The Water of Life: Literary Analysis

‘The Water of Life’ is one of the most remarkable fairly tales in the Grimm Brother’s collection. It is a tale of a dying king and his three sons who are determined to save him so that they can become heir to the kingdom. The search for a cure to the king’s illness reveals their motives and shows their intentions and character traits. The king is adamant about allowing his sons to go into the wild in search of the cure, demonstrating his concern as a father. The journey to search for the ‘water of life’ that the seers promised the sons would cure the king reveals their character and offers valuable lessons that apply to the contemporary world.

In the past, there was a king in a far off country who had three sons. He fell ill prompting them to find a cure. During their journey, their sons met an old man as they thought about the cure. He advised them that ‘the water of life’ would heal the king (Zinczenko). The eldest son thought of looking for the cure first, as he was interested in his father making him the heir to the kingdom. He asked the king if he could go on the journey, but he refused as it was a risky undertaking. However, his father granted him permission to set out and seek for the water of life. On his way, the eldest son came across a deep valley where he met an ugly dwarf who was friendly to him. However, the prince was rude to him and continued riding his horse into the woods. His behavior angered the dwarf who cast an ill-luck spell on him. In effect, it made it difficult for the eldest son to find his way in the forest.

The king was hopeful that his eldest son but it was not forthcoming. Consequently, the second prince asserted, “Father, I will go in search of the water of life.” (Zinczenko). The family thought that that the first born had died in the woods, and the king reluctantly told his second son to go. The second son followed the same path that his brother embarked on. He met the same imp that was friendly to him. However, he scornfully dismissed him by stating, “Mind your own affairs, busybody!”  (Zinczenko). The dwarf cast the same spell on him, as he was too arrogant to ask for directions or advice. In effect, he was also stranded in the forest as he was spellbound. After that, the youngest prince decided to search for the cure, and he hoped that his father would get well soon. He followed the same path as his brothers, and his intentions were pure. Unlike his brothers, inheriting the kingdom was not his primary motivation but the king’s recovery. Just like the two princes, he also met the dwarf and asked for help in finding the ‘water of life’. He said to him, “I am going in search of the Water of Life, because my father is ill, and like to die: can you help me?’ ‘Pray be kind, and aid me if you can!” (Zinczenko). In response, the dwarf instructed him that the water of life was well located in an enchanted castle. He gave him two loaves of bread and an iron wand. The youngest prince would use the wand to strike the door and feed two hungry lions using the bread. The imp also directed him to fetch the water before midnight, as the door would close if he arrived late. The prince did as the imp guided him. On his way, he met a beautiful woman whom he helped to break her spell. The woman was grateful and told him that he would marry her and become an heir to the kingdom.

The prince hastily took the water of life and headed home. On his way back, he met the dwarf who was thrilled with his achievement. The dwarf told him, “You have made a noble prize; with the sword, you can at a blow slay whole armies, and the bread will never fail you.” (Zinczenko). The youngest prince asked for help to find his brothers, but the dwarf warned him to be careful as they were selfish. Later on, he found his brothers and informed them that he had located the water of life. They cunningly poured the water of life into the sea and replaced it with salt water. In effect, since the water did not cure the king, he was convinced that his youngest son wished he was dead. He instructed the huntsman to kill the youngest son, but instead, he helped him flee. Later, the princess sought the youngest son out, and the two brothers tried to sabotage him. However, the princess finally wed the youngest son, and he became heir to the kingdom. At this time, the king uncovered the truth and wanted to punish his older sons who had fled never to be found.

Notably, the fairy tale uses a limited number of characters to communicate the intended message. It portrays the king as sickly and wise. He was concerned about his sons’ safety as they sought for the water of life. Conversely, the readers consider the two older sons as villains in the story. Their selfishness is evident throughout the story as they are only interested in acquiring kingship at the expense of their youngest brother (Zinczenko). The thought that their father would make them heir to the kingdom motivated the two brothers to seek the water of life. Secondly, when the princess announced that she was looking for the man that had saved her from her spell, they both lied that they helped her but the guards turned them away. The fairy tale depicts the youngest son as having a pure heart and ready to help without expecting a reward. The thought of inheriting the kingdom was not his motivation to look for the water of life but saving his father. He was also kind and polite to the imp who assisted him to locate the water of life (Zinczenko). Indeed, the dwarf is an essential character that contributed to the plot. He is wise and calculating, as he helped the youngest son who had a pure heart. The huntsman is also kind and compassionate as he aided the prince to escape after the king instructed him to execute his son.

The tale metaphorically addresses issues of healing, growth, and change. The author perceives the water of life as a representation of the essence of life (Valle and Steen 283). The king was sick, meaning that he lacked the will to live. The old man advised his three sons that the water of life that would heal him. By finding the cure to his illness, he would live again, continue leading his people, and identify an heir to the kingdom. The actions of the youngest son represent growth. He was genuinely concerned about his brothers. The youngest prince was determined to save them after he found the cure even though it would prevent him from becoming the sole heir to the kingdom. Furthermore, change is evident given that one of the king’s sons would inherit the empire following their father’s demise. The youngest son was also promised to be heir to a foreign kingdom after saving the beautiful woman in the castle.

In the fairy tale, one can apply various themes to daily life. The two sons prove their selfishness based on the actions they undertook. The thought that they would become heirs to the kingdom motivated them to search for the water of life. They also sabotage their youngest brothers at the expense of their father’s life. The tried to warn the youngest brother against his brothers’ intentions.  Clearly, they were only interested in advancing their interests. Secondly, readers can quickly identify the themes of pride and arrogance in the story. The eldest sons expressed a high level of pride when the imp addressed themn. Consequently, he cast a spell on them, preventing the two brothers from finding the water of life (Valle and Steen 283). Thirdly, the fairy tale echoes the theme of kindness which the youngest son advances. He was kind and polite to the imp who guided him to find the water of life. In addition, he saved the beautiful woman bound by the spell in the castle. She was a princess and rewarded his kindness by promising him that he will become heir to a foreign kingdom upon marrying her. Owing to the young prince’s kindness, the huntsman sparred his life after the king had instructed to have him killed.  It is an indication that most of the characters in the story rewarded his kind actions.

In summation, ‘The water of life’ is a lucid tale that explains the experiences of three sons in seeking for a cure for their ailing father. The search reveals their real character and how far they would go to inherit the kingdom. The dwarf is seen to be the voice of reason that helps them during the journey. While oldest sons ignore the dwarf, they end up being stranded as he casts a spell on them. The youngest son seeks advice from the dwarf and ends up finding the water of life. While the two brothers undertake actions to sabotage him, his kindness paves the way for him to get what he deserves. In the end, the truth comes out, and the two sons leave the kingdom forever, he ends up marrying a princess and becoming heir to the empire.



Works Cited

Valle, Ronald S, and Steen Halling. Existential-phenomenological Perspectives in Psychology:    Exploring the Breadth of Human Experience. , 2013. Print.

Zinczenko, David. The Water of Life. n. d. Web. 10 Mar. 2019.