The Elves and the Cobbler or The Shoemaker and the Elves is an often copied and re-made 1806 story about a poor shoemaker who receives much-needed help from elves.
The original story is the first of three fairy tales, contained as entry 39 in the German Grimm’s Fairy Tales under the common title “Die Wichtelmänner”. In her translation of 1884 Margaret Hunt chose The Elves as title for these three stories.
It is Aarne-Thompson type 503*: Helpful Elves. It is also a migratory legend, type 7015.
There are variations depending on the rendition of the story. A poor shoemaker and his wife need money to pay the rent. He gives away the last pair of shoes he has to a needy lady. He has leather to make one more pair of shoes. Elves come in the night and make a pair of shoes which he sells for more than his asking price the next day. He uses that money to pay the rent, buy food and more shoe leather. He feeds a poor traveller. The elves come the next night and make 2 pairs of shoes with the additional leather. He gives away one pair to a needy person and sells the other pair to a referral from the first customer who is immensely satisfied. He buys leather for 3 shoes, and stays up to find the elves making the shoes. The shoemaker and wife make clothes for the elves the next day, but the elves are lifted from their obligation when given clothes, so the elves leave, and the shoemaker and his wife never see them again.
Tex Avery adapted the story for his 1950 MGM cartoon short The Peachy Cobbler.
The 1956 Looney Tunes cartoon short Yankee Dood It, is based on this fairy tale, with Elmer Fudd as the King of industrial Elves. 150 years after this fairy tale took place, he visits the shoemaker to retrieve the elves he has employed, while also imparting the virtues of mass production capitalism to him.
In the Due South episode, “The Deal”, Det. Ray Vecchio vaguely recollects this story when discussing a poor cobbler with his partner, Constable Fraser.
In Cinderella: From Fabletown With Love, a spinoff miniseries of the Vertigo comic-book series Fables, the shoemaker appears as an employee in Cinderella’s shoe store, while the elves are the builders and suppliers of the store’s inventory.
Muppet Classic Theater had a version where a shoemaker (Kermit the frog) faces ruin until his livelihood is saved by a group of philanthropic entertainers (The Elvises) who, naturally, make only blue suede shoes.