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Literature / Mother Holle

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"You must take great pains to make my bed well, and shake it up thoroughly, so that the feathers fly about, and then in the world it snows, for I am Mother Holle."

Mother Holle (German: "Frau Holle") is a German Fairy Tale collected by The Brothers Grimm in Children's and Household Tales (Kinder- und Hausmärchen). The titular Mother Holle -also known as "Frau Holle", "Mother Hulda" or "Old Mother Frost"- is a very ancient and very popular Germanic folk figure.

A widow had one lazy, selfish daughter whom she pampered and a hard-working, kind stepdaughter whom she treated as a barely-tolerated slave.

One day, the girl was sitting by a well and spinning yarn when her reel fell into the water. She ran to her stepmother, who mercilessly ordered her to fetch the reel out. Terrified, she jumped into the well and lost consciousness.

When the girl came around, she was lying on a beautiful meadow. Walking across the place, she arrived at Mother Holle's house. She agreed to stay with Mother Holle for a while and do her housework, and was treated very kindly in return. However, after a while she started feeling homesick, even though she knew she was better off in her new home, and eventually she said Mother Holle she needed to go back to her world. In reward for her good work, Mother Holle personally led her to the exit gate, showered her with gold and gave her the lost reel back. Then Holle closed the gate, and the girl found herself near from her house.

When the widow saw her stepdaughter come back covered into gold and listened to her story, she became greedy. So she made her daughter go and sit by the well. The daughter jumped into the pool, met Mother Holle and asked to enter into her service. Nonetheless, she refused to do any of her chores, expecting Mother Holle would reward her anyway. After several days, Holle became tired of her lazing around her house, dismissed her of her duties and led her to the gate. The daughter thought she was getting the rain of gold, but instead she got a rain of pitch which "stuck fast to her, and did not come off as long as she lived".

The tale can be read here, here and here.

Charles Perrault previously recorded another version of the tale, called "The Fairy" or "Diamonds and Toads" (read here); Joseph Jacobs recorded yet another version, called "The Three Heads of the Well" (read here) There's a similar Russian tale called "The Girl in the Well".

It has been adapted to online comic by Erstwhile: here, as well as a 1973 Animated Adaptation called Once Upon a Time (no relation).

It is classified as an Aarne-Thompson-Uther TypeType 480, "The Kind and the Unkind Girls". Compare with "Morozko", another tale where two sisters meet a spirit of winter who rewards the stepdaughter's kindness and punishes the daughter's meanness.


  • Abusive Parents: The main character's stepmother forces her to work until her hands are bleeding. In the Erstwhile version, it is seen that the woman dotes on her biological daughter as long as she obeys orders and does not talk back.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Frau Holle is described as a frightening witch with giant teeth. Film adaptations and illustrations usually make her look like Cinderella's Fairy Godmother. Some, like Sound Horizon's version or the Russian cartoon, take this a step further and reveal her true form is young and beautiful, and her older form is just a disguise.
  • An Aesop: The story teaches the importance of hard work, kindness, and honesty.
  • Anthropomorphic Food: In Frau Holle's domain, the protagonist runs into baked loaves that have faces and can talk (and beg). They ask to be taken out of the oven so they will not be burned, which she does for them. When the lazy daughter encounters the same loaves, she refuses and says she will not dirty her hands for them.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: The wicked stepmother "had two daughters, the one was beautiful and industrious, the other ugly and lazy."
  • Cinderella Plot: Dead father? Check. Abusive stepmother? Check? Abused, mistreated and forced to work as a servant? Check. Pampered stepsister? Check. The main character is compared to Cinderella in-story.
    A widow had two daughters, the one was beautiful and industrious, the other ugly and lazy. She greatly favored the ugly, lazy girl, because she was her own daughter. And the other one had to do all the work, and be the Cinderella of the house.
  • Cool Old Lady: The titular spirit of winter looks like a big-toothed old woman. The main character agrees to stay with her for a while and do her housework, and in return she is treated with great kindness. When she decides she must go back to her house, Frau Holle rewards her hard work and diligence with a huge amount of gold.
    Finally she came to a small house. An old woman was peering out from inside. She had very large teeth, which frightened the girl, and she wanted to run away. But the old woman called out to her, "Don't be afraid, dear child. Stay here with me, and if you do my housework in an orderly fashion, it will go well with you. Only you must take care to make my bed well and shake it diligently until the feathers fly, then it will snow in the world. I am Frau Holle."
    Because the old woman spoke so kindly to her, the girl took heart, agreed, and started in her service. The girl took care of everything to Frau Holle's satisfaction and always shook her featherbed vigorously until the feathers flew about like snowflakes. Therefore she had a good life with her: no angry words, and boiled or roast meat every day.
  • Disappeared Dad: The main character's father dies, leaving her in the care of her abusive stepmother who (mis)treats her as a maid.
  • Doting Parent: The widow "greatly favors" her daughter over the main character and enables her laziness and selfishness.
  • An Ice Person: Mother Holle is responsible for causing snow.
  • Impossible Task: When the girl drops her shuttle in the well, her stepmother orders her to fetch it out again.
  • Karma Houdini: The Wicked Stepmother never gets punished for her awful parenting.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The servant daughter is good and does everything Mother Holle asks of her, and is sent home covered in gold. Her stepsister tries to get the same reward, but is lazy and refuses all her chores, so Mother Holle sends her home covered in tar that will never come off.
  • Parental Favoritism: The widow favors her lazy daughter over the hard-working one because the former is her own offspring.
  • Portal Pool: The well located near the house of the wicked stepmother is really a portal to Mother Holle's realm. When the protagonist is forced to jump into the pool, she lands in a beautiful meadow.
  • Punished with Ugly: The favorite daughter is punished for her laziness by being covered in pitch that never comes off for the rest of her life.
  • Right Way/Wrong Way Pair: The servant daughter jumps to the call to help the tree and the oven which gets her rewarded with gold. The lazy daughter refuses to put in any effort in the same situations and gets punished for it with pitch.
  • Rule of Three: The widow's daughter works for Frau Holle for only three days.
  • Secondary Character Title: Frau Holle hires the protagonist as a housemaid when she wanders into her realm.
  • Shout-Out: The main character is outright compared to "Cinderella".
  • Spoiled Brat: The widow lets her pampered, lazy daughter do whatever she wants. The daughter's indolence comes back to bite her when she enters Frau Holle's service, expecting to get a reward without actually working to earn it, and gets showered with unremovable pitch instead.
  • Step Servant: The main character is left to her stepmother's mercy after her father's death. She is mistreated and forced to work as a slave on a daily basis while her stepsister is favored and pampered. She is compared to Cinderella in-story.
  • Talking Animal: A rooster cries out when both the protagonist and her stepsister return home.
    Our golden girl is here anew."
  • Tar and Feathers: The lazy daughter requests to enter Frau Holle's service, fails to fulfill any of her duties, and expects to be given gold in return for doing nothing. Tired of her attitude, Frau Holle sends her back after spilling a large kettle full of pitch over her head. The pitch does not seem to be harmful, but it is impossible to remove.
  • The Trees Have Faces: When she arrives in Frau Holle's domain, the main character stumbles upon a talking apple tree with a long-nosed face, who asks to be shaken so its apples can fall down. She obliges, and gathers the apples into a heap. When the lazy daughter encounters the same tree, she refuses, and comments that the apples might hit her on the head.
  • The Ugly Guy's Hot Daughter: Inverted in "Toads and Diamonds". The pretty daughter takes after her dead father. The ugly daughter takes after their mother.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The main character barely raises a eyebrow when she runs into talking loaves and sentient trees; and nobody thinks anything of the rooster speaking.
  • Wicked Stepmother: The main character's father dies, leaving her to the mercy of her abusive stepmother, who treats her as a slave while doting on her lazy biological daughter. Obvious comparisons are made in-story.
    A widow had two daughters, the one was beautiful and industrious, the other ugly and lazy. She greatly favored the ugly, lazy girl, because she was her own daughter. And the other one had to do all the work, and be the Cinderella of the house.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: The main character stays in Mother Holle's realm for an indefinite amount of time (several weeks, at least). When she returns home through a dimensional gate, she finds that barely any time has passed back home.