The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn what Fear Was is a long Grimm’s story, which seems appropriate since the title of the tale is so long. I will try to be as brief as possible in the summary.
Once upon a time there was a man. He had two sons. The older son was generally relied upon to do all of the work. It wasn’t because the younger son couldn’t do the work, it was because the younger son was a few crayons short of a box. The young man knew that he must learn something to be able to support himself, but he did not know what he could master.
When people in the village sat around fires telling stories and saying that one story or the other made them shudder, the boy decided this was what he wanted to learn how to do. He wanted to learn how to shudder. Of course, everyone poked fun at him for wanting to learn how to do such a thing. One day the father sat down and had a heart-to-heart with the young man. The boy told his father what he wanted to learn and pretty soon it was decided that this young man was a blockhead.
A sexton overheard all of this and decided that he could make the young man shudder. He told the young man to come to the church in the evening. When it was dark the sexton told the young man to go up in the bell tower and ring the bell. The sexton thought he would be clever and sneak up on the boy like a ghost. The boy saw the sexton standing in a corner, but did not shudder at the sight of him like others might. The boy asked the apparition to speak. The apparition remained silent. Finally, the young man had had enough. When the apparition didn’t answer or move, the young man decided to push it down the stairs. The apparition lay crumpled at the bottom of the stairs and the young man went back home to go to sleep.
Soon it became apparent that the sexton was missing. His wife got worried. The boy admitted to pushing someone down the stairs. Indeed it was the sexton. Everyone was ticked off because of this event. The young man’s father told him to leave home. He told the young man that he didn’t want him to tell anyone who his father was or where he came from. This was the beginning of the young man’s wandering the world in search of the ability to shudder.
The young man wandered to a town where someone overheard that he wanted to learn how to shudder. They suggested that he spend the night under a tree in which seven men had been hanged. Their bodies were still hanging on its branches. The young man did spend the night under the tree. When the men up in the trees did not answer he assumed they were cold. He brought them down by the fire to warm themselves, but when their clothes caught fire they didn’t move. The young man was put out with these seven men, so he stuck them all back up in the tree. The next morning the young man was asked if he had learned how to shudder. He had not and was kind of put out by the whole situation.
The young man moved on. In another village a man overheard the young man saying that he wanted to learn how to shudder. The man knew just the solution. He had heard of a castle filled with riches that a nearby king had commissioned men to stay three nights in for a chance of the treasure. The prize would be a third of the treasure and the king’s daughter’s hand in marriage. No one had been able to complete the task.
The young man presented himself with the opportunity. No one was really hopeful about his ability to stay in the castle three nights, but they let him go anyway. The young man was allowed to take three items into the castle with him with the stipulation that the items could not be alive. He chose fire, a turning lathe and a cutting board with a knife. Once he had these things he set about spending three nights in the castle.
On the first night when it was dark and drafty he heard someone exclaim from a corner of the room that they were cold. The young man had nothing to say for this stupidity except that the chilly willies come and sit by the fire. When the bodies that belonged the voices came to the fire the young man saw that they were two very large black cats. They wanted to play a game of cards with the young man, but he told them their nails were too long. The young man said he would cut the nails of the cats before they played cards. He held the cats down to his cutting board and, instead, killed the great cats. After the first two black cats were dead many more black cats and dogs came to take their places, but the young man slew them all.
After all the murder, the young man was kind of tired. He spied just the thing in a corner of the room. It was a great-large bed. He got into and soon the bed was moving of its own accord. The young man rode the bed all over the entire castle. The young man told the bed to go faster. Well, the bed ended up getting over-excited and flipping over. After this the young man had had enough and went to sleep for the night.
The next day everyone was surprised to see the young man alive. The young man was disappointed because he hadn’t learned how to shudder yet. He set in for his second night in the castle.
On the second night in the castle a strange man appeared to the young man. Several more men appeared after that. They could take their heads off and were using them to roll at their bodies for a game of bowling. The young man wanted to play and the apparitions told him he could if he had money. The young man was concerned that the balls weren’t round enough. He took one of the skulls and put it in his lathe to make it completely round. After he had done this he spent some time bowling with the dead men. The men vanished at one point and the young man went to sleep.
The net morning people were not as surprised to learn that the young man was still alive. If anything, he was kind of put out because he had lost a few farthings in his bowling games.
The third night things got strange right off. A coffin appeared and for some reason the young man thought it was his cousin. He felt the body inside and it was cold. He tried warming the body by putting his warm hand on it, but that didn’t work. He tried rubbing the body to get the blood flowing again, but that also didn’t work. He then decided to get in bed with the body to warm it up. This did actually warm the dead boy up, but it wasn’t his cousin. The body wanted to strangle the young man. The young man threw the body into the coffin and nailed it shut. After this another man appeared and they competed with an anvil. Upon the young man’s turn, he caught the beard of the man in the anvil and beat the man while he was stuck.
This last man finally cried “uncle” and told the young man he could have the riches in the castle. The king made good on his promise and soon the young man was married to the king’s daughter. The young man was happy with his life, but he was still bummed out about not being able to shudder. One night his wife and a friend got together and decided to throw ice-cold water on him while he was sleeping. The young man finally learned how to shudder.
This is a quest story. This young man goes out into the world seeking something specific, but ending up with something completely different.
Notice that the number three also had its place in this tale.
The story of the young man being a little slow reminds me of another story I have heard. I have heard this story about a young man who was a little slow in his own right, but still managed to have a job and drive a car. His parents raised him to always go to church on Sunday. One Sunday he was going to be late and was probably going a little fast. A police officer pulled him over. Instead of being late this young man, who was quite large, drove to church with a police officer in the back of his car. The police officer didn’t really have a choice in the whole matter.
This story is odd. There are all these odd things the young man encounters and they’re all morbid. It’s not exactly a story you would want to read to your child just before bed. It does make a nice campfire story though. In ways, it very much reminds me of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series.
I don’t want to spend a ton of time picking this story apart, but one thing I do want to point out is the idea of plans versus reality. This young man says that he wants to learn how to shudder. That’s pretty much his major goal in life. He sets about trying to accomplish this goal in a single manner. He ignores plenty of other things to happen to him along the way. He just wants to learn how to shudder. He does accomplish his goal. It takes him longer than he expects and a bunch of weird stuff happens to him along the way. Some of the things are good though. He gets a bunch of money and he gets married to the king’s daughter.
For being a little slow the young man ends up quite well off. This story just goes to show you that you can make plans, but things are almost never going to turn out exactly how you thought.
This is a strange story, but it’s quite nice for a campfire tale.