal authority in her household-the individual who should be her most powerful protector-could see herself as being without hand, the human extension that must directly allow use to manipulate and control the world outside ourselves". In addition, mutilation to save one's virginity or to keep a vow has been a common theme in both the East and the West since ancient times (Zipes, Fairy Tale Tradition 506). Maria Warner points out, "Only horribly disfigured in this way can she become inviolable and so resist" (348).

The maiden at this point has not real control over what happens to her and it is only though losing her self-worth, without hands she cannot perform any household duties. She has escaped but at a high cost.
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11.  Here I cannot stay:   Ashliman points out that the tale "obviously require that the abused woman give up all the privileges of her father's position when she makes her escape".
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12.  Royal garden and by the shimmering moon:  A cloistered garden was designed to resemble the Garden of Eden, and "the enclosed garden represents virginity in general and that of Mary in particular" (Biedermann 149). The garden is also a place of growth (Biedermann 149).

The moon is usually seen as feminine and is also linked to the Virgin Mary (Biedermann 240). The Virgin Mary is the "intercessor in heaven" (Jones 175), a saint whom intercedes on the behalf of the petitioner. There is also a tradition of the moon as replenishing (Opie, Tatem 260). This also connects to the garden which has replenishing fruit.
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13.  Angel:  In the second and third centuries, angels were recognized by the Church (Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow 10). According to the "Apocalypse of Saint Paul", "guardian angels protect the virtuous who have renounced the world" (Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow). In some ways, the maiden has renounced the world when she left her father's house.

Jack Zipes points out, "The later 1857 version makes the maiden more helpless, more stoic, and dependent on the angel. In addition, the tale becomes much more didactic and moralistic. It is as if one merely had to place trust in God and do the right things, and everything would turn out well."(Brothers, 171). The maiden, here and in other places, is rewarded because she turns to god, her heavenly father, for help. In some ways the angel (acting for god) is taking the place of the girl's father. Her earthly father gets her into danger; her heavenly father protects her (as her earthly father should have done).
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14.  Beautiful pears:  In the 1812 version it is an apple tree (Zipes, Brothers, 177).

A pear resembles a woman's body (Biedermann 258). In Switzerland, pear trees were planted at the birth of girl (Frazer 682). Pears are also sacred to Hera, the Greek goddess who is the protector of marriage (Biedermann 258).

There is also a famous allegory involving a pear tree. Hugo of Tremberg in 1290 described a pear tree dropping pears onto grass or onto thorns. In this allegory, the pear tree is Eve, the fruit her descendents (the human race), "whoever does not fall into the green grass of repentance, dies in mortal sin" (Biedermann 258). Return to place in story.


15.  Ate one: In the 1812 version, the maiden shakes the tree with her body and crawls around eating the apples that fall (Zipes, Brothers, 177). This change makes the girl more restrained and less animal like. It is a dainty and lady like action. She does not over indulge, and she takes as little as possible. She is still a good, pious girl.
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16.  Took her with him into his royal palace:  In the 1812 version, she is captured by the guards, assigned to watch over the chickens, and later the prince (who becomes king) marries her (Zipes, Brothers, 177-178).

Silver is associated with the moon though it is valued less than gold (Biedermann 308). However, "silver jewelry came to be associated with middle-class prosperity; it was frequently used to make devotional objects. Silver was popularly believed to ward off demons" (Biedermann 308).
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17.  Silver hands:  

(This note provided by Heidi Anne Heiner.)
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18.  Queen's tongue and eyes:  The tongue is the symbol of martyred saints as well as language (Biedermann 346). The queen also does not have much need for her tongue because she hasn't said anything since leaving her father's house.

Eyes are the symbol of the soul and can symbolize the trinity (Biedermann 122).

In the 1812 version, she is simply sentenced to banishment (Zipes, Brothers, 178).

A hind is another word for a doe and "stands in many myths for the female animal in general, which can have a demonic character "(Biedermann 96).
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19.  Prayed to God:  In the 1812 version, an old man helps her to nurse her child, and then tells her to wrap her arms around a large tree three times. After she has done this, she gets her arms back (Zipes, Brothers, 178). Here she is reward with protection and the return of her arms because she asks god for help and is pious. The regaining of her arms seems to be a signal that she is now an adult. Midori Snyder writes, "The narratives make it clear that without her arms, she {the maiden} is unable to fulfill her role as an adult." When her arms returned to her, the maiden no longer needs help to feed her son.

"Here all dwell free" could refer to the fact that the maiden gains her adult, independence, and is no longer pursed by any threat (such as the devil).
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20.  Seven years:  According to Bettleheim seven is a "symbol for each day of our life" (84). The fact that the king fasts and has God's support points towards his goodness. It could also be a form of penance.
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21.  Offered meat and drink:  If the king is fasting as a form of penance to take the offered food would be a break of that fast. Because he refused, he shows his piety like his wife does when she prays.
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22.  The angel went into the chamber:  The ending is very different in the 1812 version. He does not fast, and it is unclear how long he is looking for his wife. The king is traveling with a servant who sees a house in the forest and wants to rest. The King wants to keep searching for his wife, but finally gives in "out of pity" for the servant. The Queen is recognized by the servant who is greatly confused because she has her hands back. When the servant asks to enter the house, he is refused because he did not ask for God's sake. Finally, the king asks to be let in for God's sake three times (the required amount). The couple is reunited, leave the next day and the story ends as the house disappears (Zipes, Brothers, 178-179).
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23.  Sorrowful:  The name of the son seems to be the only indication of the Queen's reaction to all that has happened to her.
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24.  Were married again:  Midori Snyder notes, "Every narrative version concludes with what is in effect a second marriage. The woman, now whole, her arms restored by an act of magic, has becomes herself the magic, aligned with the creative power of nature . . . When he {the husband} comes to propose marriage this second time, it is a marriage of equals, based on respect and not pity."

It is also important that it is only in the ending sequence of the story that the Queen speaks to her husband. When they first meet, she does not say anything.

Jack Zipes raises an interesting question and interpretation about this tale. He says of the 1812 version:

From a psychoanalytical viewpoint, the changes that appear in the 1857 version reveal a great deal about Wilhelm {Grimm}. To begin with, the "betrayal of the father" can be equated with Wilhelm's father's early death. The mistreatment of the girl and her helpless condition can be connected to the mistreatment
Wilhelm endured in Kassel, his asthma and heart troubles. The creation of the Strong angelic figure who helps the girl can be related to Jacob {Grimm}, who constantly stood by Wilhelm and came to his aid. The misunderstandings in the marriage that are patched up by the angel may indicate some difficulties in
Wilhelm's marriage with Dortchen Wild that were resolved by Jacob. Finally, the general theme of the story can be summed up by the Grimms' family motto: Tute si recte vixeris - he cannot go wrong whose life is in the right. (Brothers, 171)

Zipes also questions whether or not Wilhelm Grimm had been abused as a child and that this accounts for the changes that he made (Brothers, 172). Zipes does not answer the question, but only raises it as a possibility.


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