The Stonecutter

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The Stonecutter is a Japanese folk-tale[1] of unknown authorship. It is closely related to the themes of The Fisherman and His Wife, a well known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm. In the legend, a poor stonecutter takes notice of the lifestyles of those from higher in the social hierarchy and wishes to become them. Despite having his wishes granted, the stonecutter is still unsatisfied and later desires to become more powerful by embodying forces within nature. Eventually, after a chain of events, he ultimately realizes satisfaction with his place in society and nature as a lowly stonecutter.


The exact author of The Stonecutter is unknown but the tale was already widespread in China and Japan, it was first published by Jeronimus (pen name of Wolter Robert baron van Hoëvell) in the Periodical of Dutch India (1842), and by David Brauns in Japanische Märchen und Sagen (1885). Multatuli (pen name of Eduard Douwes Dekker) drew upon Jeronimus' version to publish his version of the tale in Max Havelaar (1860), and Andrew Lang drew upon Brauns' version to publish his translation of the tale in The Crimson Fairy Book (1903). However, in Japanese sources the legend is said to be European, and the stonecutter's name is given as Hans.[citation needed] Variants appear across cultures and continents, including The Fisherman and His Wife by the Brothers Grimm.


According to the Aarne-Thompson classification system of fairy tales, The Stonecutter is a tale of type 555, folktales about dissatisfaction and greed; the morals of such stories recommend against trying to be anything but yourself and to be careful what you wish for while embodying the spirit of the saying "the grass is always greener on the other side."

The story of the Stonecutter is a prime example of cyclical thinking in Eastern philosophy. While the similar cumulative tale The Fisherman and His Wife is explicitly moralist in tone, The Stonecutter's lesson proceeds from a more philosophical viewpoint. At the end, the stonecutter simply realises that his greedy longings are futile because power is relative (compare: food chain); the fisherman's wife however has no end to her ambition, and keeps asking for more influence; first nobleman, then queen, then empress, then pope, until at last she wants to become God. The magic fish then punishes her (blasphemous) greed by sending her back to her poor hut (compare "hubris" in Greek mythology.)

The Stonecutter's central theme is reflected in the popular hand game paper, rock, scissors, which also has its origins in East Asia.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McDermott, Gerald (1978). The Stonecutter: A Japanese Folk Tale. ISBN 9780140502893.

External links and references[edit]