One of my favourite fairy tales is the Elves and the Shoe Maker as even though they are such mischievous little guys they really have hearts of gold..
THE ELVES AND THE SHOEMAKER
There once was a poor shoemaker. I mean that he was a shoemaker who had very little money. Not that he wasn’t very good at making shoes. Indeed, he made shoes of a very fine quality and there was no better shoemaker in the land. But unfortunately the price of leather and cloth was so high and business was tough and so the poor shoemaker and his wife were beginning to struggle.
“Don’t worry” the shoemaker said to his anxious wife, “my shoes are so fine, that soon they will come from far and wide to buy them.” His wife only smiled. “See how they stand at the window and admire my handy work. Good word shall soon spread.”
At the window a small boy pressed his nose against the glass. “It is the same boy who stands at the window each day” said the wife “but he never comes in and alas he is too small to buy any shoes.”
The shoemaker agreed but this young boy was his greatest fan. So he went to the door to invite him in. But the little boy ran off before he got there. The shoemaker caught the sight of the poor boy’s bare feet, the souls of his feet jet black with dirt as he ran, and it made him feel very sad.
He went to his chest of materials and saw what was left of the leather he had purchased; just enough for one last pair of shoes. If business did not pick up he would be ruined. But even still, he knew what he must do. That night he would use half the leather to make the poor little boy a pair of fine shoes.
When the evening came, he was already very tired. “Husband, you are too tired to make these shoes” said his wife. “Can it not wait another night?”
“The poor boy walks around barefoot” he replied. “I will stay up all night if need be.”
But no sooner had the shoemaker cut out the pieces than his tired head began to nod. Suddenly he was awoken by his wife. And it was morning. “Oh no. I fell asleep. I must finish the shoes” he cried.
“But husband, they are finished.” his wife said demonstrating the shoes with her hands. “And they are very fine work. Perhaps some of your best.”
How odd, he thought. He had no memory of finishing the shoes. And he had been so tired, yet the work was indeed flawless, as he examined the small shoes. He couldn’t wait to see the boy’s face as he gifted them to him. It was well into the afternoon before he had the chance.
But once again, as the shoemaker approached the doorway, the boy scarpered before the shoemaker could call him back. Leaving his wife to attend the shop, he chased after the boy, but he was nowhere to be found. He asked the passersby if they had seen a young boy with no shoes but no one could help. When he asked a rich gentleman, the gentleman only enquired about the shoes he was carrying.
“They are for this young boy who has no shoes” he told the rich man.
“Would you sell them to me?” the man asked. “I am looking for a pair of such high quality for my own son.” When the shoemaker declined, the man offered to pay double what they were worth. “Please, I will pay the price of my own shoes, although these shoes are much smaller.”
“I cannot give you these, but if you come to my shop tomorrow, I will make your son a pair just like them” the shoemaker offered. It was agreed.
It was late evening before the shoemaker found the poor boy and the shoemaker was very tired. It was worth it for the look on the young boy’s face. He was delighted with his present. And so the shoemaker went home to work on another pair of little shoes.
Although he was very tired, he now had to make a new pair with the leather left from the previous night. As usual he began by cutting out the pieces. He was so tired but he had to finish the work. And then he awoke and it was daylight again. At first he panicked, not knowing how much time he would have before the gentleman came to pick up the shoes, but then he looked down and saw a perfectly formed pair of children’s shoes. How could he have made such fine work whilst half asleep?
The rich gentleman arrived early in the morning. He seemed very pleased with the work. He took out some money, a large sum that the shoemaker hadn’t seen in some time, and offered it to the bewildered shoemaker. “What’s wrong? Is it not enough?” the gentleman enquired. “It is as we agreed, the price of my own shoes and not a penny more.”
The shoemaker held his tongue until the man had left the shop, then yelled with glee, showing the money to his wife. “We shall not go hungry tonight” he exclaimed. His wife smiled but seemed perplexed though she did not say what was on her mind. The shoemaker used the money to buy some more materials and worked tirelessly to make shoes of the same quality as the two smaller pairs he had made, though he couldn’t quite get the shoes to look the same. Later that week, another rich man came to the shop with his son, and asked to see the smaller shoes. He had heard about the shop from a friend. The shoemaker measured the younger boys feet and agreed to make another small pair of shoes.
He cut the materials that evening and laid them ready for the morning. That night he slept in his bed and dreamed of making shoes until he was awoken by his wife. “What is going on” she cried. “The shoes. It is impossible. Someone has made them.”
“I was dreaming again. I must have done it in my sleep.”
“No. You were in bed all night. You never left” his wife argued. But the shoemaker shook his head. What other explanation could there be?
The shoes were once again spectacular and soon business was booming. People came to buy all sorts of shoes small and large and the shoemaker reminded his wife how he had seen this coming just the other day. It was as he had said, word about the fine quality of his shoes had spread and customers came from all over the land.
One morning, the shoemaker’s wife woke him frantically. “Husband, you would not believe it. If I tell you what I saw last night, you would lock me up. I must show you. Tonight, we must stay up late and hide behind the curtain in the workshop. You have to see this.”
The shoemaker was extremely puzzled. His wife would not tell him what she had seen. But that night he did as she asked and they hid behind the curtain. Every now and then he began to snore and his wife jabbed him with her elbow. The night rolled on and nothing happened until he awoken by a creaking sound. The husband and wife peered around the curtain as one of the loose floorboards in the shop began to wobble and then pop out.
The shoemaker couldn’t believe his eyes. A little head popped up through the gap in the floor and up climbed a little elf. A second elf appeared, climbing up after the first, and a third. Three little elves wearing rags with pointy ears and little noses. As the shoemaker rubbed his eyes in disbelief, his wife gestured for him to be quiet and watch. Then the elves began to work. They went to the table where they found all the cuttings ready to be formed into shoes and very quickly but with great care, they made the shoes that the shoemaker had thought were his own work.
When they were done, they left through the floorboards, covering their tracks behind them, and the shoemaker and his wife spoke of what they had seen. “They are the cutest thing I’ve ever seen” the wife said to her husband. “And look, such fine craftsmanship.”
“We have much to thank them for. But why do they work so hard, when we have not given them anything?”
“I don’t know, husband, but maybe it is time we repaid them. They make little shoes for us, but they are too big for them. Did you see how they wore nothing on their own feet?”
“Yes, I must make them smaller cuttings so that they can make shoes for themselves. And we should leave them some food.”
“What about those filthy rags they wore? I shall sow them some little clothes so they can keep warm in the winter.”
The next night, the shoemaker and his wife left their presents for the elves, where the materials would normally be left. They waited behind the curtain for the elves to appear, both excited about how their elves would react. When the elves at last appeared, and crept up to the table, the couple waited with baited breath, The elves suddenly squealed with delight. Then they set about making their new shoes.
When they were done, they tried them on and seemed so happy. They began to dance in their new shoes and clothes. When they left the shoemaker never saw them again, but the shoemaker had studied the elves and knew how to make the best shoes in the land. With all the extra business the shoemaker and his wife were never poor again.