Strong Hans (German fairy tale)
Strong Hans (German: Der starke Hans) is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm and published in their collection as number KHM 166.
The tale is classified in the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index as ATU 650A, "Strong John".
A two-year-old child, Hans, and his mother are kidnapped by thieves and taken to their hideout in a cave, the woman forced to be the bandits' housemaid. When he is nine years old, Hans asks his mother where his father is, but the thieves' leader beats the boy. One year later, Hans asks again, beats the drunken thieves and returns with his mother to his father, taking the bandits' gold with him.
Years later, now a youth, he walks the earth with his cane and meets two similarly strong individuals: one who can break pines into ropes, and another who can break rocks with his fists. The three strike a friendship and agree to hunt together and cook the game at home.
One day, the two companions are defeated by a mysterious being in the woods, who asked for some meat. When Hans meets the creature (a dwarf), the youth gives him a piece of meat and follows it to its lair in the mountain. He calls his companions to help him enter the mountain with a long rope. There, Hans kills the dwarf and releases a king's daughter (a princess). When Hans takes the princess to his companions to pull her to the surface, the two companions cut the rope and the youth is trapped in the dwarf's lair. He soon finds a magic ring and uses it to teleport out of the mountain.
The German tale is classified in the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index as ATU 650A. These types refer to stories where the hero is the fruit of the union between a human and an otherworldly character, often showing superhuman strength as he matures. In other variants, the hero is nursed with milk from his mother or from a female animal and develops the wonderful attributes by which he will be known.
Professor Stith Thompson remarked the great similaties between the ATU 650A, "Strong John", and tale type AT 301B, "John, the Bear" (Jean de l'Ours), since both types show a protagonist with superhuman attributes. In his second expansion of Antti Aarne's folktale classification, he established that type AT 650A served as introduction to type AT 301B, "The Strong Man and his Companions" ("Jean de l'Ours"). In addition, some stories of type 650A feature an episode of type ATU 1000, "Anger Bargain (Bargain not to become angry)".
In some tales, the boy's employer (farmer, blacksmith, etc.) is so afraid of the boy's enormous strength that he sets a series of tasks to get rid of him, even sending the boy to a haunted mill. In these versions, the tale type, ATU 650A, merges with episodes of type ATU 326, "The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was" - a phenomenon that can already be seen in European variants.
It has also been suggested that tale types ATU 301 and Jean de l'Ours, ATU 650 ("Strong Hans"), ATU 302 ("Devil's Heart in the Egg") and ATU 554 ("The Grateful Animals") may have once comprised a single narrative, but, with time, the original story fragmented into different tale types.
Parallels have been argued between the tale type and similar stories about strong men in Old Norse literature, such as Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss.
Scholarship also points to similarities of the strong hero type with giant Rainouart from old French chansons de geste. The youth is known by his gluttonous appetite and for his tinel, a huge weapon made of oak.
According to Stith Thompson, the tale type can be found "in nearly every European country".
More than a thousand variants have been recorded in Europe, specially in Ireland, Germany, Scandinavia and Baltic countries. Outside Europe, the tale type is also recorded in Middle East folktale compilations. Scholar Stith Thompson reported nearly four hundred variants collected "in Estonia and Finland alone".
Professor Jack Haney stated that the tale type is "very common among the Russians and Ukrainians". Further scholarship describes the tale type as very popular in Eastern Europe and present "in the Uralic–Altaian tale corpus".
Collector Svend Grundtvig published a Danish variant titled Starke Hans ("Strong Hans").
The Brothers Grimm collected a second variant of the tale type, titled The Young Giant (Der junge Riese) (:de:Der junge Riese|de).
Ludwig Bechstein collected another German variant, Der starke Gottlieb ("The Strong Gottlieb") (:de:Der starke Gottlieb|de), where the titular Gottlieb suckles his mother's milk for fourteen years and becomes strong. Later, he employs himself to a local lord and perform tasks for him, even going into a haunted mill.
Ulrich Jahn collected a tale from Pommern, titled Das Wolfskind ("The Wolf's Child"), wherein a young boy named Johann loses his father in the woods and is rescued by a wolf. The animal nurses the boy for twelve years and then he rejoins his human peers by seeking a job with a farmer. After a year, he fulfills his tasks and travels the world with a cane, meeting two other humans like him. The trio arrive at a mountain and send Johann down a pit to rescue three princesses from three evil dragons. He also collected the tale Das Männchen Sonderbar, wherein the hero is born to human parents, but develops great strength. He later is apprenticed to a blacksmith, who forges him an iron cane. Soon enough, the youth descends into a subterraean realm, battles three dragon on bridges, rescues a princess, saves a nest of young eagles and hitches a ride on the mother eagle's back.
Ulrich Jahn also published a "pure" version in his notes: a blacksmith forges a boy out of iron and names it "Îsenkîerl". The boy comes to life and lives with the man. Later, when he is grown up, the youth finds two similarly strong individuals and defeats a witch and her three dragon servants in her underground lair. His companions flee when he returns to the surface, but the youth departs with gold found in the witch's lair and goes back to the blacksmith. Another variant he commented on has the hero forcing a dwarf in the underground realm to help him and an ostrich (Vogel Strauss) being the avian helper who carries the hero to the surface.
Ulrich Jahn published a fourth variant in his notes, very similar to the Grimm's tale, but its origin was from a gypsy storyteller from "Kassubischen" (Kashubian). In this story, the boy's mother is kidnapped by a band of thieves and forced to be their housemaid. By the time the boy is twelve years old, he becomes exceptionally strong, kills the robbers and rescues his human mother.
Ulrich Jahn also published another variant, closely connected to what he called Märchen vom Löwensohn ("Tale of the Lion's Son"), wherein the hero's human mother is kidnapped by "a black man" and taken to the den of thieves. She gives birth to a human son, but the thieves toss him in a lioness's pit to be suckled by the animal along with its cub. It is the lioness's milk that grants the hero his super strength.
Professor Eva Valis collected and published a complex tale whose initial part falls under type ATU 650, Erős Janós ("Strong John"), with an episode of type ATU 326 (spending the night in a haunted house).
Russian scholar Alexander Afanasyev collected a Russian variant titled Nodei, the Priest's Grandson.
A tale from the Kammu people of Southeast Asia, titled Àay Cét Réey, was noted by the collector to be parallel to the tale type "Strong John".
A variant of the tale type, titled Cane, has been collected from the Maliseet. In this version, the protagonist Huza is suckled by his mother for thirty-nine years and he tests his strength by uprooting an elm-tree. Soon, he returns to his father, who commissions a heavy cane and gifts his son. Huza leaves his parents and walks southwards, to defeat the giants and release the princesses. But first, he employs himself to a farmer, asks a blacksmith to mend his cane, and works for another human master who, afraid of his super strength, tries to send him on dangerous errands. Soon after, the usual story follows: he meets two equally strong companions (Flood and Iron-Mouth), descends down a crater in the mountain, liberates the princesses, is betrayed by his companions and returns to the surface on the back of a Big Eagle. At the end of the tale, Huza forgives his deceptive companions.
- Bear's Son Tale, analysis of tale type ATU 301 and Beowulf
- Tom Hickathrift, English legendary figure
- Hercules, strong hero of Greco-Roman mythology
- Sigurd or Siegfried, legendary Germanic hero
- de: Der starke Hans
- hy: Զորեղ Հանսը
- nl: Sterke Hans
- pl: O Jasiu mocarzu
- ru: Сильный Ганс
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