Teaming up to Find a Home by
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This beautiful image is from a 1911 storybook.

I hardly remember the details of this fairy tale, but my mom tells me that at about age three, I was absolutely fascinated by one of the images in the Little Golden Book version of “The Town Musicians of Bremen.” There was something about the four animals–a donkey, dog, cat, and rooster–working together and looking into the window of a house, that resonated. I have no idea why my three-year-old self picked this image, but it is delightful, and one of the most touching moments in the story.

The original of this Grimm fairy tale was published in 1819, and it is odd indeed.

Thanks to Wikipedia, I now know more about the story. The original of this Grimm fairy tale was published in 1819, and it is odd indeed. The four animals were aging, and had outlived their usefulness on the farm, and were either neglected or mistreated by their owner. (I find this very meaningful now, but I doubt this angle made it into the Little Golden Book.)

The foursome set off, intending to become musicians in the German town of Bremen. On the way they came to a house, and when checking it out in the manner shown in the featured image, saw a band of robbers enjoying their ill-gotten gains. The animals worked together to scare off the robbers, with a lot of violence in the original story.

The animals never made it to Bremen, but stayed comfortably in the house. Wikipedia gives a code that is used by folklore specialists that indicates that it is a type of story found in other countries as well. The message of the story? As an adult, I’m impressed by the lessons about teamwork, and that elders aren’t useless and deserve respect. What I loved as a child is the gentle humor of the four different animals collaborating to find a safe refuge, and revisiting that part of the fairy tale has given me a smile.

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I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    How interesting that this was the story you loved as a 3 year old, Mare. And relate to very differently now, though the collaborative efforts of the different animals are still appealing to you. I have heard of the story, but do not remember it at all, so appreciate the recap.

    The Featured photo seems quite old and is a wonderful image of the very different species working together. It is a great lesson for us in today’s divisive world.

  2. Thanx Mare, I remember the title The Town Musicians of Bremen but not the story, and the image of the four animals is indeed delightful and must be symbolic.

    But what stikes me is how wonderful that your mother remembered what fascinated you at age three!

  3. Suzy says:

    Mare, I love this story, and don’t think it is “odd indeed” as you describe it. I’m not sure if I knew it in my own childhood, but I must have read it hundreds of times to my kids! Each animal is from a different farm, but each farmer is planning to kill his animal because it is old and no longer useful (yes, that IS in the kids’ version). Each animal finds out and runs away. They meet up, and decide to travel to Bremen together to be musicians, because they all love to sing. When they see the house with the robbers, each has a different skill that helps scare them off in the dark (the robbers never realize they are animals). So they decide to stay there and skip the long trip to Bremen.

    I think it’s wonderful that you were able to consult your mother for this prompt, AND that she actually remembered that you loved this image!

  4. Susan Bennet says:

    For some reason I never read this story, Marian, though I remember the title. I wish I had. As a child the animals’ mistreatment and abandonment would have pained me deeply, and as a former “parent” of rescue dogs and cats it would still. Not to mention the sadness I’ve seen in nursing homes and veterans’ hospitals involving persons deemed no longer of worth to society. I’m glad this tale has a leavening humor. Thanks for a lovely story.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    Thanks you for reminding me of this one, Marian. I had forgotten it, but also loved it as a kid. As you can imagine, the teamwork aspect appealed to me. I read it in a beautifully illustrated collection of classic fairy tales. I don’tthink your featured image is from that book, but it is certainly evocative of it.

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    I remember this story but didn’t fully appreciate the part about being discarded when old. But the animals were enchanting, and it turns out there is a statue in Bremen with the “four musicians” piled up like in your picture—I was thrilled to see it in 1959–in case you or someone you know ever ends up there for some reason.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    I had totally forgotten that tale, Marian. Thanks for writing about it as it is a great story to think about as we age. The image is beautiful.

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