Literature / The Elves and the Cobbler
aka: The Cobbler And The Elves
"The Elves and the Cobbler"
(or "The Elves and the Shoemaker", "The Shoemaker and the Elves") is an often copied and re-made fairy tale
about a poor shoemaker who receives much-needed help from elves. It is best known from the Brothers Grimm fairy tales
, where it was included as entry no. 39 as "Die Wichtelmänner" ("The Gnomes").
The fairy tale follows a poor cobbler with ailing sales. One night he wakes up to find the shoes he had planned to create in the morning already made, and much to his fortune a customer comes in and pays more than usual for the shoes. The event recurs a few times, leading the way to better times for the poor cobbler. One day the cobbler discovers a pair of elves creating the shoes for him, and out of compassion decides to make some clothes for the creatures. The elves happily accept the gifts and thereafter do not come again, but they have ushered in a new era of good business for him.
The tale has inspired many adaptations and popular culture references. Among these, Tex Avery adapted the story for his 1950 MGM cartoon short The Peachy Cobbler
. The house-elf Dobby in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,
who can only be freed from his drudgery with a gift of clothing, is another reference to this fairy tale.
Tropes in The Elves and the Cobbler:
- Bittersweet Ending: The cobbler's business is saved, but the story usually ends with the elves leaving, never to return. At least one version states that giving them clothes released them from a curse, a version that likely inspired Dobby's story.
- The Cobbler's Children Have No Shoes: Some variations of the story depict the elves wearing raggedy clothing and no shoes at all, which is what prompts the cobbler to make shoes for them.
- Character Witness: Some versions begin with the couple sharing their last scrap of food with someone, often one of the elves, and they are rewarded with their help. Others have them repay the elves by making them clothes.
- Christmas Miracle: The Elves are discovered by the Shoemaker first on Christmas.
- House Fey: The elves, who steal into the shop at night while the humans are asleep to make shoes out of pure goodwill.
- Deus ex Machina: Very convenient of the elves to turn up just when sales are ailing...
- Law of Inverse Fertility: In some versions, the shoemaker and his wife are trying to have a baby, but have been unsuccessful. They do conceive, and it's implied to be due to some of the elves' magic being left with them at the end.