The Girl Without Hands

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The Girl Without Hands
The Girl Without Hands (Philipp Grot Johann).gif
19th century illustration by Philipp Grot Johann
Folk tale
NameThe Girl Without Hands
MythologyThe Brothers Grimm
Origin Datefirst published 1812
Published inChildren's and Household Tales

"The Girl Without Hands" or "The Handless Maiden" or "The Girl With Silver Hands" or "The Armless Maiden" (German: Das Mädchen ohne Hände) is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm.[1] It is tale number 31 and was first published in the 1812 edition of Children's and Household Tales.[2] The story was revised by the Grimm brothers over the years, and the final version was published in the 7th edition of Children's and Household Tales in 1857. It is Aarne-Thompson type 706.[3]


Throughout different variations, the story takes place in four sections.[4]

The Mutilated Heroine: A strange man approached a miller and offered him wealth in exchange for what was standing behind the mill. Thinking that it was just an apple tree, and unaware that the strange man was actually the devil, the miller agreed. He soon found out that it was actually his daughter standing behind the mill and that the man was the devil. When three years had passed, the devil reappeared to take the girl as he said he would, but the girl had kept herself sinless and her hands clean, and the devil was unable to take her. The devil threatened to take the miller instead if he did not chop off his daughter's hands. Out of fear, the miller and his daughter agreed to do so. However, she continued to weep onto the stumps where her hands once were, so they remained clean and the devil was still unable to take her.

Marriage to the King: She decided to set out into the world to escape, despite her father's new wealth. She came upon a royal garden and saw fruit on the trees. After walking all day, she was hungry and wanted to eat the fruit, so she prayed that she be able to get into the garden. An angel appeared and helped her. The next day, the king noticed that pears were missing and his gardener told him that he had seen a spirit taking them. The king awaited her and approached her when she came back to the garden the next day. She told him that everyone had abandoned her and he said that he wouldn't abandon her. Soon after, he married her and made her the queen and gave her new hands made out of silver. A year later, she gave birth to a son; and the king's mother sent news of his birth to the king who had gone off to battle. The messenger made a stop along the way, and the devil changed the letter to say that the queen had given birth to a changeling. The king sent back that they should care for the child nonetheless, but the devil stole that letter too and reworded it once again. This time, making it say that they should kill the queen and the child and keep the queen's heart as proof.

The Culminated Wife: The king's mother despaired. To aid the queen and her son, she killed a deer for its heart and told the queen to take her child into the world to hide. The queen went into the forest and prayed for help, and an angel appeared and brought her to a hut and nursed her son. She lived in this hut in the forest for seven years, and eventually her hands miraculously grew back.

The Hands Restored: The king returned to his castle and discovered the letters had been tampered with, so he set out to find his wife and child. After seven years, he found the hut that the angel took the queen into. He was brought inside by an angel and laid down to sleep with a handkerchief to cover his face. His wife appeared and the handkerchief fell from his face. The child became angry because he had been told that God was man's one and only father. The king asked who they were, and the queen told him that they were his wife and son. He initially did not believe her and said that his wife had silver hands. She replied that God had given her real hands and retrieved her silver hands that had fallen off and showed the king. The king rejoiced at finding his wife. They both went back to their kingdom and lived happily ever after.


The Brothers Grimm altered the tale they had collected, incorporating a motif found in other fairy tales of a child unwittingly promised (a motif found in "Nix Nought Nothing", "The Nixie of the Mill-Pond", "The Grateful Prince", and "King Kojata"), but not in the original version of this one. Indeed, one study of German folk tales found that of 16 variants collected after the publication of Grimms' Fairy Tales, only one followed the Grimms in this opening.[5]

In earlier and starker versions of the tale found around the world,[6] the maiden's dismemberment comes when she refuses the sexual advances of her father or her brother, as in the Xhosa version of the tale, "A Father Cuts Off His Daughter's Arms".[7] In Basile's Penta of the Chopped-off Hands, the heroine has her own hands cut off to repulse her brothers' advances.[8] Other variants of this tale include "The One-Handed Girl", "The Armless Maiden", and "Biancabella and the Snake," all of which are Aarne-Thompson type 706.[3]

This is not the most common form of fairy tale to contain the father who attempts to marry his daughter. "Allerleirauh", "The King Who Wished to Marry His Daughter", and others of Aarne-Thompson type 510B are found more frequently.[9] However, this motif was taken up in chivalric romance exclusively in tales such as "The Girl Without Hands"; no romance includes the Cinderella-like ending of three balls that are the characteristic conclusion of the persecuted heroine.[9] The oldest such retelling appears in "Vitae Duorum Offarum", naming the king Offa; the king himself appears to be historical, but the details of his kingdom are inaccurate.[10] Other romances that use the plotline of this fairy tale include "Emaré", "Mai and Beaflor", and "La Belle Helene de Constantinople".[11]

The mother falsely accused of giving birth to strange children is in common between tales of this type and that of Aarne-Thompson 707, where the woman has married the king because she has said she would give birth to marvelous children, as in "The Dancing Water, the Singing Apple, and the Speaking Bird", "Princess Belle-Etoile", "Ancilotto, King of Provino", "The Wicked Sisters", and "The Three Little Birds".[12] A related theme appears in Aarne-Thompson type 710, where the heroine's children are stolen from her at birth, leading to the slander that she killed them, as in "Mary's Child" or "The Lassie and Her Godmother".[13]

In the second part of the tale, the Brothers Grimm also departed from the commonest folklore themes. Typically, the girl is the victim of her mother-in-law, as in "The Twelve Wild Ducks", "The Six Swans", Perrault's "Sleeping Beauty", and "The Twelve Brothers".[14] This motif, where the (male) villain stems from an earlier grudge, also appears in the French literary tale "Bearskin".


Various attempts have been made to explain why her hands are the target of her father's -- or sometimes her brother's -- rage at being thwarted, but the motif, though widespread, is without a clear purpose, and when motives are supplied, they vary greatly. In "Penta of the Chopped-off Hands", Basile went to great lengths to provide a motive for his heroine's actions: her brother, exclaiming over her beauty, dwells with particular detail on the loveliness of her hands.[15] In the chivalric romance "La Manekine", the princess does it herself because by law the king can not marry any woman missing any part of her body.[16]

By losing her hands, the girl in this story becomes helpless and very much at the whim of anyone that can help her. In Grimms' fairy tales, male protagonists are more likely to become deformed or disabled because of an evil or supernatural force than women protagonists. However, women's deformity is more likely to leave her passive and helpless, whereas a male's deformity often makes him an outcast but does not cause him to lose his agency.[17] This lack of agency reflects the fact that in 19th century literature, women were given little platform to contribute. The girl's lack of hands is representative of the culture that this story originated in.[18]

This story has maintained a similar appeal as stories such as Cinderella and Snow White, but without maintaining mainstream appeal. It has been adapted countless times in various different mediums over the years, but never on as large a scale as other Grimms' stories that grew to be popular. This can be attributed to the fact that the themes of abuse and resilience that are prevalent in this story were too inappropriate for it to become popular among young children in the same way that other stories have. However, the story is still told and is recognized as an example of oppression, abuse, and perseverance in folklore.[4]



  • Many contemporary fiction writers and poets have found inspiration in this fairy tale. Examples include Loranne Brown's novel The Handless Maiden, Midori Snyder's short story "The Armless Maiden", and poems by Margaret Atwood ("Girl Without Hands"), Elline Lipkin ("Conversations With My Father"), Vicki Fever ("The Handless Maiden"), Nan Fry ("Pear"), Rigoberto González ("The Girl With No Hands"). Andrea L. Peterson's No Rest for the Wicked has a character named Clare, the girl from this story.
  • Anne Sexton wrote an adaptation as a poem called "The Maiden without Hands" in her collection Transformations (1971), a book in which she re-envisions sixteen of the Grimm's Fairy tales.[19]
  • Stephanie Oakes wrote a modern retelling called "The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly", a Young Adult book about a 17-year-old girl with no hands, living in prison.
  • Terri Windling published an anthology of modern fairy tale retellings entitled "The Armless Maiden: And Other Tales of Childhood's Survivors" which retells fairy tales in the context of child abuse.

Video games[edit]

"The Girl Without Hands" was adapted in an episode of American McGee's Grimm where at the end the girl takes revenge on her father with the use of her husband's army.


  • In 2011, the tale was the basis for a production by Kneehigh Theatre called The Wild Bride.
  • The story was adapted into a play by director Miyagi Satoshi and performed in Japan from 2011 to 2012.[20]



In 2018, Facebook Watch produced a series called "Sacred Lies", the first season an adaptation of "The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly" written by Stephanie Oakes.[21] The series stars Elena Kampouris as Minnow Bly and the plot includes similar themes to the original Grimm story.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jacob and Wilheim Grimm, Household Tales "The Girl Without Hands"
  2. ^ Grimm, Wilhelm, Jacob Grimm, and Oliver Loo. The Original 1812 Grimm Fairy Tales: A New Translation of the 1812 First Edition Kinder- Und Hausmärchen Children's and Household Tales. Pennsylvania: Publisher Not Identified, 2014. Print.
  3. ^ a b Heidi Anne Heiner, "Tales Similar to the Girl Without Hands"
  4. ^ a b Ashley, Melissa. “'And Then the Devil Will Take Me Away': Adaptation, Evolution, and The Brothers Grimm's Suppression of Taboo Motifs in 'The Girl without Hands'.” Double Dialogues, 15 Dec. 2010,
  5. ^ Linda Degh, "What Did the Grimm Brothers Give To and Take From the Folk?" p 76 James M. McGlathery, ed, The Brothers Grimm and Folktale, ISBN 0-252-01549-5
  6. ^ Alvarez-Péreyre, Frank. "Ruelland, S., La fille sans mains [compte-rendu]". In: Journal de la Société des Africanistes, 1974, tome 44, fascicule 2. pp. 215-216.
  7. ^ Midori Snyder, "The Armless Maiden and The Hero's Journey"
  8. ^ Jack Zipes, The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, p 512, ISBN 0-393-97636-X
  9. ^ a b Margaret Schlauch, Chaucer's Constance and Accused Queens, New York: Gordian Press 1969 p 64
  10. ^ Margaret Schlauch, Chaucer's Constance and Accused Queens, New York: Gordian Press 1969 p 65-6
  11. ^ Margaret Schlauch, Chaucer's Constance and Accused Queens, New York: Gordian Press 1969 p 70-1
  12. ^ Stith Thompson, The Folktale, p 121-2, University of California Press, Berkeley Los Angeles London, 1977
  13. ^ Stith Thompson, The Folktale, p 122-3, University of California Press, Berkeley Los Angeles London, 1977
  14. ^ Maria Tatar, Off with Their Heads! p. 123 ISBN 0-691-06943-3
  15. ^ Maria Tatar, Off with Their Heads! p. 121-2 ISBN 0-691-06943-3
  16. ^ Laura A. Hibbard, Medieval Romance in England, New York Burt Franklin,1963 p 32-3
  17. ^ Muse, Project, and Ann Schmiesing. Disability, Deformity, and Disease in the Grimms' Fairy Tales. N.p.: Wayne State UP, 2014. Print.
  18. ^ Paradiž, Valerie, (1995). Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales (New York: Basic Books)
  19. ^ "Transformations by Anne Sexton"
  20. ^ Murai Mayako. “Shōjo to Akuma to Fūshagoya (The Girl Without Hands) and Honmono No Ianse (The True Bride).” Marvels & Tales, vol. 27, no. 2, Nov. 2013, pp. 344–346. EBSCOhost
  21. ^ Sacred Lies, S1E1 Chapter One: The Handless Maiden

External links[edit]