The Juniper Tree by the Grimm Brothers

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One of the most intriguing aspects of fairy tales, and the different stories we’ve read so far, is the interconnectedness of the stories, even those of different types. In the Grimm brothers’ “The Juniper Tree,” the pious wife of the rich man wished for a child “as red as blood and white as snow” (Grimm in Tatar, 1999, p. 190). Interestingly, one of the instances I found when reviewing this minor detail is that another instance occurs not in the story of a different author, but in the Grimm brothers’ version of “Snow White.” It makes me wonder why the authors chose to reuse this particular detail, not to mention what it means to want a child “red as blood.”

While many of the Hansel and Gretel type stories used bird imagery, it is the imagery from “The Juniper Tree” that particularly stands out, if only because of the brothers’ use of an allusion to the mythical Egyptian/Greek phoenix. When the boy’s sister takes his remains in silk to bury under the tree, there was a mist, “and in the middle of the mist burned a flame, and from the flame a beautiful bird emerged and began singing gloriously” (Grimm in Tatar, 1999, p. 192). In both Greek and Egyptian mythology, the phoenix was a bird that, after from 100-600 years (depending on the version of the myth told), bursts into flames and is reborn from the ashes of that fire.

That the boy’s resurrection as a bird comes from the Juniper tree is appropriate since it was under that tree, due to the blood of his mother, which could be considered a sacrifice to the tree, that he was conceived. Once again, the tree is given a sacrifice, in this case the bones of the boy, and this is what allows him to be resurrected. Upon rereading, the bird may be a gift from his mother, who is also buried beneath the tree.

The phoenix imagery comes full circle at the end of the story, when the boy is restored to his former state of being, resurrected from the ashes of the woman who took his life. I wonder what possessed the brothers to take the bird imagery from the story and shift it to the specific imagery of the phoenix.

Brothers Grimm. The Juniper Tree in Tatar, M. (1999). The Classic Fairy Tales. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

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