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The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was

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Title: The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Brothers Grimm, Grimms' Fairy Tales, The Three Feathers, Cat and Mouse in Partnership, Grimm Tales (play)
Collection: Grimms' Fairy Tales
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was

The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was
The "ghost" in the bell tower
Folk tale
Name The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was
AKA Märchen von einem, der auszog das Fürchten zu lernen
Aarne-Thompson grouping 326
Country Germany
Published in Grimms' Fairy Tales, Vol. I

"The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was" or "The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear" is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm. It is tale number 4 in the collection. It was also included by Andrew Lang in The Blue Fairy Book (1889).

The Grimms' first, 1812 edition contained a much shorter version, "Good Bowling and Card Playing".

It is Aarne-Thompson type 326.

This tale type did not appear in any early literary collection.[1]


  • Synopsis 1
    • First edition 1.1
  • Commentary 2
  • Adaptations 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


A father had two sons. The younger, when asked by his father what he would like to learn to support himself, said he would like to learn to shudder. A sexton told the father that he could teach the boy. After teaching him to ring the church bell, he sent him one midnight to ring it and came after him, dressed as a ghost. The boy demanded an explanation. When the sexton did not answer, the boy, unafraid, pushed him down the stairs, breaking his leg.

His horrified father turned him out of house, so the boy set out to learn how to shudder. He complained whenever he could, "If only I could shudder!" One man advised him to stay the night beneath the gallows, where seven hanged men were still hanging. He did so, and set a fire for the night. When the hanged bodies shook in the wind, he thought they must be cold. He cut them down and, while doing so their clothing caught on fire. The boy, annoyed at their carelessness, hung them back up in the gallows.

After the incident at the gallows, he began traveling with a waggoner. When one night they arrived at an inn, the inn-keeper told him that, if he wanted to know how to shudder, he should visit the haunted castle nearby. If he could manage to stay there for three nights in a row, he could learn how to shudder, as well as win the king's daughter and all of the rich treasures of the castle. Many men had tried, but none had succeeded.

The boy accepted the challenge and went to the king. The king agreed, and told him that he may bring with him three non-living things into the castle. He asked for a fire, a lathe, and a cutting board with a knife.

The first night, as the boy sat in his room, two voices from the corner of the room moaned into the night, complaining about the cold. The boy, unafraid, claimed that the owners of the voices were stupid not to warm themselves with the fire. Suddenly, two black cats jumped out of the corner and, seeing the calm boy, proposed a card game. The boy tricked the cats and trapped them with the cutting board and knife. Black cats and dogs emerged from every patch of darkness in the room, and the boy fought and killed each of them with his knife. Then, from the darkness, a bed appeared. He lay down on it, preparing for sleep, but it began walking all over the castle. Still unafraid, the boy urged it to go faster. The bed turned upside down on him, but the boy, unfazed, just tossed the bed aside and slept next to the fire until morning.

As the boy settled in for his second night in the castle, half of a man fell down the chimney. The boy, again unafraid, shouted up the chimney that the other half was needed. The other half, hearing the boy, fell from the chimney and reunited with the rest. More men followed with human skulls and dead men's legs with which to play nine-pins. The amused boy shaped the skulls into better balls with his lathe and joined the men until midnight, when they vanished into thin air.

On his third and final night in the castle, the boy heard a strange noise. Six men entered his room, carrying a coffin. The boy, unafraid but distraught, believed the body to be his own dead cousin. As he tried to warm the body, it reanimated, and, confused, threatened to strangle him. The boy, angry at his ingratitude, closed the coffin on top of the man again. An old man heard the noise and came to see the boy. He visited with the boy, bragging that he could knock an anvil straight to the ground. The old man brought him to the basement and, while showing the boy his trick, the boy split the anvil and trapped the old man's beard in it, and then proceeded to beat the man with an iron rod. The man, desperate for mercy, showed the boy all of the treasures in the castle.

When morning finally arrived the next day, the king told the boy that he could win his lovely daughter. The boy agreed, though upset that he had still not learned how to shudder.

After being married, the boy's continuing complaints annoyed his wife to no end. Reaching her wits' end, she sent for a bucketful of stream water, complete with gudgeons. She tossed the freezing water onto her husband as he slept. As he awoke, shuddering, he exclaimed that while he had finally learned to shudder, he still did not know what true fear was.

First edition

In "Good Bowling and Card Playing", the story begins with the king's offer to win his daughter when she turned 14. The hero is not a fool but merely a bold young man who, being very poor, wishes to try it.[2]


Although the hero of this story is a youngest son, he does not fit the usual character of such a son, who normally achieves his goals with the aid of magical helpers. Accomplishing his task with his own skill and courage, he fits more in the mold of a heroic character.[3] The act of cutting down the corpses to let them warm themselves is similar to the test of compassion that many fairy tale heroes face, but where the act typically wins the hero a gift or a magical helper, here it is merely an incident, perhaps a parody of the more typical plot.[4]

The Child Ballad The Maid Freed from the Gallows has been retold in fairy tale form, focusing on the exploits of the fiancé who must recover a golden ball to save his love from the noose, and the incidents strongly resemble this tale.[5]

In his opera Siegfried (1876), Richard Wagner has his title character Siegfried begin fearless, and express his wish to learn fear to his foster father Mime, who says the wise learn fear quickly, but the stupid find it more difficult. Later, when he discovers the sleeping Brünnhilde, he is struck with fear. In a letter to his friend Theodor Uhlig, Wagner recounts the fairy tale and points out that the youth and Siegfried are the same character.[6] Parzival is another figure in German legend that combines naiveté with courage.[7]


Literary adaptations include Italo Calvino's "Giovannino senza paura" ("Dauntless Little John"), the first story in his Italian Folktales (1956). The character of the Boy from the webcomic No Rest for the Wicked is based on the protagonist of this story.[8]

It has also been adapted for television. Jim Henson's The StoryTeller features an adaptation of the tale in the episode "Fearnot", and Faerie Tale Theatre adapted it as "The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers".

The episodic games of American McGee's Grimm on Gametap debuted with "A Boy Learns What Fear Is" on July 31, 2008.

The MC Frontalot song "Shudders", from his album Question Bedtime, is based on this story.

See also


  1. ^ Stith Thompson, The Folktale, p. 105, University of California Press, Berkeley Los Angeles London, 1977.
  2. ^ Jack Zipes, The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World, p 46, 2002, ISBN 0-312-29380-1
  3. ^ Maria Tatar, The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales, p. 97, 1987, ISBN 0-691-06722-8.
  4. ^ Maria Tatar, The Annotated Brothers Grimm, p. 20, 2004, ISBN 0-393-05848-4.
  5. ^ Joseph Jacobs, ed., "The Golden Ball", More English Fairy Tales. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1894.
  6. ^ Maria Tatar, The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales, p. 104, 1987, ISBN 0-691-06722-8.
  7. ^ Maria Tatar, The Annotated Brothers Grimm, p. 15, 2004, ISBN 0-393-05848-4.
  8. ^ "Characters". Retrieved 2014-09-18. 

External links

  • Nice old English version
  • Sur La Lune "The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was"
  • The Story of a Boy Who Went Forth to Learn Fear
  • The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was Story 58
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