Thoughts on “The Brave Little Tailor”
In her introduction to this tale in The Annotated Brothers Grimm, Maria Tatar makes a distinction between traditional trickster figures (Anansi, Coyote, etc.) and what makes a trickster in Grimm. Tricksters from Asian and Greek traditions (as well as African and Native American, I’d add), Tatar says, are “master[s] of craft and deception” and have “fleet-footed energy and transformative vitality.” German tricksters, such as the brave little tailor of this tale, are not so quick-witted, fleet, or transcendent: they’re fools.
In the Grimms’ tales, the more naive and simple the hero, the more he will undoubtedly gain by the story’s end. We’ve seen this before in “A Tale About the Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was,” in which the boy’s dim-wittedness means that he literally does not know how to be afraid. In “The Brave Little Tailor,” the tailor is so vain that when he kills seven flies with one swipe of fabric, he sets out to show the world his prowess. In both instances, the hero’s bravado makes them immune to fear or cowardice, and they end up besting far more terrifying foes than a gang of flies.
So what can we make of this irony? Is this an innately German trait, to value naivety, or are these tales simply meant to make the reader laugh? If that’s the case, then the joke’s on us, for the tailor ends up a king, and we simply move on to the next story.
Read the full tale as translated by D. L. Ashliman, available at Pitt.edu, and stay tuned for my writing response, to be posted soon!