Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Brave Little Tailor

The title of this famous Fairytale, collected by the Grimm Brothers, was appropriated by Robert A Heinlein as a widely applicable plot description (>>> Learns Better). The original tailor brags of his murderous prowess – "Seven at one blow", alarming those unaware that the "seven" were flies – and is thus expected to undertake awesome tasks like killing Giants, which he in fact achieves by cunning and trickery (>>> Jack; Trickster). The BLT typifies the unheroic Hero (or seeming Antihero) who adopts or is thrust into a role initially far too large for him, and successfully grows to be worthy of it. J R R Tolkien shows several such careers: Bilbo reluctantly agrees to become a burglar in The Hobbit (1937) and succeeds far beyond his own expectations; Frodo and Sam in turn accept the burden of the Ring in The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), and gain different kinds of heroic stature. Further examples are very numerous, from Ralph in William Morris's The Well at the World's End (1896) to Simon the kitchen-boy in Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn to Mickey Mouse in the animated short Brave Little Tailor (1938), which is a more straightforward retelling. Diana Wynne Jones adds a slight twist in Castle in the Air (1990), whose brave little carpet-merchant's adventures are partly choreographed by a Genie so that he undergoes in reality all the least comfortable episodes from his boasts and daydreams. Barbara Hambly's "The Little Tailor and the Elves" (1994) inverts the character as a decidedly unheroic, unsuccessful, wife-beating tailor (> Parody). [DRL]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.