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The Singing Bone
Grimm Märchen

The Singing Bone - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 6 min

Attention: This is a scary story.

In a certain country there was once great lamentation over a wild boar that laid waste the farmer’s fields, killed the cattle, and ripped up people’s bodies with his tusks. The King promised a large reward to anyone who would free the land from this plague; but the beast was so big and strong that no one dared to go near the forest in which it lived. At last the King gave notice that whosoever should capture or kill the wild boar should have his only daughter to wife.

Now there lived in the country two brothers, sons of a poor man, who declared themselves willing to undertake the hazardous enterprise. The elder, who was crafty and shrewd, out of pride. The younger, who was innocent and simple, from a kind heart. The King said, „In order that you may be the more sure of finding the beast, you must go into the forest from opposite sides.“ So the elder went in on the west side, and the younger on the east. When the younger had gone a short way, a little man stepped up to him.

He held in his hand a black spear and said, „I give you this spear because your heart is pure and good. With this you can boldly attack the wild boar, and it will do you no harm.“ He thanked the little man, shouldered the spear, and went on fearlessly. Before long he saw the beast, which rushed at him; but he held the spear towards it, and in its blind fury it ran so swiftly against it that its heart was cloven in twain. Then he took the monster on his back and went homewards with it to the King.

As he came out at the other side of the wood, there stood at the entrance a house where people were making merry with wine and dancing. His elder brother had gone in here, and, thinking that after all the boar would not run away from him, was going to drink until he felt brave. But when he saw his young brother coming out of the wood laden with his booty, his envious, evil heart gave him no peace. He called out to him, „Come in, dear brother, rest and refresh yourself with a cup of wine.“ The youth, who suspected no evil, went in and told him about the good little man who had given him the spear wherewith he had slain the boar.

The elder brother kept him there until the evening, and then they went away together, and when in the darkness they came to a bridge over a brook, the elder brother let the other go first; and when he was half-way across he gave him such a blow from behind that he fell down dead. He buried him beneath the bridge, took the boar, and carried it to the King, pretending that he had killed it. Whereupon he obtained the King’s daughter in marriage. And when his younger brother did not come back he said, „The boar must have killed him,“ and every one believed it.

But as nothing remains hidden from God, so this black deed also was to come to light. Years afterwards a shepherd was driving his herd across the bridge, and saw lying in the sand beneath, a snow-white little bone. He thought that it would make a good mouth-piece, so he clambered down, picked it up, and cut out of it a mouth-piece for his horn. But when he blew through it for the first time, to his great astonishment, the bone began of its own accord to sing:

„Ah, friend,
Thou blowest upon my bone!
Long have I lain beside the water;
My brother slew me for the boar,
And took for his wife
The King’s young daughter.“

„What a wonderful horn!“ said the shepherd. „It sings by itself. I must take it to my lord the King.“ And when he came with it to the King the horn again began to sing its little song. The King understood it all, and caused the ground below the bridge to be dug up, and then the whole skeleton of the murdered man came to light. The wicked brother could not deny the deed, and was sewn up in a sack and drowned. But the bones of the murdered man were laid to rest in a beautiful tomb in the churchyard.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Singing Bone“

„The Singing Bone“ is a fairy tale collected and published by the Brothers Grimm in their famous compilation „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ (originally titled „Children’s and Household Tales“ or „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ in German), which was first published in 1812. The tale is known as ATU 780 in the Aarne-Thompson-Uther classification system, which is used to categorize folktales based on their narrative structure and elements.

The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, were German academics, linguists, and cultural researchers who collected and published numerous folk and fairy tales during the 19th century. Their goal was to preserve the cultural heritage and oral storytelling traditions of German-speaking regions. The tales they collected were often based on stories passed down through generations, and many of these narratives have roots in older myths and legends.

„The Singing Bone“ tells the story of two brothers who go on a quest to kill a dangerous wild boar that has been terrorizing their kingdom. The younger brother succeeds in slaying the boar, but his envious older brother kills him in secret and buries his body. Later, a shepherd finds a mysterious bone that emits beautiful music when played, revealing the truth about the younger brother’s tragic fate. This discovery ultimately leads to the punishment of the treacherous older brother and the recognition of the younger brother’s heroic deed. The tale explores themes such as sibling rivalry, jealousy, and the power of truth. It also incorporates elements of magic and the supernatural, which are common in fairy tales. The story has been retold and adapted in various forms, including books, films, and theatrical performances, and it remains a popular tale in the canon of Western folklore.

The Brothers Grimm collected stories from various sources, including oral storytellers, printed works, and other collectors. The specific origins of „The Singing Bone“ are not well documented, but it likely evolved from older folktales with similar themes and motifs. Tales of this type have been found in the folklore of other cultures as well, suggesting a shared human fascination with the themes of rivalry, justice, and the supernatural. The tale has been adapted and retold in various forms over the years, including books, films, and television episodes. Its themes and moral messages continue to resonate with audiences, making it a timeless and enduring story in the realm of fairy tales and folklore.

The Brothers Grimm embarked on this project to preserve traditional German folktales that were passed down orally through generations. They aimed to capture the essence of these stories, while also connecting them to the broader European folklore tradition. Their work has had a significant impact on folklore studies and has also played a vital role in shaping our understanding of the genre. „The Singing Bone“ belongs to the Aarne-Thompson-Uther classification system under the ATU type 780, which deals with stories about the truth revealed by a magical object or a talking animal. The tale shares common elements with other stories in this category, such as an object or animal disclosing the truth about a crime or a hidden event, leading to the resolution of a mystery and the punishment of the guilty party.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Singing Bone“

„The Singing Bone,“ like many other fairy tales, can be interpreted in various ways depending on the reader’s perspective and cultural context. Some of the key interpretations of the story include:

Envy and Greed: The elder brother’s envy and greed drive him to commit a heinous crime against his own sibling. Instead of celebrating his brother’s success, he chooses to eliminate him to claim the reward and the princess’s hand in marriage. This highlights the destructive nature of these negative emotions and serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of letting envy and greed take control.

Deception and Betrayal: The elder brother deceives both the King and his younger brother, portraying himself as a brave and victorious hero. However, his deception and betrayal eventually come to light, demonstrating that dishonesty cannot remain hidden forever.

Justice and Retribution: The story emphasizes the idea of divine justice and retribution, as the elder brother’s crime is eventually discovered and he receives a fitting punishment. This conveys the moral that wrongful actions will be punished, and justice will ultimately prevail.

Power of Truth: The singing bone symbolizes the power of truth. Despite the elder brother’s attempts to hide his crime, the bone reveals the truth through its song, leading to the discovery of his evil deed. This highlights the idea that the truth has a way of revealing itself, no matter how well it may be hidden.

Innocence and Purity: The younger brother’s innocent and pure heart leads him to receive help from the little man in the form of the black spear. This suggests that goodness and purity can be rewarded, and that these qualities can triumph even in the face of adversity.

Sibling rivalry and jealousy: The story highlights the destructive nature of sibling rivalry and jealousy, which can lead to terrible consequences. In this case, the older brother’s envy of the younger brother’s success causes him to commit a heinous act, ultimately leading to his own downfall.

The power of truth: The magical singing bone reveals the truth about the younger brother’s fate, demonstrating that the truth has a way of eventually coming to light. This can be seen as a cautionary tale about the consequences of dishonesty and deception.

The inevitability of justice: The story suggests that justice will ultimately prevail, even in the face of great evil. The older brother may have thought he could escape punishment for his actions, but in the end, he faces the consequences of his deeds.

The significance of the supernatural: The magical singing bone serves as a symbol of the supernatural forces that permeate the world of fairy tales. These forces often play a role in restoring balance and justice, as they do in this story. The bone’s magical properties can also be seen as a metaphor for the enduring power of truth, which cannot be silenced or hidden forever.

The value of humility and kindness: The younger brother, who is humble and kind-hearted, is the true hero of the story. His selfless actions contrast sharply with those of his older brother, who is driven by jealousy and selfishness. This theme serves as a reminder of the importance of good character and the consequences of succumbing to negative emotions.

Overall, „The Singing Bone“ offers a rich and complex narrative that can be interpreted on multiple levels, reflecting the enduring appeal and cultural significance of fairy tales. The story serves as a cautionary tale, exploring themes of sibling rivalry, jealousy, the power of truth, and the inevitability of justice, while also highlighting the value of humility and kindness.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Singing Bone“

„The Singing Bone“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, who were Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, two German academics, linguists, and cultural researchers. The story is included in their collection titled „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ (Children’s and Household Tales), which was first published in 1812. The Brothers Grimm collected and published over 200 fairy tales and legends in their lifetime, many of which have become staples of Western folklore and literature. Although „The Singing Bone“ may not be as well-known as some other Grimm fairy tales, it has been adapted in various forms over the years. Some specific examples of these adaptations include:

Literature: „The Singing Bone“ by Peter Straub: This 1998 novella is a modern reinterpretation of the fairy tale. The story takes place in a small town where a series of murders occur, and the main character is drawn into the mystery surrounding the crimes. The novella incorporates elements of the original tale, such as sibling rivalry and the supernatural. „The Singing Bone“ (1992): This is a children’s book adaptation of the story by G. Brian Karas. It features whimsical illustrations and a simplified version of the tale. „The Singing Bone“ (2020): This is a graphic novel adaptation of the story by Bethan Woollvin. It features striking illustrations and a feminist twist, with the female protagonist taking control of her own fate.

Films: „The Singing Ringing Tree“ (1957): This East German film is a loose adaptation of „The Singing Bone“ and incorporates elements from other Grimm fairy tales. The story revolves around a princess who must complete a series of tasks to prove her love for a prince. One of the tasks involves finding a magical tree that plays music when the wind blows, similar to the singing bone in the original tale. „The Singing Bone“ (1964): This is a German film adaptation of the story, directed by Francesco Stefani. It features a score by composer Rolf Wilhelm and has been praised for its haunting atmosphere. „The Singing Bone“ (2017): This is a short film adaptation of the story, directed by Sophie Gateau. It is a modern retelling of the tale that features a diverse cast and explores themes of identity and belonging.

Theater and Opera: „The Singing Bones“ by Clare Testoni: This 2016 theatrical adaptation of the fairy tale is a one-woman puppet show that uses shadow puppetry to retell the story. The production explores themes of sibling rivalry, jealousy, and the power of truth, staying faithful to the original tale. „The Singing Bone“ by Simon McBurney: This 2001 opera adaptation of the fairy tale was commissioned by the English National Opera Studio. The story is reimagined as a contemporary drama that explores the destructive nature of jealousy and the consequences of deceit.

Animation: „Sapsorrow“: This 1987 episode of the British animated series „The Storyteller,“ created by Jim Henson, is a loose adaptation of „The Singing Bone“ and combines elements from other Grimm fairy tales. The story follows a princess who disguises herself as an ugly creature to escape an unwanted marriage. The plot includes a magical tree that plays music, similar to the singing bone in the original tale.

Radio: „The Singing Bone“: BBC Radio 4 produced a radio adaptation of the fairy tale as part of its series „Grimm Thoughts“ in 2012. The adaptation retells the story and discusses its themes and significance, offering listeners an immersive audio experience of the classic tale.

„The Singing Bone“ has inspired various adaptations in literature, film, and other media. These adaptations of „The Singing Bone“ demonstrate the enduring appeal of the story and its themes. The tale has been reimagined in various formats and genres, showcasing the versatility and universality of the Brothers Grimm’s timeless fairy tales. Overall, „The Singing Bone“ has inspired a range of adaptations that have brought new interpretations and perspectives to this classic fairy tale.

Summary of the plot

„The Singing Bone“ is a Grimm fairy tale that explores themes of sibling rivalry, jealousy, truth, and justice. The story begins with a dangerous wild boar that has been wreaking havoc on a kingdom. The king promises a great reward to anyone who can rid the land of the beast.

Two brothers, one kind-hearted and the other envious, set out separately to hunt the boar. The younger brother meets a little man who, in exchange for a promise to give him the first thing that comes across the younger brother’s path when he returns home, provides him with a spear that guarantees success in killing the boar.

The younger brother slays the boar, and as he returns home, he encounters his older brother at a bridge. Not knowing about the deal with the little man, the older brother convinces the younger brother to rest and drink from the stream. As the younger brother bends down to drink, the older brother kills him in a fit of jealousy, burying his body under the bridge. The older brother then brings the boar to the king and claims the reward for himself.

Years later, a shepherd discovers a bone sticking out of the ground near the bridge. He carves the bone into a mouthpiece for his horn, and to his surprise, the bone begins to sing a haunting song, revealing the truth about the younger brother’s death. The shepherd brings the singing bone to the king, who orders the older brother to be arrested and confesses his crime. The older brother is punished, and the younger brother’s remains are given a proper burial.

This tale highlights the destructive nature of jealousy and the power of truth, as the magical singing bone ultimately reveals the older brother’s treachery and brings justice to the younger brother.


„The Singing Bone“ by Brothers Grimm tells the story of a kingdom plagued by a wild boar that destroys crops, kills cattle, and injures people. The King promises his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who can kill the beast. Two brothers, one crafty and prideful and the other innocent and kind-hearted, take on the challenge and enter the forest from opposite sides.

The younger brother encounters a little man who gives him a black spear, which allows him to kill the boar without harm. On his way back to the King, he passes a house where his elder brother is drinking and celebrating. The elder brother, envious of his sibling’s success, lures him inside to share the story of the little man and the spear. He keeps the younger brother there until evening and then kills him on a bridge over a brook, burying his body beneath it. The elder brother takes the boar to the King, claims the reward, and marries the princess.

Years later, a shepherd finds a bone beneath the bridge and turns it into a mouthpiece for his horn. The bone sings a song revealing the truth about the younger brother’s murder. The shepherd takes the horn to the King, who orders an excavation, unearthing the murdered brother’s skeleton. The elder brother is exposed, sewn into a sack, and drowned as punishment. The younger brother’s remains are laid to rest in a beautiful tomb in the churchyard, illustrating that no evil deed can remain hidden from the truth.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 28
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 780
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, FR, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson31.1
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index82.4
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level6.8
Gunning Fog Index9.4
Coleman–Liau Index7.7
SMOG Index8.1
Automated Readability Index7.4
Character Count3.851
Letter Count2.962
Sentence Count37
Word Count742
Average Words per Sentence20,05
Words with more than 6 letters82
Percentage of long words11.1%
Number of Syllables913
Average Syllables per Word1,23
Words with three Syllables26
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.5%
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