The Grimm Variations – Episode 4 “The Elves and the Shoemaker” Recap & Review

The Elves and the Shoemaker

Episode 4 of the The Grimm Variations opens with Charlotte being picky about her food and wishing if there was someone who could help her eat it. Wilhelm tells Charlotte that he knows about a story where some elves helped a shoemaker. He emphasises that the elves only helped the shoemaker because he was hardworking and diligent. Charlotte deliberates if giving her food to the elves to eat or pushing herself to eat it, which would be a better choice. 

We meet a long-time author who has not been able to write anything of note for 20 years. He remains cooped in his room while all his manuscripts are rejected by the editors. It’s as if the world has forgotten about him. One day while drinking in a bar, he gets involved with a drunken man and is promptly kicked out of the bar. As he sits on a bench, drinking from a can of sake, he pities himself for having the curse of being creative. At this moment, he meets an elvish little girl who berates his writing skills, like a critic. Eventually, after listening to her criticism, he asks her to leave, which she does. 

The next morning, the author wakes up to find a complete manuscript but he has no memory of writing it. Nevertheless, struggling with finances, he posts the manuscript to his editor. The editor is so impressed by the manuscript that he pays the author a visit and begins revering him. No sooner is the story printed in the magazine, it becomes a huge success. Many others also start thronging the author’s residence, asking to collaborate with him.  

However, when he writes another story, that is completely his own, the all editors refuses to accept it. The author drunkenly calls his editor that the popular story is not his in a fit of rage. The next morning, when the editor visits him out of worry, there is another new manuscript called The Elves and the Shoemaker. This time again, the author has no recollection of writing the story. The novel becomes a huge success and the man becomes one of the bestselling authors. He publishes numerous other works to huge success. 

One day, after too many drinks, he somehow comes back to his old house and watches a shadow of himself writing from the window. He panics and goes back to the same bench and meets the elvish girl again. She asks him if he is about to finish his novel, the one he was writing which was rejected by everyone when he met the girl. He says that it’s a lost cause. She comments if he cannot finish that one, what can he really write in a sarcastic tone. While the author tries to tell her about his many bestselling novels, the girl is skeptical of their authorship. 

She questions if those bestselling novels is his, shouldn’t the content of the novels also be his? She says that if he isn’t writing at all, she is “done wasting time” with him. As she is about to leave, the author expresses how his writing doesn’t feel his and he cannot understand it even when others call it a masterpiece. He feels painfully alone, like other are a different species. The girl apologises but points that it was his choice to live like this and he is not resisting to change it. Her only interest was his novel, with that she leaves.

There is a dreamy sequence where the author find himself with his wife and child. He happily writes a novel, not very successful, but still enjoys and shares that happiness with others. He feels happy and satisfied. The author wakes up with grey hair and comparatively old with the his same manuscript which he had when he visited the bar. The news reports about his death and the elvish girls wanders through the city. 

The Episode Review

This episode is extremely philosophical and succeeds in quite nicely portraying the core philosophical questions that are introduced by the Grimm brothers and Charlotte in the opening sequence of the chapter. The opening sequence is necessary because if skipped, the essence and meaning of the entire episode dissolves into oblivion. 

This chapter explores the idea of satisfaction over success. It also emphasises on the idea of one’s own hard work for luck to help them succeed. Somebody like the author in the story, who’s drunk in his success and neither learns from his mistakes, nor improves is bound to perish, or simply since he’s “not writing”, putting in the effort, the seeming luck in his life, that of the elvish girl also leaves him. 

At the same time, the episode also suggests that satisfaction is perhaps better than a lonely success, where one is bound to perish alone. It seems to be conveying the importance of human relationships, of a balance between work and life to truly be happy and share the happiness with others. No matter what kind of a work one does, if it’s something that is solely their creative child, it might give one much more pleasure, like how the author sees his alternate life in a dream. 

Talking about the episode, it’s again very subjective and open-ended. From the clues in the episode, it seems like the author never lived a successful life, but it was only a dream since he is back with his old manuscript and cans of sake that he was drinking when he was kicked out of the bar.

The magical elf child might be showing him a dream, helping him realise his shortcomings and evaluating if he would want to work hard to improve. At the same time, it also highlights his rejection to accept success that is not solely his own, making him suffer even more. However, if we consider Charlotte’s comment in the beginning of the episode, this presents as a neverending dilemma where only death is the last solace, it’s quite existential in its content.

It is also possible that his grey hair and ageing body, sitting at the same bench with the same cans of sake might highlight that this is the life of a writer. He spends all his life in the same way without getting his manuscripts published. Perhaps, it’s his fate.

At the heart of it all, this episode explores what it means to be an author, up close and personal, the numerous dilemmas associated with it, the struggles with relevance and inconsequentiality, and finally the fleetingness of fame, amidst the prying eye of an elvish critic and society, who decide the worth of a piece of art. 

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