A miller makes a deal with the devil. Only by cutting of the hands of his daughter they are saved. But will she find any happiness in life?
The Girl Without Hands is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a young woman. Her father makes a deal with the devil and her hands are cut off. A king finds her and they are happily married. The devil tricks them again, but after a separation of seven years she has received new hands and they reunite.
Complete text The Girl Without Hands
The miller makes a deal with the devil
A miller had little by little fallen into poverty. He had nothing left but his mill and a large apple tree behind it.
One day he went into the forest to fetch wood. An old man stepped up to him whom he had never seen before and said, “Why are you tiring yourself with cutting wood? I will make you rich, if you promise me what is standing behind your mill?”
“What can that be but my apple tree?” the miller thought. And so he said, “Yes,” and gave a written promise to the stranger.
The stranger laughed mockingly and said, “When three years have passed, I will come and carry away what belongs to me,” and then he went.
When the miller arrived home, his wife came to meet him and said, “Tell me, where does this sudden wealth come from? All at once every box and chest was filled; no one brought it in and I know not how it happened.”
He answered, “It comes from a stranger who met me in the forest and promised me great treasure. I, in return, have promised him what stands behind the mill; we can very well give him the big apple tree for it.”
“Ah husband,” the terrified wife said, “that must have been the devil! He did not mean the apple tree, but our daughter, who was standing behind the mill sweeping the yard.”
The devil comes to collect the daughter
The miller’s daughter was a beautiful and pious girl. She lived through the three years in the fear of God and without sin.
When the three years were past and the day came when the evil one would come for her, she washed herself clean and made a circle around herself with chalk.
The devil appeared quite early, but he could not come near to her. Angrily he said to the miller, “Take all water away from her, that she may no longer be able to wash herself, for otherwise I have no power over her.”
The miller was afraid and did so. The next morning the devil came again, but she had wept on her hands, and they were quite clean. Again he could not get near her and furiously said to the miller, “Cut her hands off, or else I cannot get the better of her.”
The miller was shocked and answered, “How could I cut off my own child’s hands?”
Then the evil one threatened him and said, “If you do not do it you are mine, and I will take you yourself.”
The father became alarmed and promised to obey him. So he went to the girl and said, “My child, if I do not cut off both your hands, the devil will carry me away. In my terror I have promised to do it. Help me in my need and forgive me the harm I do to you.”
She replied, “Dear father, do with me what you will, I am your child.”
She laid down both her hands and let them be cut off. The devil came for the third time, but she had wept so long and so much on the stumps, that after all they were quite clean. He had to give in and lost all right over her.
The girl goes out into the world
The miller said to her, “Because of you I am so wealthy. I will care for you as long as you live.”
But she replied, “I cannot stay here. I will go forth, compassionate people will give me as much as I need.”
She let her maimed arms be bound to her back and by sunrise set out on her way. She walked the whole day until night fell and she arrived at a royal garden. By the shimmering of the moon she saw that trees covered with beautiful fruits grew in it, but she could not enter, for there was water all around it.
As she had walked the whole day and not eaten one mouthful, hunger tormented her. She thought, “Ah, if only I was inside and could eat some fruit. Here I will die of hunger!”
She knelt down, called on God the Lord, and prayed. Suddenly an angel came towards her who made a dam in the water. The moat became dry and she could walk through it. Into the garden she went with the angel.
She saw a tree covered with beautiful pears, they were all counted. She went to them. To still her hunger she ate one with her mouth from the tree, but no more.
The gardener was watching. Seeing the angel he was afraid and thought she was a spirit. So he stayed silent, not calling to her and not speaking to her.
After eating the pear, she was satisfied and went and concealed herself among the bushes.
The king visits the garden
The king to whom the garden belonged came down to it next morning. He counted and saw that one of the pears was missing. He asked the gardener what had become of it, as it was not lying beneath the tree, but was gone.
The gardener answered, “Last night a spirit came in, who had no hands, and ate off one of the pears with its mouth.”
The king said, “How did the spirit get over the water and where did it go after it had eaten the pear?”
“Someone came in a snow white garment from heaven who made a dam, which kept back the water, that the spirit might walk through the moat. As it must have been an angel, I was afraid, and asked no questions, and did not cry out. When the spirit had eaten the pear, it went back again.”
The king said, “If it is like you say, I will watch with you tonight.”
The king meats the miller’s daughter
When it grew dark the king came into the garden and brought a priest with him, who was to speak to the spirit. All three seated themselves beneath the tree and watched.
At midnight the maiden came creeping out of the thicket, went to the tree and again ate one pear off it with her mouth. Beside her stood the angel in white garments. Then the priest went out to them and said, “Are you from heaven or from earth? A spirit or a human being?”
She replied, “I am not a spirit, but an unhappy mortal deserted by all but God.”
The king said, “If you are forsaken by all the world, I will take care of you.” He took her with him into his royal palace. She was so beautiful and good and he loved her with all his heart. He had silver hands made for her and took her to be his wife.
The devil messes with the letters
After a year the king had to go into his kingdom, so he commended his young queen to the care of his mother. He said, “If she is brought to bed take care of her, nurse her well, and tell me of it at once in a letter.”
The queen gave birth to a fine boy. So the old mother made haste to write and announce the joyful news to the king.
The messenger rested by a brook on the way. As he was fatigued by the great distance, he fell asleep. The devil approached, always seeking to injure the good queen. He exchanged the letter for another, in which was written that the queen had brought a monster into the world.
When the king read the letter he was shocked and very troubled. He wrote in answer that they were to take great care of the Queen and nurse her well until his arrival.
The messenger went back with the letter, but rested at the same place and again fell asleep. Once more the devil came and put a different letter in his pocket, in which it was written that they were to put the queen and her child to death.
The old mother was terribly shocked when she received the letter and could not believe it. She wrote back to the king, but received no other answer, because each time the devil substituted a false letter. In the last letter it was also written that she was to preserve the queen’s tongue and eyes as a token that she had obeyed.
The queen is send away
The old mother wept to think such innocent blood was to be shed. She had a hind brought by night and cut out her tongue and eyes and kept them.
She said to the queen, “I cannot kill you as the king commands, but here you cannot stay any longer. Go out into the wide world with your child and never come here again.”
The poor woman tied her child on her back and went away with eyes full of tears. She arrived in a great wild forest. When she fell on her knees and prayed to God, the angel of the Lord appeared to her and led her to a little house. On it was a sign that said, “Here all dwell free.”
A snow white woman came out of the little house and said, “Welcome, lady queen.”
She was taken inside and they unbound the little boy from her back. They held him to her breast that he might feed and laid him in a beautifully made little bed.
The poor woman asked, “How did you know that I was a queen?”
The white woman answered, “I am an angel sent by God, to watch over you and your child.”
The queen stayed seven years in the little house. She was well cared for, and by God’s grace, because of her piety, her hands which had been cut off, grew back once more.
The king comes home and searches for his wife
Meanwhile the king had come from the war. His first wish was to see his wife and the child.
His aged mother began to weep and said, “You wicked man, why did you write me that I was to take those two innocent lives?” She showed him the two letters which the evil one had forged and then continued, “I did as you commanded.” She showed the tokens, the tongue and the eyes.
The king began to weep for his poor wife and his little son so much more bitterly than she was doing, that the aged mother had compassion on him and said, “Be at peace, she still lives. I secretly ordered a hind to be killed and took these tokens from it. The child I bound to your wife’s back and I send her out into the wide world. I made her promise never to come back here again, because you were so angry with her.”
The king said, “I will go as far as the sky is blue. I will neither eat nor drink until I have found again my dear wife and my child, if in the meantime they have not been killed or died of hunger.”
And so the king traveled about for seven long years. He sought her in every cleft of the rocks and in every cave, but didn’t found her and thought she had died of want. During the whole of this time he neither ate nor drank, but God supported him.
At last he came into a great forest and found there the little house with the sign “Here all dwell free.” Forth came the white maiden, took him by the hand, led him in, and said, “Welcome, lord king.”
She asked him where he came from. He answered, “Soon I will have traveled for seven years, seeking my wife and her child and not finding them. The angel offered him food and drink, but he did not take anything and only wished to rest a little. He lay down to sleep and put a handkerchief over his face.
The king and queen reunite
The angel went into the chamber where the queen sat with her son. She was used to call the boy “Sorrowful.” She said to her, “Go out with your child, your husband has arrived.”
She went to the place where he was sleeping and the handkerchief fell from his face.
“Sorrowful, pick up your father’s handkerchief and cover his face again,” she said.
The child picked it up and put it over his face again. The king in his sleep heard what passed and had pleasure in letting the handkerchief fall once more.
The child grew impatient and said, “Dear mother, how can I cover my father’s face when I have no father in this world? I have learnt to say the prayer, ‘Our Father, which art in heaven,’ and you told me that my father was in heaven. You told me my father was the good God. How can I know a wild man like this? He is not my father.”
When the king heard that, he got up and asked who they were. She said, “I am your wife and that is your son, Sorrowful.”
He saw her living hands and said, “My wife had silver hands.”
She answered, “The good God has caused my natural hands to grow again.”
The angel went into the inner room, brought the silver hands and showed them to him. Then he knew for certain that it was his dear wife and his dear child. He kissed them, was glad and said, “A heavy stone has fallen off my heart.”
The angel of God gave them one meal with her and after that they went home to the king’s aged mother. Everybody was rejoicing. The king and queen were married again and lived contentedly to their happy end.
Tips for Telling The Girl Without Hands
- This tale comes from a different time, from a different world with certain strong beliefs in God, angels and the devil. To take people with you into the story it might be good to acknowledge this in the beginning. It can be as simple as: “In a world where God provided all that was good. In a world where white angels carried out his wishes. In a world where the devil was everywhere, trying to trick and hurt you. In that world there was…”.
- There are some shocking scenes in this story (cutting of of the hands, killing of the hind). This is not a story for children. Don’t try to lessen their impact by rushing through them. You cannot and should not tell this story if you can’t or won’t imagine it vividly by yourself.
- After listening to this story, people will need some time to breathe and settle again. Consider what happens after this story is told in your decision of telling it.
All Questions Answered
The tale ‘The Girl Without Hands’ was published by the Brothers Grimm in the first edition of their Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Their source was Marie Hassenpflug.
The Brothers Grimm included it in the first edition (1812) of their Grimm’s Fairy Tales. However the tale was extensively edited and expanded for later editions.
It is also called “The Handless Maiden”, “The Girl With Silver Hands” and “The Armless Maiden”.