Bam! Seven in one stroke! Seven flies, but when the brave little tailor tells it to others, they think he killed seven men…
The Brave Little Tailor is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a tailor who kills seven flies with one blow. Everybody thinks he is talking about killing seven men. He tricks a giant many times. Then the king challenges him to defeat giants, a unicorn and a boar. Finally the tailor gets to marry the princess.
A little tailor buys some jam
One summer’s morning a little tailor was sitting at his table by the window. He was enjoying himself and sewed with all his might.
A peasant woman came down the street shouting, “Good jams, cheap! Good jams, cheap!
The tailor liked what he heard. He stretched his delicate head out of the window and called, “Come up here, dear woman. Here you will get rid of your goods.”
The woman came up the three steps to the tailor with her heavy basket. He made her unpack all of the pots for him. He inspected all of them. He lifted them up, he put his nose to them and at last he said, “This seems to be good jam. Please weigh me out four ounces, dear woman. It’s not a problem when it becomes a quarter of a pound.”
The woman gave him what he desired, but went away quite angry and grumbling. She had hoped to find a good sale.
“Now, God bless my jam,” said the little tailor, “and give me health and strength.”
He brought the bread out of the cupboard, cut himself a piece right across the loaf and spread the jam over it. “This won’t taste bitter,” he said, “but I will just finish the jacket before I take a bite.”
He laid the bread down near him, sewed on, and in his joy made bigger and bigger stitches.
The tailor kills seven in one stroke
The smell of the sweet jam ascended to the wall, where the flies were sitting in great numbers. They were attracted and a great many of them descended on it.
“Hola! Who invited you?” said the little tailor and drove the unbidden guests away. The flies however, did not understand him and they would not be turned away. More and more of them came back.
At last the little tailor lost all patience. He got a bit of cloth from the hole under his worktable. Shouting “Wait and I will give it to you,” he struck them without mercy. When he drew the cloth away and counted, no fewer than seven flies lay before him, dead and with legs stretched out.
“What a man am I!” he said and could not help admiring his own bravery. “The whole town shall know of this!”
The little tailor hastened to cut himself a girdle, stitched it and embroidered on it in large letters, “Seven in one stroke!”
“What, the town!” he continued, “The whole world shall hear of it!” and his heart wagged with joy like a lamb’s tail. He put on the girdle and resolved to go forth into the world. His workshop was too small for his valour.
Before he went away he sought the house to see if there was anything which he could take with him. The only thing he found was an old cheese, which he put in his pocket.
In front of the door he saw a bird which had caught itself in the thicket. He put it in his pocket with the cheese. Boldly he took to the road. Being light and nimble, he felt no fatigue.
The tailor meets a giant
The road led him up a mountain. At the highest point there sat a powerful giant admiring the sight. The little tailor went bravely up to him and said, “Good day, friend, I see you sitting here overlooking the whole wide world! I am on my way there to find my luck. Would you like to come with me?
The giant looked contemptuously at the tailor and said, “You ragamuffin! Miserable little creature!”
“Oh, is that so?” answered the little tailor. He unbuttoned his coat and showed the giant the girdle.
“Here you can read what kind of a man I am!”
The giant read, “Seven at one stroke.” He thought that it was talking about the men the tailor had killed and began to feel a little respect for the tiny fellow.
The giant tests the little tailor
However he wished to try him first. He took a stone in his hand and squeezed it together so that water dropped out of it. “Do the same,” said the giant, “if you have the strength!”
“Is that all?” said the tailor, “that is child’s play for me!”
He put his hand in his pocket, brought out the soft cheese and pressed it until the liquid ran out of it. “You see,” said he, “that was even better, wasn’t it?”
The giant did not know what to say. He could not believe his own eyes. He picked up a stone and threw it so high that the eye could scarcely follow it. “Now, little mite of a man, do the same”
“Well thrown,” said the tailor, “but after all the stone came down to earth again; I will throw you one which shall never come back at all.”
He put his hand into his pocket, took out the bird and threw it into the air. The bird, delighted with its liberty, rose, flew away and did not come back. “How does that look to you, my friend?” asked the tailor.
“For sure you can throw,” said the giant, “but now we will see if you are able to carry something big.”
He took the little tailor to a mighty oak tree which lay there felled on the ground and said, “If you are strong enough, help me to carry the tree out of the forest.”
“No problem,” the little man answered; “if you take the trunk on your shoulders, I will raise up the branches and twigs; after all, they are the heaviest.”
The giant took the trunk on his shoulder, but the tailor seated himself on a branch. The giant could not look around and had to carry away the whole tree with the little tailor on it. Cheerfully he whistled the song, “Three tailors rode forth from the gate,” as if carrying the tree were child’s play.
After the giant had dragged the heavy burden part of the way, he could go no further. He shouted, “Pay attention, I will have to let the tree go!”
The tailor sprang nimbly down and seized the tree with both arms as if he had been carrying it. “You are such a great guy and yet you cannot even carry the tree!”
They went on together and as they passed a cherry tree, the giant laid hold of the top of the tree where the ripest fruit was hanging. He bent it down, handed it to the tailor and told him to eat. However the little tailor was much too weak to hold the tree.
When the giant let it go, it sprang back again and the tailor was hurled into the air with it. When he had fallen down again without injury, the giant said, “What is this? Are you not strong enough to hold this weak twig?”
“It’s not about strength,” the little tailor answered. “Do you think strength is an issue for a man who has struck down seven in one blow? I leapt over the tree because the huntsmen are shooting down there in the thicket. Jump as I did, if you can.”
The giant tried, but could not jump over the tree and remained hanging in the branches, so that in this also the tailor kept the upper hand.
The giant invites the little tailor to the giant’s cavern
The giant said, “If you are such a strong fellow, come with me into our cavern and spend the night with us.”
The little tailor liked that idea and followed him. In the cave other giants were sitting by the fire, each of them a roasted sheep in his hand and eating. The little tailor looked round and thought, “It is much more spacious here than in my workshop.”
The giant showed him a bed and said he was to lie down in it and sleep. The bed however was too big for the little tailor; he did not lie down in it, but crept into a corner.
When it was midnight and the giant thought that the little tailor was sound asleep, he got up, took a great iron bar and cut through the bed with one blow. He thought he had given the grasshopper his finishing stroke.
Next morning the giants went into the forest. They had quite forgotten the little tailor, when all at once he walked up to them quite merrily and boldly. The giants were terrified, they were afraid that he would strike them all dead and ran away in a great hurry.
The little tailor went onward, always following his own pointed nose. After he had walked for a long time, he came to the courtyard of a royal palace. He felt weary, lay down on the grass and fell asleep. People came and looked at him, close enough to read on his girdle, “Seven in one stroke.”
“Ah,” they said, “What does that great warrior here in the midst of peace? He must be a mighty lord.”
The little tailor enters the king’s service
They went and announced him to the king. Giving him their opinion that if war should break out, this would be a weighty and useful man who ought on no account to be allowed to depart. The king agreed and he sent one of his courtiers to the little tailor to offer him military service when he awoke.
The ambassador remained standing by the sleeper, waited until he stretched his limbs and opened his eyes, and then conveyed to him this proposal. “For this very reason have I come here,” the tailor replied, “I am ready to enter the king’s service.” He was honorably received and was assigned a special dwelling.
The soldiers were set against the little tailor. They wished him a thousand miles away. “What will become of this?” they said among themselves. “If we quarrel with him, and he strikes us, seven of us will fall at every blow; not one of us can stand against him.”
They came to a decision, went to the king and begged for their dismissal. “We are not prepared,” they said, “to stay with a man who kills seven at one stroke.”
The king felt sorry that for the sake of one he would lose all his faithful servants. He wished that he had never set eyes on the tailor and wished he was rid of him again. However he didn’t dare to dismiss him, for he was afraid that he would strike him and all his people dead and would become king himself.
The little tailor gets a first assignment
He thought about it for a long time, and at last got a good idea. He sent a message to the little tailor and informed him that since he was such a great warrior, he had a request of him.
In a forest of the country lived two giants who caused great mischief with their robbing, murdering, ravaging, and burning. No one could approach them without putting himself in danger of death. If the tailor conquered and killed these two giants, he would give him his only daughter to wife and half of his kingdom as a dowry. One hundred horsemen would go with him to assist him.
“That would indeed be a fine thing for a man like me!” thought the little tailor. “One is not offered a beautiful princess and half a kingdom every day of one’s life!”
“Oh, yes,” he replied, “I will soon conquer the giants and do not require the help of the hundred horsemen to do it. He who can hit seven with one blow does not need to be afraid of two.”
The little tailor went forth and the hundred horsemen followed him. When he came to the outskirts of the forest he said to his followers, “Just stay waiting here, I will go in alone and will finish off the giants soon.”
The tailor tricks the giants
He stepped into the forest and looked about right and left. After a while he found both giants. They were sleeping under a tree and snored so hard that the branches waved up and down. The little tailor immediately gathered two pockets full of stones. With these he climbed the tree.
When he was half-way up, he slipped down by a branch, until he sat just above the sleepers, and then let one stone after another fall on the breast of one of the giants. For a long time the giant felt nothing, but at last he awoke, pushed his fried and said, “Why are you hitting me?”
“You must be dreaming,” said the other, “I am not hitting you.”
They laid themselves down to sleep again. The tailor threw a stone down on the second. “What is the meaning of this?” cried the other. “Why are slapping me?”
“I am not slapping you,” the first answered growling. They quarreled for some time. As they were weary they let the matter rest, and their eyes closed once more. The little tailor began his game again. He picked the biggest stone and threw it with all his might on the breast of the first giant.
“You should not have done that!” he cried and sprang up like a madman. He pushed his companion against the tree until it shook. The other paid him back in the same coin. They got in such a rage that they tore up trees and hammered each other for so long, that at last they both fell down dead on the ground at the same time.
Then the little tailor leapt down. “It is a lucky thing,” said he, “that they did not tear up the tree on which I was sitting. I would have had to spring on to another like a squirrel. But then again, we tailors are nimble.”
He drew out his sword and gave each of them a couple of thrusts in the breast. He went out to the horsemen and said, “The work is done; I have given both of them their finishing stroke. It was however a difficult assignment! They tore up trees in their sore need and defended themselves with them, but all that is to no purpose when a man like myself comes, who can kill seven at one blow.”
“But are you not wounded?” asked the horsemen.
“Don’t worry about that,” answered the tailor, “They have not bent one hair of mine.”
The horsemen would not believe him and rode into the forest; there they found the giants swimming in their blood and all round about lay the torn-up trees.
The little tailor gets a second assignment
The little tailor demanded of the King the promised reward. But the king regretted his promise and again thought how he could get rid of the hero.
“Before you receive my daughter and half of my kingdom,” he said to him, “you must perform one more heroic deed. In the forest roams a unicorn which does great harm and you must catch it first.”
“One unicorn is less to be feared than two giants. Seven at one blow, that is my kind of affair.”
The tailor tricks the unicorn
He took a rope and an axe with him and went forth into the forest. Again he bade those who were sent with him to wait outside. He had to seek long, but when he found the unicorn it came immediately towards him. It rushed directly towards the tailor as if it would spit him on his horn without more ceremony.
“Softly, softly. It can’t be done as quickly as that,” he said. He stood still, waited until the animal was quite close and then sprang nimbly behind a tree. The unicorn ran against the tree with all its strength. He struck his horn so hard in the trunk that it had not strength enough to draw it out again, and so it was caught.
“Now, I have got the bird,” said the tailor. He came out from behind the tree and put the rope around the unicorns neck. With his axe he hewed the horn out of the tree and when all was ready he led the beast away and took it to the king.
The brave tailor gets a third assignment
The king still would not give him the promised reward and made a third demand. Before the wedding the tailor was to catch a wild boar that made great havoc in the forest. The huntsmen should give him their help.
“Of course,” said the tailor, “that is child’s play!”
He did not take the huntsmen with him into the forest. They really liked that, because the wild boar had several times received them in such a way that they had no inclination to lie in wait for him.
The tailor tricks the boar
When the boar perceived the tailor, it ran on him with foaming mouth and whetted tusks. It was about to throw him to the ground, but the active hero sprang into a chapel which was near. Up to the window at once. In one bound out again.
The boar ran in after him, but the tailor ran around outside and shut the door behind it. The raging beast which was much too heavy and awkward to leap out of the window, was caught.
The little tailor called the huntsmen over so that they might see the prisoner with their own eyes. The hero went to the King, who was now, whether he liked it or not, obliged to keep his promise. The king gave him his daughter and half of his kingdom.
Had he known that it was no warlike hero, but a little tailor who was standing before him, it would have gone to his heart still more than it did. The wedding was held with great magnificence and little joy, but out of a tailor a king was made.
A last effort to get rid of the brave little tailor
After some time the young queen heard her husband say in his dreams at night, “Boy, make me the doublet. Patch the pantaloons! Or else I will rap the yard-measure over your ears.”
She realized in what class the young lord had been born. Next morning she complained of her wrongs to her father. She begged him to help her to get rid of her husband, who was nothing else but a tailor!
The king comforted her and said, “Leave your bedroom door open this night. My servants shall stand outside. When he has fallen asleep they shall go in, bind him, and take him on board a ship which shall carry him into the wide world.”
The woman was satisfied with this, however the king’s armor-bearer, who had heard all, was friendly with the young lord and informed him of the whole plot.
“I’ll put a screw into that business!” said the little tailor. At night he went to bed with his wife at the usual time. When she thought that he had fallen asleep, she got up, opened the door and then lay down again.
The little tailor who was only pretending to be asleep, began to shout out in a clear voice, “Boy, make me the doublet. Patch the pantaloons! Or else I will rap the yard-measure over your ears. I smote seven at one blow. I killed two giants, I brought away a unicorn and caught a wild boar. Am I to fear those who are standing outside the room?”
When these men heard the tailor speaking like that, they were overcome by great fear and ran as if the wild huntsman were behind them. None of them would venture anything further against him.
So the little tailor was a king and remained one, to the end of his life.
Tips for Telling
- This tale is the wild dance of a trickster. It needs to be told with a gleam in your eye, with the spirit of the active funny little guy. The key to successful telling it is finding this naughty, opportune funny trickster in you. When was the last time you tricked somebody?
- Choose the parts where you speed up in the telling and the parts where you slow down. Like a song, changes of rhythm bring more dynamic to the telling of the story. The action asks for a faster rhythm, some other scenes (for example sleeping in the courtyard) allow for some slowing down. You will need to tell this story a couple of times to find your rhythm.
- Don’t worry if you forget some of the tricks the tailor plays. It does not really matter if your audience does not know the story. Keep going!
All Questions Answered
It was included in the first edition of their collection by the Brothers Grimm. They learned this fairy tale from different sources, some written, some told. Part of the story was taken from ‘Wegkürzer’ (Martin Montanus).
The fairy tale was included in the first edition of the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales (1812). Since it was based on several sources (written and oral), we know parts of this tale existed for hundreds of years before that.
It’s also known as “The Valiant Little Tailor”, “The Gallant Tailor” and “Seven at One Blow”.
Yes, there is a short Mickey Mouse movie based on this story. You can find it on YouTube.