Fairy tale characters: the helper
Elves 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'.
- Look at the following stories:
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]
Download 'Create a helper story' activity (PDF: 140KB; 2 pages)
Related material at NLS
Find out more about fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm in NLS 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.
Take part in our exciting Hansel and Gretel creative writing competitions.
Read a news story about the Grimms' Scottish connections in a letter that Jacob Grimm wrote to Sir Walter Scott.