The Juniper Tree (fairy tale)
It was believed until the early 1970s that the Brothers Grimm re-adapted various oral recountings and fables heard from local peasants and townspeople in order to write their well-known fairy tales. However, various critics including Vanessa Joosen argue that this assumption is false, based on an overwhelming amount of disputing evidence. Literary critic Walter Scherf, argued that the Grimm brothers were inspired by the painter Philipp Otto Runge's original adaptation of The Juniper Tree, originally written as The Almond Tree.
The Juniper Tree is tale number 47 and Aarne-Thompson type 720: "my mother slew me, my father ate me". Another such tale is the English The Rose-Tree, although it reverses the sexes from The Juniper Tree; The Juniper Tree follows the more common pattern of having the dead child be the boy.
- 1 Synopsis
- 2 Characters
- 3 Motifs
- 4 The Theory of Grimm
- 5 The Original Translation and Background
- 6 Commentary
- 7 Adaptations
- 8 References
The story begins with a wealthy and pious man with his beautiful wife who pray to God everyday to grant them a child. One winter, whilst peeling an apple with a knife under the juniper tree in their courtyard, the wife cuts herself and drops of blood fall onto the snow. This leads her to wish for a child as white as snow and as red as blood. Seven months later, the wife becomes sick from eating the juniper berries and asks her husband to bury her beneath the juniper tree if she dies. A month later, she gives birth to a baby boy and dies of happiness. The husband buries his wife beneath the juniper tree as a promise and remarries a woman who has a daughter of her own named Marlinchen from a previous marriage.
The wife cherishes Marlinchen but cruelly despises and abuses the boy since she wishes that her daughter would inherit her stepfather's wealth instead of her stepson. One afternoon, Marlinchen asks for an apple from a chest and her mother gracefully offers one to her. The stepson also asks for an apple after returning from school. Reaching down the chest to grab an apple, the stepmother slams the lid of the chest onto his neck, decapitating him. The stepmother proceeds to bandage his head to the rest of his body with a handkerchief and props his body onto a chair. Marlinchen notices how eerily silent and pale her steprbrother is when he "refuses" to give her another apple and under the instructions of her stepmother, she boxes his head in response, causing his head to fall off. Marlinchen cries throughout the day as the stepmother dismembers her stepson's body and cooks him into a stew for dinner. The stepmother tries to deceive her husband that his son has "went to his uncle's house for a vacation" and feeds him the stew that night. Marlinchen gathers the bones from the dinner and buries it beneath the juniper tree with a handkerchief.
Suddenly, a mist emerges from the tree where a beautiful bird flies out. The bird, who is actually the reincarnation of the stepson, sings about its gruesome fate to the local townspeople, captivating the attention of a goldsmith, shoemaker and a miller. They give the bird a gold chain, a pair of red shoes and a millstone in return. Meanwhile, it is revealed that the stepmother had been complaining of "raging fires in her veins" the entire time and tears her bodice in a violent fit. The bird returns home and gives the father and Marlinchen the gold chain and a pair of red shoes respectively. The stepmother goes outside hoping for relief but the bird drops the remaining millstone onto her head, crushing and killing her. Smoke and flames emerge from the millstone where the boy, who has returned to his former human self, comes out. He reunites with his father and Marlinchen, where they head inside for lunch and live happily ever after.
None of the characters in The Juniper Tree have names except for Marlinchen. Instead, they are referred to by their relationship to one another or by their occupation. They are listed below in order of importance.
Arguably the protagonist of the story, he is the child of the father and the father's first wife who is also Marlinchen's stepbrother (or in other versions, her half-brother). He was often afraid to return home from school since he would routinely be cruelly abused and beaten by his stepmother, making him cry to sleep every night. Eventually, he is decapitated by his stepmother and his flesh is dismembered and cooked into a stew. The boy eventually reincarnates into a beautiful bird and kills the stepmother in revenge and reverts to his original human self by the end of the story.
Perceived as the antagonist of the story, she is the second wife of the father and the mother of Marlinchen. She is a disturbed and insane individual who is often clouded with evil thoughts and she often blames this on the "raging fires in her veins". However, she attempts to rationalize her evil nature by stating that her stepson would inherit his father's wealth instead of Marlinchen. In some versions, it is mentioned that evil spirits often influenced the stepmother in committing evil deeds against her stepson and she is often thought to be possessed by the Devil himself.
In some versions she is called Marlene or Ann Marie. She is the son's stepsister. She is treated kindly by the stepmother in comparison to her stepbrother. She often cares for her stepbrother in spite of the abuse. When she discovers her stepbrother's corpse, Marlinchen initially presumes that he is ignoring her requests of giving her an apple and under the instruction of her stepmother, she boxes him in the ear. She becomes horrified of causing her stepbrother's head to fall off and cries frantically many times throughout the story, especially when the stepmother cooks the stepson into a stew. She eventually buries the bones of her stepbrother beneath the juniper tree. Marlinchen is a static character throughout the story but becomes more emotional and tearful, especially after the murder of her stepbrother.
The son's father, the stepmother's husband, the husband of the first wife and Marlinchen's stepfather. He is a wealthy and pious man but he is often absent at home, which probably explains why the stepmother could get away with her abuse towards his son. He was also unaware that the stew he consumed was actually made from his son's dead body. The father is a static character in this work.
The Goldsmith, the Shoemaker and the Miller
Three residents of an unnamed town that is located near the house where the main characters reside. They are captivated by the bird's lullaby who sings about a horrific fate similar to the one suffered by the son. As a reward, they offer the bird a gold chain, a pair of red shoes and a millstone respectively in return. Considered minor characters in this work.
The First Wife
The son's biological mother and the original wife of the father. Like her husband, she is wealthy and pious and often prays in hopes of getting a child. She dies at the beginning of the story after being extremely ecstatic over the sight of her newborn son and is buried beneath the juniper tree.
There are many themes, such as cannibalism, death, and food, that play an important role in the short story, The Juniper Tree. These overall themes are listed below.
Some argue that The Juniper Tree draws cues from the short story Hansel and Gretel. Following the death of the main character, the mother (in an attempt to cover up his death) literally "chopped him in pieces, put him into the pan and... [cooked him up in a stew]. The husband then eats the stew, saying how “delicious [the] food is," and even asks for the wife to "give [him] some more.” 
The Parallel Between Food and Death
It is quite clear by the end of the novel that food is associated with death. At the beginning of the short story, the girl is cutting an apple when she cuts her fingers and "blood [falls to] the snow." An apple later is even referred to as ushering in the Devil when the little boy comes home and the Devil figuratively makes the mother say to him, "My son, wilt thou have an apple?” You could even look to the son as a source of death when he is turned into stew. Finally, a milestone is used to kill the mother. A millstone is a tool typically used to grind corn.
Critics suggest that the character of the mother in "The Juniper Tree" is used to represent a guardian spirit. This theme of guardianship is shown throughout other Grimm fairy tales such as Cinderella, Briar Rose, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. In all of these stories, there is some object (normally represented through nature) that watches after the main character. In the case of "Briar Rose," "the briar hedge is the symbol of nature guarding her rose: the princess who sleeps inside the castle." 
When the son becomes a bird, he requests gifts such as a gold chain from a goldsmith and a pair of shoes from his sister. In addition, he asks for a milestone from a group of millers, which he drops on the wife's head leading to her swift death. Critics argue that while the chain may represent power (to leave the wife), the shoes may also allude to freedom.
Song is a symbolic motif in that it served as a vessel to expose the son's wrongful death. The bird sang this song to different townspeople in order to get gifts that he will later bestow on his sister and father after they heard the bird sing as well. This song fueled the personification of a bird, which naturally does not have the ability to communicate words to humans.
The song went like this:
"My mother she killed me,
My father he ate me,
My sister, little Marlinchen,
Gathered together all my bones,
Tied them in a silken handkerchief,
Laid them beneath the juniper-tree,
Kywitt, kywitt, what a beautiful bird am I!"
Child abuse is a prevalent theme shown through the stepmother constantly abusing her stepson and eventually murdering him. This theme, along with cruel oppression, is a recurring theme in the works of the Brothers Grimms. such as The Frog Prince and Rapunzel. Critic, Jack Zipes, suggests that the theme of child abuse leads to a more adult centered story. This veers away from the more accepted thought that fairy tales are meant for children.
The Personification of the Devil
The devil makes an appearance in many Grimms' tales, often in “various disguises.” He takes many identities including anything from a “little man,” to an “old goat.” The mothers deep disgust and violent tendencies towards the son plays right into the mindset that she may be an offshoot of the devil himself. It is even described at one point during the story that the Devil (who is referred as the Evil One in most adaptions) has went into her mind before her villainous breakdown.
Religion plays a major symbolic role in the story. The couple seen at the beginning are shown to be devoted to God and pray to him to grant them a child and are represented to be pure and innocent. The stepmother in contrast, is represented as evil and is often thought to be symbolic of the Devil especially during the scene where she offers her stepson an apple before brutally killing him, mirroring the temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden. The boy reincarnating into the bird and killing the stepmother with the millstone near the end of the story can also symbolize the Holy Spirit, who is often depicted as a white dove, executing divine judgement upon the wicked and the "raging fires" that the stepmother experiences within her veins can also symbolize the weight of sin and possibly the damnation of her soul.
"In fairy tales the cycle of human life is intimately related to the cycle of nature."  Particularly seen in the Grimm Brother's "The Juniper Tree," reincarnation plays a major role in the tale. The audience first sees reincarnation when the first wife asks to be buried under the juniper tree. Although the mother never truly comes back to life, her spirit appears to have supernatural influence over the juniper tree, which allows her son to be physically reincarnated, as a bird and as his originally physical form, at the end of the story.
The Theory of Grimm
Each Grimm tale follows a predetermined and categorical format. Every tale is based on the idea that each character is born with fault. For example, if a child is “loved by his parents, he is hated by a brother or sister.” Another example could include a child “surrounded by affection.” Using the Grimm theory, the child then must be “pursued by an offense committed prior to his birth, generally by one of his family.” It is this format that pushes a "coming of character moment" where the main character (in order to survive) “set[s] out on a road strew with pitfalls, pursued by an evil willpower, as if distance itself could not take him away from the fatality of [his or her] family."
Transformative Bodies in Grimm
Continuous throughout each of the Grimm tales are the reappearance of transformative bodies. Critic Jeana Jorgensen, argues that there is a connection between the physical transformation of characters and their genders. Drawing a connection between beauty ideals consistently being a major factor in female character development to Grimm, while transformations playing a significant role in the development of mostly male characters. She concludes that female characters are usually described with a focus on their physical attributes such as small, petite, wicked, beautiful, and ugly compared to the adjectives used in male transformations that overall relate strictly to age and size. Specifically, in The Juniper Tree, Jorgensen uses Miriam’s depiction of sorrow as a representation of the fact that in several of Grimm’s tales "suffering is written on women’s bodies in a way that naturalizes their pain and almost leads us to expect women to cry in fairy tales." 
Fantasy and Magic in Grimm
For the Grimm Brother's audience "the fantasy and magic of the story can be interpreted as instruments to establish or restore social and economic justice."  Roberta Markman believes that this is the case among all of the Grimm fairy tales because the creative process' "transformative power[s]" can change social norms. As a result, literature and other creative art forms have the power to change someone's personal attitude regarding their economic and social situations. This is especially prevalent in Grimm fairy tales where normally the character's social and economic situation is poor at best. For example, in the Grimm's Cinderella, Cinderella's social situation is contingent upon her servitude to her stepmother. As an audience member, when one reads this they are reminded of how good their social situation is in comparison.
Family Conflict in Grimm
There is an apparent parallel between Grimm’s The Juniper Tree and his previous works, familial drama. Critic Walter Scherf in a study of the introductions of children’s literature, noted that out of 176 texts, 169 of them started with a basic family conflict. Similar to the plot in Juniper Tree, in Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel, the children live with their stepmother who does not like them, and makes a plan to get rid of them. She states that in the morning she and her husband will take the children into the thickest part of the forest and leave them there, with the intention that they won’t be able to find their way back, and end up starving to death. In comparison to the Stepmother in The Juniper Tree who wanted her daughter to inherit everything from the Father, killing the Son in order to guarantee this possibility.
The Original Translation and Background
It is important to remember that the Juniper tree is not only the title of the collection, but also a piece of prose within the book. More importantly, the collection of short stories were not written by the Grimm brothers, but instead collected from “various sources… many of which were the original authors.” In total, there are twenty-seven short stories spanning three hundred and thirty-three pages. The Grimm brothers also used illustrations to add to the overall work. According to Grimm, the "illustrations [used are] delicate in detail, imaginative in concept, and truly beautiful."
Academic discourse is an important part of understanding any sort of text. The Brothers Grimm's "Juniper Tree" is no different. Listed below, in alphabetical order, are some examples of commentary written by academic scholars regarding this fairy tale. This represents their individual opinions regarding The Juniper Tree.
Alfred and Mary Elizabeth David
In Alfred and Elizabeth David's essay, they interpret "The Juniper Tree" as "folk literature for inspiration." They believe that the nature and native culture presented in most Grimm fairy tale inspires other artists in their literary endeavors  In "The Juniper Tree," this theme of nature is present. The Grimm Brothers use the juniper tree as a life source for the mother and the son. The use of nature as a life source inspired other literary work such as "Briar Rose".
Many folklorists interpret evil stepmothers as stemming from actual competition between a woman and her stepchildren for resources. In this tale, the motive is made explicit: the stepmother wants her daughter to inherit everything.
The millstone in the story would have had biblical connotations for the readers of the Grimms' days, especially as the verse Luke 17:2 says that anyone who causes a child to sin would be better off being thrown into the sea with a millstone about his neck; both refer to a millstone as a punishment for those who harm the young and innocent. Another biblical connotation could be the offering of the apple from the stepmother, possessed by the devil, to the son, which parallels the devil, disguised as a serpent, offering the forbidden fruit (traditionally an apple) to Eve.
In his essay "On Fairy-Stories", J.R.R. Tolkien cited The Juniper Tree as an example of the evils of censorship for children; many versions in his day omitted the stew, and Tolkien thought children should not be spared it, unless they were spared the whole fairy tale.
Throughout the centuries, the Grimm Brothers fairy tales have been retold and adapted by an abundance of sources. The story was adapted:
- For the comic book Grimm Fairy Tales as issue 17. The story goes: a woman kills her stepson in order to prevent him from eloping with her daughter, then buries his body underneath the juniper tree in their yard. The next day, a bird on the branch of the tree tells the daughter the truth, and out of grief, she hangs herself from the tree. The story is told to a woman named Patricia, who was contemplating having her drug-addict stepson Bryan killed because of the horrible example he set for her daughter, Carolyn. But, in a sense of twisted irony, her daughter dies anyway from a drug overdose.
- By Barbara Comyns Carr in her novel, The Juniper Tree, published by Methuen in 1985. In Comyns Carr's adaptation the stepmother is a sympathetic character and the son's death an accident. Whereas in Grimm's fairy tale it is Marlene (the daughter) who buries the bones of the son, Comyns Carr makes Marlene ignorant of the death and has the stepmother, desperate to prevent her husband from finding out and in the throes of a nervous breakdown, bury the little boy under the juniper tree. At the end of the adaptation, the stepmother does not die but is treated and begins a new life. The Juniper Tree was Barbara Comyns Carr's first novel after an 18-year hiatus in her work and was described in The Financial Times, at the time of publication, as "delicate, tough, quick-moving .... haunting".
- As The Juniper Tree, an opera in two acts by Philip Glass & Robert Moran, (1985); libretto by Arthur Yorinks.
- As the 1990 Icelandic film The Juniper Tree, based on the Grimm Brothers' tale, starring Björk as a visionary young girl whose mother has been put to death as a witch.
- In the story "The Crabapple Tree", by Robert Coover, appearing in the January 12, 2015, issue of The New Yorker.
- English Folk singer Emily Portman sings a version of the story called "Stick Stock"
- The book 'The Grimm Conclusion' (by Adam Gidwitz) was based on this fairy tale
- For a collection of fairy tales created by Lore Segal and Maurice Sendak entitled The Juniper Tree.
- Jacob and Wilheim Grimm, "The Juniper-Tree", Household Tales
- Joosen, V. "Back to Ölenberg: An Intertextual Dialogue between Fairy-Tale Retellings and the Sociohistorical Study of the Grimm Tales." Marvels & Tales, vol. 24 no. 1, 2010, pp. 99-115. Project MUSE, muse.jhu.edu/article/384533.
- Scherf, W. "Family Conflicts and Emancipation in Fairy Tales." Children's Literature, vol. 3 no. 1, 1974, pp. 77-93. Project MUSE, muse.jhu.edu/article/245884.
- Maria Tatar, The Annotated Brothers Grimm, p 209 W. W. Norton & company, London, New York, 2004 ISBN 0-393-05848-4
- "millstone - definition of millstone in English | Oxford Dictionaries". Oxford Dictionaries | English. Retrieved 2016-11-20.
- David, Alred; David, Mary Elizabeth (1964-01-01). "A Literary Approach to the Brothers Grimm". Journal of the Folklore Institute. 1 (3): 180–196.
- Zipes, Jack (2000-01-01). "The Contamination of the Fairy Tale, or The Changing Nature of the Grimms' Fairy Tales". Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts. 11 (1): 77–93.
- CARSCH, HENRY (1968-01-01). "THE ROLE OF THE DEVIL IN GRIMMS' TALES: AN EXPLORATION OF THE CONTENT AND FUNCTION OF POPULAR TALES". Social Research. 35 (3): 466–499.
- Robert, Marthe; Powell, Wyley L. (1969-01-01). "The Grimm Brothers". Yale French Studies (43): 44–56. doi:10.2307/2929635.
- Jorgensen, J. "Quantifying the Grimm Corpus: Transgressive and Transformative Bodies in the Grimms’ Fairy Tales." Marvels & Tales, vol. 28 no. 1, 2014, pp. 127-141. Project MUSE, muse.jhu.edu/article/546500.
- Markman, Roberta Hoffman (1983-01-01). "The Fairy Tale: An Introduction to Literature and the Creative Process.". College English (45): 31–45.
- Segal, Lore and Randall Jerrell. “Hansel and Gretel”. The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm. 2nd ed, Douglas and McIntyre, 2003, pp. 154-170.
- Blind, Karl (1888-01-01). "A GRIMM'S TALE IN A SHETLAND FOLKLORE VERSION". The Archaeological Review. 1 (5): 346–352.
- Maria Tatar, p 161, The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, ISBN 0-393-05163-3
- Maria Tatar, Off with Their Heads! p. 213 ISBN 0-691-06943-3
- J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories", The Tolkien Reader, p 31
- Comyns Carr, Barbara: The Juniper Tree, Adapted from a children's fairy story of the same name by the Brother's Grimm, which is far too macabre for adult reading. Published by Methuen, 1985. ISBN 0-413-59180-8
Oliver Loo. The Original 1812 Grimm Fairy Tales. A New Translation of the 1812 First Edition Kinder- und Hausmärchen Collected through the Brothers Grimm. Volume I. 200 Year Anniversary Edition 2014. ISBN 9781312419049.