“The Juniper Tree” by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

This is another one of the Grimms’ tales that I hadn’t heard before and it’s really no wonder, part of it is downright gruesome. The illustration above is by Louis Rhead from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Stories and Tales of Elves, Goblins, and Fairies (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1917).

The story opens with a rich, childless couple who love each other dearly. One winter, while the woman is pairing apples underneath the juniper tree in their courtyard, she cuts herself. When she sees the blood on the snow she wishes for a child “as red as blood and as white as snow,” and immediately she feels happy and knows that she will have a child. Months pass and eventually she has a baby boy and then she dies.

Father eventually remarries and, surprise surprise, the new wife turns into an evil stepmother who sees the boy as the only obstacle between her daughter and the fortune. She ends up killing the boy, cutting his head off with the lid of the apple chest when he reaches in to get an apple. Yeah, she blames the Devil for putting the idea in her head, but we know the truth, don’t we? She sets it up so that the blame will fall on her daughter, who then has to help Mother cover up the crime. They tell the father that the boy went to stay with relatives. Mother proceeds to chop up the boy’s body and cooks him into black puddings, or stew depending on the version you’re reading, which the father then devours. How screwed up is that?

The girl buries the boy’s bones beneath the juniper tree and a bird appears magically.

“My mother she killed me,
My father he ate me,
My sister, little Marlinchen,
Gathered together all my bones,
Tied them in a silken handkerchief,
Laid them beneath the juniper-tree,
Kywitt, kywitt, what a beautiful bird am I!”

The bird sings his song to various villagers, collecting a gold chain, a pair of shoes and a millstone. Eventually the bird kills the stepmother with the millstone, and then in a blur of smoke and flames the boy reappears and the three go happily back into the house and eat dinner.

I don’t even know what to say about this one. We’ve got the evil step-mother again, this time dragging her daughter into the scheme with her. I know we’ve seen people turned into birds before and a tree was important in at least one version of Cinderella. It’s funny how much different tales have in common, isn’t it? I do like that once again, the evil character gets what she deserve. It is so often a “she” who’s the villain, though, but it’s thanks to the sister that the boy is saved, so maybe that evens out. At least in this story, the father’s not absent. He wonders why the boy left without saying goodbye.

I guess the part of this one that was really disturbing was the whole cutting the boy up and serving him for dinner. That’s just sick. Makes for a good creepy story though.

If you want to read this ghastly tale for yourself this Halloween weekend, you can find it here and at SurLaLune Fairy Tales.

Tif, from Tif Talks Books, is the hostess of this great feature, Fairy Tale Fridays. Head over there later today to see her take on “The Juniper Tree” and to share your own thoughts. Next week is a Fairy Tale Food and Fun Theme. I’m not sure what that means. We’ll have to wait and see.


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