Hans My Hedgehog

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"Hans My Hedgehog" is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm. Since the second edition published in 1819, it has been recorded as Tale no. 108.[1] The tale follows the events in the life of a human-hedgehog hybrid named Hans.


A wealthy but childless merchant wishes he had a child, even a hedgehog. He comes home to find that his wife has given birth to a baby boy that is a hedgehog from the waist up. They then name him "Hans My Hedgehog".

After eight years, Hans leaves his family riding a shod cockerel to seek his fortune. He goes off into the woods and watches over his donkeys and pigs. A few years later, a lost king stumbles upon Hans after hearing him play beautifully on the bagpipes. Hans makes a deal with the king: he will show him the way home if the king promises to sign over whatever first comes to meet him upon his return. However, the king thinks Hans is illiterate, and decides to trick him by writing an order that Hans should receive nothing. When they arrive at the kingdom, the king's daughter runs to greet him. The king tells her about the deal Hans has tried to make and how he has tricked him. Unconcerned by the betrayal, Hans continues to tend to his animals in the forest.

A second lost king stumbles upon Hans and agrees to his deal. Upon his return, the second king's only daughter rushes out to greet him, and in doing so becomes the property of Hans. For the sake of her father, the princess happily agrees to Hans' deal.

In time, Hans My Hedgehog goes to claim his promises. The first king attempts to withhold his daughter, but Hans forces him to give her up. Hans then makes her take off her clothes, pierces her all over with his prickles, and sends her back to the kingdom in disgrace. The second king agrees to the marriage; the princess holds herself bound by her promise and Hans My Hedgehog marries her. On their wedding night, he tells the king to build a fire and to post guards at his door. Hans takes off his hedgehog skin and quickly has the guards throw it in the fire. Hans appears black, as if he has been burned. After physicians clean him he is shown to be a handsome young gentleman. After several years Hans returns home to collect his father and they live together in the kingdom.


Characters list[edit]

  • Hans – Main character who is a cross between a man and a hedgehog. He has a humanoid body, but possesses the head and quills of a hedgehog. Metamorphoses into a handsome man at the end of the story and marries the second princess.
  • Merchant (Hans' father) – Wishes for a son "even if it's a hedgehog". He hates Hans's deformity and convinces him to leave town by buying him bagpipes and a shod cockerel. He is brought back to the castle to live with Hans after the curse is lifted.
  • Merchant's Wife (Hans' Mother)
  • First King – Betrays Hans and breaks his promise. Orders his men to attack Hans on sight.
  • Second King – Agrees to fulfill his promise and becomes Hans's father in-law.
  • First Princess – Refuses to marry Hans and is punished by being pricked by Hans' quills until she bleeds and runs away in disgrace.
  • Second Princess – Honors her father's wishes and agrees to marry Hans. She becomes Hans's wife and is the catalyst that causes Hans's metamorphosis.


Meaning and interpretation[edit]

"Grimm's tale, "Hans, My Hedgehog," has a leitmotif of "burning the animal skin". This leitmotif is found in other Grimm's fairy tales and myths as a symbol of psychological metamorphosis. Hans was born half-hedgehog and he cannot break the spell until he is able to burn his prickly hedgehog skin.[2] This same leitmotif of the burning of false or alternative skins in the attempt to create a single whole can also be found in the Grimm's tale of The Donkey (fairy tale).


Hans uses his deformity to discover his "true" identity. Hiding his handsome appearance allows him to discover and judge the moral character of the people he meets throughout the story. By disguising himself within the hedgehog skin, Hans is identifying himself as deformed, "Dress enables people to identify themselves—socially, sexually, morally, aesthetically—to be recognized or to be misrecognized."[3] This leads to the creation of a fragmented identity, he is simultaneously a man and a giant, bipedal, anthropomorphic, mutant hedgehog-like creature. To create a whole being with a single identity, Hans had to shed his skin and have the husk burned into ash, "Now when the clock struck eleven he went into the room, stripped off his hedgehog skin, and left it lying in front of the bed and the men quickly came and fetched it and threw it into the fire, and when the fire had consumed it the curse was broken".[1]

The formation of a single identity is completed once Han's physical appearance matched that of his Jacques Lacan mirror stage Ideal I. Before his metamorphosis, it is obvious his ideal-I is not achievable because of his hedgehog body. Essentially, Hans' life is out of balance. It is not until after he sheds his hedgehog skin that redemption is welcomed. Once Hans' metamorphosis from hedgehog to young man takes place, his life, rather seamlessly, falls into order.[4]


The function of gender within the play is suggestive of the role of both the men and women during the time period of the story. The males provide while the females nurture, as seen with Hans's father and mother. The "gender" of the story can be discovered by examining the use of descriptive language and what is important to the themes presented. The description of "masculinity and femininity are written on bodies in different ways, [within the context of the Grimm fairy tale collection] prioritizing beauty, blood, hair, and skin descriptions for women and size, age, violence, and transformations for men."[5] The use of all of the "masculine" descriptive words seen throughout the story would suggest that this is a masculinity based story. Hans is young, large, and violent toward the first princess. His abusiveness highlights the hegemonic masculinity made popular during that time. Essentially, Hans chooses which princess he truly desires, completely overlooking their own interests. Furthermore, he metamorphoses himself from a deformed monster into a handsome man for a female when he needs to enter the marriage bed.


The moral lessons taught through folktales exist to convey values that, at the time, would have held a family unit, and by extension the entirety of society, together. These values are found throughout the Grimm's tales and include but are not limited to "diligence, honesty, generosity, dependability, perseverance, courage, and a unique balance of self-reliance and selflessness." [6] The values in Hans My Hedgehog include honor, integrity, self-reliance, and kindness. These values can be seen within the king when he decides to honor his promise to Hans, within Hans when he leaves his father to live on his own, and when he returns and gives up his animals for the welfare of others. The connotation of the words describing a situation or person can inform a reader of the quality of the object, and thus creates a situation in which values are presented as desirable.

Overall, Grimms' Fairy Tales convey conservative social harmony, as they convey morals as being the "most important social driving force over economic or political interests."[7] The tales offer a sense of social wholeness and completeness that again convey traditional, conservative principals, such a heteronormativity, the nuclear family, and the important sense of community.

Physical metamorphosis/shapeshifting abilities[edit]

It is seen that Hans is able to shed his skin at will and it is assumed that he had the ability to metamorphose into a human being throughout the entirety of the story. To break the curse, the remaining hedgehog husk must be burnt to ash. It is only after his deformity is burnt away that Hans was able to metamorphose into a whole human, the former animal self being destroyed and washed away in the flames. When Hans sheds his skin, he appears to be burnt black. After being washed by physicians, he is presented as a handsome young man. After his metamorphosis, he is able to enjoy life, and no longer suffers as a half-hedgehog, half-man hybrid.

Abstract elements[edit]

  • The differentiation in size between the protagonist (Hans) and his rooster.
  • The Hedgehog skin.
  • The metamorphosis of Hans.

The strong presence of abstraction is a typical component in German tales, albeit this is not similar to other cultures around Europe. As stated by Ralph S. Boggs, "The Germans tend towards abstraction, the Russians and Spaniards towards richness of detail".[8]


Often in Grimms' tales, characters are seen as a "cripple" or "super cripple".[9] In some cases, the main character's disabilities are often exaggerated, and then the rest of the story focuses on how the character overcomes or corrects the disability. In addition, the protagonist is often viewed as a freak (cripple) or super freak (supercripple). Because of this, the character is often outcast or disliked by the rest of society. Such is the case of the protagonist Hans, in Hans My Hedgehog. Hans would be labeled as a supercripple, mainly because his disability essentially thwarts pity, as his deformity is overly grotesque or callous.[9]

As Hans tries to survive in society as a half-hedgehog young man, his overt "enfreakment" is repaid by the sudden absence of his deformity, to reveal a more whole and perfect self. Rather than other Grimms' tale characters who are portrayed as a fully animal form, Hans is the only half-animal half-human hybrid, thus increasing his overall outlandishness. His deformed birth is likely due to Hans' father's brash desire to have a child. Because of this, they have received a divine punishment, thus resulting in the abnormal and deformed birth of their son. In addition, Hans' parent's disdain towards their son is unique in the way that it is so much stronger than any other parents portrayed in Grimms' fairy tales. Physically abnormal births, as in the case of Hans, are often portrayed as a disability or deformity that the child is born with. In the Middle Ages, for instance, it was often questioned whether children born with physical abnormalities were actually human or not[citation needed]. Anomalous births were often related or regarded as animals, rather than humans[citation needed]. Thus, Hans My Hedgehog has helped shed light upon the ancient idea of deformity at birth being related to animals.[9]

In the cases of a "horizontal identity", a child with a deformity often identifies with another similar peer group, rather than its parents. However, in the case of Hans My Hedgehog, Hans is not able to relate to another peer group with his deformity but is also unable to confide in his parents. In fact, his father sees his son as a leper, and even goes as far as to wish his son's death. His level of "freakiness" is also heightened after he requests bagpipes from his father who is going to the market. Rather than asking for something more conventional, such as his mother and the maid who ask for food and clothing, he asks for bagpipes. Historically, bagpipes were seen as a low class or rural instrument[citation needed]. Thus, his request for the bagpipes further highlights his unconventional, deformed self.

Other adaptations[edit]


  • Hans my Hedgehog was readapted by the German writer, Janosh, in erzählt Grimm's Märchen 1972, translated as Not so Grimm. Janosch's fairy-tale book distinguishes itself from all previous fairy-tale books. It lives from the lively language stamped by the oral tradition. It demands reading aloud: it is acoustic and at the same time porous enough so that the child can make something out of the telling by himself or herself. In short, the anachronistic language of the children's book that has been polished for children is missing. The form of the fairy-tale material that the Brothers Grimm had gathered loses its conservative form. In reading Janosch the reader leaves the ceremonial fairy-tale seriousness of the Brothers Grimm. This does not mean that he has less than what the brothers have too much. As Jack Zipes states in his The Changing Nature of the Grimms' Fairy Tales, "Hans is transformed from a porcupine looking character into a hippy rock singer, who plays the harmonica. When his father gives him sunglasses and a motorcycle to get rid of him, he goes into the city and eventually becomes a movie star named Jack Eagle. In the end the father is proud of him, and everyone from the village wants to look like him."[10]
  • It was adapted into a children's book in 2012. The book is titled Hans My Hedgehog and is written by Kate Coombs and illustrated by John Nickle. The book is published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers and has the ISBN 978-1416915331.



  1. ^ a b "Grimm 108: Hans-My-Hedgehog".
  2. ^ Benedetto, Paul. "Jungian Analysis » Lectures & Seminars". jungiananalysts.com. Retrieved 21 November 2016.
  3. ^ Scott, Carole. "Magical Dress: Clothing And Transformation In Folk Tales." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 21.4 (1996): 151. Publisher Provided Full Text Searching File. Web. 16 November 2016.
  4. ^ Grimm, Brothers. "From Selected Tales of the Brothers Grimm." Hudson Review (66:1) Spring 2013, 113-134,
  5. ^ Jorgensen, Jeana. "Quantifying The Grimm Corpus: Transgressive And Transformative Bodies In The Grimms' Fairy Tales." Marvels & Tales 1 (2014): 127. Project MUSE. Web. 30 Nov. 2016.
  6. ^ Silveira Silva, Rafael. "Fairy Tales And Moral Values: A Corpus-Based Approach." Brazilian English Language Teaching Journal 3.1 (2012): 133-145. Education Source. Web. 30 November 2016.
  7. ^ a b Wolfel, Ute. "'All in One Stroke': Grimms' Fairy Tales and the TV-Production of a New Germany." Oxford German Studies, 44. 3, 271–288, September 2015. http://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/detail/detail?vid=7&sid=60d3cf49-88a2-4ca6-b4b3-3d42df18bf3c%40sessionmgr4006&hid=4205&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmU%3d#AN=109120975&db=hus. Accessed 1 December 2016.
  8. ^ Boggs, Ralp (1931). "The Hero in the Folk Tales of Spain, Germany and Russia". American Folklore Society. 44: 27–42.
  9. ^ a b c "Disability, Deformity, And Disease In The Grimms' Fairy Tales." Marvels & Tales 29.2 (2015): 361-363. Humanities Full Text (H.W. Wilson). 23:18, 16 November 2016
  10. ^ Zipes, Jack (2000). "The Changing Nature of the Grimms' Fairy Tales". Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts. 11: 77–93.