A Grimm Year: A Tale About the Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was

Or “The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers”*

A Grimm Year

The Gist: A foolish boy sets out on a quest to learn what the creeps/the shivers are. He ends up at a haunted castle where a king promises his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who can last three nights in the castle, thereby freeing it from spirits.

It is amazing the effect that word choice can have on a story. Zipes says the boy sets out to learn what thecreepsare, whereas Pullman uses the “shivers.” Both mean pretty much the same thing but their connotations change the reading of this tale slightly. In Zipes’ version the boy sets out to learn something mental; in Pullman’s the boy wants to learn something that is a physical. I found that “shivers” makes more sense with the story’s end. That being said, I was disappointed by Pullman’s comments on this tale. I was hoping for more insight into the boy’s lack of fright as he comes off as something of a psychopath.

This story is definitely the most gruesome of the Grimm stories that I have encountered so far. However, the stupidity of the characters irks me in this tale. No one in the story tries to explain what the creeps are to the boy! They all try to make him experience something he doesn’t understand instead. But there is humour in his ignorance—granted, it is pretty dark humour, but it is humour none the less. What the boy really needs to understand is what death is. But his lack of fear raises an interesting question: is fear something we learn?

I was curious about this and looked up what the most common human fears are. According to LiveScience.com the most common fear is snakes, followed by spiders and other creepy crawlies, and agoraphobia (fear of enclosed spaces). Do these fears stem from some kind of natural instinct that centuries of evolution have bred within us, are they simply from bad personal experience, or do we fear because society has taught us to fear?

Remember this? Apparently humans ARE quite afraid of the dark. It's #6.

Remember this? Apparently humans ARE quite afraid of the dark. It’s #6.

Share your theories about fear in comments. What are you afraid of?

For more information about this feature, check out the main page for “A Grimm Year”.

*Pullman’s title


2 thoughts on “A Grimm Year: A Tale About the Boy Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was

  1. I’ve always liked this story, but it’s hard to put my finger on exactly why. I think it does have something to do with the question you posed: is fear something that we learn? I think to some extent it is, because I certainly had a much better tolerance for horror movies as a young child than I do now. I guess the more you’re told you should fear something, the more you start to believe it?

    As for the story itself… I think I’m just really drawn to the idea of a child who doesn’t understand fear. It’s an interesting juxtaposition: both a problem and an asset, something that characterizes him both as superior and as lacking.

    • I really like your thoughts on juxtaposition. I mean in theory it would be great not fear things, right? But then what would stop us from doing dumb things, or leave us feeling exhilarated when we overcome a fear? You’re right: fears are definitely something that characterize us.

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