Fitcher's Bird

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Illustration to Fitcher's Bird by John B. Gruelle(?) (1914?)

Fitcher's Bird (German: Fitchers Vogel) is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, tale number 46.[1][2]

It is Aarne-Thompson type 311, the heroine rescues herself and her sisters.[3] Another tale of this type is How the Devil Married Three Sisters.[4][5] The Brothers Grimm noted its close similarity to the Norwegian The Old Dame and Her Hen,[6] also grouped in this tale type.

The tale also features the motifs of the "Forbidden chamber" and a bloodied item that betrays the bride peeking in that chamber against strict orders, and as such bears resemblance to the Bluebeard type tales (which are type AT 312).[5][7][8]


A sorcerer took the form of a beggar and carried off young women. He carried off an oldest sister and assured her she would be happy with him. Then, he went off and forbade her to enter one room; he also gave her an egg and told her to carry it everywhere and be careful with it. She went into the forbidden room, found hacked-up bodies and a basin of blood, and dropped the egg into it. The sorcerer returned and demanded the egg. Then he said that since she had gone in against his will, she would go in against her own, and killed her there. He carried off the second sister, and it went with her as with the first.

Then he carried off the youngest. She put aside the egg before she searched the house. When she found her sisters' bodies, she put all the parts back together, and the sisters came to life again. The sorcerer returned and was ready to marry her, because the egg was unstained. She told him that first he had to carry her parents a basket of gold without resting on the way, and she put her sisters in the basket and covered it with gold. Whenever he tried to rest, one sister would shout that she could see him resting.

Meanwhile, the youngest prepared a wedding feast, dressed up a skull and put it in the attic window, and covered herself with honey and feathers, so she looked like a strange bird. Going home, she is addressed as "Fitcher's Bird" by guests and the sorcerer, and tells them the bride is preparing the house. The guests and sorcerer went into the house. But the three sisters' brothers and relatives barred the doors and burned down the house, so they all died.


Regarding the meaning of Fitcher, the Grimms wrote in the notes to the tale that "The Icelandic fitfuglar (swimming-bird), which looked as white as a swan, will help to explain Fitcher's Vogel,"[6] and although this "swan" theory was endorsed by Albert Teodor Lysander (sv),[9] later commentators merely gloss fitfugl as "web-footed bird," which is the Cleasby-Vigfusson dictionary definition.[10][11] Others scholars advocate the view that the word derives from German Feder "feather" or Fittich "wings".[7]

Literary analogues[edit]

Modern folklorists classify the tale under AT 311 "Rescue by the Sister."[12][5][13] A large comprehensive list of analogues to Fitchers Vogel, spanning many languages, can be found in the companion volume to the Grimms' KHM, the Anmerkungen edited by Johannes Bolte and Jiří Polívka,[14] although this list is not culled down to contain only the AT 311 types.

A Norwegian analogue, The Old Dame and Her Hen (in the AT 311 tale group) was noted as analogue by the Brothers Grimm.[6][a] This Asbjørnsen and Moe folktale shares some essential features, such as the rescuer being of female gender, the other sisters being restored to life, and the villain being tricked into carrying the revived sisters back to their home. However, it lacks the "forbidden chamber" element, and she is merely confined to her captor's dwelling.

The Italian tale How the Devil Married Three Sisters belongs in this group. Here, the forbidden door is not bloody but leads to fiery hell.[8][15] There are at least ten published Italian variants, e.g. Il diavolo dal naso d'argento "The Devil with the silver nose", more fully listed in the article for the Italian counterpart.

Another tale of similar plot and setting is the Scottish "The Widow and her Daughters", Campbell's Popular Tales, No. 41.[4][16][b][c]

Insofar as the "Fitcher's Bird" is a tale of a serial-killing husband who compels his brides to the rule of the "Forbidden Chamber" (motif C611), it is closely similar to the Bluebeard (AT 312) type tales.[7][8] And just as in Grimm's tale the bloodied egg gives away the misconduct of the elder sisters, the bloody key is the telltale sign that Bluebeard's wives have peeked in the forbidden chamber (motif C913 "Bloody key as sign of disobedience").[5]

Among Grimm's fairy tales, the forbidden door features here and in Mary's Child (AT 710), as have been remarked in the notes to that tale.[17]

Some European variants of the ballad Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight, Child ballad 4, closely resemble this tale.[18]

Modern adaptations[edit]

  • Gregory Frost sets the tale among the doomsday religious cults of 19th century New York in his 2002 novel Fitcher's Brides.
  • In 2007, the theatre group BooTown adapted a short play based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, called Fitcher's a Bastard, but his bird's alright.
  • American artist Cindy Sherman adapted the story in a photographic spread for Vanity Fair.

See also[edit]


Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ Grimm cites "Asbjörnsen, S. 237" but this is the tale "36. De tre Sostre, som bleve indtagne i Bjerget" in Asbjörnsen and Moe (1843) p.237" to be more precise.
  2. ^ Campbell actually notes that a 3rd variant to his "The Widow and her Daughters" (No. 41) is the same as the Norwegian "The Old Dame and her Hen". Campbell does not describe the 3rd variant extensively, but says it is the same as Peter Buchan's "The History of Mr. Greenwood", which was not published later until 1908.
  3. ^ Also "The Princess and the Giant" from Scotland (Barchers 43-46)[8]


  1. ^ Grimm & Grimm 1843, KHM (Grosse Ausgabe), Band 1, "46. Fitchers Vogel" S.271-275
  2. ^ Margaret Hunt (tr.) Grimm & Grimm 1884, vol. 1, "46. Fitcher's Bird"
  3. ^ a b c Uther, Hans-Jörg (2004). The Types of International Folktales (SNIPPET) 1. Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, Academia Scientiarum Fennica. p. 191. 
  4. ^ a b D. L. Ashliman, "How the Devil Married Three Sisters, and other folktales of type 311"
  5. ^ a b c d Dundes, Alan (1993). Folklore Matters. Univ. of Tennessee Press. p. 128. ISBN 0870497766. 
  6. ^ a b c Grimm & Grimm 1856, KHM (3e Ausgabe), Band 3, S.73-76, Margaret Hunt (tr.) Grimm & Grimm 1884, p. 237
  7. ^ a b c Maria Tatar, The Annotated Brothers Grimm, p 201 W. W. Norton & company, London, New York, 2004 ISBN 0-393-05848-4
  8. ^ a b c d Jurich, Marilyn. Scheherazade's Sisters: Trickster Heroines and Their Stories in World Literature. pp. 82–83. 
  9. ^ Lysander, Albert Theodor (1891), "Tvifvel om en svensk folksagas äkthet", Chr. Cavallin och A. Th. Lysander: Smärre skrifter i urval, Stockholm: P. A. Norsted & Söner 
  10. ^ Zipes 1987, pp. 717–8
  11. ^ Cleasby-Vigfusson Dictionary, p. 155, "fit-fugle a web-footed bird, water-bird" (as opposed to "klófugl a bird with claws or talons")
  12. ^ Uther's TIF, under Type 311 lists: "German: Ranke 1955ff. I, Grimm KHM/ Uther 1996 I, No. 46, cf. No. 66, Berger 2001" (No. 46 is Fitcher's Bird)[3]
  13. ^ Abstract for Type 311 matching it is given in: Thompson, Stith (1977). The Folktale. University of California Press. p. 36. ISBN 0520035372. 
  14. ^ Johannes & Polívka 1913, vol. 1, pp.398-412
  15. ^ Widter, Georg; Wolf, Adam (1866). Reinhold Köhler (comparative study). "Volkmärchen aus Venetien". Jahrbuch für romanische und englische Literatur. 7 Nr. 11 Der Teufel heirathet drei Schwestern: 148–155. 
  16. ^ Uther's TIF, under Type 311 lists: "Scottish: Campbell 1890ff. II, No. 41, Aitken/Michaelis-Jena 1965, No. 20, Briggs 1970f. A I, 446f."[3]
  17. ^ Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. Household Tales "Our Lady's Child" Notes.
  18. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 1, p 47, Dover Publications, New York 1965


  • Grimm, Jacob; Grimm, Wilhelm (1843). "46. Fitchers Vogel". Kinder- und Hausmärchen (in German) 1 (Grosse Ausgabe ed.). Dieterichischen Buchhandlung. pp. 271–275. 
critical studies

External links[edit]