The Story Behind: The Elves and the Shoemaker

Heard of this holiday fairytale? Read more of the theories and moral behind the old story. 

a blog written by Sanguine


Most people have heard of the story The Elves and the Shoemaker, be it the original Grimm's fairy tale or an adapted version. It’s a nice short story about a poor shoemaker who has only enough leather to make one pair of shoes, and no money to buy any more. He leaves the shoes unfinished when he goes to bed, but in the morning finds them finished!


This continues for many days until the shoemaker is rich and he wishes to know who has made him so. That night, he and his wife stay up and watch two elves come in and craft shoes from the leather left out, singing all the while.


The shoemaker’s wife wants to reward the elves for their work, and proposes to her husband that he make them shoes while she sews clothes for them, for the elves were naked in the cold. He agrees, and when they were finished they left their gifts out for the elves instead of the leather for the shoes.


When the elves come, they are delighted by the clothes and don them immediately. Then, they leave and never return again, leaving the shoemaker to his craft.


I feel that the story behind this is about growth. We all have to learn to do things for ourselves eventually, because we cannot rely on someone completely for the rest of our lives. The elves were doing the shoemaker’s work for him, but when they left he had to pick it up again.


In some versions of the story, when the elves left, the shoemaker had to learn how to craft shoes again, studying the work the elves did and eventually his work became as good as theirs. He was rich for the remainder of his life, and he lived happily ever after.


In other versions, the shoemaker was so rich he did not need to work ever again. This plays less so into the story of growth, but the shoemaker would still have had to learn to live without the help of those handy elves.


But the most common ending in the versions I have read is that the shoemaker continued making shoes, and had good fortune from there on out.


If you dig deep enough, all versions of the story can relate to growing and developing your work, or as a person.


Some theories about the story are different, though. For example, some believe that the story is about how hard work will always pay off in the end. This is true, and also relates to development – to improve one must work hard.


Or, it could be about how we need a little push to discover who we really are (I may or may not feel that this one is a little flimsy). I’m trying to see how that one fits in with the story, but it’s a theory nonetheless.


And one really sweet theory was about how kindness makes the world go ‘round. The elves were kind to the shoemaker and his wife, who were, in turn, both kind back to the elves in making them clothes and shoes.


No matter what the moral is - you should probably heed it :-)



So what's your favourite theory for The Elves and the Shoemaker?

Are there others not mentioned here?

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