An unsavory stew

'Grimm's Grimmest' restores the original Grimm fairy tales in all their bloody detail. Illustrated by Tracy Arah Dockray, introduction and translation by Maria Tatar.

Published October 31, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

Incest. Child abuse. Cannibalism. Severed limbs in bloody basins. The tabloids have nothing on Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, according to Maria Tatar. In the age of pillowy soft children's bedtime stories, Tatar has undertaken the bold mission of translating and restoring the Grimms' stories in all their original gory detail.

When did the Grimms' tales become so sanitized? According to Tatar, it began with the German brothers themselves. Wilhelm Grimm revised and reworked five editions after their first book of stories -- intended as a preservation of bawdy, crude German folklore -- received a cool reception ("the most pathetic and tasteless material imaginable," according to one critic). When it became increasingly clear that the commercial audience for the stories was children rather than scholars, Wilhelm further toned down the sex even as he enhanced the violence -- and the brutality of the punishments.

In restoring some of the detail to the stories, Tatar has also restored some of the sense -- revealing, for example, that the real reason Rapunzel got in so much hot water with the fairy was that her tower rendezvous with the prince resulted in an unplanned pregnancy. Although this new collection is ostensibly for adults, a few of the stories may be the stuff of grown-up nightmares. In "The Willful Child," for example, a child is incorrigible even in death; when its little arm pushes up from the grave in a final act of stubbornness, the mother beats it back into the ground with a rod.

According to Tatar, "The Juniper Tree," about an abusive and jealous stepmother, was one of the most widely admired of the Grimms' tales -- but strangely too grim for American audiences.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"The Juniper Tree" From "Grimm's Grimmest"

A long time ago there was a rich man who had a beautiful and pious wife. They loved each other dearly, but had no children, though they wished for them very much. The woman prayed for them day and night, but still they had none. Now, there was a courtyard in front of their house in which stood a juniper tree, and one day in winter the woman was standing beneath it, paring herself an apple, and while she was paring herself the apple she cut her finger, and the blood fell on the snow.

"Ah," said the woman, and she sighed right heavily and looked at the blood before her and was wistful. "If I had but a child as red as blood and as white as snow!"

And while she thus spoke, she became quite happy in her mind and felt just as if that were going to happen. Then she went into the house, and a month went by and the snow was gone; and two months went by, and then everything was green; and three months, and then all the flowers came out of the earth; and four months, and then all the trees in the wood grew thicker, and the green branches were closely entwined; and the birds sang until the wood resounded and the blossoms fell from the trees; then the fifth month passed away, and she stood under the juniper tree, which smelled so sweetly that her heart leaped, and she fell on her knees and was beside herself with joy; and when the sixth month was over, the fruit was large and fine, and then she was quite still; in the seventh month, she snatched at the juniper berries and ate them greedily, then she grew sorrowful and sick; when the eighth month passed, she called her husband to her, wept, and said, "If I die, then bury me beneath the juniper tree."

Then she was quite comforted and happy until the next month was over. She had a child as red as blood and as white as snow, and when she beheld him she was so delighted that she died.

Her husband buried her beneath the juniper tree, and he began to weep sore; after some time he was more at ease, and though he still wept, he could bear it, and after some time longer he took another wife.

And she took great hatred to the little boy, and pushed him from one corner to the other and slapped him here and cuffed him there, until the poor child was in continual terror, for when he came home from school he had no peaceful place.

One day the woman had gone upstairs to her room, and her little daughter followed and said, "Mother, give me an apple."

"Yes, my child," said the woman, and she gave her a fine apple out of a chest that had a great heavy lid with a great sharp iron lock.

"Mother," said the little girl, "is brother not to have one, too?"

This made the woman angry, but to her little daughter she said: "Yes, when he comes home from school." And when she saw from the window that the boy was coming, an evil thought came to her. She snatched at the apple, took it away again from her daughter, and said: "You shall not have one before your brother." And she threw the apple into the chest and shut the lid.

When the little boy came in the door, the woman kindly asked him, "My son, will you have an apple?" while she cast him a nasty look.

"Mother," said the little boy, "how dreadful you look! Yes, give me an apple."

Then she spoke as kindly as before, while holding up the top: "Come here and take one out for yourself." And as the boy was stooping over the opened chest -- crash! -- she slammed down the lid, so that his head flew off and fell among the red apples.

The woman was overwhelmed with terror and thought, "If I could but make them think that it was not done by me!" So she went to her chest of drawers, took a white handkerchief out of the top drawer, set the boy's head on his neck again, and folded the handkerchief round it so that nothing could be seen. She sat him on a chair in front of the door and put the apple in his hand.

After this Marlinchen came into the kitchen to her mother, who was standing by the fire constantly stirring a pot of hot water. "Mother," said Marlinchen, "Brother is sitting at the door, and he looks quite white, and has an apple in his hand. I asked him to give me the apple, but he did not answer me and I was quite frightened."

"Go back to him," said the woman, "and if he will not answer you, give him a box on the ear."

So Marlinchen went to the boy and said: "Brother, give me the apple." But he was silent, and she gave him a box on the ear, whereupon his head fell off.

Marlinchen was terrified. She began to cry and ran to her mother and said, "Alas, Mother, I have knocked my brother's head off!" And she cried and screamed, and would not cease.

"Marlinchen," said the woman, "what have you done? But be quiet and let no one know -- as it cannot be helped now, we will make him into a pot of stew."

The woman took the little boy and chopped him in pieces, put him into the pot, and made him into stew, but Marlinchen stood by and wept and wept, and all her tears had fallen into the pot and there was no need of any salt.

Then the father came home and sat down to dinner and he asked, "But where is my son?" His wife served up a great dish from the pot of stew, while Marlinchen wept fiercely.

Then the father asked again, "But where is my son?"

"Ah," said his wife, "he has gone across the country to his mother's great uncle; he will stay there for a while."

"And what is he going to do there?" the father asked. "He did not even say good-bye to me."

The wife replied, "Oh, he wanted to go, and asked me if he might stay six weeks. He is well taken care of there."

"Ah," said the man, "I feel so unhappy lest all should not be right. He ought to have said good-bye to me." With that he began to eat and said, "Marlinchen, why are you crying? Your brother will certainly come back." Then he said, "Ah, wife, how delicious this food is! Give me some more."

The more he ate, the more he wanted to eat, and he said, "Give me some more; you shall have none of it. It seems to me as if it were all mine." And he ate and ate and threw all the bones under the table, until he finished it all.

But Marlinchen went away to her chest of drawers and pulled her best silk handkerchief from it. She took all the bones from beneath the table, tied them up in the silk, and carried the bundle outside the door, weeping tears of blood. Then she laid them down on the green grass under the juniper tree, and after she had laid them down she suddenly felt light and did not cry anymore. At that the juniper tree began to stir itself, and the branches parted and moved together again, as if someone were rejoicing and clapping his hands.

At the same time a mist seemed to arise from the tree, and in the center of this mist it burned like a fire, and a beautiful bird flew from the fire, singing magnificently. The bird flew high up in the air, and when it had gone, the juniper tree was just as it had been before, and the handkerchief filled with bones had disappeared. Marlinchen, however, was as gay and happy as if her brother were still alive. She went merrily into the house, sat down to dinner, and ate.

When the bird flew away, it lighted on a goldsmith's house and began to sing --

"It was my mother who slaughtered me,
It was my father who ate me,
But pretty Marlinchen looked for my bones,
And laid them 'neath the juniper tree.
Kywitt, kywitt, kywitt,
Oh what a beautiful bird am I!"

The goldsmith was sitting in his workshop making a golden chain when he heard the bird singing on his roof, and a very beautiful song it seemed to him. He stood up, but as he crossed the threshold he lost one of his slippers. Yet he walked right out into the middle of the street with one shoe and one sock, still wearing his apron, holding the golden chain in one hand and his pincers in the other.

He stood still, looked up at the bird, and said: "Bird, how beautifully you can sing! Sing me that piece again."

"Nay," said the bird, "I'll not sing it twice for nothing! Give me the golden chain, and then I will sing it again for you."

"There," said the goldsmith, "there is the golden chain for you, now sing me that song again."

Then the bird came and took the golden chain in his right claw, sat in front of the goldsmith, and sang --

"It was my mother who slaughtered me,
It was my father who ate me,
But pretty Marlinchen looked for my bones,
And laid them 'neath the juniper tree.
Kywitt, kywitt, kywitt,
Oh what a beautiful bird am I!"

Then the bird flew away to a shoemaker, lighted on his roof, and sang --

"It was my mother who slaughtered me,
It was my father who ate me,
But pretty Marlinchen looked for my bones,
And laid them 'neath the juniper tree.
Kywitt, kywitt, kywitt,
Oh what a beautiful bird am I!"

The shoemaker heard the song and ran outdoors in his shirtsleeves. He looked up at his roof and was forced to hold his hand before his eyes lest the sun should blind him. "Bird," said he, "how beautifully you can sing!" Then he called in at his door: "Wife, just come outside and look at this bird. He certainly can sing." Then he called his daughter and all of his children, and his apprentices, both young men and maidens alike, and they all came to the street and looked at the bird and saw how beautiful he was, and what fine red and green feathers he had, and how like real gold his neck was, and how the eyes in his head shone like stars.

"Bird," said the shoemaker, "now sing me that song again."

"Nay," said the bird, "I'll not sing it twice for nothing; you must give me something."

"Wife," said the man, "go to the shop; upon the top shelf there stands a pair of red shoes. Bring them here."

Then the wife went and brought the shoes.

"There, bird," said the man, "now sing me that song again."

The bird came and took the shoes in his left claw, flew back on the roof, and sang --

"It was my mother who slaughtered me,
It was my father who ate me,
But pretty Marlinchen looked for my bones,
And laid them 'neath the juniper tree.
Kywitt, kywitt, kywitt,
Oh what a beautiful bird am I!"

And when he had finished his song he flew away with the chain in his right claw and the shoes in his left claw, and he flew until he reached a mill, and the mill went "clip-clap, clip-clap, clip-clap." And in the mill sat twenty miller's men hewing a millstone -- and they went "hick-hack, hick-hack, hick-hack." Then the bird went and sat in the linden tree that grew in front of the mill, and sang --

"It was my mother who slaughtered me,"

Then one of them stopped working --

"It was my father who ate me,"

Then two more stopped working and listened to that --

"But pretty Marlinchen looked for my bones,"

Then four more stopped --

"And laid them 'neath"

Now eight only were hewing --

"the juniper tree."

Now only five --

"Kywitt, kywitt, kywitt,"

And now only one --

"Oh what a beautiful bird am I!"

Then the last stopped also and heard the final words. "Bird," said he, "how beautifully you sing! Let me, too, hear that. Sing that once more for me."

"Nay," said the bird, "I'll not sing it twice for nothing. Give me the millstone and I will sing it again."

"Yes," said he, "if it belonged to me only, you should have it."

"Yes," said the others, "if he sings again, he shall have it."

Then the bird came down, and the twenty millers all set to work with a beam and raised the stone up -- hu-uh uhp, hu-uh uhp, hu-uh uhp. The bird stuck his neck through the hole, put the stone on as if it were a collar, flew onto the tree again, and sang --

"It was my mother who slaughtered me,
It was my father who ate me,
But pretty Marlinchen looked for my bones,
And laid them 'neath the juniper tree.
Kywitt, kywitt, kywitt,
Oh what a beautiful bird am I!"

And when he finished, he spread his wings, and with the chain in his right claw, the shoes in his left, and the millstone round his neck, he flew far away to his father's house.

There in the room sat the father, the mother, and Marlinchen at dinner, and the father said, "How light and happy I feel!"

"Nay," said the mother, "I feel so uneasy, just as if a heavy storm were coming."

Marlinchen, however, sat weeping and weeping.

Then came the bird flying, and as it seated itself on the roof, the father said, "Ah, I feel so truly happy, and the sun is shining so beautifully outside. I feel just as if I were about to see some old friend again."

"Nay," said the woman, as she tore her stays open, "I feel so anxious, my teeth chatter, and I seem to have fire in my veins." But Marlinchen still sat in a corner crying. She held her plate before her eyes and cried until it was quite filled with water.

Then the bird sat on the juniper tree, and sang --

"It was my mother who slaughtered me,"

Then the mother shut her eyes and covered her ears and would not see or hear, but her eyes burned and flashed like lightning, and there was a roaring in her ears like the most violent storm --

"It was my father who ate me,"

"Ah, Mother," said the father, "that is a beautiful bird! He sings so splendidly, and the sun shines so warm, and there is a smell just like cinnamon."

"But pretty Marlinchen looked for my bones,"

Then Marlinchen laid her head on her knees and wept without ceasing, but the father said: "I am going out, I must see the bird quite close."

"Oh, don't go," said his wife, "I feel as if the whole house were shaking and on fire."

But her husband went out and looked at the bird --

"And laid them 'neath the juniper tree.
Kywitt, kywitt, kywitt,
Oh what a beautiful bird am I!"

On this the bird let the golden chain fall, and it fell exactly round the man's neck, so exactly round that it fitted beautifully.

The man went back indoors and said: "Just look at the handsome golden chain the beautiful bird has given me!" But his wife was so terrified that she fell to the floor and the cap fell off her head.

Then sang the bird once more --

"It was my mother who slaughtered me,"

"Would that I were a thousand feet beneath the earth so as not to hear that!" the woman cried.

"It was my father who ate me,"

Then she fell down again as if dead.

"But pretty Marlinchen looked for my bones,"

"Ah," said Marlinchen, "I, too, will go out and see if the bird will give me anything." Then she went out --

"And laid them 'neath the juniper tree."

Then the bird threw the shoes down to her.

"Kywitt, kywitt, kywitt,
Oh what a beautiful bird am I!"

All at once Marlinchen was lighthearted and joyous. She put on the new red shoes and danced and leaped into the house.

"Ah," said she, "I was so sad when I went out and now I am light; that splendid bird has given me a pair of red shoes!"

"Nay!" said her mother, and she sprang to her feet and her hair stood on end like flames of fire, "I feel as if the world were coming to an end! I, too, will go out and see if I feel lighter." As she went out the door -- crash! -- the bird threw the millstone down on her head and crushed her flat to the ground.

The father and Marlinchen heard that and rushed out to see smoke and flames and fire rising from the spot. When it was over, there stood the little brother, who took his father and Marlinchen by the hand, and all three were happy and went into the house and ate their dinner.

By Introduction by Camille Peri

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Children Fairy Tales Family