Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Obscure Fairy Tale: The Seven Ravens

Since a number of you seemed to like last week's brother-to-bird tale, The Six Swans, and since AnnaDee made a special request, I thought I'd follow up with another, The Seven Ravens, which is actually my favorite of the sibling-to-fowl genre. Without further ado...

The Seven Ravens (from the Brothers Grimm)

Once upon a time... a man has seven sons and wishes for a daughter. When she's finally born, he sends his sons to the well for water for her baptism.

Really tempted to make a "how many fairy-tale characters does it take to screw in a lightbulb" joke here. Must resist.

The sons accidentally drop the jug into the well.

Every time I read a fairy tale like this, I am grateful for indoor plumbing. Seriously, how many times in fairy tales are people dropping things down wells, climbing down wells, falling down wells...? Those things are hazardous.

The sons are afraid to return home without the water. Meanwhile, the father grows impatient and shouts, "I wish they were all turned into ravens!"

I never think to say anything like this. Sure, I grumble when I'm annoyed, but it never occurs to me to curse someone with a totally random transformation. "You, sir, failed to stop at that red light! May you turn into a manatee!"

A few seconds later, seven ravens fly overhead.

Talk about an "uh-oh" moment.

The girl grows up without knowing about her brothers until she overhears someone say that she is to blame for their fate. She asks her parents to explain, and they tell her the truth.

Now that must have been an awkward conversation.

She sets out to rescue her brothers, taking only some food, water, and a little ring.

Douglas Adams would also recommend taking a towel. I'd recommend a change of underwear. And a toothbrush.

She walks to the end of the world where she visits the sun, but he's cruel and likes to eat people so she flees from him.

Sensible girl.

She visits the moon, who is also wicked, and flees from him.

The thing I love about this story is that there's a whole cool kick-butt adventure implied in that simple action. I mean, evil moon! Awesome! I'm picturing snowmobiles and leaping from airplanes with the yawning maw of the moon closing in behind her...

Then she visits the stars, who are kind to her. The morning star gives her a drumstick and tells her to use it as the key to the glass mountain where her brothers live.

What are they doing in a glass mountain? How did they get there? Why would a bone open the door? Why does a star have such a bone? How does a star hand her anything without opposable thumbs? Just askin'.

She journeys to the glass mountain, but when she arrives, she discovers that she's lost the drumstick.

This is the other thing that I really love about this tale: she's lost the magic item. I think that's totally plausible. It makes me think of those fantasy novels where there's a sixteen stanza prophecy stated once about three thousand miles before the finale and yet somehow the hero remembers every single line. I'd totally blank.

So she cuts off her little finger and uses it as a key.

Gross, yet strangely awesome. You go, girl. Way to commit to a rescue. On the other hand, if all that's needed is a bone, I think I'd head back to town and fetch me a chicken leg.

Inside the glass mountain, she finds a table with seven plates and seven glasses. She drops her ring into the last glass, and she hides.

I love a sensible heroine. In other fairy tales, there are ogres and giants and robbers and so forth in such locales. She doesn't know what she's going to find. Her precaution is admirable. Also, remember she's never met her brothers. It's possible that they're, y'know, evil. The ring makes a good test.

Soon after, she hears a flurry of wings. Seven ravens sit down at the table to eat. The seventh raven discovers the ring and says, "Someone is here! If only it were our sister, then we would be free!"

Um, why? Why would this set you free? Who is holding you? Did the father issue a caveat with the curse? I mean, I shouldn't complain. It's very nice for poetic reasons, but who made the rules? And why would anyone utter such stilted dialogue?

She emerges from her hiding place, the ravens are restored to human form, and everyone lives happily ever after.

For once, I actually believe this really is a happily ever after. I hope they get to keep the Glass Mountain. That would make a sweet summer-home...

For more obscure fairy tales (with commentary), check out the Obscure Fairy Tales page of my website, where I've gathered links to all my prior fairy tale posts.



At 1:32 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

These Obscure Fairy Tales make my day every time they appear. Thank you for the giggles. :)

At 6:37 AM, Blogger tanita✿davis said...

Okay, so I thought there was a DRUMSTICK. As in, drumming. And when she was able to exchange that for a fingerbone, I felt slightly faint. Eew.

Maybe only parents can casually curse in that way. If you had four kids, you *could* turn people into manatees...

At 2:49 PM, Blogger Q said...

I am totally going to curse someone with a manatee transformation someday.

And why does she have to cut off her finger? Couldn't she just stick it in the keyhole?

At 3:05 PM, Blogger Anne Leigh said...

Oh I am SO trying to curse some one into a manitee >D

Wheres the mother in all this?! Isn't she afraid? Isn't she worried? Isn't she going to defend her daughter? Why hasn't anyone looked for them? Whats with the parents in fairy tales :-P

At 9:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"How many characters does it take to screw in a light bulb?"?!?!
You are so hilarious, Sarah. :D
PS Love ITW. Julie is so cooler than Bella!

At 12:17 PM, Blogger Delaney said...

Yeah, fairy tale parents (especially fathers) are always so horribly inconsiderate, sending their daughters off to marry bears (East of the Sun, West of the Moon), locking them up (Maid Maleen), marrying cruel queens.

And of course there's the multitude of wicked stepmothers.

At 12:54 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Belgatherial: That's lovely to hear! I'm convinced giggling is good for one's health. :)

TadMack: Yeah, drumstick as in bone. Definitely ew.

Q: I always assumed it needed to be de-fleshed. (There must be a word for that...)

SavyLeartist: Good luck with the manatee curse. Let me know how it goes. The world could use more manatees. :) Good question about the mom.

Anonymous: *blush* Thanks!!

Delaney: Not exactly models of good parenting. Have you read Juniper Tree? That's a family with real issues...

At 11:45 PM, Blogger Delaney said...

Yes, I read it on your blog. It's a strange tale, to say the least. That night I went to some get-together with some families from our church and told the teenagers there about The Juniper Tree. (And I wonder why I have a hard time making friends with people my age... )

At 8:38 PM, Blogger AnnaDee said...

thanks so much for posting the story! i really had never heard it before.(heh, they don't call them 'obscure' for nothing!)

and i agree! parents in fairy tales allways seem to have isues...i mean, honestly. so what if the kid's late! do you really need to curse him? and maybe theres a reason the boys were afraid to go home without that water...shiver!
still, i think i'd make a great story to have a fairy-tale thereapist who gets the side of the story from madem gothle(rapunsle) snow white stepmommy, cinderella's stepmomma, gretle and hansle's mom and pop, rumplestitlskin, ect. they must have reasons!

At 8:52 PM, Blogger AnnaDee said...

oh,i have the answer to your joke/riddle
'how many fairy-tale characters does it take to screw in a lightbulb?'
all of them, plus julie.
because they're all wrapped up in the wild in their own stories anyway, and julie's the only one who brought a spare to the wild in the first place.
eh, i know its not funny. still!

At 8:45 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

AnnaDee: Glad you liked it! Thanks for requesting it. I think you're right that the sons must have had a reason. He should see our fairy-tale therapist.

Love the joke. :)

At 11:16 PM, Blogger Saints and Spinners said...

I tried to even this story out a bit in order to tell it to an audience in a way that would make sense. With the list of items (including a chair, which I assume was a small, portable stool), I included the knife with which to cut off the finger. So, I had a nice, smooth, somewhat sequentially logical story all ready-- and then it just didn't have the lively spark that the rougher version had.

These days, I'm falling back on the "because that's the way the story goes" reasoning more and more.

At 11:44 PM, Blogger Saints and Spinners said...

P.S. I have a request to put in for an obscure fairy tale, if you will. Either the Baba Yaga and the Girl with the Kind Heart story (as retold by Arthur Ransome) or the Baba Yaga and Vasalisa the Brave story. The former one has more cool talking items and magical charms, but if any inspire you, I'd love to read your annotations.

At 10:50 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth Durst said...

Alkelda the Gleeful: Ooh, I love both those Baba Yaga tales!

At 10:25 PM, Anonymous Joseph Alexander said...

I would interpret the Seven Ravens as a form of spiritual metaphor. Her brothers, the seven ravens refer to the seven chakras, (which symbolize our connection to the physical world), They disappear on the birth of the daughter as she represents the crown chakra or higher consciousness. Basically, she spends the rest of her time trying to ground her new found higher consciousness. The sun and moon are well known in eastern philosophy as symbols of the two meridians, Ida(moon) and (Pingala) sun, and so on.

At 7:10 PM, Blogger Mads said...

Even if a fairy tale is obscure, that doesn't imply that some interpretation of it should be obscure. In western philosophy, a different term has proved itself useful:
Occam's razor.


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