‘The Grimm Variations’ Episode 4 “The Elves and the Shoemaker” Recap & Ending Explained

Netflix’s The Grimm Variations gives an anime twist to stories by The Brothers Grimm. Most of us have grown up hearing or watching these stories through different renditions; however, this Netflix adaptation gives it another layer of intrigue with its own plot inspired by the original Grimm stories. This episode of The Grimm Variations is inspired by ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker.’ The original story was supposed to be about gratefulness, but this rendition takes a dark turn instead with Mr. N’s struggle with perfectionism and selfishness. 


Mr. N is a run-down novelist, a bygone in the literary world. He published his last book, Asking at Midnight, nearly 20 years ago. The success of this book made people refer to him as the wonder boy, but it’s a thing of the past now. In the present day, Mr. N, a middle-aged man, has turned into a hikikomori. He doesn’t step out of his house much and had been destitute. His latest draft, ‘From the Shores of Stupor,’ a murder novel, isn’t getting attention from his editor, Mr. S. Because of his reclusive lifestyle, he’s often subjected to gossip from the neighborhood ladies.

Spoilers Ahead 


Why Do The Characters Have Single-Lettered Names? 

Another theme worth noticing about this story is that none of the characters are referred to by a name. Instead, all of these people have a single-letter name, including Mr. N. It seems that this might be a motif in this episode to highlight N’s reclusiveness amidst his perfectionism. Being unable to reclaim his name as a novelist, N blames his writer’s block on his perfectionist attitude. He believes that people do not want to understand his thought process as a writer. Because of this, he’s been depressed and has become detached from the people around him. He doesn’t even bother to learn their names and therefore knows them by their initials. 

How Does N Meet The Elf? 

Lost in his thoughts about his miserable life, he finds himself drinking beer while sitting at a bench in a park. He realizes that his perfectionism derives from his feelings of inferiority and that he has no right to look down on anyone. He was born with the curse of creativity which often made him think of himself as special. In this moment, he accepts humility, which he has learned the hard way. In the story, this humility is what led the elves to the shoemaker. Similarly, N is approached by an elf resembling a young girl when he tears his manuscript up and throws it away. Assuming the elf to be a kid, he asks her to go home. However, the Elf analyzes his manuscript and points out all the flaws in his writing, further humiliating N. She chides him for being a disappointing person with a pessimistic attitude. It appears that this elf used her powers to change the words of the draft. 


How Does N’s Draft Become Widely Accepted? 

N returns home and passes out on his desk. He wakes up to find a fresh draft of a short novel called ‘Self-introduction’ (Jikoushoukai) on the desk. N has no recollection of writing this the previous night, but recognizing his handwriting, it is evident that he wrote it. The draft has been written in the language that he prefers to use as well. As for the plot, he didn’t particularly like it. Perhaps he felt that it was pandering to the masses, which he didn’t like to do as a writer. Regardless, he ends up mailing this manuscript to his editor in an act of desperation. 

A few days later, his editor, Mr. S, shows up at N’s doorstep, asking to publish Self-introduction. S claims that Self-introduction is definitely going to make a buzz, and it’d be perfect for N’s comeback as a novelist. As expected, Self-introduction makes headlines, and various publishing companies swarm N’s doorsteps to publish his next work. 


Why Doesn’t Mr. N Like His Success? 

N’s newfound success isn’t met with enthusiasm. He doesn’t seem too happy about his work. As stated earlier, Mr. N has a perfectionist attitude when it comes to his creative process. Even though this manuscript has brought him success and popularity, his sense of morality has been causing him a conundrum. He cannot shake off the thought that Self-introduction is not his work at all, as he has no memory of writing it. As a man in a creative field, N wants to be known for his own hard work, but self-introduction couldn’t suffice. To clear up the misunderstandings, he even comes clean to his editors, but instead they assume that N is only being humble. 

Why Does N Accept His Fame? 

After the success of Self-introduction, he tries writing a collection of short stories by himself, but when he submits the manuscript, his editor is disappointed, calling the work below average. Being adamant, N approaches B, a competitor of Mr. S, but even B turns down the manuscript, calling it a dream with no punchline. Depressed, N gets drunk and breaks down on a call with Mr. S, once again calling his work plagiarism. The next day, a concerned Mr. S shows up at N’s house, fearing self-harm. However, S finds the manuscript for a new book, called ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker,’ on Mr. N’s desk. N goes through the same emotions that he felt at the time Self-introduction had become a success. Quite similarly, this new book too becomes critically acclaimed, and N once again becomes a popular novelist. Finding no logical explanation about how he came up with this book, he gives up and accepts that he indeed has written this book. He tells himself that the novel isn’t that bad and starts to embrace this truth. 


What Happens To N In The End? 

Mr. N proceeds to publish five novels in the same way. He never has any recollection of writing these books, but they end up on his desk. As for N, the financial success of so many books has made him quite rich, and he has accepted this lifestyle too. He no longer seems fazed by the moral dilemma he once had. While returning from a party in an intoxicated state, N stumbles upon the neighborhood where he once lived. He walks by his previous house and is shocked to see a picture of himself writing a novel. It was probably a reflection of his younger self, conjured by the elf to make him think about his life. Seeing his own figure, N panics and finds himself at the park, where he meets the elf once again. The Elf asks N if he has been writing his novel, to which N says that he has quite a few novels due. The Elf, then, questions him if he has actually written those novels. N, knowing that it was never him who wrote these books, is unable to answer.  

The Elf helped him write all these novels so that he could have the resources to work on his original book, ‘From the Shores of Stupor.’ However, N used all the money and fame to spend on a lavish lifestyle. He got distracted by the riches and never completed the one thing he was passionate about. Instead, he gave in to greed and got corrupted. N thought of himself as a perfectionist once, but now he has become the very creature he disliked. Before bidding farewell, the elf reveals that her interest was only in N’s novel. 


In the morning, N returns home to his wife and their baby and begins rewriting ‘From the Shores of Stupor.’ He eventually finishes the book and has it published, celebrating this achievement amongst a seemingly small group of friends he has. It is only later revealed that this entire sequence of him rewriting his book was a dream. He wakes up on a bench in the same park as an old man. In his pocket, N finds a manuscript of his book. Having never finished his book, N dies alone on a bench in the very park where he met the elf. 

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Shrey Ashley Philip
Shrey Ashley Philip
A teacher, photographer, linguist, and songwriter, Shrey started out as a Biotechnology graduate, but shifted to studying Japanese. Now he talks about movies, advocates for ADHD awareness, and embraces Albert Camus.

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