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The Juniper Tree: A Grimm Fairy Tale

Grimm Brothers, Stepmothers

My own copy of “The Juniper Tree” is an anonymous English translation published by Barnes and Noble in a book called “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” In this translation, the plot of “The Juniper Tree” differs from the original work of the Grimm brothers. It omits the involuntary cannibalism of the father. As a result, the translator had to make other changes. For example, he radically altered the contents of the bird’s song. In the following summary, I followed the original plot.

A pious woman prayed earnestly for a son and daughter, but for a long time she had no children. One winter day she was peeling an apple under a juniper tree that grew in the yard. She cut herself, and a drop of blood fell on the snow.

As she viewed the resulting scene, she earnestly wished for a child whose colors were as red as blood and as white as snow.

After nine months had passed, she bore a son. When she saw that he was as red as blood and as white as snow, her rapturous ecstasy was so great that she died. She had asked her husband to bury her under the juniper tree if she died, and her husband respected her wish.

The husband remarried, and his new wife gave birth to a daughter named Marline. Most stepmothers are evil in the fairy tales of Grimm, and this one was no exception. She loved her daughter and wanted her to inherit the fortune of her wealthy husband. Since her stepson was the legitimate heir, Satan filled her soul with aversion for the lad.

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One day, when the son came home from school, his stepmother asked him if he wanted an apple. She opened a large chest in which apples were stored, and she told the boy to reach in and get one. As soon as he stuck his head in to look, the stepmother slammed the box shut, thereby decapitating the lad.

To hide her evil deed from the kind-hearted Marline, she set the boy on a chair, put his head back on his body, and put an apple in his hand. She tied a handkerchief around his neck so the wound would not be noticeable.

Shortly thereafter, Marline said she was frightened because she had asked her brother for the apple that he was holding, but he did not answer her. Her mother told her to ask again. If he did not respond, she should hit him on the ear.

When the little girl did as her mother suggested, the boy’s head fell off. With tears in her eyes, she ran and told her mother what had happened.

The stepmother then used the mortal remains of the dead boy as an ingredient in the dish that she prepared for the evening meal. She served this Thyestian feast to her husband when he came home.

The father noticed the absence of his son and asked where he was. His wife said that the boy had asked permission to go to a place called Mütten and would be gone for six months. He expressed disappointment that the boy had not said goodbye to him before leaving, but he did not suspect any foul play.

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All the while, Marline was crying uncontrollably. Her father comforted her, assuring her that her brother would soon return.

Marline gathered her brother’s bones, put them in a silk cloth, and laid them under the juniper tree. Suddenly the tree seemed to move, and a fiery mist rose from the tree. A lovely bird emerged from the mist and flew away. Her brother’s bones had disappeared.

Marline was happy. It seemed to her that her brother was still alive.

The bird flew to the house of a goldsmith and with a lovely voice he sang a song that revealed how he was killed by his mother and eaten by his father. It also revealed how his sister Marline had cared for his bones.

The goldsmith enjoyed the song and asked the bird to repeat it. The bird promised to do so, if the goldsmith would give him a gold chain that he happened to have with him.

The bird then flew to the house of a shoemaker. Still later he approached a mill where the miller’s twenty men were working. In each case, he sang the same song once but repeated his melody only after he received a gift. From the shoemaker, the bird received a pair of red shoes. From the miller’s twenty men, he received a heavy millstone.

The bird then approached the home of Marline and repeated the song. The family happened to be eating dinner. When the bird repeated the song, the father was delighted; the guilty stepmother was frightened; Marline began to cry.

The father went out to investigate. The bird dropped the gold chain around his neck.

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Marline decided to go out to see if the bird would give her something. The bird gave her the red shoes.

Finally, the frightened stepmother ventured to go outside.. The bird dropped the heavy millstone on her head, and she perished.

When the father and Marline heard the noise, they came out of the house once more. They beheld smoke and fire, and finally the dead son appeared, alive and well.

(In some versions, the tree is an almond instead of a juniper. In fact, while the translation in my book regularly calls it a juniper, I noticed one instance in which it is inconsistently called an almond.)


Wikisource: Von dem Machandelboom


“Grimm’s Fairy Tales”; Translation anonymous; Introduction and notes by Elizabeth Dalton

Wikipedia: Von dem Machandelboom