It Turned Out to Be Part of a Fundraising Effort for a School for The Blind, By the Way. Not that They’d Be Able to Read the Book.

My mother moved back from Switzerland about a year ago now, but she still has mail forwarded from her Swiss address. In fact, she still has accounts at her Swiss bank, and a few nights ago she opened an envelope from said Swiss bank to find a letter and a small, beautifully illustrated copy of Der Wolf und die Sieben Jungen Geisslein, by everyone’s favorite, Bruder Grimm.
She called to tell me about it right away, because the book has all kinds of adorable goats in it, and you know how I feel about goats. My first question, naturally, was “Why is your bank sending you children’s books?” I’ve had an account with my own bank for more than ten years, and I’ve never gotten a single children’s book from them. (“I don’t know,” my mother said. “There was a letter, but of course it’s in German.”)

Once my mother started texting me the pictures, the book began to seem a tad sinister, as a gift from one’s financial institution. Look! Here is a wolf, slit all asunder across the middle, being stitched up by a mother goat!
DerWolf6 (Is this a reference to the economy? The banking crisis? Is the wolf our global markets? Is the wolf our personal finances, sewn up by the kindly bank/goat?)

We tried to get the gist of the story by looking at the pictures. Here, I assumed, was the mother goat returning home and beginning to cry because her children have once again transformed her neat, cozy domicile into a chaotic, debris-strewn hellscape (Food and broken dishes on the floor! KIDS!):

DerWolf5 “WHY CAN’T I HAVE NICE THINGS?” she weeps. (I’d like a framed print of that one, actually.)

Whatever else was going on, it seemed clear that this goat was doing the wolf a favor by stitching him up. Probably some sort of parable about kindness even to wolves, or maybe they were already friends—after all, they’d been seen shopping together in a previous illustration:

As it turns out, no. Nope. Not friends. The story is, in fact, rather a grisly one (“well, it IS Bruder Grimm,” my mother reminded me). A Google search came up with the following synopsis:

“A mother goat leaves her seven children at home while she ventures into the forest to find food. Before she leaves, she warns her young about the Big Bad Wolf who will try to sneak into the house and gobble them up. The Big Bad Wolf will pretend to be their mother and convince the kids to open the door. The young goats will be able to recognize their true mother by her white feet and sweet voice.
The mother goat leaves and the seven kids stay in the house. Before long, they hear a voice at the door that says “Let me in children, your mother has returned.” His gruff voice betrays him and the goats do not let him in. A little while later, they hear another voice at the door: “Let me in children, your mother has returned.” This time the voice is high and sweet like their mother’s. They are about to let him in when the youngest kid looks under the crack in the door and notices the Big Bad Wolf’s big, black feet. They refuse to open the door, and the Big Bad Wolf goes away again.

The Big Bad Wolf goes to the bakery and buys some flour, smearing it all over his coat, turning his black feet white. He returns to the goat’s house, and says “Let me in children, your mother has returned.” The kids see his white feet and hear his sweet voice, so they open the door. The Big Bad Wolf jumps into the house and gobbles up six of the kids. The youngest goat hides from the wolf and does not get eaten.

Later that day, the mother goat returns home from the forest. She is distraught to find the door wide open and all but one of her children missing. She looks around and sees the Big Bad Wolf, fast asleep under a tree. He had eaten so much, he could not move. The mother goat calls to her youngest child to quickly get her a pair of scissors, a needle and some thread. She cuts open the Big Bad Wolf’s belly and the six goat children spring out miraculously unharmed. They fill the Big Bad Wolf’s belly with rocks, and the mother sews it back up again. When the Big Bad Wolf wakes up, he is very thirsty. He goes to the river to drink, but falls in and drowns under the weight of the rocks. The Goat Family lived happily ever after.”

So! Thanks for banking with us!

(Incidentally, my children also recognize ME by my white feet and sweet voice.)

I confess that the moral of the story seems rather…opaque. Children are easily tricked? Always have a peephole? Keep a sturdy pair of scissors handy? Don’t be so greedy you can’t make a clean getaway? Revenge is sweet?

Maybe it was sent as a warning about identity theft?
DerWolf9(You are not our mother! Our mother’s voice is fine and lovely, but your voice is rough. DU BIST DER WOLF!)

Here is the wolf, having whitened his paw with flour before waving it in the window:
DerWolf3I hope my children would not be stupid enough to fall for this, but who can say?

It is a very pretty book, and a gift is a gift, so it has been added to the library.

Here is Mother Goat in her shawl (throughout, the most convincing representation of myself I have ever seen in print), returning home to find six of her children eaten:
DerWolf4She’s shocked, obviously.

There is no river in this version. Instead, the thirsty wolf goes to a well to drink:
DerWolf8See the goat family celebrating around the wolf’s watery grave! There is nothing like vigilante justice to bring a family together.

And here is the wolf full of rocks, lurching around and traumatizing an innocent pig family:
DerWolf7(There is obviously a Virginia Wolf/Woolf joke in there somewhere.)

When I think of Swiss banks I think of discretion and a high tolerance for moral ambiguity, but maybe the real draw is thoughtful little gestures like this. Step up your game, Wells Fargo.


  1. Alexicographer says:

    Wow. I belong to what I have considered to be a great credit union (they even have special kids’ accounts and give the kids t-shirts!), but — nary a children’s book, ever. I may have to reconsider.

    I’m pretty sure the moral is that mama goat, and mamas generally of course, should NEVER leave the house without their children (“kids,” haha, get it — oh, wait, maybe not in German…). Mama goat should have packed the seven kids into the seven-kid stroller and rolled them securely into the forest with her, carefully carrying 7 kids’ worth of diapers, wipes, snacks, and of course hygenic wipes (and a complete change of clothes for each, coordinated for the season). You’ll note that mama pig has her kids, er, piglets with her!

  2. meeshie says:

    First.. I totally love those book scans. Oh my god I want a copy of that book. I’m a huge fan of the real Grimm stories. My fav is Mr Fox (don’t look it up.. seriously.. it’s even worse).

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Paula says:

    Alexa, I have always loved your writing but probably never, or rarely, commented, but for some reason this post hit my funny bone or a nerve or something. I am weeping with laughter and I find that a lovely way to start my weekend. Thank you.

  4. Allison says:

    Oh! That story is in a Richard Scarry compendium of fairy tales and used to terrify me. Don’t do it kid goats! Don’t let that big bad wolf in!

  5. Amelie says:

    Having grown up knowing the story, your initial interpretation is quite entertaining ;)
    But yes, the part with the moral is difficult… (and not only for this fairy tale).

  6. MJ says:

    I once got a set of steak knives for opening an account at a bank. But I don’t think that had anything to do with fundraising for a school for the blind. Although now I am imagining how they might be connected.

  7. Christy says:

    I had a read-along book on tape version of Grimm’s tales when I was a small thing and this one in particular creeped me out, not because the mom leaves the kids and then the kids get eaten but that the mother goat fills up the wolf with rocks and sews him back up. This totally horrified/fascinated me and looking back, this is probably why I can watch American Horror Story without flinching too much. That goat completely desensitized me to strange media.

  8. Carrie says:

    I am laughing so hard, I may have peed a little.
    Well. ALmost.
    Love this post, I have to share with my friends.
    You hit the hammer on the head w/your comments!

  9. Lily says:

    Actually, the youngest kid hid in the big clock standing in the corner, while it’s elder siblings crawled under the table or into mum’s bed… All I can think of is that it’s a darwinian fable of the survival of those best hidden.

  10. Kate says:

    I was watching Russian cartoons with my kid today (expats in Moscow) and this story came up. Thanks to this blog, I actually knew what was happening!

  11. jandi says:

    This is SO funny- my girls have been obsessed with wolves (yes wolves) since they were about 16m old. This story is our current wolf favourite and we took out an exact copy of your book in eng from our library. Yes, not sure why they didn’t just look through the window in the first place.

  12. Gavin says:

    Mavis, thanks. She has been gentitg LOTS of special attention lately!Paula, hah. No violet eyes! Though one of my favorite goats ever was named Violet Thanks, Toni! All congratulations go to T-bell.Ed, well, here you go with more cocktail-party factoids then: twins are common, singles second and triplets third. They can have as many as six (!!) but that’s pretty rare.Ali, thanks, we’ll need the luck and sleep!Sara, gosh if she WAS right we’d be in a world of pain. Three is a lot! And: zero on the doeling count Hi Mom, your kids would have loved to come visit then because they’re 8x as cute in person, with their waggly tails and their little baasHi Mike. Three times the fun, certainly. Randi, can’t wait for spring here so these little buggers can go out and run around. In no time, they’ll be climbing the walls of the milk shed.Ah, Rurality, but they are all boys. It doesn’t detract from their cuteness but does from their utility. Ah well. Hate to dump on the Y-chromosome but there you go.Jen, aren’t they? You just want to hang out with them all day. Alas, I have a job to go to though.Thanks, Sylvie! Step by step, some steps take years. Whew!Hi Ashley. Nope, not so rare. Funny though watching it all happen. I think there’s another one, I say to my husband. There can’t be. I felt underneath her and indeed there was; #3 came a bit later than the rest.Hi Jenna! Goodness you could’ve warned me about your intuition Really, I knew she probably had 3 in there too by her size, especially toward the end. Everything went pretty textbook smooth, but the story doesn’t end there. They’re three bucklings, darn it all, so I will be looking for a doeling in a couple months once I unload these guys. #1 was tiny, #2 is HUGE, and #3 is also huge. I mean, TALL and skinny. They all look so much like dad, don’t they? Hope you have more luck in the doeling department, and congratulations too with all your little babies! What an exciting time. She’s accepted one baby and we’re bottle feeding the other two (she’s negative for CAE/CL). She likes little #1. BUT: she’s doing great cleaning them all. And milking has been going well too although I certainly need more practice CC, Mama goat did it all, we were there just to wipe off their faces and towel them dry. Fun!Esperanza, any room for a mini goat in your back 40?John, they’ll probably get a bit of brown on them under their chins, but coat heritability is kind of complicated. Two of these guys look exactly like their dad, but #3, who’s got a lot of white on him, is some kind of throwback. And thanks Jenna! I tend to take a day to answer everyone glad you stepped in.

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