The drummer – a data visualization bedtime story

Grimm's Fairy Tales


On the top of the mountain was a plain. There stood an old stone house, and in front of the house lay a great fish-pond, but behind it was a dark forest. He saw neither men nor animals, everything was quiet; only the wind rustled among the trees, and the clouds moved by quite close above his head.

He went to the door and knocked. When he had knocked for the third time, an old woman with a brown face and red eyes opened the door. She had spectacles on her long nose, and looked sharply at him; then she asked what he wanted. “Entrance, food, and a bed for the night,” replied the drummer. “That thou shalt have,” said the old woman, “if thou wilt perform three services in return.” “Why not?” he answered, “I am not afraid of any kind of work, however hard it may be.”

The old woman let him go in, and gave him some food and a good bed at night. The next morning when he had had his sleep out, she took a thimble from her wrinkled finger, reached it to the drummer, and said, “Go to work now, and empty out the pond with this thimble; but thou must have it done before night, and must have sought out all the fishes which are in the water and laid them side by side, according to their kind and size.” “That is strange work,” said the drummer, but he went to the pond, and began to empty it.

He bailed the whole morning; but what can any one do to a great lake with a thimble, even if he were to bail for a thousand years? When it was noon, he thought, “It is all useless, and whether I work or not it will come to the same thing.” So he gave it up and sat down.


Stay here, said the maiden, I will help you out of your difficulty. You are tired, lay your head in my lap, and sleep. When you awake again, your work will be done. The drummer did not need to be told that twice. As soon as his eyes were shut, she turned a wishing-ring and said, rise, water. Fishes, come out. Instantly the water rose on high like a white mist, and moved away with the other clouds, and the fishes sprang on the shore and laid themselves side by side each according to his size and kind. When the drummer awoke, he saw with amazement that all was done.


This was one of my favorite Brothers Grimm bedtime stories when I was a kid. I still like it. And the drummer looks a lot like you and me. Like him, we have our great fish-ponds of data. Like him, we have clueless managers, impossible deadlines, the wrong tools and the wrong training. We try hard and sometimes we fail. And yes, I like to see data visualization as a beautiful maiden that will help me seek out all the fishes in my pounds of data.