Obscure Fairy Tale: The Juniper Tree
Eeks -- it's been ages since I last told you guys about an obscure fairy tale. As those of you who have been reading along know (hi, Dad!), I've been retelling some of the random fairy tales that I ran across while doing research for INTO THE WILD. There are tons of bizarre stories out there that I think deserve their day in the sun. Since it's been so long since my last tale, I'm going to give you guys a real doozy: The Juniper Tree. This disturbing little ditty has the dubious distinction of being the one fairy tale that has actually given me nightmares. It does NOT appear in INTO THE WILD.
The Juniper Tree (from the Brothers Grimm)
A woman desperately wants a child. One day, as she pares an apple while standing beneath a juniper tree, she cuts her finger and blood falls on the snow. She says, "If I had but a child as red as blood and as white as snow!"
Talk about an odd request. Most people would wish for a healthy baby or perhaps a boy or a girl. No, she wants a red and white kid. And notice that she doesn't specify which body parts. (In Snow White, the woman is much more specific: she wants a child with black hair, white skin, and red lips.) This seems to me a recipe for disaster. I really thought the kid would turn out polka-dotted.
Nine months later, the woman gives birth to a boy and is so delighted that she dies. Her grieving husband buries her beneath the juniper tree.
"So delighted that she dies"?!? (Note: I'm quoting this phrase directly from Grimm.) There are lots of things that can go wrong in childbirth. Do pregnant women really need to start worrying about being too happy? They don't mention that in "What To Expect When You're Expecting."
Eventually, the man remarries, and his second wife hates the first wife's child. She thinks that he stands in the way of her beloved daughter inheriting the man's fortune. One day, she offers the boy an apple from a chest with a very heavy lid.
Who keeps apples in chests with heavy lids? What's wrong with a nice fruit bowl?
When the boy stoops over to pick out an apple, she slams the lid down on his neck. His head flies off and lands in the apples.
Eww! Did I really need that image in my head?
The woman is terrified that someone will think that she did it. So she finds a white handkerchief, sticks the boy's head back on his neck, and wraps the handkerchief around the wound. Then she props him up by the front door and sticks an apple in his hand. Later, her daughter Marlinchen comes and says, "Mother, my brother is by the door looking really white. I asked him for his apple, and he wouldn't answer me." The woman tells her to go ask him again, and if he doesn't answer, to box his ears. So the girl obeys, hits her brother on the ear, and his head falls off.
Years of psychotherapy for this girl. Frankly, I think what the mother did to her daughter is almost worse than what she did to her stepson.
The girl runs to her mother who says, "What have you done?" Her mother says they need to hide what she's done, so she chops up the body and turns him into black pudding.
Anyone seen "Fried Green Tomatoes"?
When the boy's father comes home, his wife says that the boy has gone to visit some relatives, and then she serves him the black pudding. The girl sobs throughout the meal, but the father gobbles up every bite with gusto.
How about "Soylent Green"?
After dinner, the girl buries her brother's bones in a silk handkerchief under the juniper tree and weeps tears of blood. Then the tree quivers and a beautiful bird flies out, and suddenly Marlinchen feels comforted.
Personally, I think she should be worried about those tears of blood. I'm not a doctor, but that can't be good.
The bird flies to a goldsmith's house and sings: "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!"
Catchy little jingle.
The goldsmith cries, "What a beautiful song! Sing it again!"
Beautiful? Was he listening? Maybe the bird sang it in bird language, and the Grimms are translating for us.
The bird says he'll sing it again in exchange for a gold necklace. The goldsmith gives him the necklace, and he sings again.
There goes the translation theory. Maybe he's just not the sort of guy who listens to lyrics.
Next, the bird flies to a shoemaker's house and sings the same song. The shoemaker cries, "What a beautiful song! Sing it again!" The bird says he'll sing it again in exchange for a pair of red shoes. The shoemaker gives him the shoes, and he sings again. Lastly, he goes to a mill and sings the song. The millers give him a millstone in exchange for an encore. The bird puts the millstone around his neck like a collar and flies home.
Perched in the juniper tree, the bird sings, "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 father runs outside to hear the bird, and the bird drops the gold necklace down on him. He is elated. The sister runs outside to hear the bird, and he drops the red shoes down on her. She is elated. The stepmother runs outside to hear the bird, and the bird drops the millstone down on her and kills her.
Can't really complain about the justice here, though the millstone seems an odd choice.
Then smoke and flames rise from the juniper tree, and suddenly, the boy stands there alive and well. The father, the girl, and the boy join hands, go inside, and have dinner.
Dinner? Dinner?!? After all that, they're feeling peckish? And isn't anyone going to do anything about the dead body on the lawn??
See, I told you this one was disturbing. If you'd like to read a less disturbing obscure fairy tale, check out Molly Whuppie, Tatterhood, Jack My Hedgehog, or The Wishing Table.
Labels: Obscure Fairy Tales