"The Fisherman and his Wife" (German: "Vom Fischer und seiner Frau") is a German fairy tale. It is included in Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales), the 1812 anthology of German folktales compiled by the Brothers Grimm.
The plot is set in motion when a poor fisherman who lives in a miserable hovel catches and then releases a talking fish. When he tells his wife about it later, she says to him that he should not have let the enchanted fish go without asking it to grant a wish. She tells him to go back to the sea, cry out to the fish and tell it that they wish to live in a cottage. The fisherman does as his wife says and the fish grants her wish. The fisherman's wife, however, soon becomes dissatisfied. A further four times, she tells her husband to go back to the sea and ask the fish to grant her increasingly extravagant wishes. The fish grants three of those wishes. It refuses, however, to grant the final wish. Instead, it returns the fisherman and his wife to the same miserable condition that they were in at the start of the story.
There have been several adaptations of the tale to other media.
A poor fisherman and his wife Ilsebill live in a foul hovel near the ocean. While he is out on the gentle sea one day, the fisherman catches a fish that talks to him. The fish says that it is really an enchanted prince and begs the fisherman not to eat him. The fisherman says that he does not want anything to do with talking fish and puts the creature back in the water.
When he returns home, the fisherman tells Ilsebill what happened to him. Ilsebill chastises her husband for letting the magical fish go without making a wish first. She tells the fisherman to go back to the water's edge, call out to the fish and tell it that she wants to live in a cottage. The fisherman reluctantly does as Ilsebill asks. He notices that the sea is a little stormier than it had been before. The fish grants Ilsebill's wish. The fisherman returns home and finds that his hovel is gone. In its place is a pretty furnished cottage with a garden. The fisherman says that he hopes that he and Ilsebill will live joyfully in the cottage for the remainder of their lives. Ilsebill hints that may not be the case.
After about two weeks, Ilsebill is no longer happy in the small cottage. She says that she wants to live in a castle. She asks her husband to go and tell the fish that is her wish. The fisherman is very reluctant to do so. Nevertheless, he goes back to the water's edge. He notices that the sea has become slightly stormier than it had been before. He calls out to the fish and tells it Ilsebill's wish. The fish says that the wish has been granted. The fisherman returns home and finds that the cottage has been replaced by a large stone castle with magnificent gardens and parks. The castle is beautifully furnished and staffed by many servants. The fisherman says that he hopes that he and Ilsebill will happily live in the castle for the rest of their lives. Again, Ilsebill hints that may not be the case.
The following morning, Ilsebill asks her husband if he wants to be emperor. he replies that he does not. Ilsebill says that, in that case, she would like to be emperor. She tells her husband to go back to the water's edge and tell the fish that is her wish. The fisherman very reluctantly does as his wife requests. He notices that the sea is somewhat stormier than it had been the day before. The fish tells him that Ilsebill's wish has been granted. The fisherman returns home. He finds that the castle is even larger than it was before. It is now guarded by soldiers and there are even more servants in attendance. The fisherman sees Ilsebill seated on a throne with a crown on her head. In answer to her husband's question, Ilsebill confirms that she is now queen but says that she is not however satisfied. She now wants to be emperor. The fisherman does not want to ask the fish to grant that wish. As king, however, Ilsebill commands her husband to call on the magic of the fish once more.
The fisherman goes back to the water's edge. He notices that the sea has become even stormier than it had been earlier. He calls out to the fish and Ilsebill's wish is once again granted. The fisherman returns to a castle that is even more extravagantly decorated than it was before. There are many noblemen, guards, and maids in attendance. Ilsebill's throne and crown are both now preposterously huge. In answer to her husband's question, Ilsebill confirms that she is now the supreme ruler but says that she is not content. She now wants to be pope. The fisherman says he is certain that the fish will not grant that wish. Nevertheless, Ilsebill commands her husband to tell the fish her wish. The fisherman goes straight back to the water's edge. The sea now looks pretty stormy. The fisherman calls out to the fish and tells it Ilsebill's wish. The fish tells him that the wish has been granted. The fisherman returns to the castle. Ilsebill is now pope. Kings and princes are bowing down before her. Ilsebill, however, is still not satisfied. She is certain that she can ask the fish to grant more of her wishes, although she does not know what to ask for next.
Ilsebill spends the whole night thinking about what wish she should get the fish to grant next. She is still awake when the sun rises. It then occurs to her that, although she is pope, she cannot prevent the sun from rising. She decides that she wants to have the ability to make the sun and the moon rise and set. She tells her husbands that she wants the fish to make her equal to God.
The fisherman goes back to the water's edge. The sea is now incredibly stormy. In the distance, ships are firing cannons in danger. The fisherman calls out to the fish and tells it that Ilsebill wants to be equal to God. The fish tells the fisherman to go home to his hovel. The story concludes with the fisherman and Ilsebill returned to the same miserable condition that they had been in at the start, a condition in which they remain forever afterwards.
The Russian writer Alexander Pushkin adapted "The Fisherman and his Wife" as the poem "The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish" (Russian: Сказка о рыбаке и рыбке; Szazka o rybake i rybke) that was first published in 1835. Pushkin's poem was in turn adapted by the Austrian composer Ludwig Minkus and the French choreographer Arthur Saint-Léon as the 1866 ballet Le Poisson doré. In 1917, the Russian composer Nikolai Tcherepin adapted "The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish" as a piece of orchestral music. Animated films based on Pushkin's poem were produced in the Soviet Union in 1937 and 1950 and in Russia in 2002.
German author Günter Grass adapted "The Fisherman and his Wife" as the novel The Flounder (German: Der Butt) which was first published in 1977.
A version of "The Fisherman and his Wife" is told by actor and comedian Rik Mayall in the sixth episode of the first season of the British children's TV series Grim Tales. The episode was first shown on the ITV network in the United Kingdom on May 19, 1989.
"The Fisherman and his Wife" was adapted as the ninth episode of the second season of the American animated TV series Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child. In the series, the story is given a Spanish setting and the episode has a predominantly Hispanic voice cast. It features the voices of the actor Edward James Olmos as the fisherman, the opera singer and actress Julia Migenes as the fisherman's wife and the Mexican-born actor and stand-up comedian Paul Rodriguez as the fish. It was first shown on HBO on June 8, 1997.
The German-language TV movie Vom Fischer und seiner Frau, starring Fabian Busch as the fisherman, Katharina Schüttler as his wife Ilsebill and Jan Fedder as the voice of the fish, first aired on the channel ARD 1 in Germany on December 25, 2013.
- The version of "The Fisherman and his Wife" included in the Brothers Grimm's Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales) is written in Low German, a regional language of northern Germany and the eastern Netherlands. In the 1812 first edition of the anthology, the tale is called Von den Fischer und siine Fru. The title was changed to Von den Fischer un siine Fru for the 1815 second edition. It was changed again to Van den Fischer un siine Fru for the 1837 third edition. It appears as Von den Fischer un syner Fru in the 1843 fifth edition and all subsequent editions.
- In the Brothers Grimm's original version of the story, the fisherman is unnamed and his wife is named Ilsebill. Both characters are unnamed in some English adaptations of the story.
- In the Brothers Grimm's original version of the story, it is specified that the fish is a flounder.