Elves are depicted in video games, films, and literature usually surrounded by nature. Surprisingly, in The Brothers’ Grimm story, The Elves and Shoemake, elves are depicted as mysterious, helpful creatures that appear at night once all are asleep and aide the shoemaker in making shoes. The Brothers’ Grimm describe elves as being tiny, joyful, and creative creatures.
The Brothers’ Grimm typically use fantasy creatures in their stories to tell trials the protagonist must endure that are relatable to this day. In the tale of The Elves and the Shoemaker, elves are viewed as being slaves, coming each night to make the shoes, and aren’t freed until they are given clothing. This trend is repeated to house elves in J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
The story of the Elves and the Shoemaker, follows a poor couple who sell handmade leather shoes to help pay for food and lodging. After the shoemaker gives one pair of shoes away, he prepares the leather to make another par to finish the next day. During the night, he is visited by elves who finish making the shoes for him. One evening, he catches the elves making the shoes, so him and his wife make them clothing. With the clothing the elks are freed and are never seen again.
The elves are trying to help the shoemaker finish the shoes seeing that he is willing to sell just enough of the product to get by, while he donates the rest to those in need. The shoemaker and his wife create clothing for the elves wanting to repay them for their generosity. The elves are not sure what to make of the garments and are delighted with the gift freeing them of their task. It’s interesting how the author fails to mention how the elves were lured to the shoemaker’s house, or even why they feel obligated to help them.
Furthermore, the author states that the clothing freed them, hence why they left and were never seen again. The Brothers’ Grimm never state that the elves are slaves, but it’s implied by the gift of clothing causing them to stop helping the shoemaker and his wife. In folklore, elves are perceived to despise humans because of their disrespect to nature. Perhaps they only assist the shoemaker because of his generosity to others and respect for the shoes materials.