Thursday’s Tale: The Seven Ravens

Rackham - The Seven Ravens

Today’s tale, “The Seven Ravens,” is another from the Brothers Grimm. In several ways it’s a typical fairy tale. We have some boys who are turned into birds and a youngest sibling who becomes the heroine.

A peasant has seven sons and no daughter. Finally a daughter is born, but is sickly. The father sends his sons to fetch water for her to be baptized, but in their haste, they drop the jug in the well. When they did not return, their father thinks that they had had gone off to play and, frightened the girl will dies without being baptized, curses them and so they turn into ravens.

The sister actually gets better, growing up strong and beautiful, but her brothers are kept a secret from her. Eventually she finds out and feels like she is to blame for their fate, so she sets out  to find them. She attempts to get help first from the sun, who is to hot and eats children, then the moon, who is too cold and awful, and then finally the stars. That’s a bit unusual for a Grimm tale, asking for help from the sun and moon. Usually help comes from another person or creature. The morning star helps her by giving her a chicken bone and tells her she will need it to save her brothers, who are imprisoned in the Glass Mountain. When she gets to the mountain, she discovers she has lost the bone and has to chop off a finger to use as a key. She goes into the mountain, where a dwarf tells her that lord ravents will return shortly. She takes some of their food and drink and leaves in the last cup a ring from home.

When her brothers return, she hides. They ask what human has who has been eating their food. The seventh raven finds the ring, and hopes it is their sister, in which case they are saved. She emerges and the brothers become human again. They all head joyfully home.

Adam Gidwitz, author of A Tale Dark and Grimm, has an interesting insight into this story that he shares in an inaterview with the Huffington Post. “But what this solution does for the reader is that it takes all the guilt the girl was feeling–about the transformation of her brothers, about the lost chicken bone–into blood. It turns emotional pain into physical pain. It turns tears into blood. But why is this good? Because every child has cut himself. Every child has been bruised or bled. And so every child knows that the blood stops eventually, the wound scabs over, the bruise yellows and fades. Fairy tale violence teaches the child that emotional wounds heal. That salty tears dry. That no matter the pain, victory is possible.”

Is it any wonder we love fairy tales, especially the originals, the ones with the terror and pain, the dangers and blood? They help us learn to cope, I think, and give us hope. Even if we feel powerless or overwhelmed, just buck up and head out and hope for help along. I think we all have a quest, maybe not as huge as this young woman’s, but a mission nonetheless, and it will probably take perseverence and sacrifice before we get to our happy ending.

You can read the story several places on-line, including here.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.

This was my seventh short story for R.I.P. VII, a reading event embracing the ghastly and ghostly, mysterious and grim. R.I.P. VII is hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings.

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