The Girl Without Hands

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19th century illustration by Philipp Grot Johann

"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, tale number 31.[1] It is Aarne-Thompson type 706.[2]


A miller was offered wealth by the devil if the miller gave him what stood behind the mill. Thinking that it was an apple tree, the miller agreed, but it was his daughter. When three years had passed, the devil appeared, 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 father if he did not chop off the girl's hands, and she let him do so, but she wept on her arms' stumps, and they were so clean that the devil could not take her, so he had to give her up.

She set out into the world, despite her father's wealth. She saw a royal garden and wanted to eat some pears she saw there. An angel helped her. The pears were missed the next day, and the gardener told how she appeared. The king awaited her the next day and when she came again, married her and made her hands out of silver. She gave birth to a son; then, she 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 she had given birth to a changeling. The king sent back that they should care for the child nonetheless, but the devil got at that letter too and changed it once again. His letter said that they should kill the queen and the child and keep the queen's heart as proof.

The king's servant despaired. To aid the queen and her son, he killed a hind for its heart and sent them out into the world to hide. The queen went into a forest, and an angel brought her to a hut and nursed her son.

The king returned to his castle and discovered the letters had been tampered with. The king set out to find his wife and child. After seven years, he found the hut and lay down to sleep with a handkerchief to cover his face. His wife appeared. Then, the handkerchief fell from his face and directed her son to put it back on. The child became angry. He had been told that God was man's one and only father. The king got up to ask who they were, and she told him. He said that his wife had silver hands, but hers were natural. She replied that God had given them back to her. She 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.[3]

In starker versions of the tale found around the world, 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".[4] In Basile's Penta of the Chopped-off Hands, the heroine has her own hands cut off to repulse her brothers' advances.[5] Other variants of this tale include "The One-Handed Girl", "The Armless Maiden", and "Biancabella and the Snake".[2]

This is not the commonest 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.[6] 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.[6] 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.[7] Other romances that use the plotline of this fairy tale include "Emaré", "Mai and Beaflor", and "La Belle Helene de Constantinople".[8]

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, has never been clear, and when motives are supplied, they vary greatly. In "Penta of the Chopped-off Hands", Basile went to great lengths to provide a motif for his heroine's actions: her brother, exclaiming over her beauty, dwells with particular detail on the loveliness of her hands.[9] 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.[10]

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".[11] 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".[12]

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".[13] This motif, where the (male) villain stems from an earlier grudge, also appears in the French literary tale "Bearskin".



  • 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.[14]
  • 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.

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 story was also the basis for a production by Kneehigh Theatre called The Wild Bride.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jacob and Wilheim Grimm, Household Tales "The Girl Without Hands"
  2. ^ a b Heidi Anne Heiner, "Tales Similar to the Girl Without Hands"
  3. ^ 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
  4. ^ Midori Snyder, "The Armless Maiden and The Hero's Journey"
  5. ^ Jack Zipes, The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, p 512, ISBN 0-393-97636-X
  6. ^ a b Margaret Schlauch, Chaucer's Constance and Accused Queens, New York: Gordian Press 1969 p 64
  7. ^ Margaret Schlauch, Chaucer's Constance and Accused Queens, New York: Gordian Press 1969 p 65-6
  8. ^ Margaret Schlauch, Chaucer's Constance and Accused Queens, New York: Gordian Press 1969 p 70-1
  9. ^ Maria Tatar, Off with Their Heads! p. 121-2 ISBN 0-691-06943-3
  10. ^ Laura A. Hibbard, Medieval Romance in England, New York Burt Franklin,1963 p 32-3
  11. ^ Stith Thompson, The Folktale, p 121-2, University of California Press, Berkeley Los Angeles London, 1977
  12. ^ Stith Thompson, The Folktale, p 122-3, University of California Press, Berkeley Los Angeles London, 1977
  13. ^ Maria Tatar, Off with Their Heads! p. 123 ISBN 0-691-06943-3
  14. ^ "Transformations by Anne Sexton"

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