for theBearskin fairy tale are below. Sources have been cited in parenthetical
references, but I have not linked them directly to their full citations
which appear on the Bearskin Bibliography page. I have provided links back to the Annotated
Bearskin to facilitate referencing between the notes and the tale.
Special thanks to Christine Ethier, an adjunct teacher of English writing at both Community College of Philadelphia and Camden County College, for providing the annotations to this tale.
I have included the Grimms' notes to the tale as translated by Margaret Hunt followed by SurLaLune's textual annotations.
The Grimms' Notes For the Tale
From the neighbourhood of Paderborn. This is an independent variation of the foregoing. The Devil appears here in the saga which is related by Hebel (Alleman. Gedichte, 50), as a green-coat (child of the world), and whosoever gives himself to him has only to put his hand in his pocket and he will find money.
Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Household Tales. Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884, 1892. 2 volumes.
1.Bearskin: The original title was "Devil Greencoat" and appeared in the 1814/1815 edition, but it was heavily revised by 1843 (Ashliman). There are over 180 European variants (Paradiz 137). The Grimm version is a combination of a story from the Haxthausen family and a tale by Han Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen dated 1670 (Ashliman). Return to place in story.
2.He received his dismissal: According to Paradiz, in the Haxthausen version the hero was the youngest son who is abandoned by his older brothers when they go to find their fortunes (137-138). In Grimmelshausen's version, the solider deserts. Paradiz believes that the change to an "idealized solider" (142) was due to the Napoleonic Wars and as well as the stirrings of nationalism in the German population as a whole (142). Return to place in story.
3. Brothers, however, were hard-hearted: The inability of the solider to find any work, even from his brothers, is a comment on the problems that soldiers faced when returning from the wars. Now that the war is over, no one needs or wants the solider despite his valor on the field. Not only is this due to the fact that the soldier's skills are no longer need. According to Jack Zipes, soldiers were looked down upon because the civilian population was forced to pay for and billet the soldiers (The Brothers Grimm, 81). Here, the hero is not only abandoned by his family, but by his country. The Grimms were familiar with the wars and the life of a solider. Ludwig and Karl Grimm, brothers of Jacob and Wilhelm, were in a Hessian regiment (Paradiz 143-144). Another brother, Ferdinand, wanted to join but was "ill during the recruitment period" (Paradiz 144). Jacob Grimm traveled with the Grand Allied Headquarters (Paradiz 168) and saw what horrors the soldiers faced and committed (Paradiz 171-172). Return to place in story.
5. Circle of trees: A tree's cycle can be seen to represent "life, death, and resurrection" (Biedermann 351). A barren tree is associated with a sinner (Biedermann 351), and trees were also revered by older religions (Biedermann 351).
Circles are powerful symbols but usually protective. A fully enclosed circle protects the magician from the evil spirits he is conjuring (Biedermann 70). Circles on "megalithic gravestones can be interpreted as representations of sinking into the sea of death "(Biedermann 70). In addition, according to Jung "a circle symbolized the self, that is the whole person (Nataf 66). The circle of trees might even be seen as grove. According to Germanic tradition, there were sacred groves where the gods manifested themselves (Biedermann 160).
Zipes points out that in the forest often plays a role in the solider tales of the Grimms (The Brothers Grimm, 82). The forest tempts the soldiers but also gives them a chance to become part of the society (Zipes, The Brothers Grimm, 82). Return to place in story.
6. Who were a greencoat . . but had a hideous cloven : The strange man is the devil. In the original Haxthausen story, it is a horse's foot (Paradiz 138). In Grimmelhausen, the figure of aid is simply a spirit. The deformed foot of the devil refers to his divided nature (Biedermann 94). The word devil comes from the Greek diabolos which means adversary or prosecutor (Lindemans). The Greek is a translation of Satan from the Hebrew (Lindemans).
Biedermann states that the devil appears as a hunter dressed in green or red (94) and that the green is a connection to "the garment of ancient god of vegetation" (158). In other words, the devil is being connected to the older, dead, religions, a fact highlighted by the circle of trees. Green is also seen as the color that is an equal distance "from the blue of Heaven and the red of hell" (Biedermann 158). It is "an intermediate and mediating color, soothing, refreshing, human, a color of contemplation, of the expectation of resurrection"(Biedermann 158). Green also means immature or untrained. Return to place in story.
8.Large bear: In the bear tradition of Germanic lore "initiation rites may have pitted men against bear" (Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow 32). In addition, "as a dangerous animal, the bear is at times the embodiment of the devil's power" (Biedermann 33). According to Jung, it can represent "the negative aspects of the superposed persona" (Biedermann 33). However, while the bear can represent the negative aspects of a person, it contains a potential to change in a positive way (Biedermann 33). To dream of killing a bear "portends extrication from former entanglements" (Miller 87). The killing of bear does represent a turning point for the hero.
9.Seven: Bruno Bettelhiem states that seven in fairy tales is a "symbol of each day of our life". There are the seven sins, the seven sleepers, the seven ages of man. It is a significant number and there was a "predilection for series of seven" (Biedermann 302) in Medieval Europe. Return to place in story.
10.Paternoster: Our father. The hero is being told that he can not pray during the seven years of the pact. It would seem that hero must be both physically and spiritually unclean. In the Grimmelhausen version, it is even worse. There the solider can't even blow his nose or wipe his behind (Ashliman). Return to place in story.
11.Agreed to the terms: This is the first of two pacts. Paradiz points out that the solider makes this pact so that he can keep his freedom and move up in life (Paradiz 140-141). The devil is the only being that seems to offer any type of aid to the solider. Pacts with the devil appear as far back as the Old Testament and in ancient Jewish texts (Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow 360). Many times in folklore, the devil will make a pact with the hero and then will later be tricked by the hero (Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow 360). When the devil is not being tricked, the hero saves himself by "repentance and inner transformation" (Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow 360).
Zipes points out that in the Grimms' solider tales, with the exception of "The Three Snake Leaves", the ex-soldiers go outside of society and make a pact with "unconventional figures such as the devil, the devil's grandmother, or a witch to attain their goals" (The Brothers Grimm, 83). Return to place in story.
13.He pulled the skin off the bear: Jack Zipes writes, "The motif of the young hero who is compelled to wear an animal skin is an ancient one and made its first appearance in Sanskrit in the Pancatantra . . . about 300 C.E." (Zipes, Great Fairy Tale, 51).
By wearing the bear's skin as a cloak, the hero is associated with berserkers (berserks). According to H. A. Guerber, the word berserker means bare sark (shirt) (23). However, The Oxford Guide to Medieval Folklore and Biedermann suggest that a more correct translation is bear shirt (Landahl, McNamara, Lindow 40 and Biedermann 33).
Berserkers were said to be ferocious warriors who sometimes would drink bear blood to gain the strength of the bear (Landahl, McNamara, Lindow 40) and then enter a battle frenzy which made them impervious to wounds or so crazed they did not notice they were wounded. They were also the favorite warriors of Odin (Guerber 23). They could have animal characteristics. Both the Oxford Guide and Biedermann state they could also be the bear version of the were-wolf. The fierceness of these warriors is mirrored in the hero who is described as being in the forefront of the battle. It could also be that one must be mad as well as very desperate to make a deal with a devil.
The Germanic (Nordic) god Odin is said to have assumed the shape of a bear (Biedemann 33). He is also seen as the leader of the Wild Hunt as well as disembodied spirits (Guerber 23, 27). In some traditions, he is also seen as the Pied Piper of Hamlin (Guerber 27). His name derives from an "Indo-European form meaning 'leader of the possessed'"(Landahl, McNamara, Linldow 40). The solider could be seen as possessed because he is wearing the devil's greencoat and cannot pray to god. Return to place in story.
14. He began to look like a monster: The appearance of the hero is neither human nor animal. The solider at this point can be seen as a Wild Man or a savage. There is a debate whether savages and other forest spirits symbolize "unrestrained drives, a yearning for total realization of desires" (Biedermann 297) or a primordial memory (Biedermann 297). It is also possible that a savage or Wild Man can represent the short comings in others, specifically those who are civilized. There is a Medieval tradition of Wild Men symbolizing "Medieval doubts about aggressive male (and sometimes female) sexuality" (Landahl, McNamara, Lindow 434). The Wild Man does appear on the Coat of Arms of Prussia.
There were also at least two stories of human savages who were identified with bears. The first was in Lithuania in 1661. He was a boy found in the mountains by hunters and later taken to Warsaw (Comfort 216). He "bite, clawed, snarled like a bear, and subsisted on raw flesh and grass" (Comfort 216). He later became a game warden for a Polish noble (Comfort 216.
In 1767, two hunters shoot a bear in the Hungarian woods. Immediately a young girl attacked them (Comfort 217). She was taken to an asylum where she ate bark and jerky, and refused to wear clothes (Comfort 217). Return to place in story.
16. Money to pray: The solider cannot pray, but there is nothing that says he can't pay others to do it for him. Paradiz states that the act is what keeps the solider alive for the seven years (139). It also is an echo of the fact that during the middle ages nobles and soldiers would pay monks to say prayers for them (Jones 92). Return to place in story.
18. Outhouse: From the events that follow, the outhouse seems to be a house that is not attached to the inn proper but is on the same site and owned by the innkeeper. It does not appear to be an outhouse in the sense of a toilet. Return to place in story.
19. Compassionate heart: This is the first case of the hero not thinking of only himself. When he pays the poor, he doesn't just give them money; they are to pray for him. But when he aids the old man, he does so with no indication of any future reward. He does it because he wants to help. Return to place in story.
20. Choose one of them for thyself as wife: The father offers the daughters; the hero does not demand one. This is an important difference from other fairy tales were the daughters are rewards by or exchanges for the father. The father here is not even "tricked" out of a daughter. Of course, the father would like to have a rich son-in-law, and Bearskin does not have women lining up for him.
Notice, as well, that the daughters' only selling point is their beauty. The family has no money for a dowry. An element that appears in other tales is the fact that while the family was once well off, they have fallen on hard times. It also appears that though the family had money (perhaps what today would be upper-middle class), they do not appear to be a noble family. Return to place in story.
22.Your promise must be kept: This is the second pact of the story. Paradiz writes that a woman "though she, too, desires prosperity, makes her pact not with the devil but with her future mate" (140). Bearskin gains because of his pact; the daughter gains because she agrees to marry a rich man. Her words also indicate that she is a good girl because she is carrying out what her father wants her to do. The arranged marriage could be a reference to the situation of women who found themselves married to older (or ugly) men simply because that is what their father desired them to do. Tatar states that in animal groom tales the "father figures invariably personify the sweet voice of reason, wisdom and prudence. Paternal authority is dressed in the most favorable of possible colors" (173). Therefore, when the older sisters reject Bearskin, not only are they disobeying their father but they are also mocking marriage (Paradiz 141) and being unreasonable. Return to place in story.
23.Ring: A ring is used in marriage and can symbolize "the sexual union as well as the social and economic exchange" (Lindahl, McNamara, Lindow 258). A broken ring represents a broken vow (Biedermann 284). Bearskin's breaking of the ring, besides being a plot device, could also symbolism the fact that the two cannot be married at the moment. Bearskin cannot take part in a religious marriage ceremony because of his pact with the devil.
The symbolism here may also be similar to that of animal groom tales. Bettleheim believes that such stories deal with the woman changing her view sex and embracing it. He writes, ". . . as long as one partner views it [sex] as animal like, the other remains partially an animal to himself and his partner" (286). It is not hard to imagine that the girl would have some qualms about spending a night with Bearskin at this point. Return to place in story.
24. Three years: The number three can stand for perfection (Biedermann) and Bettleheim points out that three refers to "the aspects of the mind: id, ego, and superego" (102). These years could symbolize not only the last years of the pact with the devil, but also a maturing of Bearskin and his intended. Return to place in story.
25. Dressed herself entirely in black: Black not only shows mourning but "also a promise of future resurrection" (Biedermann 41). By wearing black, the intended is also giving up vanity and ostentation (Biedermann 41). She also shows pity for her future husband by crying for him and does not respond to her sisters (unlike what occurs in other tales). In short, she is being a good and dutiful betrothed. Return to place in story.
26. Bears dance well: The tradition of dancing bears in Europe started in the Balkans and was spread by gypsies ("Belistsa"). It was very popular (and very cruel to the bear) and lasted in some parts of Europe until 2002 ("Belistsa"). Return to place in story.
27. Did good where he was able: At this point, Bearskin is not spending money on himself. He has changed. Until his meeting with the old man, Bearskin spent the majority of the money on himself, now he is doing good deeds. He can't pray, but he can do charitable acts (a Christian virtue). This indicates that he is a good, even a changed, man. It also mirrors the image of his betrothed. Both are good people. Return to place in story.
29. Much handsomer: The devil is not happy because Bearskin is not his. Bearskin makes the devil stick to the deal and clean him (the devil is acting like a servant). Bearskin tricked the devil by doing good and paying people to pray for him. Bearskin has profited greatly from the bargain, gaining money and looks. Return to place in story.
The fact that it is four white horses shows how much money Bearskin has. He couldn't afford one horse at the beginning of the story and now he can afford four white (matched) carriage horses.
According to Gerald and Loretta Hausman, "The grace of horses in general has much to do with the mortal belief that beauty can overcome ugliness and cancel out death" (167). Biedermann states that a white horse in dreams can be connected to the experience of death. This is akin to what has happen to Bearskin. He has been ugly and been under the threat of death.
White horses are rare (Hausman 167) and in Europe the two most famous breeds that can be white are the Lipizzaner and the Andalusion (an ancestor of the Lipizzaner). The Spanish Riding School in Vienna was founded in 1572 and got its name because it imported Andalusion horses from Spain. These imported horses serviced as studs at the Lipizza stud which was founded in 1580. Horses from the Lipizza stud first performed at the school in 1735 (Isenbart 52). It is possible that Jacob Grimm saw the Lipizzaners perform for he was sent to the Congress of Vienna from 1814-1815 (Zipes, Oxford Companion, 218). The School performed for members of the Congress of Vienna in both November and December of 1814 (Isenbart 26).
Lipizzaner foals are usually born "brown, blackish-brown, or mouse grey" (Isenbart 117). But "generally speaking, the Lipizzaner becomes white all over between the ages of four and ten, usually around seven" (Isenbart 117). Andalusions also can change color (Isenbart 88). The carriage horses went from dirty to "clean" like Bearskin.
The fact that the horses are white is also indication that Bearskin is no longer dealing with the devil, for the devil rides a black horse. Return to place in story.
31.God's Grace: The solider can now pray. In the beginning of the story, the solider does not call on god for help. He seems to accept the fact that he is going to die from starvation. These words are another indication that he has changed. He credits god for his salvation and not the devil; god saved him from the devil. Zipes believes that this shows the solider has proved himself to society (The Brothers Grimm, 84), The solider has past the integrity test and is accepted by society as a whole (Zipes, The Brothers Grimm, 84). Return to place in story.
33.Two souls in the place of one: The devil gets his due. The two sisters are his because they committed suicide. Paradiz sees this story as a tale about women's freedom. She states, "Happy endings, it seems, are reserved only for girls who obey father and never mock the chance at marriage" (141). She points out that while the hero is not condemned for keeping his freedom (142), a girl cannot have that freedom. A girl who does "may never marry; and then she will suffer an even harsher fate: poverty, death, or the loss of her very soul to the devil" (Paradiz 142). The youngest daughter follows her father; while the two elder sisters do not. The two sisters are then punished by seeing the success of the younger sister.
Jack Zipes offers the view that "Bearskin" and the other solider tales are about the ex-soldiers becoming "socially useful" and fighting "for their goals" (The Brothers Grimm, 84). He goes on to conclude, "Implicit in the normative behavior of the 'good' solider is a patriarchal reinforcement of the Protestant ethic" (The Brothers Grimm, 84). Return to place in story.
Special thanks to Christine Ethier, an adjunct teacher of English writing at both Community College of Philadelphia and Camden County College, for providing the annotations to this tale.