Home Link: SurLaLune Fairy Tales Logo
Home Link: SurLaLune Fairy Tales Logo Introduction | Annotated Tales | eBooks | Bookstore | Illustration Gallery | Discussion Board | Blog
Household Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm translated by Margaret Hunt

The Straw, the Coal, and the Bean

IN A VILLAGE dwelt a poor old woman, who had gathered together a dish of beans and wanted to cook them. So she made a fire on her hearth, and that it might burn the quicker, she lighted it with a handful of straw. When she was emptying the beans into the pan, one dropped without her observing it, and lay on the ground beside a straw, and soon afterwards a burning coal from the fire leapt down to the two. Then the straw began and said, "Dear friends, from whence do you come here?" The coal replied, "I fortunately sprang out of the fire, and if I had not escaped by main force, my death would have been certain, -- I should have been burnt to ashes." The bean said, "I too have escaped with a whole skin, but if the old woman had got me into the pan, I should have been made into broth without any mercy, like my comrades." "And would a better fate have fallen to my lot?" said the straw. "The old woman has destroyed all my brethren in fire and smoke; she seized sixty of them at once, and took their lives. I luckily slipped through her fingers."

"But what are we to do now?" said the coal.

"I think," answered the bean, "that as we have so fortunately escaped death, we should keep together like good companions, and lest a new mischance should overtake us here, we should go away together, and repair to a foreign country."

The proposition pleased the two others, and they set out on their way in company. Soon, however, they came to a little brook, and as there was no bridge or foot-plank, they did not know how they were to get over it. The straw hit on a good idea, and said, "I will lay myself straight across, and then you can walk over on me as on a bridge." The straw therefore stretched itself from one bank to the other, and the coal, who was of an impetuous disposition, tripped quite boldly on to the newly-built bridge. But when she had reached the middle, and heard the water rushing beneath her, she was, after all, afraid, and stood still, and ventured no farther. The straw, however, began to burn, broke in two pieces, and fell into the stream. The coal slipped after her, hissed when she got into the water, and breathed her last. The bean, who had prudently stayed behind on the shore, could not but laugh at the event, was unable to stop, and laughed so heartily that she burst. It would have been all over with her, likewise, if, by good fortune, a tailor who was traveling in search of work, had not sat down to rest by the brook. As he had a compassionate heart he pulled out his needle and thread, and sewed her together. The bean thanked him most prettily, but as the tailor used black thread, all beans since then have a black seam.


From Cassel, the best and earliest version is to be found in Burkard Waldis, Book 3, Fab. 97 (1542). The Nugoe venales (1648, S. 1. l2mo.) contain also Crepundia poetica, and pp. 32, 33, an abridgement of our story.

Pruna, faba et stramen rivum transire laborant,
Seque ideo in ripis stramen utrimque locat.
Sic quasi per pontem faba transit, pruna sed urit,
Stramen et in medias praecipitatur aquas.
Hoc cernens nimio risu faba rumpitur ima
Parte sui: hancque quasi tacta pudore tegit."

In a Latin poem of the Middle Ages (MS. Strasburg), the fable of the mouse and the coal travelling occurs with the variation that both make a pilgrimage to church to confess their sins, and, in crossing a little brook, the coal falls in, hisses, and is extinguished. The cat and mouse travel, the straw breaks, and the cat falls into the water, at which the mouse laughs so that she bursts. See Stöber's elsass: Volksbuch, 95. In a Wendish story, see Haupt and Schmaler, p. 160, a coal, a pair of bellows, and a straw, travel together. Compare Neue Preuss. Provinzialblätter, i. 226. In Transylvania a duck, a frog, a mill-stone and a red-hot coal travel together, and the two last are drowned. (Haltrich, No 46). The AEsopian fable of the thorn-bush, the diver, and the bat (Furia, 124, Coray 42) ought to be mentioned.

Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Household Tales. Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884, 1892. 2 volumes.

Return to Household Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm


Support SurLaLune

Available on

SurLaLune CafePress Shop

Available on

Complete Grimms translated by Jack Zipes

Grimms' Tales for Young and Old: The Complete Stories translated by Ralph Manheim

Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated by Jack Zipes

Great Fairy Tale Tradition by Jack Zipes

The Annotated Brothers Grimm edited by Maria Tatar

Grimm's Grimmest

From the Beast to the Blonde by Marina Warner

Available on

Buy at Art.com

Buy at Art.com

Buy at Art.com

Buy at Art.com

Buy at Art.com

Buy at Art.com

Buy at Art.com

Buy at Art.com

©Heidi Anne Heiner, SurLaLune Fairy Tales
Page created 10/15/06; Last updated 10/30/07