One of the things that makes fairy tales last is that they provide a dark mirror to the world. I invite you to examine this short Grimm tale. Please consider the study questions following the text.


Herr Korbes

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

translation by D.L. Ashliman

Once upon a time there were a rooster and a hen who wanted to take a journey together. So the rooster built a handsome carriage with four red wheels, and hitched four mice to it. The hen climbed aboard with the rooster, and they drove away together.

Not long afterward they met a cat, who said, “Where are you going?”

The rooster answered, “We’re on our way to Herr Korbes’s house.”

“Take me with you,” said the cat.

The rooster answered, “Gladly. Climb on behind, so you won’t fall off the front. Be careful not to get my red wheels dirty. Roll, wheels. Whistle, mice. We’re on our way to Herr Korbes’s house.”

Then a millstone came along, then an egg, then a duck, then a pin, and finally a needle. They all climbed aboard the carriage and rode with them.

But when they arrived at Herr Korbes’s house, he was not there. The mice pulled the carriage into the barn. The hen and the rooster flew onto a pole. The cat sat down in the fireplace and the duck in the water bucket. The egg rolled itself up in a towel. The pin stuck itself into a chair cushion. The needle jumped onto the bed in the middle of the pillow. The millstone lay down above the door.

Then Herr Korbes came home. He went to the fireplace, wanting to make a fire, and the cat threw ashes into his face. He ran quickly into the kitchen to wash himself, and the duck splashed water into his face. He wanted to dry himself off with the towel, but the egg rolled against him, broke, and glued his eyes shut. Wanting to rest, he sat down in the chair, and the pin pricked him. He fell into a rage and threw himself onto his bed, but when he laid his head on the pillow, the needle pricked him, causing him to scream and run out of the house. As he ran through the front door the millstone jumped down and struck him dead.

Herr Korbes must have been a very wicked man.

Study Questions

  1. What would have happened if the cat had never jumped on the bandwagon?
  2. Where were the rooster and the hen during the murder?
  3. What happens after the story? Were the rooster, the hen, the mice, the cart, the cat, the duck, the egg, the needle, the pin, the millstone, were they prosecuted?
  4. If a grand jury were to put the millstone on trial, would it be acquitted? If so, would that be because the millstone is a millstone, or Herr Korbes is Herr Korbes?
  5. If the whole incident was caught on video tape, would that make a difference?
  6. What did the egg say, later, on social media? Would it moan to its Facebook friends about how it, too, was broken during the incident?
  7. Why were the wheels of the cart red?
  8. What would have happened if Herr Korbes had been home? Would his life have been spared if he had known his place?
  9. The final line was added in the third edition of the Grimm tales, in 1837. How does that line change the story?
  10. Are you the hen, the rooster, the mice, the cart, the cat, the duck, the egg, the pin, the needle, Herr Korbes, or the Grimm brothers, adding the final line?
  11. What if you are a millstone, what then? What if are were a cat? What can you do differently next time?
  12. What if you look like Herr Korbes? What if your children and parents and aunties and uncles and cousins all look like Herr Korbes? How do you feel? How do you feel about millstones?
  13. Must Herr Korbes have been a very wicked man? Does that justify his death?