"The Girl Without Hands" (German: "Das Mädchen ohne Hände"; also published in English as "The Armless Maiden", "The Girl with Silver Hands' and "The Handless Maiden") is a German fairy tale. It is included in Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales) the 1812 anthology of German folktales compiled by the Brothers Grimm.
The story's title character and protagonist is unwittingly sold to the Devil by her father. In order to prevent the Devil from taking him instead of his daughter, the young woman's father reluctantly chops off her hands. Although the young woman escapes the Devil's clutches and marries a king, she has to suffer further hardships before she is finally allowed to live happily ever after.
"The Girl Without Hands" as told by the Brothers Grimm has provided a source of inspiration for other writers and has been adapted to other media.
There is a poor miller whose mill has an apple tree behind it. When the miller goes out to gather firewood one day, a stranger approaches him. The stranger tells the miller that he will give him a fortune in exchange for what is standing behind his mill. Thinking that the stranger is referring to the apple tree, the miller happily agrees to the bargain. The stranger says that he will return in three years to claim what the miller has promised him. When the miller returns home, his wife aks him why they have suddenly become rich. The miller tells his wife about the stranger. She says that the stranger must have been the Devil and that he was referring not to the apple tree but to their daughter, who was standing behind the mill and cleaning the yard at the time.
The miller's daughter is pious and God-fearing and remains so for the following three years. On the morning of the day when the Devil is to come for her, the miller's daughter washes herself clean with water. The Devil is then unable to claim her. He tells the miller to keep water away from his daughter. The following day, the Devil returns. He is unable to claim the miller's daughter again because she has washed her hands with her own tears. The Devil tells the miller to cut off his daughter's hands. The miller reluctantly agrees because the Devil will take him away if he does not. The miller's daughter, however, cleans the bloody stumps at the ends of her arms with her own tears. Having tried and failed to claim the miller's daughter three times, the Devil can never try to take her again.
Although the now wealthy miller offers to support her for the rest of her life, the miller's daughter decides that she wants to make her own way in the world. She leaves home. In the evening, she comes to a castle with a moat in front of it. In the castle's garden, the young woman can see a pear tree. An angel appears. The angel stops the flow of the water so that the young woman can cross the moat. Using only her mouth, the young woman eats one of the pears from the tree. A gardener sees the young woman and the angel. Believing the young woman to be a spirit, the gardener says nothing to her. The following day, the king asks the gardener why one of the pears is missing from the tree. The gardener tells him. That evening, the king, the gardener and a priest wait to see if the "spirit" returns. The priest asks the young woman if she is a spirit. She answers that she is simply a mortal who has been abandoned by the whole world. The king tells the young woman that she can stay with him. The king falls in love with the young woman. He marries her and makes her his queen. He has silver hands made for her.
The king goes off to war and leaves his pregnant queen in the care of his aged mother. The queen gives birth to a son. The king's mother writes to him to tell him the news. The messenger taking the letter to the king stops to sleep. While he is sleeping, the Devil, who still holds a grudge against the queen, exchanges the letter for another one which says that the queen has given birth to a monster. The king writes a reply in which he states that the queen should still be treated kindly. The Devil exchanges that letter for another one which says that the queen and her child should be put to death. The king's mother is shocked when she receives this letter. She writes back to the king to ask if he is certain. The Devil exchanges the king's reply for another letter which says that the queen and her son should be put to death and that the queen's eyes and tongue should be kept as proof that the deed has been done. The king's mother has a deer killed and keeps its eyes and tongue. She advises the queen to run away and never come back.
The queen comes to a house with a sign on it that says, "Anyone can live here for free." It is revealed that the house is home to an angel who has been sent by God to take care of the queen. The queen and her son stay in the house for seven years. During that time, the queen's hands grow back as a reward for her goodness and piety.
When the king returns from war, his mother first tells him that his wife and son have been put to death as he requested and shows him the eyes and tongue. Due to the great distress that this causes the king, his mother tells him the truth. The king goes off in search of his wife and child. After seven years of fruitless search, he stops to rest at the house with the sign that says, "Anyone can live here for free." The queen recognizes her sleeping husband immediately, although she has difficulty convincing her son that he has a father other than God in heaven. When the king wakes up, he does not at first recognize his wife due to the fact that her hands have grown back. He realizes that the woman is truly his wife when he is shown the queen's old silver hands. The king, queen and their son return to the castle and live happily for the rest of their lives.
Literary adaptations of "The Girl Without Hands" include Anne Sexton's poem "The Maiden Without Hands" included in the 1971 anthology Transformations, Margaret Atwood's poem "Girl Without Hands" included in the 1995 anthology Morning in the Burned House, the 1973 novel Do With Me What You Will by Joyce Carol Oates and Midori Snyder's short story "The Armless Maiden" that is included in the 1995 anthology of the same name.
The title character from "The Girl Without Hands" appears as Clare in the webcomic No Rest for the Wicked by Andrea L. Peterson.
The 76-minute animated drama film The Girl Without Hands (La Jeune Fille sans mains) is the debut feature film of the French director Sébastien Laudenbach. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 12, 2016. It was first shown in the United States at the Seattle International Film Festival on May 27, 2017. It features the voices of Anaïs Demoustier as the title character, Jérémie Elkaim as the prince who marries her and Phillippe Laudenbach as the Devil.
"Girl Without Hands" is the first track on the 2003 album Wherever I Am I Am What Is Missing by the British alternate rock group Laika.
- Versions of "The Girl Without Hands" in German and English on Wikisource.
- Public domain audiobook of "The Girl Without Hands" in English on YouTube.
- "The Girl Without Hands" on Sur la Lune Fairy Tales.com.