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The Three Little Birds
Grimm Märchen

The Three Little Birds - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 10 min

About a thousand or more years ago, there were in this country nothing but small kings, and one of them who lived on the Keuterberg was very fond of hunting. Once on a time when he was riding forth from his castle with his huntsmen, three girls were watching their cows upon the mountain, and when they saw the King with all his followers, the eldest girl pointed to him, and called to the two other girls, „If I do not get that one, I will have none.“

Then the second girl answered from the other side of the hill, and pointed to the one who was on the King’s right hand, „Hilloa! hilloa! If I do not get him, I will have no one.“ These, however, were the two ministers. The King heard all this, and when he had come back from the chase, he caused the three girls to be brought to him, and asked them what they had said yesterday on the mountain.

This they would not tell him, so the King asked the eldest if she really would take him for her husband? Then she said, „Yes,“ and the two ministers married the two sisters, for they were all three fair and beautiful of face, especially the Queen, who had hair like flax. But the two sisters had no children, and once when the King was obliged to go from home he invited them to come to the Queen in order to cheer her, for she was about to bear a child.

She had a little boy who brought a bright red star into the world with him. Then the two sisters said to each other that they would throw the beautiful boy into the water. When they had thrown him in (I believe it was into the Weser) a little bird flew up into the air, which sang:

„To thy death art thou sped,
Until God’s word be said.
In the white lily bloom,
Brave boy, is thy tomb.“

When the two heard that, they were frightened to death, and ran away in great haste. When the King came home they told him that the Queen had been delivered of a dog. Then the King said, „What God does, is well done!“ But a fisherman who dwelt near the water fished the little boy out again while he was still alive, and as his wife had no children, they reared him. When a year had gone by, the King again went away, and the Queen had another little boy, whom the false sisters likewise took and threw into the water. Then up flew a little bird again and sang:

„To thy death art thou sped,
Until God’s word be said.
In the white lily bloom,
Brave boy, is thy tomb.“

And when the King came back, they told him that the Queen had once more given birth to a dog, and he again said, „What God does, is well done.“ The fisherman, however, fished this one also out of the water, and reared him. Then the King again journeyed forth, and the Queen had a little girl, whom also the false sisters threw into the water. Then again a little bird flew up on high and sang,

„To thy death art thou sped
Until God’s word be said.
In the white lily bloom,
Bonny girl, is thy tomb.“

And when the King came home they told him that the Queen had been delivered of a cat. Then the King grew angry, and ordered his wife to be cast into prison, and therein was she shut up for many long years. In the meantime the children had grown up. Then eldest once went out with some other boys to fish, but the other boys would not have him with them, and said, „Go thy way, foundling.“

Hereupon he was much troubled, and asked the old fisherman if that was true? The fisherman told him that once when he was fishing he had drawn him out of the water. So the boy said he would go forth and seek his father. The fisherman, however, entreated him to stay, but he would not let himself be hindered, and at last the fisherman consented. Then the boy went on his way and walked for many days, and at last he came to a great piece of water by the side of which stood an old woman fishing. „Good day, mother,“ said the boy.

„Many thanks,“ said she. „Thou wilt fish long enough before thou catchest anything.“ – „And thou wilt seek long enough before thou findest thy father. How wilt thou get over the water?“ said the woman. „God knows.“ Then the old woman took him up on her back and carried him through it, and he sought for a long time, but could not find his father. When a year had gone by, the second boy set out to seek his brother. He came to the water, and all fared with him just as with his brother.

And now there was no one at home but the daughter, and she mourned for her brothers so much that at last she also begged the fisherman to let her set forth, for she wished to go in search of her brothers. Then she likewise came to the great piece of water, and she said to the old woman, „Good day, mother.“ – „Many thanks,“ replied the old woman.

„May God help you with your fishing,“ said the maiden. When the old woman heard that, she became quite friendly, and carried her over the water, gave her a wand, and said to her, „Go, my daughter, ever onwards by this road, and when you come to a great black dog, you must pass it silently and boldly, without either laughing or looking at it. Then you will come to a great high castle, on the threshold of which you must let the wand fall, and go straight through the castle, and out again on the other side. There you will see an old fountain out of which a large tree has grown, whereon hangs a bird in a cage which you must take down.

Take likewise a glass of water out of the fountain, and with these two things go back by the same way. Pick up the wand again from the threshold and take it with you, and when you again pass by the dog, strike him in the face with it, but be sure that you hit him, and then just come back here to me.“ The maiden found everything exactly as the old woman had said, and on her way back she found her two brothers who had sought each other over half the world. They went together to the place where the black dog was lying on the road. She struck it in the face, and it turned into a handsome prince who went with them to the river.

There the old woman was still standing. She rejoiced much to see them again, and carried them all over the water, and then she too went away, for now she was freed. The others, however, went to the old fisherman, and all were glad that they had found each other again, but they hung the bird on the wall. But the second son could not settle at home, and took his cross-bow and went a-hunting. When he was tired he took his flute, and made music. The King was hunting too, and heard that and went thither, and when he met the youth, he said, „Who has given thee leave to hunt here?“

„Oh, no one.“

„To whom dost thou belong, then?“

„I am the fisherman’s son.“

„But he has no children.“

„If thou wilt not believe, come with me.“

That the King did, and questioned the fisherman, who told everything to him, and the little bird on the wall began to sing,

„The mother sits alone
There in the prison small,
O King of royal blood,
These are thy children all.
The sisters twain so false,
They wrought the children woe,
There in the waters deep
Where the fishermen come and go.“

Then they were all terrified, and the King took the bird, the fisherman and the three children back with him to the castle, and ordered the prison to be opened and brought his wife out again. She had, however, grown quite ill and weak. Then the daughter gave her some of the water of the fountain to drink, and she became strong and healthy. But the two false sisters were burnt, and the daughter married the prince.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The Three Little Birds“

„The Three Little Birds“ is a fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, who were German academics, philologists, and cultural researchers named Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. The Brothers Grimm are best known for their collection of fairy tales, which they gathered as part of their broader work on German folklore and linguistics. Their collection of tales, called „Grimm’s Fairy Tales“ or „Children’s and Household Tales“ (Kinder- und Hausmärchen), was first published in 1812 and has since become a significant part of European cultural heritage. The tale is classified under the Aarne-Thompson-Uther type ATU Typ 707

„The Three Little Birds“ teaches valuable lessons about the consequences of one’s actions. It reflects the belief in a moral universe where good deeds are rewarded, and evil actions are punished. The tale also emphasizes the importance of inner beauty and compassion over superficial appearances. As with other Grimm fairy tales, „The Three Little Birds“ has its roots in the oral storytelling tradition of the German people. The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, sought to preserve these tales as a way of capturing the essence of their culture’s popular narrative tradition. The tales have since been adapted and reimagined in various forms, contributing to the rich tapestry of global folklore.

While many of the tales in the Brothers Grimm collection are rooted in European oral tradition and folklore, the origins of „The Three Little Birds“ are not well-established. The tale is not as widely known as other Grimm stories, such as „Cinderella,“ „Snow White,“ or „Hansel and Gretel.“ Like other Grimm fairy tales, „The Three Little Birds“ contains elements of magic, transformation, and moral lessons.

The Brothers Grimm collected these stories in an effort to preserve the traditional folktales of their time, as they believed that these tales were an essential part of German culture and history. The Grimm brothers‘ work in linguistics, folkloristics, and cultural preservation has had a profound impact on the study of folklore and the popularity of fairy tales in Western culture. Their stories continue to be adapted and reinterpreted in various forms, including literature, film, and theater.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The Three Little Birds“

„The Three Little Birds“ is a lesser-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their anthology „Grimm’s Fairy Tales.“ The story was first published in the 1812 edition of the collection. „The Three Little Birds“ can be interpreted in several ways, touching upon themes of family, deception, jealousy, and redemption.

Family bonds: The story highlights the importance of family and the bond between siblings. Despite being separated at birth, the three children embark on individual journeys to find their true family. The strength of their connection ultimately leads them to reunite, including with their long-lost mother.

Deception and jealousy: The tale illustrates the damaging consequences of deceit and envy. The two false sisters, driven by jealousy over their sister’s ability to bear children, resort to deception and cruelty. Their actions ultimately lead to their own downfall and the restoration of the royal family.

Good versus evil: The story is a classic example of the battle between good and evil. The queen and her children represent goodness, while the two false sisters embody evil. In the end, goodness prevails with the sisters punished and the family reunited.

Redemption and healing: The tale also focuses on redemption and the power of healing. The queen, wrongly accused and imprisoned, is eventually set free and healed by the magical water from the fountain. Moreover, the old woman who helps the children is freed from her curse after guiding them on their journey.

The power of fate: The recurring motif of the bird’s song signifies the inevitability of fate. Despite the false sisters‘ attempts to alter the course of events, destiny ultimately brings the family together and ensures that justice is served.

Overall, „The Three Little Birds“ is a multi-layered fairy tale that explores themes of family, deception, jealousy, and redemption, providing valuable moral lessons and a satisfying resolution.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The Three Little Birds“

„The Three Little Birds“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm collection, numbered as KHM 96. Despite its relative obscurity, there have been some adaptations and creative works inspired by this story. Some of these adaptations include:

Animated Films: The Three Little Birds: A charming animated short film that brings the story to life through colorful and detailed illustrations, appealing to both children and adults alike. The film closely follows the original storyline while adding its own creative flair to the visual aspects.

Children’s Books: The Secret of the Songbirds: A beautifully illustrated children’s book adaptation that provides a new twist to the classic tale. In this version, the birds are not only able to reveal the queen’s infidelity but also help the king understand the importance of trust and communication in a relationship. The Three Little Birds and the Whispering Woods: A graphic novel adaptation that incorporates elements of fantasy and adventure, taking readers on a thrilling journey as the king and his loyal companions traverse the magical Whispering Woods. This version expands on the original tale, introducing new characters and challenges that the king must face in order to discover the truth.

Theater: The King’s Feathered Friends: A family-friendly stage production that focuses on the magical aspects of the story, such as the talking birds and the enchanted forest. The play adds musical numbers and dance sequences to make it more entertaining for audiences of all ages.

Literature: Three Little Birds: A Modern Retelling: A contemporary reimagining of the story set in the modern world. This novella explores themes of trust, deception, and redemption, while still maintaining the central premise of the three little birds as truth-tellers.

These adaptations showcase the versatility of the original fairy tale, demonstrating that even lesser-known stories can be transformed into engaging and creative works of art.

Summary of the plot

„The Three Little Birds“ is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale set in a time when the country was ruled by small kings. The story revolves around a king who marries a beautiful woman with flaxen hair, while his ministers marry her two sisters. The sisters are jealous of the queen, who is able to bear children, while they are not.

When the queen gives birth to a boy with a red star, the sisters throw him into the river, causing a bird to sing a mournful song about the child’s death. This happens two more times, once when the queen gives birth to another boy and once when she has a girl. The sisters falsely tell the king that the queen has given birth to animals, leading him to imprison her.

Meanwhile, a fisherman and his wife find and raise the three abandoned children. As they grow up, the children each set out to find their true family. Along their journey, they encounter an old woman who gives them instructions on how to navigate a magical landscape and find a bird in a cage and water from a fountain. Following her guidance, the children are reunited and return to the fisherman’s home with the bird and the water.

Eventually, the king discovers the truth about the children and the false sisters‘ lies. He releases his wife from prison, and the water from the fountain restores her health. The two false sisters are punished, and the eldest daughter marries a prince, bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion.

Informations for scientific analysis


Fairy tale statistics
Value
NumberKHM 96
Aarne-Thompson-Uther-IndexATU Typ 707
Translations DE, EN, DA, ES, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, VI, ZH,
Readability Index by Björnsson27.4
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index84.6
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level6.1
Gunning Fog Index8.6
Coleman–Liau Index7.3
SMOG Index7.7
Automated Readability Index6.3
Character Count7.486
Letter Count5.658
Sentence Count78
Word Count1.442
Average Words per Sentence18,49
Words with more than 6 letters128
Percentage of long words8.9%
Number of Syllables1.764
Average Syllables per Word1,22
Words with three Syllables46
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.2%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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