The untold story of “The Stolen Pennies”

You’ve heard the fairy-tales of Hansel and Gretel meeting that mean ol’ witch who lived out in the woods, and the classic story of little Red Riding Hood and her encounter with the wolf.  All written by brothers, being philologists, who wrote down these stories as told by German villagers around the 18th century.  Superstition, beliefs with the dead, and a morbid sense of detail actually don’t make most of these stories good for children, but were used as bed time stories nevertheless, perhaps to scare children into listening to their parents.  “Look at what happened to Hansel and Gretel, that’s why you shouldn’t wander into the forest without us.”  But some of them are just downright tormenting to young minds.

Consider a story written by the Brothers Grimm about a little girl who’s mistake to withhold pennies from a poor man reaped grave consequences for her, even after she died, in the harrowing story of the “The Stolen Pennies.”  You may not want to read this….alone!


by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, sometime in 1812

The Stolen Pennies

A FATHER was one day sitting at dinner with his wife and his children, and a good friend who had come on a visit was with them. And as they thus sat, and it was striking twelve o’clock, the stranger saw the door open, and a very pale child dressed in snow white clothes came in. It did not look around, and it did not speak,but went straight into the next room. Soon afterwards it came back,and went out at the door again in the same quiet manner. On the second and on the third day, it came also exactly in the same way.At last the stranger asked the father to whom the beautiful child that went into the next room every day at noon belonged? “I have never seen it,” said he, neither did he know to whom it could belong. The next day when it again came, the stranger pointed it out to the father, who however did not see it, and the mother and the children also all saw nothing. At this the stranger got up, went to the room door, opened it a little, and peeped in. Then he saw the child sitting on the ground,and digging and seeking about industriously among the crevices between the boards of the floor, but when it saw the stranger, it disappeared. He now told what he had seen and described the child exactly, and the mother recognized it, and said, “Ah, it is my dear child who died a month ago.” They took up the boards and found two pennies which the child had once received from its mother that it might give them to a poor man. It, however, had thought, “I can buy myself a biscuit for that,” and had kept the pennies, and hidden them in the openings between the boards. Therefore it had had no rest in its grave, and had come every day at noon to seek for these pennies. The parents gave the money at once to a poor man, and after that the child was never seen again.


……sweet dreams!


One thought on “The untold story of “The Stolen Pennies””

  1. Wow. Yes, those guys get pretty…grim…(sorry). I used to read tons of those fairy tales–I wonder if it may have affected me actually as a child. The sense of legalism and judgment is really intense in a lot of them! Interesting to consider.

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