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 recurred a few times, leading the way to better times for the poor cobbler. One day the cobbler discovered a pair of elves creating the shoes for him and out of compassion decides to make some clothes for the creatures. The elves happily accepted the gifts and thereafter did not come again, but they had 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:

  • Christmas Miracle: The Elves are discovered by the Shoemaker first on Christmas.
  • Deus ex Machina: Very convenient of the elves to turn up just when sales were 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.

Alternative Title(s):

The Elves And The Shoemaker, The Cobbler And The Elves