Godfather Death
"Godfather Death" (German: Der Gevatter Tod) is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm as tale number 44. It is Aarne-Thompson type 332.


A poor man has twelve children, and works just hard enough to feed each of them every day. When his thirteenth and last child is born, the man decides to find a godfather for this child. He runs out into the highway, and finds God walking on the highway. God asks to be the godfather, promising the child health and happiness. The man, after finding out that the man is God, declines, saying that God condones poverty. Then the man meets the Devil on the highway. The Devil asks to be the godfather, offering the child gold and the world's joys. The man, after finding out that the man is the Devil, declines, saying that the Devil deceives mankind.

The man, still walking down the highway, meets Death. The man decides to make Death the child's godfather saying that Death takes away the rich and the poor, without discrimination. The next Sunday, Death becomes the child's godfather.

When the boy comes of age, Death appears to him and leads him into the woods, where special herbs grow. There, the boy is promised that Death will make him a famous physician. It is explained that, whenever the boy visits an ill person, Death will appear next to the sick person. If Death stands at the persons head, that person is to be given the special herb found in the forest, and cured. But, if Death appears at the persons feet, any treatment on them would be useless as they would soon die.

The boy soon becomes famous, just as Death has foreseen and receives plenty of gold for his amazing ability to see whether a person would live or die. Soon, the King of all the lands becomes ill and sends for the famous physician.

When the physician goes to see the King, he notices immediately that Death is standing at the foot of the bed. The physician feels pity for the king, and decides to trick Death. The physician then turns the King in his bed so that Death stands over the head. He then gives the King the herb to eat. This heals the King and speeds his recovery.

Soon after, Death approaches the physician, expressing his anger for tricking him and disobeying Death's rules. But because the physician is Death's godchild, he does not punish him. Death then warns the physician that if he was to ever trick Death again, he will take the physician's life.

Not much later, the King's daughter becomes ill and the physician goes to see her as well. The King promises his daughter's hand in marriage and the inheritance of the crown if the physician cures her. When the physician visits the princess, he sees Death at her feet. Ignoring this, he is captivated by the princess's beauty and thoughts of being her husband. The physician then turns the princess so that Death is at her head. He then feeds her the herb.

Just as the princess is coming around, Death grasps the physician by the arm and drags him to an underground cavern. In this cave are thousands upon thousands of candles, each burned down to different lengths. Death explains that the length of each candle shows how much longer a person has to live. When Death shows the physician his candle, the latter notices that it is very short, showing that the physician doesn't have much longer to live.

The physician pleads with his godfather to light a new candle for him, so that he may live a happy life as king and husband to the beautiful princess. Death reconsiders and gathers a new candle to relight the flame of his godchild.

Just as he is about to light the new candle, Death takes his revenge on the physician by letting the flame of the first candle fall. As soon as the candle is extinguished, the physician falls dead to the ground.


This story was included in the first edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen, but the first edition version included a different ending. The first edition version ended at the part of Death showing the physician the candles. The second edition version of Kinder- und Hausmärchen included the part of Death pretending to light the candle and failing on purpose, killing the physician.

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