The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was


"They are always saying 'it makes me shudder, it makes me shudder!' It does not make me shudder," thought he. "That, too, must be an art of which I understand nothing."(1)

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The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was by Dagmarr Herrmann (2)


The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was is one of the less well-known stories of the Brothers Grimm, but it has a long history. The earlier version, "Good Bowling and Card Playing" was shorter, and included in the Grimms' 1812 collection, though they included the longer version as the fourth story in their first volume. (3) This story is Aarne-Thompson type 326 (the 300-399 series denotes Fighting Supernatural Foes) (4), and involves a boy who is considered foolish and good for nothing, so much so that he assumes (after hearing people talking about shuddering) that the shudders are an action or trade that he can learn how to do, for he is so foolish that he doesn't know to be afraid. The boy goes on to encounter numerous frightening situations, some faked by untrustworthy people who think they can take advantage of the Youth, and some very real and supernatural, involving ghosts, ghouls, beasts and monsters of various sorts. Throughout it all, the boy, who is very strong, never experiences real fear, and acts with an interesting sort of practicality in order to solve all the problems (sometimes successfully, and sometimes causing even greater trouble). Eventually, he outlasts everything a haunted castle can throw at him, discovers a cache of hidden treasure, and marries the princess of the land, who gets so tired of hearing her husband complaining about how he can't shudder that she douses him in freezing water and small fish, causing a sensation that finally makes him shudder, even if not through fear.

Interestingly, this story is one that has been something of a fairytale fan favorite, but which hasn't caught on in modern society (Disney, for instance, has yet to come up with a movie for it, though Jim Henson did). Perhaps the lack of a female lead (unless you count the princess who finally figures out how to make the Youth shudder) lends itself to the unpopularity of this story, though the long title and the apparent obliviousness of the youth (making it difficult for audiences to relate to him) might have something to do with it as well. However, the story of a fool surrounded by ghosts and monsters could be seen as a predecessor to Scooby Doo and Shaggy, and the concept of a cheerfully reckless youth who doesn't realize what danger he's in and is empowered because of his ignorance is the defining concept of the Tarot card of the Fool. Perhaps one of the most endearing qualities about the Youth is that he, like many of us, has very little idea of what he wants to do with his life... he's just more honest about it than most people are. Oddly enough, the youth in the story is possessed of a sort of cunning... he doesn't know what the shudders are, but he does have a very good grasp on identifying those who mean him harm and dealing with them. His strength does seem prodigious, but then again, he is the son of a blacksmith in most of the versions of the story, so perhaps it is not that strange that he is stronger than a priest, some cats and dogs, and various decaying undead monsters.

Most variations of the story are resolved with the Youth learning to shudder or shiver through means that have nothing to do with fear, but instead with the mere sensation of shuddering. However, at least one of the more recent versions actually explores what it means to really be scared.

Jim Henson made a version of the story as part of the series: The Storyteller, under the title of Fearnot. In the story, the boy is the son of a tailor, and he's not just foolish, he's forgetful, lazy, and likes to play music for his sweetheart, a merchant's daughter. He is accompanied on his adventures by a tinker, and the Half Man takes the role of most of the creatures of the castle. He learns to shudder when his sweetheart is lying on her deathbed from grief, and though his presence and music and kisses bring her back to full health, it is the fear of losing his loved one that finally makes him shudder. (5)

In the roleplaying game, Grimm, The Youth seems to have never suffered the angry princess' bucket full of cold water and gudgeons, and somehow became king of the still-haunted castle. The players have to figure out how to make him shudder in order to break the grip of the monsters and ghosts and other creatures over that part of the Grimm Lands. However, it is one of the few adventures in the Grimm Lands that can end happily.(6)

In the webcomic "No Rest For the Wicked," the Boy ("Jack-or-maybe-Hans") is a lovable village idiot who doesn't even know his own name (though almost everyone in the village is named Jack or Hans, so he's fairly certain it is one of those two), but cleared out the haunted castle and became fantastically rich, and was engaged to marry Princess November (the princess and the pea), the comic's main protagonist, before she ran away to try and locate the moon so she could sleep. In the comic, he sets off to find her, and it is revealed that he's also the one who inspired her decision to try and set out and find a way to sleep herself. When his companion suggests that Princess November is most likely dead or in some dire situation, the Boy laughs, saying that he did all right and he didn't know much of anything, but she's clever, so she'll most likely be fine. He also states that his father made him swear to never tell that the Boy was his son. He also is reputed to be "cute," and he describes November as "a Youngest," playing off the old fairy tale element that the youngest daughter is the most attractive. Throughout his appearances in the comic, the Boy is seen as being likeable and a little earthy, but friendly and helpful, though it seems unlikely that he and November will ever actually get married, given that Prince Ricardo appears to be the prince from the Princess and the Pea. (7)

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(1) Heinner, H. A. (2006, October 15). The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was. In Surlalune Fairy Tales. Retrieved November 14, 2011, from http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/authors/grimms/4youthfear.html

(2) Herrmann, D. (Artist). The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was. [Image of painting]. Private collection. Retrieved November 14, 2011, from http://rabbitfear.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/the-story-of-the-youth-who-went-forth-to-learn-what-fear-was-dagmar-herrmann.jpg

(3) The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was. (2011, November 11). In Wikipedia. Retrieved November 14, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Story_of_the_Youth_Who_Went_Forth_to_Learn_What_Fear_Was

(4) Aarne–Thompson classification system. (2011, November 8). In Wikipedia. Retrieved November 14, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aarne-Thompson#Supernatural_Opponents_300_-_399

(5) Minghella, A. (n.d.). The Storyteller Presents: Fearnot. In Jim Henson's The Storyteller. Retrieved November 14, 2011, from http://www.angelfire.com/me3/muppets/Story_Fearnot.html

(6) Fantasy Flight Games. (2007). Grimm (pp. 126-129). Roseville, MN: Author.

(7) Peterson, A. L. (2010). In No Rest For The Wicked. Retrieved November 14, 2011, from http://www.forthewicked.net/

(8) Henson, J. (n.d.). In Fearnot (1/3)- Jim Henson's The Storyteller. Retrieved November 14, 2011, from Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szKpcXq1pww).
Calvin College Hekman Library openURL resolver
Calvin College Hekman Library openURL resolver


(9) Henson, J. (n.d.). In Fearnot (2/3)- Jim Henson's The Storyteller. Retrieved November 14, 2011, from Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TScUIGVriOA&feature=related).

(10) Henson, J. (n.d.). In Fearnot (3/3)- Jim Henson's The Storyteller. Retrieved November 14, 2011, from Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JmRWi6-hrY&feature=related).