The Juniper Tree (fairy tale)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Marlinchen mourning the loss over her stepbrother whilst a bird emerges from the juniper tree.

"The Juniper Tree" is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm.[1] In some editions the story is called The Almond Tree. The text in the Grimm collection is in Low German.

It 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.[2]


The Juniper Tree is a tragic German tale written by the Brothers of Grimm. The story begins with a wealthy man and his beautiful wife. They love each other dearly. One day while paring an apple, the wife cuts herself and blood falls to the snow. It is this that leads her to wish for a daughter “as red as blood and as white as snow.” She already has a son. Several months later, her dream comes true. Overcome with joy, she dies. The husband remarries and has a daughter. The wife despises the boy, but cherishes Marlinchen (her daughter). Coming home from school one day, the son asks for an apple. Reaching into the chest, the lid comes down and slices his head off. In an effort to cover up his death, the wife claims the boy has left to stay with relatives. In actuality, the boy has been chopped up into pieces and made into a black pudding. He is served for dinner. The sons half sister Marlinchen feels responsible for her brothers death. She buries his bones under the Juniper tree. Later, a bird is magically born from that same ground. The bird, a microcosm of the son, sings his songs of death to anyone who will listen. Eventually, he flies back to his former house. Marlinchen and her father are joyous. They are encapsulated by the birds beautiful music. The sick mother is not as thrilled. As the bird sings its third and final song, the mother walks outside and is fittingly killed by a millstone.


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.

The Son[edit]

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.

The Stepmother[edit]

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 rationalise 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. Sh eventually buries the bones of her stepbrother beneath the juniper tree.

The Father[edit]

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 Goldsmith, the Shoemaker and the Miller[edit]

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.

The First Wife[edit]

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.


The themes of cannibalism, death, food, and song play an important role in the short story, The Juniper Tree.


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].[1] The husband then eats the stew, saying how “delicious [the] food is," and even asks for the wife to "give [him] some more.” [1]

The Parallel Between Food and Death[edit]

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."[1] 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?”[1] 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[3] 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." [4]

Gift Giving[edit]

When the son becomes a bird, he requests gifts such as a gold chain from his father 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.


The song sung by the beautiful bird is a symbolic motif in that it served as a vessel to expose the wrongful death of the stepson.


"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!"[1]

Child Abuse[edit]

The stepmother in the "Juniper Tree" is often seen abusing her stepson and eventually murdering him. This theme, along with cruel oppression, is seen in other Brothers Grimm's work such as The Frog King and Repunzel. 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 Devil[edit]

The devil makes an appearance in many Grimm tales, often in “various disguises.”[5] He takes many identities including anything from a “little man,” to an “old goat.”[5] 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.

The Theory of Grimm[edit]

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.”[6] 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.”[6] 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."[6]

The Original Translation and Background[edit]

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.”[7] 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."[1]


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 done b academics regarding this fairy tale. This represents their individual opinions regarding the "Juniper Tree" fairy tale.

Alfred and Mary Elizabeth David[edit]

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.[8] 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".

Maria Tatar[edit]

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.[9]

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.[10] 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.

J.R.R Tolkien[edit]

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.[11]


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".[12]
  • 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.[13]
  • In the story "The Crabapple Tree", by Robert Coover, appearing in the January 12, 2015, issue of The New Yorker.[14]
  • 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.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Jacob and Wilheim Grimm, "The Juniper-Tree", Household Tales
  2. ^ Maria Tatar, The Annotated Brothers Grimm, p 209 W. W. Norton & company, London, New York, 2004 ISBN 0-393-05848-4
  3. ^ "millstone - definition of millstone in English | Oxford Dictionaries". Oxford Dictionaries | English. Retrieved 2016-11-20. 
  4. ^ David, Alfred, and Mary Elizabeth David. “A Literary Approach to the Brothers Grimm.” Journal of the Folklore Institute, vol. 1, no. 3, 1964, pp. 186.
  6. ^ a b c Robert, Marthe; Powell, Wyley L. (1969-01-01). "The Grimm Brothers". Yale French Studies (43): 44–56. doi:10.2307/2929635. 
  7. ^ Blind, Karl (1888-01-01). "A GRIMM'S TALE IN A SHETLAND FOLKLORE VERSION". The Archaeological Review. 1 (5): 346–352. 
  8. ^ David, Alfred, and Mary Elizabeth David. “A Literary Approach to the Brothers Grimm.” Journal of the Folklore Institute, vol. 1, no. 3, 1964, pp. 187.
  9. ^ Maria Tatar, p 161, The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, ISBN 0-393-05163-3
  10. ^ Maria Tatar, Off with Their Heads! p. 213 ISBN 0-691-06943-3
  11. ^ J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy-Stories", The Tolkien Reader, p 31
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ The Contamination of the Fairy Tale, or The Changing Nature of the Grimms' Fairy Tales, p 84

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.