The Three Army Surgeons

Grimm, Brothers

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Fairy Tale

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice
  • Date of entry: Feb-22-1999


A story with several implications for the profession of medicine, this short tale concerns three itinerant surgeons who "thought they knew their art perfectly." Boasting of their surgical/curative skills, they state that they will be able to re-attach their own body parts--hand, heart, and eyes--which they propose to excise. The body parts are entrusted to an innkeeper's servant girl to be saved overnight, but instead they are eaten by a cat.

Unbeknownst to the surgeons, substitutions are made: the hand of a gallows thief, the eyes of a cat, and the heart of a pig. These the surgeons successfully re-attach to themselves. But the organs confer on the transplantees the characteristics of their original owners (thief, cat, pig). Blaming the innkeeper for their problems, they threaten to burn down his inn unless he gives them all the money he can raise. This sum allows them to live comfortably, "but they would rather have had their own rightful organs."


This fairy tale, set in writing during the first half of the 19th century, raises questions of physician hubris and the marketing of professional skills, as well as more subtle existential issues relevant to transplant surgery and organ donation. Together with this short piece it is interesting to consider Anne Sexton's poem, Doctors (see this database) and Richard Selzer's story, Whither Thou Goest (see this database).

Primary Source

The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales



Place Published

New York



Page Count