What is the most dangerous animal in fairy tales? The wolf! Not all wolves in fairy tales are evil, though. I’ve collected all the Grimm fairy tales, folktales, and fables about wolves.
There are a lot of wolf stories being told around the world. Here you find the wolves I encountered while studying the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Let’s go!
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1. Classic big bad wolf: little red riding hood
This is without question the most well-known story featuring a wolf.
Who doesn’t know the girl with the red cap who meets the wolf in the forest? After a bit of chat, Little Red Riding Hood plucks flowers, and the wolf eats grandma.
Luckily after also eating Little Red, a hunter appears who kills the wolf.
Did you know that the Brothers Grimm also included a second version? In that version, a second wolf arrives, and grandma and Little Red take him out on their own.
2. The wolf and the seven little goats
The second famous fairy tale with wolves features seven poor little goats.
Their mum goes shopping. The wolf arrives and tricks them into letting him inside.
All hide. All are eaten. All? No, the youngest one remains behind, hidden in the clock.
When mum comes home, she is furious, hunts down the wolf, and brings him to a bitter end. All goats get saved.
So far, the wolves have been bad, very bad. But in the following story, that’s about to change.
3. The good wolf: a wolf who helps his friend
You might think that the wolf always appears as the villain. However, that’s not true. In this fairy tale, he appears as a sympathetic friend. He even gets taken advantage of!
An old dog (‘Old Sultan’) is almost kicked out of his home because he can’t protect the family anymore.
When he shares his sorrow with his friend (!) wolf, he offers him his help.
The wolf grabs the baby, and Old Sultan brings it back and is welcomed back as a hero.
When the wolf later asks for some compensation, he is refused. Finally, the wolf and dog agree to a duel, but in the end, they make peace.
An excellent example of a fairy tale (more a folktale/fable) in which the wolf is good instead of the villain.
4. Wolf fable: the fox and his cousin
Most other stories featuring wolves are not fairy tales but fables. And in those fables, the clever fox is never far away from his bigger but less intelligent cousin, the wolf.
And so it is in this one. You almost feel sorry for the wolf.
Fox and Wolf are cousins. So when a young wolf is born, the fox is asked to be godfather. He enjoys the feast but tricks the wolf into attacking a chicken coop. The wolf gets poorly hurt and the fox leaves, laughing his devilish laugh.
As far as I know, there are no fables in which the roles are reversed. Fox vs. Wolf always ends with the fox winning and the wolf licking his wounds.
5. Wolf fable: the wolf and the fox
Another story in which a fox tricks his cousin wolf.
The wolf is stronger than the fox, so he bosses him around. And the wolf has never enough to eat. If you are familiar with folktales, fables, and fairy tales, you know that they are pretty harsh on gluttony (overeating).
The fox follows orders and finds food. The wolf visits for a second helping but gets thoroughly thrashed.
The third time the fox takes the wolf to a place he can’t escape from. The wolf eats and eats, gets caught, and does not survive the onslaught. The fox? Somewhere in the forest, you can find a laughing-free fox.
6. Wolf fable: the wolf and the man
In this third fable, the clever fox is still very happy to help somebody else learn a lesson. Especially his bigger not-so-smart cousin wolf.
Fox says that you should be clever to get away from men. Wolf disagrees. Fox takes him to the road. When the wolf charges a huntsman, he gets shot and hit and returns bloodied and broken. Yes, says the fox, now you see what a braggart you are!
I think this was a straightforward setup. Talk to the wolf about the strength of men until he feels so challenged he will want to meet one. And then take him to a hunter to get his ass kicked. Somewhere in the forest, I can hear the fox chuckling.
So, when the wolf is not the villain, he is at least portrayed as a dumb brute—poor wolf.
7. Fairy tales with a wolf as supporting character
In these last three Brothers Grimm fairy tales, the wolf is only a supporting character.
- In The Wedding of Mrs. Fox, the wolf is one of the unsuccessfull suitors of Mrs. Fox.
- In The Wonderful Musician, the wolf is one of the three animals wanting to become the companion of the musician.
- In Thumbling, a hungry wolf eats Thumbling, is tricked to bring him home and does not survive it when his father rescues Thumbling.
Other famous stories with wolves in them
The three little pigs
You probably know this story too. Three little pigs, building houses of straw, sticks, and bricks. Only the third house survives the big blows of the wolf.
Jon Solo gives you some more background to this story and its Disney version in this video.
Peter and the wolf
Peter and the Wolf is a famous musical composition by Prokofiev. You can find an outline of the story and the history of this piece here on Wikipedia.
More about wolves in fairy tales
- M. Pezzato. Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? A Fearsome Beast in Tales Around the World (Ancient Origens.net)
Want to discover more animals in the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales?
➡ Check out my Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales Animals List
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