Fairy tale characters: the helper

Illustration of elves at workElves from 'Household stories from the collection of the brothers
Grimm', illustrated by Walter Crane, 1893.


In the story illustrated above, the elves appear magically at night to help a poor shoemaker to create beautiful shoes from a small piece of leather. By selling the shoes, the shoemaker becomes rich. His wife makes miniature sets of clothes to thank the elves for their hard work. Download elves illustration (PDF: 616 KB; 1 page).

The elves are examples of helpers — humans, animals, or magic beings who assist the hero or main character of the story.

This might involve keeping the hero safe from harm, giving advice, or providing a means of rescue. The helpers are often unnamed or anonymous, and provide help for no reward. The helper is important to the success of the quest or hero's journey.

Other examples of fairy tale helpers include:

  • The birds in the Grimm's version of 'Cinderella'
  • The fairy godmother in 'Sleeping Beauty'
  • The ducks in 'Hansel and Gretel'.

Suggested activities

  • Look at the following stories: For each one, ask the pupils to identify the helper. What does the helper add to the story? How would the story change if there wasn't a helper? Perhaps imagine an alternative, comic version of the story where the helper is well meaning, but a bit clumsy or always late. How would this alter the story?

    Literacy and English experiences and outcomes: [ENG 1-31a; ENG 2031a; ENG 1-17a; ENG 2-17a; LIT 1-07a; LIT 2-07a]
  • Can you think of a time when someone was able to help you do something? Have you ever been able to help someone without them knowing it was you?
  • Read The elves (Grimm)
    Why do you think the elves might have wanted to help the shoemaker and his wife? What skills did the elves have? Why did they visit the shoemaker at night?

    [LIT 1-07a; LIT 1-09a; ENG 1-17a]
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Download 'Create a helper story' activity (PDF: 140KB; 2 pages)


Source and activity 5



Themes in focus — Fairy tales


Related material at the Library

Find out more about fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm in our collections:


Search our main catalogue for books about fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm.


Discover more about the Brothers Grimm in our past treasures display.


Hansel and Gretel creative writing competition winners.


Read a news story about the Grimms' Scottish connections in a letter that Jacob Grimm wrote to Sir Walter Scott.


Elsewhere on the web

Find out more about storytelling duo Macastory.


Learn more about traditional tales and stories with the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

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