This story has elements from several Grimm’s Fairy Tales. See if you can pick out the familiar pieces.
Once upon a time there lived two men in the same village with the same name. People distinguished them by calling them Little Claus and Big Claus. Throughout the week Little Claus worked for Big Claus. He would pair up his one horse with Big Claus’ four horses and plow the fields for Big Claus. On the weekends, Big Claus would lend Little Claus all four of his horses and Little Claus would do the work he needed to do. At one point there came an irritation because Little Claus called all five of the horses his on the weekends and Big Claus didn’t like that. He told Little Claus that he better stop or else he would kill Little Claus’ one horse. Little Claus did not stop saying all five horses were his, so Big Claus killed his horse.
Little Claus skinned his dead horse and took the skin in hopes of selling it. Town was a long ways off and he knocked at a farm-house in order to stay the night. The woman there did not want to let him in. He sought shelter in the shed. In the shed he could see into the farmhouse. The farmer’s wife was having dinner with the sexton. The dinner was a very nice one. The wife soon realized that her husband was coming home. She told the sexton to hide in an empty chest. She hid the nice dinner in the oven.
The farmer got to the house and found Little Claus in the shed. He told him to come inside. The farmer was nicer than his wife and offered a night’s lodging and food. She gave them porridge instead of the nice dinner. Claus said he had a conjurer in the sack that held his horse’s skin. He said the conjurer said that he had conjured a nice dinner in the oven. The wife was obliged to look and take out the nice dinner. The conjurer goes on to tell about three bottles of wine. The farmer asks Claus if the conjurer could conjure the evil one. Claus said that he could, but the farmer might not like it because he looked like a sexton. The farmer wanted to see anyway. Claus told him that the evil one was inside the chest. The farmer looked and did not like what he saw.
He offered to buy the conjurer from Claus for a bushel of money. Claus agreed, but part of the deal was taking the chest away. Claus got rid of his horse skin and dragged the chest behind him. He threatened to throw the chest in the water, but the sexton inside told Claus he would give him another bushel of money if he did not throw him in. Claud agreed. He borrowed a bushel measure from Big Claus. Big Claus was curious as to what Little Claus wanted the measure for, so he smeared tar in the bottom of the measure. When it was returned three silver florins were sticking to it.
Big Claus asked Little Claus where he got so much money and Little Claus told Big Claus that he sold his horse skin in town for lots of money. Big Claus immediately went and killed all four of his horses. Nobody wanted to pay Big Claus a bushel of money for his horse skins. They then chased him out-of-town. Big Claus determined that Little Claus had played a trick on him. He went back determining to pay Claus back.
In the meantime, Little Claus’ grandmother had died and was laying out in Claus’ bed. Big Claus went into the house and knocked the grandmother on the head thinking it was Little Claus. Claus knew that Big Claus had been trying to kill him, but that didn’t stop him from dressing his grandmother up in her best clothes and taking her to town. He went to an inn where the told the keeper to take his grandmother some ale and that he had to speak very loudly because Grandmother was hard of hearing. The keeper took ale out to granny, but found her rather unresponsive. She fell off the cart because she wasn’t tied in. Claus shouted that the keeper had killed his grandmother, but the keeper gave Claus a whole bunch of money and buried his grandmother in return for Claus’ silence.
Little Claus tells Big Claus that he killed his grandmother, but then little Claus sold her for a bushel of money. Big Claus went home and killed his own grandmother. When he tried to sell her everyone called him crazy. Big Claus ran away from the angry people determined to get back at Little Claus. He went home and shoved Little Claus in a sack determining to throw him in the river, but on the way got distracted by church and decided to stay a bit. He left the sack with Claus outside.
A man driving a herd of cows and oxen came along. He wanted to get to heaven. Claus told him he had a way. They should switch places. The old man would go to heaven shortly and Claus would be free to take care of the man’s cows and oxen. Big Claus threw the old man in the river thinking it was little Claus, but a little ways down the road there sat Little Claus with an entire herd of cattle.
Claus said that Big Claus did in fact throw him in the river, but under the water the sea people gave him a herd of sea cows. He had just come up on the dry land to take a shortcut to another part of the river to get even more cattle. Claus said that Big Claus might also get some cattle, but he could not carry him to the river in a sack, Big Claus must get in himself. Big Claus reminds Little Claus to put a stone, otherwise he might not sink, Little Claus obliges. Little Claus pushed Big Claus in the river and that was the end of that.
This story is obviously not of Hans’ creation. This story has hallmarks of several Grimm’s fairy tales. There was a story where a preacher hid in a cabinet and the wife hid the salad on the bed. There was a story about two men tricking each other and getting money, they were probably brothers. This story is simply a story that Hans has retold in his own words. Stories like this one have been floating around the region for a while.
There is nothing altogether special about this story. It’s long and it sounds like many other stories. It doesn’t hold the same kind of flair that the Tinder-box held, but even so, the Tinder-box wasn’t entirely unique in its story.
Notice something, neither Claus is a very nice person. In the previous story, The Tinder-box, our protagonist wasn’t a very nice person either, but he at least had the excuse of being a soldier possibly suffering from PTSD. The Clauses don’t have that same excuse; they’re just jerks.
Little Claus seems to be the lesser evil of the two Clauses, but he’s still not nice. What kind of man takes his dead grandmother, dresses her up, puts her on a wagon, rides to town, and then blames her death on some innocent person? I don’t know anybody that would do that, not that I associate with criminals, but I know a few shady people and they’re just not as shady as Claus is.
So far what I’m really liking about Hans’ stories is that everyone seems to have their vice. There isn’t really anyone who is altogether innocent.
Little Claus was still bad, but he ended up with good things. It brings to mind that saying, “It rains on the just and the unjust.” Little Claus didn’t deserve what he got. He took party in murdering an innocent man. He cheated people out of money. He lied about all kinds of things. In the end though, he still wound up with a lot of money and new possessions. It may suck, but sometimes the bad guys win.
Don’t you dare think Little Claus has gotten away with this. There will be more Big Clauses in his life to challenge him.
I would hope I would never have to choose between the two Clauses; they’re both terrible.
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Andersen Fairy Tales, Andersen-Hans Christian