Bibliographic Information (best version for telling): The Three Spinners from:

The complete fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. Translated and with introduction by Jack Zipes. (2003) New York: Bantam Books. Tale 14, pp. 50-53.

The title page verso notes that “The first 211 tales in this translation [of Kinder- und Hausmärchen] are based on the seventh and final edition published in 1857.”

Ethnic Origin: German

Running Time: 7 minutes

Power Center(s): I want my audience to feel these emotions as the plot progresses.

The bored maiden’s (false) hopefulness that her life will change for the better when she goes to live with the queen.

Doom - a cyclic combination of fear, anxiety and sadness - when she realizes she’ll never be able to spin so much flax. Self-confidence plummets.

Maiden’s expressed emotion (frustration) attracts three physically deformed women to come to her aid, offering their skill (gifts) in exchange for the opportunity to attend the wedding as her cousins.

Maiden’s hopefulness and relief when she sees that the job was accomplished by professionals. Maiden’s regained confidence when asking that cousins be invited to wedding.

The spinsters’s happiness when they attend the wedding as the brides’ cousins.

The prince’s shock when he learns what caused each cousin’s deformity.






            Three spinners (“cousins”)


            1. A poor widow beats her lazy daughter who wails loudly. Queen intervenes. Mother lies that she can’t supply daughter with enough flax to keep her busy and happy spinning yarn.

            2. Queen takes the maiden to her castle where three large rooms of flax need to be spun. In exchange for proving her industriousness, maiden will marry the prince without a dowry.

            3. Maiden tells the queen that she is too homesick to spin. Queen states ultimatum.

            4. Maiden’s wailing attracts three curious old women who offer to spin the flax in exchange for invitations to the wedding as her cousins.

            5. “Spinsters” get to work. (Explain how each uses their body part that is now deformed.) Maiden keeps their presence a secret and accepts all credit. When wedding plans are made, maiden’s request for her three cousins to be included on guest list and sit at the head table at the reception is granted.

            6.  Cousins attend wedding.  Prince asks each why they have their deformities. When he learns how each became deformed, he decrees that his wife will never spin again (and makes her responsible for industrial safety reform).


A sly widow convinces the queen that her daughter is an overly productive flax spinner. Queen offers maiden her son in marriage once all the flax fiber stored in three large rooms is spun into yarn. Maiden receives help from three spinsters who want invitations to the wedding as her cousins in exchange for their skill. At the reception, the prince learns about the source of their deformities, decrees his bride will never spin again but that she will have a career that creates better working conditions for spinners.

Rhymes/Special Phrases/"Flavor":

nothing I like more than the sound of spinning”  (but not doing it herself)

“We’ll spin that flax for you in no time at all…but only if you invite us to your wedding AND are not ashamed of us. … let us eat at your table.”

Flat foot from treading

Drooping lip from licking

Immense thumb from twisting

Audience (why is this story appropriate for the audience? developmental characteristics?):

The Three Spinners is appropriate for adolescent audiences because of how the plot corresponds to some of the developmental tasks cited by Havighurst. (Havighurst, Robert J. Developmental Tasks and Education. 3rd edition. David McKay Co., 1972.)

1. The maiden does not want to follow the expected occupational path (based on her mom’s socio-economic status) and be a spinner. Observing the adaptations the three spinsters made to do their work helped move her out of the lazy teenager mode to acceptance of a career that would improve the lives of future spinners. (#6: Preparing for an economic career, and #4: establishing emotional independence from parents and other adults.)

2.  She is acquiring ethical behavior by inviting the spinsters to the wedding in spite of their socially unacceptable appearance among the royals in exchange for their help. (#7: Acquiring a set of values and an ethical system as a guide to behavior.)

3. She understands the limits of her body and cannot possibly spin three rooms of flax by herself. Furthermore, she is made aware of what deformities can develop when someone uses their body inappropriately. (#3: accepting one’s physique and using the body effectively.)

This plot progression follows the milestones in adolescent development cited by Elizabeth Fenwick and Tony Smith in Adolescence. (DK Publishing, 1994.)

Early adolescence (11-14) maiden exhibits defiant behavior, wants to be independent of her mother’s reach.

Middle adolescence (15-16) maiden is pleased to try a new experience, spinning the queen’s flax, in exchange for a lasting relationship with the prince. Must make her own decision how to get out of the trouble she is in.

Late adolescence (17-18) will be involved in the world outside of home as a idealist, capable of promoting improvements in the occupational conditions for industrial workers.

Bibliographic information on other versions/variants (at least two)?

This tale varies by the context under which it was translated.

One alternate version studied was published in Folktales of Germany,  edited by Kurt Ranke, translated by Lotte Baumann, University of Chicago Press. 1966.

The second alternate version studied was published in Grimms’ Tales for Young and Old, translated by Ralph Manheim. Doubleday. New York. 1977.

Brief comparison of all versions/variants in terms of language, rhythm, "tellability," "flavor," content, etc. Stress the differences in style rather than those of content.

Presented as Tale 39 in Ranke’s work, The three spinners seems more like what would have been told in earlier published versions of Grimm’s fairy tales. The three spinners from 1812 and 1857 editions are among the comparisons explained in the introduction to The complete fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm. “[S]pecific role models for male and female protagonists” were assigned in later editions, with the goal of improving the works to the middle class. The 1812 version began by describing a king who loved flax spinning, but his queen and daughters were the spinners with an abundance of flax to be spun in a short time. In Ranke’s collection the initial scene begins with the widow beating her lazy daughter and the queen sends in her servant to ask why the maiden was being beaten. Ranke’s version did not portray the royal compassion or focus on deal making that in the version I found more tellable.

In Ranke’s version, the maiden meets only one of the spinsters, who has two friends who she calls in to help. This made it more difficult for me to tell as characters were not in direct contact with one another.  “In place of the Grimms’ artificial Buchmärchen, Ranke set down the multiple variants of each tale recorded in local dialects by earlier collectors, providing information on the narrators and surveying the distribution of the tale type in meaty headnotes. These are truly household stories in all their variation and homeliness.” (pp xxii-xxiii). Tale 39 seemed like a stew of these variants but did not have a clear taste.

Manheim’s translation featured a queen who was too benevolent for my style of telling. Its ending: “from then on there was no further question of her having to spin that horrid flax” did not work well with the question “and what happened next?” The selected version concludes with the maiden’s ability to “rid herself of the terrible task of spinning flax.”  This was a better lead-in to her mission to reduce occupational injuries as opposed to being unemployed.