Genre of the Week: The Fisherman and his Wife


There is an old saying worth noting as we look at this week’s Genre of the Week: Be careful with what you wish for, for you may get more than what you bargained.  Sometimes when a person wishes for something better, it comes at a price. Most of that it comes at an expense of others and in the end, the person is just as unhappy as before, but the mess is much bigger than before.

The theme for this genre, The Fisherman and his Wife, another literary work published by the Grimm Brothers, is satisfaction and the strive for something better. The plot of the story features a fisherman in the north of Germany, who lives in a hut (Lower German: Pissputt/ High German: Hütte) that is messy and somewhat broken down. He has a lovely wife Isebill and everyday, he tries to make a living with fishing. One day, he catches a flounder, who asks him to be released, for he was proclaimed a prince. He sets him free, but see’s a trail of blood in the water before he leaves. He explains to Isebill what had happened and she demands that because he had set the flounder free, that the fisherman asks him for a wish. Despite his hesitancy, he concedes and goes to the sea shore, where he catches his fish. There, he says this enchantment which brings forth the flounder prince:

Mandje! Mandje! Timpe Te!
Flounder, flounder, in the sea!
My wife, my wife Ilsebill,
Wants not, wants not, what I will

The flounder asks what the fisherman wishes for and the response:

Go back! It has been done! 

The first wish is an orderly cottage, which starts a greedy trend where the wife wants more. But unfortunately her wishes become more extravagant and they come at a price…..

The story was first conceived by Philip Otto Runge in 1806, but after three failed attempts to convince publishers to release his work (despite the changes in variations), the piece landed onto the desk of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who translated it from Lower German (Plattdeutsch) to High German and released it as part of the Aarne-Thompson series of literary works in 1812, classified as ATU 555. It was later translated into several languages, included English, which you can view by clicking here. The story was later adapted into several forms, including a poem by Aleksndr Puskin in 1833, Emmanuale Luzzati’s story “Punch and the Magic Fish” and Günter Grass’ novel “The Flounder.” Several German versions were adapted for print and medial purposes, which included a 60-90 minute film produced by German TV station NDR in 2013, which you can see below:

The story brings the question of happiness and satisfaction in our lives to the forefront, especially in today’s society, where the advancement of globalization and technology has played a key role in our decisions. This includes the strive to improve our lifestyle to compete with and conform with others. Yet when we do that, it comes at a painful price. That price is we have to give up something we cherish for something that may be newer but it cannot match what we had given up for.  There are many examples where our strive for a better life has resulted in sacrifices which we regret in the end. This includes putting career in front of family, replacing a partner with a newer partner, moving from a town where we grew up to a bigger city with all the conveniences and jobs available, and the like. Sometimes we look at these decisions and not regret them, as we march on and forward to bigger things. Yet many times, we regret our decisions and end up either living a life full of dissatisfaction or return to what we had before.  While there is an ending in The Fisherman and his Wife where both characters were happy with, as seen in the film and literary example, sometimes our decisions do not have happy endings unless we find something where we can feel comfortable with.

So if you are unhappy with your life and intend to strive for something better, sit down first and make a list of benefits and drawbacks to making changes for the better, talk to some people about it, and maybe even read or watch this classical genre. If you intend to make your change for the better, ask yourself why. Because once the decision is made, chances are likely that there is no turning back. Furthermore, your decision will come at a price of the people surrounding you. So be careful with your wish for change……

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