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Literature / The Three Robbers

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The Three Robbers (Les trois brigands in French / Die drei Räuber in German) is a children's picture book written and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer. It was initially published in English language in 1961 when Ungerer worked in the USA. French and German versions (the first languages of Ungerer) soon followed.

It tells the story of three black-clad highwaymen who terrorize and rob coach travellers. Their life of crime changes the day they find a lone orphan little girl named Tiffany and decide to shelter her.

The story was adapted into an American animated short by Gene Deitch in 1972, then into a German feature animated film in 2007, directed by Hayo Freitag.


This book provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The 2007 film considerably expands the story, for the book is quite short (every panel is recreated in the 1972 animated short, for that matter).
  • Babies Ever After: Over time, the orphans that the robbers found and helped have grown into adults and founded families and even an entire city.
  • Big Fancy Castle: The robbers end up buying a big castle to house all the orphans that they find.
  • Character Development: Tiffany convinces the robbers to give up their highwaymen ways and use their formidable wealth to help orphans.
  • Coordinated Clothes: Once they're brought to the castle, the orphans all start wearing red versions of the Three Robbers' outfits (instead of black).
  • The Highwayman: The story is initially about three robbers who terrorize travellers and rob them.
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  • Inexplicably Identical Individuals: The three robbers all look identical, and there's no mention of them being triplets, let alone brothers.
  • Money Dumb: The robbers have accumulated a colossal wealth over the years with what they robbed, but as Tiffany finds out, they don't know what to do with it. She ends up convincing them to create a big orphanage in a castle.
  • No Name Given: The robbers are not named in the book. The 2007 animated film gives them names however — Felix (the one with the pepper blower), Maximus (the one with the red axe) and Dominik (the one with the blunderbuss).
  • Orphanage of Love: The castle the robbers buy to house the orphans that they find becomes one. The kids are so well treated that, once they're adults and come to found a city, they build three big towers the roofs of which have the same shape as the robbers' hats to honor their memory.
  • Sinister Schnoz: At least one of the robbers has a pointy nose in the book. The 2007 animated film gives one to all three of them.
  • Terrible Trio: A trio of robbers.
  • Weapon-Based Characterization: Each one of the robbers has a distinctive weapon: one has a bellows to blow pepper into the eyes of the coaches' horses, another has a big red double bladed axe to demolish the coaches' wheels, and the third has a blunderbuss to threaten the travellers in order to rob them.