The Brothers Grimm’s “Bearskin” Asks: What Would You Do for a Magic, Bottomless Purse?

After princesses, the most popular subject in western fairy tales might just be bears. Talking bears, transformed bears, bears able to use sign language, bears arousing questionable passions in young handsome princes, bears with somewhat questionable agendas, the occasional dead bear—you name the bear, and it’s probably in some fairy tale, somewhere. To the point where even a deal with the devil story ends up managing to involve a bear. A mostly dead bear, true, but, still, a bear.

Oh, and yes, make some indirect points about ensuring that soldiers receive some sort of income post-war and musing on the boundaries between humans, bears and monsters, but I choose to focus on the bear part.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the tale of “Bearskin” in their second volume of their first edition of Children’s and Household Tales in 1815. Like many of their tales, it was a heavily edited blend ...