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Household Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm translated by Margaret Hunt

The Peasant and the Devil

THERE was once on a time a far-sighted, crafty peasant whose tricks were much talked about. The best story is, however, how he once got hold of the Devil, and made a fool of him. The peasant had one day been working in his field, and as twilight had set in, was making ready for the journey home, when he saw a heap of burning coals in the middle of his field, and when, full of astonishment, he went up to it, a little black devil was sitting on the live coals. "Thou dost indeed sit upon a treasure!" said the peasant. "Yes, in truth," replied the Devil, "on a treasure which contains more gold and silver than thou hast ever seen in thy life!" "The treasure lies in my field and belongs to me," said the peasant. "It is thine," answered the Devil, "if thou wilt for two years give me the half of everything thy field produces. Money I have enough of, but I have a desire for the fruits of the earth." The peasant agreed to the bargain. "In order, however, that no dispute may arise about the division," said he, "everything that is above ground shall belong to thee, and what is under the earth to me." The Devil was quite satisfied with that, but the cunning peasant had sown turnips.

Now when the time for harvest came, the Devil appeared and wanted to take away his crop; but he found nothing but the yellow withered leaves, while the peasant, full of delight, was digging up his turnips. "Thou hast had the best of it for once," said the Devil, "but the next time that won't do. What grows above ground shall be thine, and what is under it, mine." "I am willing," replied the peasant; but when the time came to sow, he did not again sow turnips, but wheat. The grain became ripe, and the peasant went into the field and cut the full stalks down to the ground. When the Devil came, he found nothing but the stubble, and went away in a fury down into a cleft in the rocks. "That is the way to cheat the Devil," said the peasant, and went and fetched away the treasure.


From the Büchlein für die Jugend, pp. 249-251, We have emitted a bad ill-conceived ending in which the Devil and the peasant try which of them can endure the greatest heat; on the other hand a better conclusion to the story is to be found in Müllenhoff, p. 278. When the Devil sees that he is betrayed, he threatens to come the next day but one, when the peasant and he will have a scratching-match with each other. The peasant is afraid, but his wife encourages him, and says that she will soon manage the Devil. The peasant goes away, and when the Devil comes, she says to him, "Just look! my husband has made this great scratch right across my beautiful oak-table with the nail of his little finger!" "Where is he then?" says the Devil. "Where should he be but with the smith? He is having his nails sharpened!" Whereupon the Devil quickly makes off. For a Danish story, see Thiele, 2. 249, where a miner appears. On the other hand, in an Esthonian story (Reinhart Fuchs, cclxxxviii), it is a bear which is betrayed by the peasant; and. here we have quite a different and characteristic conclusion, according to which the fox contrives by his cunning that the bear, who wants to take away the man's oxen, shall be bound by him and killed. In Danish, see Thiele, 2. 249, The Peasant and the Forest. In French, see Rabelais, 4. chap. 45, 47. See a poem of Rückert's, p. 75, in which the story has been taken from an Arabian source. There is a popular superstition that fruits which grow above ground should be sown in light that is increasing, and those which grow under ground in that which is decreasing. In Normandy, even at this day, they tell how St. Michael and the Devil disputed with each other as to which could build the most beautiful church. The Devil built one of stone; Michael put together one more beautiful still made of ice. Afterwards, when this melted, both of them wanted to cultivate the ground; the Devil chose as his own what grew above ground, and Michael retained for himself what was hidden in the earth. Compare Deutsche Mythologie, 678, 980, 981.

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Household Tales. Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884, 1892. 2 volumes.

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Page created 10/15/06; Last updated 10/30/07