father had two sons, the elder of whom was smart and sensible, and
could do everything, but the younger was stupid and could neither learn
nor understand anything, and when people saw him they said, "There's a
fellow who will give his father some trouble!"
When anything had to be done, it was always the elder who was forced to
do it; but if his father bade him fetch anything when it was late, or
in the night-time, and the way led through the churchyard, or any other
dismal place, he answered "Oh, no, father, I'll not go there, it makes
me shudder!" for he was afraid.
Or when stories were told by the fire at night which made the flesh
creep, the listeners sometimes said "Oh, it makes us shudder!"
The younger sat in a corner and listened with the rest of them, and
could not imagine what they could mean.
"They are always saying 'it makes me shudder, it makes me shudder!' It
does not make me shudder," thought he.
"That, too, must be an art of which I understand nothing."
Now it came
to pass that his father said to him one day "Hearken to me, thou fellow
in the corner there, thou art growing tall and strong, and thou too
must learn something by which thou canst earn thy living.
Look how thy brother works, but thou dost not even earn thy salt."
"Well, father," he replied, "I am quite willing to learn something --
indeed, if it could but be managed, I should like to learn how to
shudder. I don't understand that at all yet."
The elder brother smiled when he heard that, and thought to himself,
"Good God, what a blockhead that brother of mine is!
He will never be good for anything as long as he lives. He who wants to
be a sickle must bend himself betimes."
sighed, and answered him "thou shalt soon learn what it is to shudder,
but thou wilt not earn thy bread by that."
this the sexton came to the house on a visit, and the father bewailed
his trouble, and told him how his younger son was so backward in every
respect that he knew nothing and learnt nothing.
"Just think," said he, "when I asked him how he was going to earn his
bread, he actually wanted to learn to shudder."
"If that be all," replied the sexton, "he can learn that with me. Send
him to me, and I will soon polish him."
The father was glad to do it, for he thought, "It will train the boy a
The sexton therefore took him into his house, and he had to ring the
After a day or two, the sexton awoke him at midnight, and bade him
arise and go up into the church tower and ring the bell.
"Thou shalt soon learn what shuddering is," thought he, and secretly
went there before him; and when the boy was at the top of the tower and
turned round, and was just going to take hold of the bell rope, he saw
a white figure standing on the stairs opposite the sounding hole.
there?" cried he, but the figure made no reply, and did not move or
"Give an answer," cried the boy, "or take thy self off, thou hast no
business here at night."
sexton, however, remained standing motionless that the boy might think
he was a ghost.
The boy cried a second time, "What do you want here? -- speak if thou
art an honest fellow, or I will throw thee down the steps!"
The sexton thought, "he can't intend to be as bad as his words,"
uttered no sound and stood as if he were made of stone.
Then the boy called to him for the third time, and as that was also to
no purpose, he ran against him and pushed the ghost down the stairs, so
that it fell down ten steps and remained lying there in a corner.
Thereupon he rang the bell, went home, and without saying a word went
to bed, and fell asleep.
The sexton's wife waited a long time for her husband, but he did not
At length she became uneasy, and wakened the boy, and asked, "Dost thou
not know where my husband is?
He climbed up the tower before thou didst."
"No, I don't know," replied the boy, "but some one was standing by the
sounding hole on the other side of the steps, and as he would neither
give an answer nor go away, I took him for a scoundrel, and threw him
downstairs, just go there and you will see if it was he.
I should be sorry if it were."
The woman ran away and found her husband, who was lying moaning in the
corner, and had broken his leg.
him down, and then with loud screams she hastened to the boy's
"Your boy," cried she, "has been the cause of a great misfortune! He
has thrown my husband down the steps and made him break his leg.
Take the good-for-nothing fellow away from our house."
The father was terrified, and ran thither and scolded the boy.
"What wicked tricks are these?" said he, "the devil must have put this
into thy head."
"Father," he replied, "do listen to me. I am quite innocent.
He was standing there by night like one who is intending to do some
I did not know who it was, and I entreated him three times either to
speak or to go away."
"Ah," said the father, "I have nothing but unhappiness with you.
Go out of my sight. I will see thee no more."
father, right willingly, wait only until it is day.
Then will I go forth and learn how to shudder, and then I shall, at any
rate, understand one art which will support me."
"Learn what thou wilt," spake the father, "it is all the same to me.
Here are fifty thalers for thee.
Take these and go into the wide world, and tell no one from whence thou
comest, and who is thy father, for I have reason to be ashamed of
"Yes, father, it shall be as you will. If you desire nothing more than
that, I can easily keep it in mind."
dawned, therefore, the boy put his fifty thalers into his pocket, and
went forth on the great highway, and continually said to himself, "If I
could but shudder! If I could but shudder!"
Then a man approached who heard this conversation which the youth was
holding with himself, and when they had walked a little farther to
where they could see the gallows, the man said to him, "Look, there is
the tree where seven men have married the ropemaker's daughter, and are
now learning how to fly.
Sit down below it, and wait till night comes, and you will soon learn
how to shudder."
"If that is all that is wanted," answered the youth, "it is easily
done; but if I learn how to shudder as fast as that, thou shalt have my
Just come back to me early in the morning."
youth went to the gallows, sat down below it, and waited till evening
And as he was cold, he lighted himself a fire, but at midnight the wind
blew so sharply that in spite of his fire, he could not get warm.
And as the wind knocked the hanged men against each other, and they
moved backwards and forwards, he thought to himself "Thou shiverest
below by the fire, but how those up above must freeze and suffer!"
And as he felt pity for them, he raised the ladder, and climbed up,
unbound one of them after the other, and brought down all seven.
Then he stirred the fire, blew it, and set them all round it to warm
But they sat there and did not stir, and the fire caught their
So he said, "Take care, or I will hang you up again."
The dead men, however, did not hear, but were quite silent, and let
their rags go on burning.
On this he grew angry, and said, "If you will not take care, I cannot
help you, I will not be burnt with you," and he hung them up again each
in his turn.
Then he sat down by his fire and fell asleep, and the next morning the
man came to him and wanted to have the fifty thalers, and said, "Well,
dost thou know how to shudder?"
"No," answered he, "how was I to get to know? Those fellows up there
did not open their mouths, and were so stupid that they let the few old
rags which they had on their bodies get burnt."
Then the man saw that he would not get the fifty thalers that day, and
went away saying, "One of this kind has never come my way before."
likewise went his way, and once more began to mutter to himself, "Ah,
if I could but shudder! Ah, if I could but shudder!"
A waggoner who was striding behind him heard that and asked, "Who are
"I don't know," answered the youth.
Then the waggoner asked, "From whence comest thou?" "I know not."
"Who is thy father?"
"That I may not tell thee."
"What is it that thou art always muttering between thy teeth."
replied the youth, "I do so wish I could shudder, but no one can teach
me how to do it."
"Give up thy foolish chatter," said the waggoner. "Come, go with me, I
will see about a place for thee."
went with the waggoner, and in the evening they arrived at an inn where
they wished to pass the night.
Then at the entrance of the room the youth again said quite loudly, "If
I could but shudder! If I could but shudder!"
The host who heard this, laughed and said, "If that is your desire,
there ought to be a good opportunity for you here."
"Ah, be silent," said the hostess, "so many inquisitive persons have
already lost their lives, it would be a pity and a shame if such
beautiful eyes as these should never see the daylight again."
youth said, "However difficult it may be, I will learn it and for this
purpose indeed have I journeyed forth."
He let the host have no rest, until the latter told him, that not far
from thence stood a haunted castle where any one could very easily
learn what shuddering was, if he would but watch in it for three
The King had promised that he who would venture should have his
daughter to wife, and she was the most beautiful maiden the sun shone
Great treasures likewise lay in the castle, which were guarded by evil
spirits, and these treasures would then be freed, and would make a poor
man rich enough.
Already many men had gone into the castle, but as yet none had come out
Then the youth went next morning to the King and said if he were
allowed he would watch three nights in the haunted castle.
The King looked at him, and as the youth pleased him, he said, "Thou
mayest ask for three things to take into the castle with thee, but they
must be things without life."
Then he answered, "Then I ask for a fire, a turning lathe, and a
cutting-board with the knife."
The King had these things carried into the castle for him during the
was drawing near, the youth went up and made himself a bright fire in
one of the rooms, placed the cutting-board and knife beside it, and
seated himself by the turning-lathe. "Ah, if I could but shudder!" said
he, "but I shall not learn it here either."
Towards midnight he was about to poke his fire, and as he was blowing
it, something cried suddenly from one corner, "Au, miau! how cold we
"You simpletons!" cried he, "what are you crying about? If you are
cold, come and take a seat by the fire and warm yourselves."
And when he had said that, two great black cats came with one
tremendous leap and sat down on each side of him, and looked savagely
at him with their fiery eyes.
After a short time, when they had warmed themselves, they said,
"Comrade, shall we have a game at cards?"
"Why not?" he replied, "but just show me your paws."
Then they stretched out their claws. "Oh," said he, "what long nails
Wait, I must first cut them for you."
he seized them by the throats, put them on the cutting-board and
screwed their feet fast.
"I have looked at your fingers," said he, "and my fancy for
card-playing has gone," and he struck them dead and threw them out into
But when he had made away with these two, and was about to sit down
again by his fire, out from every hole and corner came black cats and
black dogs with red-hot chains, and more and more of them came until he
could no longer stir, and they yelled horribly, and got on his fire,
pulled it to pieces, and tried to put it out.
them for a while quietly, but at last when they were going too far, he
seized his cutting-knife, and cried, "Away with ye, vermin," and began
to cut them down.
them ran away, the others he killed, and threw out into the
When he came back he fanned the embers of his fire again and warmed
And as he thus sat, his eyes would keep open no longer, and he felt a
desire to sleep.
Then he looked round and saw a great bed in the corner.
"That is the very thing for me," said he, and got into it. When he was
just going to shut his eyes, however, the bed began to move of its own
accord, and went over the whole of the castle.
"That"s right," said he, "but go faster."
bed rolled on as if six horses were harnessed to it, up and down, over
thresholds and steps, but suddenly hop, hop, it turned over upside
down, and lay on him like a mountain.
But he threw quilts and pillows up in the air, got out and said, "Now
any one who likes, may drive," and lay down by his fire, and slept till
it was day. In the morning the King came, and when he saw him lying
there on the ground, he thought the evil spirits had killed him and he
he, "After all it is a pity, -- he is a handsome man."
The youth heard it, got up, and said, "It has not come to that
Then the King was astonished, but very glad, and asked how he had
"Very well indeed," answered he; "one night is past, the two others
will get over likewise."
Then he went to the innkeeper, who opened his eyes very wide, and said,
"I never expected to see thee alive again! Hast thou learnt how to
"No," said he, "it is all in vain. If some one would but tell me."
night he again went up into the old castle, sat down by the fire, and
once more began his old song, "If I could but shudder." When midnight
came, an uproar and noise of tumbling about was heard; at first it was
low, but it grew louder and louder.
Then it was quiet for awhile, and at length with a loud scream, half a
man came down the chimney and fell before him.
"Hollo!" cried he, "another half belongs to this. This is too
uproar began again, there was a roaring and howling, and the other half
fell down likewise.
"Wait," said he, "I will just blow up the fire a little for thee."
When he had done that and looked round again, the two pieces were
joined together, and a frightful man was sitting in his place.
"That is no part of our bargain," said the youth, "the bench is
The man wanted to push him away; the youth, however, would not allow
that, but thrust him off with all his strength, and seated himself
again in his own place.
Then still more men fell down, one after the other; they brought nine
dead men's legs and two skulls, and set them up and played at nine-pins
The youth also wanted to play and said "Hark you, can I join you?"
"Yes, if thou hast any money." "Money enough," replied he, "but your
balls are not quite round."
Then he took the skulls and put them in the lathe and turned them till
they were round.
"There, now, they will roll better!" said he. "Hurrah! Now it goes
He played with them and lost some of his money, but when it struck
twelve, everything vanished from his sight.
He lay down and quietly fell asleep.
Next morning the King came to inquire after him. "How has it fared with
you this time?" asked he.
"I have been playing at nine-pins," he answered, "and have lost a
couple of farthings."
"Hast thou not shuddered then?" "Eh, what?" said he, "I have made
merry. If I did but know what it was to shudder!"
night he sat down again on his bench and said quite sadly, "If I could
When it grew late, six tall men came in and brought a coffin.
Then said he, "Ha, ha, that is certainly my little cousin, who died
only a few days ago," and he beckoned with his finger, and cried "Come,
little cousin, come."
the coffin on the ground, but he went to it and took the lid off, and a
dead man lay therein.
He felt his face, but it was cold as ice. "Stop," said he, "I will warm
thee a little," and went to the fire and warmed his hand and laid it on
the dead man's face, but he remained cold.
Then he took him out, and sat down by the fire and laid him on his
breast and rubbed his arms that the blood might circulate again.
As this also did no good, he thought to himself "When two people lie in
bed together, they warm each other," and carried him to the bed,
covered him over and lay down by him.
After a short time the dead man became warm too, and began to
Then said the youth, "See, little cousin, have I not warmed thee?"
The dead man, however, got up and cried, "Now will I strangle thee."
said he, "is that the way thou thankest me? Thou shalt at once go into
thy coffin again," and he took him up, threw him into it, and shut the
lid. Then came the six men and carried him away again. "I cannot manage
to shudder," said he. "I shall never learn it here as long as I live."
Then a man
entered who was taller than all others, and looked terrible.
He was old, however, and had a long white beard.
"Thou wretch," cried he, "thou shalt soon learn what it is to shudder,
for thou shalt die."
"Not so fast," replied the youth. "If I am to die, I shall have to have
a say in it."
"I will soon seize thee," said the fiend. "Softly, softly, do not talk
so big. I am as strong as thou art, and perhaps even stronger."
"We shall see," said the old man. "If thou art stronger, I will let
thee go -- come, we will try."
Then he led him by dark passages to a smith's forge, took an axe, and
with one blow struck an anvil into the ground.
"I can do better than that," said the youth, and went to the other
The old man placed himself near and wanted to look on, and his white
beard hung down.
Then the youth seized the axe, split the anvil with one blow, and
struck the old man's beard in with it.
"Now I have thee," said the youth. "Now it is thou who will have to
Then he seized an iron bar and beat the old man till he moaned and
entreated him to stop, and he would give him great riches.
The youth drew out the axe and let him go.
The old man led him back into the castle, and in a cellar showed him
three chests full of gold.
"Of these," said he, "one part is for the poor, the other for the king,
the third is thine."
In the meantime it struck twelve, and the spirit disappeared; the
youth, therefore, was left in darkness.
"I shall still be able to find my way out," said he, and felt about,
found the way into the room, and slept there by his fire.
Next morning the King came and said "Now thou must have learnt what
"No," he answered; "what can it be? My dead cousin was here, and a
bearded man came and showed me a great deal of money down below, but no
one told me what it was to shudder."
"Then," said the King, "thou hast delivered the castle, and shalt marry
"That is all very well," said he, "but still I do not know what it is
gold was brought up and the wedding celebrated; but howsoever much the
young king loved his wife, and however happy he was, he still said
always "If I could but shudder -- if I could but shudder."
And at last she was angry at this.
Her waiting-maid said, "I will find a cure for him; he shall soon learn
what it is to shudder."
She went out to the stream which flowed through the garden, and had a
whole bucketful of gudgeons brought to her.
At night when the young king was sleeping, his wife was to draw the
clothes off him and empty the bucketful of cold water with the gudgeons
in it over him, so that the little fishes would sprawl about him.
When this was done, he woke up and cried "Oh, what makes me shudder so?
-- what makes me shudder so, dear wife? Ah! now I know what it is to
Source: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Household Tales,
trans. Margaret Hunt (London: George Bell, 1884), 1:11-20