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The Juniper Tree
Grimm Märchen

The Juniper Tree - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 20 min

Attention: This is a scary story.

Long time ago, perhaps as much as two thousand years, there was a rich man, and he had a beautiful and pious wife, and they loved each other very much, and they had no children, though they wished greatly for some, and the wife prayed for one day and night. Now, in the courtyard in front of their house stood an almond tree. And one day in winter the wife was standing beneath it, and paring an apple, and as she pared it she cut her finger, and the blood fell upon the snow.

„Ah,“ said the woman, sighing deeply, and looking down at the blood, „if only I could have a child as red as blood, and as white as snow!“ And as she said these words, her heart suddenly grew light, and she felt sure she should have her wish. So she went back to the house, and when a month had passed the snow was gone. In two months everything was green. In three months the flowers sprang out of the earth. In four months the trees were in full leaf, and the branches were thickly entwined.

The little birds began to sing, so that the woods echoed, and the blossoms fell from the trees. When the fifth month had passed the wife stood under the almond tree, and it smelt so sweet that her heart leaped within her, and she fell on her knees for joy. And when the sixth month had gone, the fruit was thick and fine, and she remained still. And the seventh month she gathered the almonds, and ate them eagerly, and was sick and sorrowful. And when the eighth month had passed she called to her husband, and said, weeping, „If I die, bury me under the almond tree.“

Then she was comforted and happy until the ninth month had passed, and then she bore a child as white as snow and as red as blood, and when she saw it her joy was so great that she died. Her husband buried her under the almond tree, and he wept sore. Time passed, and he became less sad. And after he had grieved a little more he left off, and then he took another wife. His second wife bore him a daughter, and his first wife’s child was a son, as red as blood and as white as snow.

Whenever the wife looked at her daughter she felt great love for her, but whenever she looked at the little boy, evil thoughts came into her heart, of how she could get all her husband’s money for her daughter, and how the boy stood in the way. And so she took great hatred to him, and drove him from one corner to another, and gave him a buffet here and a cuff there, so that the poor child was always in disgrace. When he came back after school hours there was no peace for him. Once, when the wife went into the room upstairs, her little daughter followed her, and said, „Mother, give me an apple.“

„Yes, my child,“ said the mother, and gave her a fine apple out of the chest, and the chest had a great heavy lid with a strong iron lock. „Mother,“ said the little girl, „shall not my brother have one too?“ That was what the mother expected, and she said, „Yes, when he comes back from school.“ And when she saw from the window that he was coming, an evil thought crossed her mind, and she snatched the apple, and took it from her little daughter, saying, „You shall not have it before your brother.“ Then she threw the apple into the chest, and shut to the lid.

Then the little boy came in at the door, and she said to him in a kind tone, but with evil looks, „My son, will you have an apple?“ – „Mother,“ said the boy, „how terrible you look! yes, give me an apple!“ Then she spoke as kindly as before, holding up the cover of the chest, „Come here and take out one for yourself.“ And as the boy was stooping over the open chest, crash went the lid down, so that his head flew off among the red apples. But then the woman felt great terror, and wondered how she could escape the blame.

And she went to the chest of drawers in her bedroom and took a white handkerchief out of the nearest drawer, and fitting the head to the neck, she bound them with the handkerchief, so that nothing should be seen, and set him on a chair before the door with the apple in his hand. Then came little Marjory into the kitchen to her mother, who was standing before the fire stirring a pot of hot water. „Mother,“ said Marjory, „my brother is sitting before the door and he has an apple in his hand, and looks very pale. I asked him to give me the apple, but he did not answer me. It seems very strange.“

„Go again to him,“ said the mother, „and if he will not answer you, give him a box on the ear.“ So Marjory went again and said, „Brother, give me the apple.“ But as he took no notice, she gave him a box on the ear, and his head fell off, at which she was greatly terrified, and began to cry and scream, and ran to her mother, and said, „O mother.1 I have knocked my brother’s head off!“ and cried and screamed, and would not cease. „O Marjory!“ said her mother, „what have you done? but keep quiet, that no one may see there is anything the matter. It can’t be helped now. We will put him out of the way safely.“

When the father came home and sat down to table, he said, „Where is my son?“ But the mother was filling a great dish full of black broth, and Marjory was crying bitterly, for she could not refrain. Then the father said again, „Where is my son?“ – „Oh,“ said the mother, „he is gone into the country to his great-uncle’s to stay for a little while.“ – „What should he go for?“ said the father, „and without bidding me good-bye, too!“ – „Oh, he wanted to go so much, and he asked me to let him stay there six weeks. He will be well taken care of.“

„Dear me,“ said the father, „I am quite sad about it. It was not right of him to go without bidding me good-bye.“ With that he began to eat, saying, „Marjory, what are you crying for? Your brother will come back some time.“ After a while he said, „Well, wife, the food is very good. Give me some more.“ And the more he ate the more he wanted, until he had eaten it all up, and be threw the bones under the table. Then Marjory went to her chest of drawers, and took one of her best handkerchiefs from the bottom drawer, and picked up all the bones from under the table and tied them up in her handkerchief, and went out at the door crying bitterly.

She laid them in the green grass under the almond tree, and immediately her heart grew light again, and she wept no more. Then the almond tree began to wave to and fro, and the boughs drew together and then parted, just like a clapping of hands for joy. Then a cloud rose from the tree, and in the midst of the cloud there burned a fire, and out of the fire a beautiful bird arose, and, singing most sweetly, soared high into the air. And when he had flown away, the almond tree remained as it was before, but the handkerchief full of bones was gone. Marjory felt quite glad and light-hearted, just as if her brother were still alive. So she went back merrily into the house and had her dinner. The bird, when it flew away, perched on the roof of a goldsmith’s house, and began to sing,

“It was my mother who murdered me.
It was my father who ate of me.
It was my sister Marjory,
Who all my bones in pieces found.
hem in a handkerchief she bound,
And laid them under the almond tree.
Kywitt, kywitt, kywitt, I cry,
Oh what a beautiful bird am I!“

The goldsmith was sitting in his shop making a golden chain, and when he heard the bird, who was sitting on his roof and singing, he started up to go and look, and as he passed over his threshold he lost one of his slippers. And he went into the middle of the street with a slipper on one foot and-only a sock on the other. With his apron on, and the gold chain in one hand and the pincers in the other. And so he stood in the sunshine looking up at the bird.

„Bird,“ said he. „How beautifully you sing. Do sing that piece over again.“ – „No,“ said the bird, „I do not sing for nothing twice. If you will give me that gold chain I will sing again.“ – „Very well,“ said the goldsmith. „Here is the gold chain. Now do as you said.“ Down came the bird and took the gold chain in his right claw, perched in front of the goldsmith, and sang,

„It was my mother who murdered me.
It was my father who ate of me.
It was my sister Marjory,
Who all my bones in pieces found.
Them in a handkerchief she bound,
And laid them under the almond tree.
Kywitt, kywitt, kywitt, I cry,
Oh what a beautiful bird am I!“

Then the bird flew to a shoemaker’s, and perched on his roof, and sang,

„It was my mother who murdered me.
It was my father who ate of me.
It was my sister Marjory,
Who all my bones in pieces found.
Them in a handkerchief she bound,
And laid them under the almond tree.
Kywitt, kywitt, kywitt, I cry,
Oh what a beautiful bird am I!“

When the shoemaker heard, he ran out of his door in his shirt sleeves and looked up at the roof of his house, holding his hand to shade his eyes from the sun. „Bird,“ said he, „how beautifully you sing!“ Then he called in at his door, „Wife, come out directly. There is a bird singing beautifully. Only listen.“ Then he called his daughter, all his children, and acquaintance, both young men and maidens, and they came up the street and gazed on the bird, and saw how beautiful it was with red and green feathers, and round its throat was as it were gold, and its eyes twinkled in its head like stars.

„Bird,“ said the shoemaker, „do sing that piece over again.“ – „No,“ said the bird, „I may not sing for nothing twice. You must give me something.“ – „Wife,“ said the man. „Go into the shop. On the top shelf stands a pair of red shoes. Bring them here.“ So the wife went and brought the shoes. „Now bird,“ said the man, „sing us that piece again.“ And the bird came down and took the shoes in his left claw, and flew up again to the roof, and sang,

„It was my mother who murdered me.
It was my father who ate of me.
It was my sister Marjory,
Who all my bones in pieces found.
Them in a handkerchief she bound,
And laid them under the almond tree.
Kywitt, kywitt, kywitt, I ciy,
Oh what a beautiful bird am I!“

And when he had finished he flew away, with the chain in his right claw and the shoes in his left claw, and he flew till he reached a mill, and the mill went „clip-clap, clip-clap, clip-clap.“ And in the mill sat twenty millers-men hewing a millstone- „hick-hack, hick-hack, hick-hack,“ while the mill was going „clip-clap, clip-clap, clip-clap.“ And the bird perched on a linden tree that stood in front of the mill, and sang, „It was my mother who murdered me. “ Here one of the men looked up. „It was my father who ate of me.“ Then two more looked up and listened.

„It was my sister Marjory “ Here four more looked up. „Who all my bones in pieces found. Them in a handkerchief she bound,“ Now there were only eight left hewing. „And laid them under the almond tree.“ Now only five. „Kywitt, kywitt, kywitt, I cry,“ Now only one. „Oh what a beautiful bird am I!“ At length the last one left off, and he only heard the end. „Bird,“ said he. „How beautifully you sing. Let me hear it all. Sing that again!“ – „No,“ said the bird, „I may not sing it twice for nothing. If you will give me the millstone I will sing it again.“

„Indeed,“ said the man, „if it belonged to me alone you should have it.“ – „All right,“ said the others, „if he sings again he shall have it.“ Then the bird came down, and all the twenty millers heaved up the stone with poles – „yo! heave-ho! yo! heave-ho!“ and the bird stuck his head through the hole in the middle, and with the millstone round his neck he flew up to the tree and sang:

„It was my mother who murdered me.
It was my father who ate of me.
It was my sister Marjory,
Who all my bones in pieces found.
Them in a handkerchief she bound,
And laid them under the almond tree.
Kywitt, kywitt, kywitt, I cry,
Oh what a beautiful bird am I!“

And when he had finished, he spread his wings,, having in the right claw the chain, and in the left claw the shoes, and round his neck the millstone, and he flew away to his father’s house. In the parlour sat the father, the mother, and Marjory at the table. The father said, „How light-hearted and cheerful I feel.“ – „Nay,“ said the mother, „I feel very low, just as if a great storm were coming.“ But Marjory sat weeping and the bird came flying, and perched on the roof „Oh,“ said the father, „I feel so joyful, and the sun is shining so bright. It is as if I were going to meet with an old friend.“

„Nay,“ said the wife, „I am terrified, my teeth chatter, and there is fire in my veins,“ and she tore open her dress to get air. And Marjory sat in a corner and wept, with her plate before her, until it was quite full of tears. Then the bird perched on the almond tree, and sang, “ It was my mother who murdered me. “ And the mother stopped her ears and hid her eyes, and would neither see nor hear. Nevertheless, the noise of a fearful storm was in her ears, and in her eyes a quivering and burning as of lightning. „It was my father who ate of me.“

„O mother!“ said the-father, „there is a beautiful bird singing so finely, and the sun shines, and everything smells as sweet as cinnamon. “It was my sister Marjory “ Marjory hid her face in her lap and wept, and the father said, „I must go out to see the bird.“ – „Oh do not go!“ said the wife, „I feel as if the house were on fire.“ But the man went out and looked at the bird. „Who all my bones in pieces found. Them in a handkerchief she bound, And laid them under the almond tree. Kywitt, kywitt, kywitt, I cry, Oh what a beautiful bird am I!“

With that the bird let fall the gold chain upon his father’s neck, and it fitted him exactly. So he went indoors and said, „Look what a beautiful chain the bird has given me.“ Then his wife was so terrified that she fell all along on the floor, and her cap came off. Then the bird began again to sing, „It was my mother who murdered me.“ – „Oh,“ groaned the mother, „that I were a thousand fathoms under ground, so as not to be obliged to hear it.“ – „It was my father who ate of me.“ Then the woman lay as if she were dead. „It was my sister Marjory “

„Oh,“ said Marjory, „I will go out, too, and see if the bird will give me anything.“ And so she went. „Who all my bones in pieces found. Them in a handkerchief she bound,“ Then he threw the shoes down to her. „And laid them under the almond tree. Kywitt, kywitt, kywitt, I cry, Oh what a beautiful bird am I !“ And poor Marjory all at once felt happy and joyful, and put on her red shoes, and danced and jumped for joy. „Oh dear,“ said she, „I felt so sad before I went outside, and now my heart is so light! He is a charming bird to have given me a pair of red shoes.“

But the mother’s hair stood on end, and looked like flame, and she said, „Even if the world is coming to an end, I must go out for a little relief.“ Just as she came outside the door, crash went the millstone on her head, and crushed her flat. The father and daughter rushed out, and saw smoke and flames of fire rise up. But when that had gone by, there stood the little brother; and he took his father and Marjory by the hand, and they felt very happy and content, and went indoors, and sat to the table, and had their dinner.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Juniper Tree“

„The Juniper Tree“ is a dark and complex fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, appearing as tale number 47 in their collection „Grimms‘ Fairy Tales“ (Kinder- und Hausmärchen). This tale, which includes elements of magic, murder, and retribution, stands out for its vivid imagery and emotional depth.

The story is set in a time when child mortality was high, and the longing for a child was a common theme in many folktales. The tale begins with a woman wishing for a child while cutting apples beneath a juniper tree. She accidentally cuts her finger, and the blood drops on the snow. The combination of red blood on white snow is a recurring image in many fairy tales, symbolizing purity and fertility. The woman becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son, but dies soon after, leaving the father to remarry.

The new wife is envious of the stepson and desires all the father’s wealth and love for her own daughter. She ends up killing the boy, deceiving her daughter into thinking she killed him, and cooking him into a stew that is then served to his father. The boy’s spirit returns as a beautiful bird, which sings a haunting song about the tragedy that has befallen him. The bird enchants the townspeople, who give it gifts, including a millstone. The bird returns to the family home and drops the millstone on the stepmother, killing her. With her death, the boy is magically restored to life, and the family is reunited.

„The Juniper Tree“ explores themes of jealousy, family bonds, and the power of transformation and rebirth. The tale serves as a cautionary story about the dangers of envy and the potential for redemption and healing. The dark and haunting nature of the story has captured the imagination of readers and continues to be a subject of scholarly discussion and analysis. The story is known for its dark and gruesome elements, which are common in many of the original Brothers Grimm tales. These stories often served as cautionary tales to teach moral lessons or explore universal themes such as love, revenge, and the triumph of good over evil.

The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, were German academics, linguists, and folklorists who collected and published various European folk tales during the 19th century. Their work aimed to preserve the cultural heritage of these stories, which had been passed down orally for generations. Their collection includes many well-known fairy tales such as „Cinderella,“ „Hansel and Gretel,“ „Rapunzel,“ „Snow White,“ and „The Frog Prince.“

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Juniper Tree“

„The Juniper Tree“ is a dark and complex fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, and its themes and motifs have inspired various interpretations. Some possible interpretations include:

Familial relationships and jealousy: One interpretation is that the story highlights the complexity of family relationships, particularly those involving stepparents and stepsiblings. The stepmother’s jealousy of her stepson causes her to act violently towards him, ultimately leading to her own undoing. This theme serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of jealousy and the importance of treating all family members with love and respect. The bond between the boy and his sister, who is deceived into thinking she killed him, endures through the story’s darkest moments. The tale emphasizes the importance of family ties and the possibility of redemption and healing in the face of tragedy.

The power of love and forgiveness: Despite the gruesome events of the story, love and forgiveness ultimately prevail. Marjory’s love for her brother and her actions to honor his memory lead to his transformation into a beautiful bird and his eventual return. This transformation can be seen as a symbol of rebirth and redemption, with the bird representing the brother’s soul finding peace and justice. In this sense, the story teaches the importance of love, compassion, and forgiveness in overcoming even the darkest of circumstances.

The consequences of evil deeds: Another interpretation focuses on the idea that evil deeds will eventually lead to negative consequences. The stepmother’s cruel actions result in her own demise when the bird drops the millstone on her head. This can serve as a reminder that karma or retribution may come to those who commit wicked acts. The tale showcases a stark contrast between the innocence and purity of the boy and the wickedness of the stepmother. The ultimate triumph of good over evil is evident when the stepmother meets her demise, and the boy is restored to life.

The resilience of the human spirit: Despite the tragedy and violence that befall the characters in the story, the human spirit’s resilience is evident. Marjory, although deeply saddened by her brother’s death, finds the strength to honor him and eventually helps bring about justice. This theme can be seen as a message of hope, demonstrating that even in the face of great adversity, strength and perseverance can ultimately triumph. Despite the tragedy that befalls the boy, his spirit endures and transforms into a beautiful bird. This transformation enables him to exact retribution and ultimately return to life, highlighting the themes of resilience and rebirth.

The power of storytelling and song: The bird’s haunting song, which tells the story of the boy’s murder, captivates the townspeople and ultimately leads to the stepmother’s downfall. This underscores the power of storytelling and song as a means of preserving memories and seeking justice. The stepmother’s jealousy and desire for her daughter to have all the father’s wealth and affection drive her to commit horrific acts. The story highlights the destructive power of jealousy and its consequences.

Justice: „The Juniper Tree“ tells the story of a wicked stepmother who kills her stepson, Marjory’s brother, out of jealousy. She tries to hide her crime by convincing Marjory that she accidentally killed her brother and then feeding the boy’s cooked remains to his father. Marjory, devastated by her brother’s death, collects his bones and buries them under the juniper tree in the family’s garden. The boy is then transformed into a bird, which seeks revenge against the stepmother and ultimately restores justice.

These interpretations offer a deeper understanding of the themes and motifs present in „The Juniper Tree.“ The story’s vivid imagery, emotional depth, and complex characters continue to captivate readers and inspire discussions and analyses of its meaning and message.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Juniper Tree“

„The Juniper Tree“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their famous anthology „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ (originally titled „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“). The story was first published in 1812 as part of the first edition of their collection. It is also known as „Von dem Machandelboom“ in German, which translates to „From the Juniper Tree.“ The Tale has inspired various adaptations in different forms of media, although its dark and complex nature makes it less popular for children’s entertainment compared to other Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Some examples of adaptations include:

Films: „The Juniper Tree“ (1990) This Icelandic-American independent film, directed by Nietzchka Keene, is a loose adaptation of the fairy tale. It stars a young Björk in one of her first acting roles. The film takes on a more psychological approach to the story, focusing on the relationships between the characters and the themes of jealousy, grief, and healing. The film tells the story of a young woman named Margit, who takes the place of her brother after he is murdered by their stepmother. The film is a haunting and visually stunning interpretation of the fairy tale.

Opera: „The Juniper Tree“ (1985) Composed by Philip Glass and Robert Moran, this chamber opera explores the dark and haunting aspects of the original tale. The opera has been performed by various companies worldwide, with its powerful music and story capturing the emotional depth of the Grimm fairy tale. The opera features a libretto by Robert Coover and follows the basic plot of the fairy tale.

Literature: Various authors have retold or reimagined „The Juniper Tree“ in anthologies, short story collections, and novels. One example is „My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales,“ an anthology edited by Kate Bernheimer, which includes a retelling of the story by author Timothy Schaffert. „The Juniper Tree“ – a children’s picture book adaptation by the author and illustrator Barbara Cooney. The book features Cooney’s distinctive watercolor illustrations and is a faithful retelling of the original fairy tale. „The Juniper Tree“ – a short story adaptation by the author Lorrie Moore. Moore’s version of the tale is set in modern-day America and features a darkly humorous twist on the original story.

Theater: „The Juniper Tree“ has been adapted for the stage, often as part of a larger production featuring multiple Grimm fairy tales. One example is the 2016 production „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ by London-based theater company The Faction, which included a retelling of „The Juniper Tree“ as one of six stories performed.

Art and Illustration: Various artists have been inspired by „The Juniper Tree“ and have created illustrations, paintings, and other visual art forms that depict scenes or elements from the story. These works often emphasize the dark, haunting aspects of the tale and its vivid imagery. „The Juniper Tree“ (music album) – a musical adaptation by the indie folk band The Decemberists. The album features a collection of songs inspired by the fairy tale and tells a loose narrative that loosely follows the story.

„The Juniper Tree“ is a popular fairy tale that has been adapted and reimagined in various forms of media. These adaptations of „The Juniper Tree“ demonstrate the enduring appeal and emotional depth of this Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Despite its dark nature, the story continues to captivate and inspire artists and audiences alike. Overall, „The Juniper Tree“ has inspired a wide range of adaptations in various forms of media. Its haunting and mysterious themes continue to capture the imagination of artists and storytellers around the world.

Summary of the plot

„The Juniper Tree“ is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a rich man and his pious wife, who longed for a child. The wife, after cutting her finger and seeing her blood on the snow, wished for a child as red as blood and as white as snow. Eventually, she gave birth to a son fitting this description but died soon after. The man remarried, and his new wife bore a daughter, Marjory. The wife, driven by jealousy and greed, sought to secure her husband’s wealth for her daughter. She treated her stepson poorly, ultimately leading to his death when she accidentally decapitated him while he tried to retrieve an apple from a chest.

The wife tried to cover up her crime by reattaching the boy’s head with a handkerchief and propping him up with the apple in hand. Marjory, unaware of the truth, knocked off her brother’s head and was distraught. The mother convinced Marjory to help her hide the boy’s body, which they cooked into a stew. The father, unaware of the tragedy, ate the stew, unknowingly consuming his son. Marjory, still grieving, collected her brother’s bones, wrapped them in a handkerchief, and placed them beneath an almond tree. A beautiful bird then rose from the tree, which sang a haunting song revealing the truth about the boy’s death.

The bird traveled around, gaining gifts from various people in exchange for singing its song. It collected a golden chain, a pair of red shoes, and a millstone. It then flew back to its father’s house and sang the song again. The father felt joy, while the mother felt terror, and Marjory wept. The bird dropped the millstone on the mother, killing her, before transforming back into the boy, alive and well. The father, Marjory, and the boy lived happily ever after.

Informations for scientific analysis


Fairy tale statistics
Value
NumberKHM 47
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 720
Translations EN, DA, ES, FR, PT, FI, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH,
Readability Index by Björnsson23.1
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index89.1
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level4.6
Gunning Fog Index6.9
Coleman–Liau Index6.7
SMOG Index7.1
Automated Readability Index4.1
Character Count15.208
Letter Count11.333
Sentence Count197
Word Count2.961
Average Words per Sentence15,03
Words with more than 6 letters238
Percentage of long words8%
Number of Syllables3.588
Average Syllables per Word1,21
Words with three Syllables90
Percentage Words with three Syllables3%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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