The Girl Without Hands is exactly as horrible as the title implies. In fact, it might just be more horrible than the title implies.
Once upon a time there was a miller who had fallen upon hard times. An old man stopped him in the woods one days and told him that he would make the miller rich if he could have what stood behind the mill. The miller was thinking that only an old apple tree stood behind his mill and thought it was a good idea to lose and apple tree for lots of money. The old man told the miller that in three years he would come and collect his due.
He went home and the wife was like, “Where did all this money come from.” The miller told her what he had agreed and that it would only cost them their apple tree. The wife was all like, ‘No, you idiot! That was the Devil! Our daughter was standing behind the mill sweeping!” Harsh words were said that night.
The little girl was a very good and pious girl and when the day came for the devil to take her away she made sure she was nice and clean. Then she made a circle around herself with chalk to keep him away. (I always thought you made a salt circle around yourself to keep evil away, but I guess chalk will do.)
The devil was there, but it turns out he cannot abide cleanliness. He told the parents to take away all her water so she could not wash. If she were dirty, then he could take her away. The parents did as the devil bade. The devil came again the next day thinking that by now this girl is going to be a horribly, filthy mess. Well, she cried so much that it washed her hands. The devil was not happy about this, so he told the miller to cut off his daughter’s hands. At this the miller does protest a bit. He asks the devil how he is supposed to cut the hands off of his own daughter. The devil really doesn’t care and tells the miller if he doesn’t cut off his daughter’s hands that he will take the miller in her place. The miller doesn’t want this to happen so he talks to his daughter.
He tells her that the devil wants him to cut off her hands. The girl agrees because apparently she doesn’t have any self-esteem or notions that she is her own person. “Dear father, do with me what you will, I am your child.” So the dad cut off his daughter’s hands.
The devil comes again the next day only to find that the girl has cried so much that the stumps where her hands should be are too clean for him to handle. So he gives up and says, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
The father is sorry for what he is done, and now he is rich, so he tells the girl that he will care for her as long as he lives. The girl is like, “No thanks.” She says that she will go out into the world on her own. For some reason it’s a good idea for her to have her arms tied behind her back. So with her arms tied behind her back she wanders off into the world.
She soon comes upon a royal garden. The garden is full of beautiful ripe fruit that she could eat, but there is a moat around the garden so she can’t get there, especially since she doesn’t have the use of her arms.
The girl is not deterred. She kneels down to pray and an angel appears. The angel holds back the water so the girl can walk across the moat. The girl ate one pear that was hanging on a tree, but a gardener saw her. The girl went into the bushes after this. The gardener thought the girl was a ghost because an angel was with her, so that’s why he didn’t say anything.
The next day the king comes into the garden and is like, “Why is there a pear missing from this tree?” Apparently, he counted them every day. The gardener tells the king what happened and the king decides to go on a stake out with the gardener that night to see if the same thing happens again.
The same thing does happen again and they confront the girl. She tells them that she is mortal, because they ask, and that an angel helped her cross the moat. Actually, the girl comes back three nights to eat a pear. The king is all impressed with this poor girl who hangs with angels so he says that he will not forsake her. He has silver hands made for her and she lived in his castle for a while, until the king thought that she would make a better wife.
They lived together for about a year and then the king had to go away. He told his mother that if his wife had a baby while he was gone to write him a letter right away. The queen did have a baby and the king’s mother wrote to the king right away, but the messenger who was delivering the letter got tired and slept besides a brook. The devil just happened to be in the area and took a peek at the letter. He switched out the letter to say that the queen had brought a monster into the world.
The king got the letter and wrote back words of comfort, but the devil interceded again and this time the letter said that the queen should be put to death. The king’s mom was a bit freaked out by this. She didn’t want to kill her daughter-in-law. She wrote back to the king, but again, the devil was at his trickery and switched some letters around. A letter came back from the king saying that the king’s mom was still to kill the queen, but that she should preserve her tongue and eyes.
The king’s mom was like, “Ok, I’ve had it, this is crazy non-sense.” She tells the queen that she can no longer stay in the castle because her son is freaking crazy. She straps the baby to her back and sends the queen out into the wide-world alone. The queen in the meantime has a deer killed and saves its eyes and tongue to please the king.
The girl is disappointed, but, once again, she prays and a woman appears. The woman tells her she can stay in her house as long as she needs to. The queen stays there seven years and her hands grow back because she is so pious.
The king finally comes home and is like, ‘Where’s my wife and my baby?” His mom tells him, “Look I had to send them away because you were talking crazy.” She still had the letters from the devil. The king reads them and begins to weep. He vows that he will find his wife and son.
The king travels for seven years in search of his wife and son and he doesn’t eat the entire time. God provides his sustenance. He finally comes upon the little house. He tells the girl there that he seeks his wife and child. The girl, who is another angel, goes into the room where the queen is and tells her that her husband has shown up. The king had put a handkerchief over his face to sleep, but it fell off of his face when the queen went into the room. The queen told her son, Sorrowful, to pick up the handkerchief again, and put it back on his father’s face. The kid is all like, “You told me I only had a father in heaven. How can I put a handkerchief on my dad’s face if he’s not here?”
Well, the king wakes up and asks the angel who these people are. The queen says, “I’m your wife.” The king is confused and says, “No, no, no, my wife has silver hands.” “No, really it’s me, my hands grew back, see I still have the silver hands,” which she did. The king realizes that this is really his wife and his son.
“There were great rejoicings everywhere, and the King and Queen were married again, and lived contentedly to their happy end.”
This story is a bit morbid. Why would you ever cut off your child’s hands? The guy even has an out. He can let the devil take him instead, but he doesn’t. He cuts off his own daughter’s hands. What a jerk. I’m rich now, I can’t be bothered with such things as children.
The devil is up to his old trickery again I see.
Why does the story say that they got married again? Did they get divorced? I mean, threatening your life is probably a good reason to divorce your husband.
This is just so weird. This girl gets her hands cut off. How is she supposed to do anything in the world? It’s a good thing a king found her instead of a pimp. The king treats her well and makes her silver hands. Notice it’s not gold. Gold was probably considered too valuable to make into hands for your hand-less wife whose own father cut of her hands to get out of a deal with the devil. Notice the story never says she goes back to visit with her parents after this. No thanks, I’ve hand enough of those guys.
The girl in this tale is almost saint-like. Remember we’ve seen a few of these stories that are heavily Catholic influenced. That’s not a bad thing, it just indicates the era. This story doesn’t have that heavy Catholic influence in some ways, but it’s still there. This girl is revered and aided like a saint would be. I am not up on all my saint history and mythology, but I have heard a few stories about a few of the saints of the Catholic church. Some of the stories are so fantastic you can’t fathom that they would happen in real life. Here we have this girl walking around being aided by angels. They even part the waters for her. Who else parted the waters? Moses. This girl is so pious and she is a martyr in a way.
A martyr is someone who sacrifices something for their beliefs or maybe even for other people. We generally think of people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Joseph Smith in terms of martyrs. This girl allows her hands to be cut off so her father will not be taken by the devil. That’s pretty much the epitome of being a martyr.
It seems to me that this man cuts off his daughter’s hands for nothing. The devil doesn’t take her and the man gets to keep his money. I bet he felt rotten afterwards. It was a good choice that the girl decided not to stay with her parents. How could you continue living with a person knowing that they were willing to sacrifice something so important as your hands?
Don’t you think it’s great that the mom tells her son that he doesn’t have an Earthly father? Son, you were an immaculate conception, so I’m going to name you Sorrowful.
This theme of sacrificing your child for gain has come up several times already in the Grimm’s anthology. In Rapunzel, her parents sacrificed her for a nice salad. In The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs, a child was sacrificed because of a lot of gold and a silly belief in superstition. As you know Rumpelstiltskin also has a couple who sacrifices their child, or attempts to. We haven’t made it to old Rumple yet in our Grimm adventure.
Where does this idea of sacrificing your child come from? Well, there are many tales of dedicating your child to this or that, but the era in which I am going to point to is the biblical age. Don’t argue with me here. People did sacrifice their children to an extent in the Bible. Think about the people who offered up their children unto God and only to God. That’s what a Nazarite is after all. A Nazarite was a man who was dedicated to God. He didn’t cut his hair and some other stuff. We also have to point at the story of Moses who was raised by someone else. His parents sacrificed him from their care unto someone else, just hoping that he would survive.
I also want to call attention to another story related to Moses. The last plague of Moses was the worst plague. The first-born of all families was killed in one night, unless the people were warned and spread the blood of a lamb about their door. Whenever you hear the phrase something like, “may the destroying wind pass over you,” this is what it refers to. God took the first-born of many families that night, according to the Bible. These parents, or rather, the pharaoh, sacrificed all these children because of his stubbornness.
There are of course other eras in which we have this idea of child sacrifice. Remember we’re not literally talking about taking your child up on an altar and slitting their throat, although that has been done. Recall some of those ancient Greek stories about sacrificing virgins and so forth. I think stories mention this idea of offering your child up unto someone else in return for something else because it’s such a big deal. Most people wouldn’t hear of it. They love their children way too much to sacrifice them to some unknown. There are some people who don’t love their children and think it’s an ok idea to trade the baby for a bag of money.
Cleanliness is a big theme in this story and with reason to be. If you’re all down on your Biblical lingo like the people who first enjoyed this tale would be, then you would know that no unclean thing can enter into the presence of God. Therefore, it stands to reason that no clean thing can enter into the presence of the devil. This girl is clean by her own virtue and even when the devil tries to make her dirty, she cries herself clean again. It’s a metaphor.
Let’s say you are a sinner, you probably are I don’t know why we’re going the hypothetical route here, but bear with me. So you’re a sinner; you’re dirty. You have sins blotting your soul and you will forever be stained crimson instead of being the lovely white that your soul should actually be. Not true. You can repent. You can clean yourself up. This girl cleans her dirtiness away and the devil has no hold upon her. Even if you were a prostitute for forty-two years of your life, it’s ok, you can still repent. You may seem pretty dirty, but you can wash yourself clean, maybe even with your own tears, in fact, probably with your own tears. Anyone who has ever been feeling truly guilty knows that it can make a person shed a few tears. This idea is hidden in this story.
It’s a great lesson if you look deep enough in the story to find it.
This story is a bit heavy on the religion and on the gore. Who thinks it’s a good idea to chop off a person’s hands? In ancient times, if you hand your hand chopped off it meant you were a thief. Hmmm…so this guy doomed his daughter to being seen as a thief because he made a deal with the devil.