The Flexibility of Fairy Tales, Uncategorized

The Twelve Brothers by Grimm

Image result for the twelve brothers grimm

Today, we’re taking a look at my Bookshelf. Recently I re-read “The Twelve Brothers” by the Grimm Brothers…


In a kingdom, there once lived a King and Queen with twelve sons. However, when the Queen became pregnant again, the King declared that if the child was a girl, they would have to put the twelve sons to death so that their daughter could inherit all the riches. The king prepared twelve small coffins in case his wife gave birth to a girl. But the Queen could not stand losing her sons and so she warned them to run away until the child was born. If the child was a girl she would wave red flag to warn them to stay away and if she waved a white flag they could come home.

Lo, and behold, when the time came, the Queen raised a red flag and so the brothers fled further and deeper into the forest, vowing revenge on any woman that they should cross, “If we run into a girl, her red blood will flow.”

Now, they were understandably upset, but killing the next girl you meet might be taking it a bit far.

The brothers lived in the woods for quite some time and Benjamin, the youngest, often remained at home cooking and cleaning the house.

Ten years later back at the castle, the young princess grew into a beautiful girl with a kind heart and a golden star on her forehead. When she discovered twelve boy shirts, she asked her mother the Queen, who confessed everything about her brothers. Being 10 years old, she was, of course, quite old enough to leave the castle and venture into the forest in search of her brothers.

The princess came across the brother’s cottage and found only Benjamin in the home. When he realized who she was, Benjamin was overjoyed and hid her until the rest of the brothers came home. When they arrived he made them promise to spare the life of the first girl to cross their threshold. Once they agreed, Benjamin revealed the princess and all of the brothers were overjoyed as well. Together the twelve brothers and one sister lived happily in the cottage together.

One day, the young princess went out to pick twelve white lilies for her brothers. However, when she picked the flowers, her brothers were turned into Ravens and she was left alone. Then, an old woman, who probably owned the flowers, mysteriously advised her, “There is one way to save them, but it’s so hard that you can’t possibly hope to free them that way. You would not be able to say a word for seven years, and you wouldn’t be able to smile at all. If you speak just one word, or if a single hour is missing in the seven years, then everything will be in vain–in fact one word would kill your brothers.”

7 years of solitude for picking some flowers because that seems fair. Anyway…

Image result for the twelve brothers grimm

The young princess vowed to do just that and so she found a hollow tree, sat in it, and started spinning. (Who knows why she needed to spin.) One day, a king was in the forest and found the girl. Of course, he was so enchanted by her that he brought her home with him and married her. Although the king and queen lived happily for several years, she never spoke or smiled or laughed.

Now the King’s mother was a wicked woman who hated the young princess and believed that she was evil. Through the years, the mother constantly accused the princess of doing wicked and evil things. Finally, she persuaded her son, the King, that his wife was evil and sentenced her to death.

Even as the flames were lit, the princess did not say a word. However, just as the fire began to touch her clothes, the seven years ended and there “was a whirring sound in the air and twelve Ravens came flying through the air and swooped down. When they touched the ground, they turned into her twelve brothers.”

Image result for the twelve brothers grimm

The brothers rescued their sister from the flames who could finally smile and speak. She then told the king why she had made the vow to never speak or smile and he was overjoyed to find that she was not evil.

I don’t know if I could be as forgiving as the princess.

The King brought the princess back into the castle and they lived in harmony until their deaths. Meanwhile the wicked mother-in-law was put in a barrel filled with boiling oil and poisonous snaked and died “a painful death.”

Sometimes I really do have to wonder if these stories were truly told to children as bedtime stories.


The Obvious Moral of the Story

  • This fairy tale is definitely promoting the virtue of long-suffering. To be long-suffering means to have patience and willingness to suffer based on your love for another. Clearly, the princess has long-suffering and is rewarded for her virtue.

The Not-so-ObviousMoral of the Story

  • What do we make of her poor brothers? First, they are forced to flee from their home and once they finally find happiness, they are turned into Ravens for seven years. I would argue that the not-so-obvious moral is endurance and perseverance. The brothers did not allow their situations to corrupt them.

The thing I find the most interesting about this fairy tale:

  • In the beginning, the king tells his wife that if their thirteenth child is a girl, their twelve boys must be put to death so that the girl can inherit all the riches. While I am, of course, shocked and horrified that any parent would want to kill their child or children, I am more shocked that in this story they want to kill the male children. In countries all over the world, it is often the female child who is killed or abandoned for not being male. The Grimm brothers definitely added a twist to the norm.

This is one of the Grimm Brothers’s longer fairy tales. What do you think of it?


31 thoughts on “The Twelve Brothers by Grimm”

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