A little brother and little sister run away from their cruel stepmother. But that’s not the last they’ve seen of her…
Little Brother and Little Sister is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. They flee their cruel stepmother. A bewitched brook changes the brother into a roebuck. A king marries the sister, but soon she is killed by her stepmother. When they succeed in bringing her back to life again, they kill the stepmother and the brother changes back into a man.
Little Brother and Little Sister leave the stepmother
Little brother took his little sister by the hand. He said, “You know sister, that since our mother died we have had no happiness. Every day our stepmother beating us. Kicking us is we come too close. And our meals, these hard crusts of left over bread. The little dog under the table is better off than us, she gets better food. May heaven have pity on us. If only our mother knew. Come with me and let’s go away.”
They walked the whole day over meadows, fields, and stony places. When it rained the little sister said, “Heaven and our hearts are weeping together.”
In the evening they came to a large forest. They were so weary with sorrow and hunger and the long walk, that they lay down in a hollow tree and fell asleep.
The next day when they awoke the sun was already high in the sky. It shone down hot into the tree. Then the brother said, “Sister, I am thirsty; if I knew of a little brook I would go and just take a drink; I think I hear one running.”
The brother got up and took the little sister by the hand, and they set off to find the brook.
Drinking from bewitched brooks
The wicked stepmother was a witch. She had seen how the two children had gone away. She had crept after them secretly, as witches do creep, and had bewitched all the brooks in the forest.
Now when they found a little brook leaping brightly over the stones, the brother was going to drink out of it, but the sister heard how it said as it ran, “Who drinks of me will be a tiger; who drinks of me will be a tiger.”
Then the sister cried, “Pray, dear brother, do not drink, or you will become a wild beast, and tear me to pieces.”
The brother did not drink, although he was so thirsty, but said, “I will wait for the next spring.”
When they came to the next brook the sister heard this also say, “Who drinks of me will be a wolf; who drinks of me will be a wolf.”
Then the sister cried out, “Pray, dear brother, do not drink, or you will become a wolf, and devour me.”
The brother did not drink, and said, “I will wait until we come to the next spring, but then I must drink, say what you like; for my thirst is too great.”
And when they came to the third brook the sister heard how it said as it ran, “Who drinks of me will be a roebuck; who drinks of me will be a roebuck.”
The sister said, “Oh, I pray you, dear brother, do not drink, or you will become a roebuck, and run away from me.”
But the brother had knelt down at once by the brook, and had bent down and drunk some of the water.
Little brother becomes a roebuck
As soon as the first drops touched his lips he lay there a young roebuck. Now the sister wept over her poor bewitched brother. The little roe also wept and sat sorrowfully next to her. At last the girl said, “Be quiet, dear little roe, I will never, never leave you.”
She untied her golden garter and put it round the roebuck’s neck. She plucked rushes and wove them into a soft cord. With this she tied the little beast and led it on, walking deeper and deeper into the forest.
When they had gone a very long way they came at last to a little house. The girl looked in and as it was empty, she thought, “We can stay and live here.”
She sought leaves and moss to make a soft bed for the roe. Every morning she went out and gathered roots and berries and nuts for herself, and brought tender grass for the roe. The roe ate out of her hand and was content and played round about her.
In the evening when the sister was tired and had said her prayer, she laid her head upon the roebuck’s back: that was her pillow, and she slept softly on it. If only the brother had had his human form it would have been a delightful life.
The king hunts the roebuck
For some time they were alone like this in the wilderness.
One day it happened that the King of the country held a great hunt in the forest. The blasts of the horns, the barking of dogs and the excited shouts of the huntsmen rang through the trees. The roebuck heard it all and wanted to be a part of it.
“Oh,” he said to his sister, “let me be off to the hunt, I cannot bear it any longer.”
He begged so much that at last she agreed. “But,” said she to him, “come back to me in the evening. I must shut my door for fear of the rough huntsmen, so knock and say, ‘My little sister, let me in!’ that I may know you; and if you do not say that, I shall not open the door.”
Then the young roebuck sprang away so happy was he and so joyful in the open air.
The King and the huntsmen saw the pretty creature and started after him, but they could not catch him. When they thought that they surely had him, away he sprang through the bushes and could not be seen.
When it was dark he ran to the cottage, knocked, and said, “My little sister, let me in.” The door was opened for him, he jumped in and rested himself the whole night in his soft bed.
The next day the hunt went on afresh. When the roebuck again heard the buglehorn, and the ho! ho! of the huntsmen, he had no peace, but said, “Sister, let me out, I must be off.”
His sister opened the door for him, and said, “But you must be here again in the evening and say your password.”
When the King and his huntsmen again saw the young roebuck with the golden collar, they all chased him, but he was too quick and nimble for them. This went on for the whole day, but at last by the evening the huntsmen had surrounded him. One of them wounded him a little in the foot, so that he limped and ran slowly.
A hunter hears the password
A hunter crept after him to the cottage and heard how he said, “My little sister, let me in,” and saw that the door was opened for him, and was shut again at once. The huntsman took notice of it, went to the King and told him what he had seen and heard. The King said, “Tomorrow we will hunt once more.”
The little sister was dreadfully frightened when she saw that her fawn was hurt. She washed the blood off him, laid herbs on the wound and said, “Go to your bed, dear roe, that you may get well again.”
The wound was so slight that the roebuck did not feel it anymore next morning. When he again heard the sport outside, he said, “I cannot bear it, I must be there; they shall not find it so easy to catch me.”
His sister was upset and said, “This time they will kill you. Here am I alone in the forest and forsaken by all the world. I will not let you out.”
“Then you will have me die of grief,” answered the roe; “when I hear the buglehorns I feel like jumping out of my skin.”
The sister could not do anything else but to open the door for him with a heavy heart. The roebuck, full of health and joy, ran into the forest.
When the King saw him, he said to his huntsmen, “Now chase him all day long till night-fall, but take care that no one does him any harm.”
The king visits the sister
As soon as the sun had set, the King said to the huntsman, “Now come and show me the cottage in the wood.”
When he was at the door, he knocked and called out, “Dear little sister, let me in.”
The door opened and the King walked in. There stood a young woman more lovely than any he had ever seen. She was frightened when she saw, not her little roe, but a man come in who wore a golden crown upon his head.
The King looked kindly at her, stretched out his hand, and said, “Will you go with me to my palace and be my dear wife?”
“Yes,” answered the young woman, “but the roe must go with me, I cannot leave him.”
The King said, “It shall stay with you as long as you live and shall want nothing.”
When the roe came running in, the sister again tied him with the cord of rushes, took it in her own hand, and went away from the cottage with the King.
The King took the lovely young woman upon his horse and carried her to his palace, where a spectactular wedding was held. She was now the Queen, and they lived for a long time happily together. The roebuck was tended and cherished, and ran about in the palace-garden.
The wicked stepmother returns
The wicked step-mother, because of whom the children had gone out into the world, thought all the time that the sister had been torn to pieces by the wild beasts in the wood and that the brother had been shot for a roebuck by the huntsmen.
When she heard that they were so happy and so well off, envy and hatred rose in her heart and left her no peace. She thought of nothing else but how she could bring them again to misfortune.
Her own daughter, who was ugly as night and had only one eye, grumbled at her and said, “A Queen! I should have been a Queen.”
“Only be quiet,” answered the old woman. She comforted her by saying, “when the time comes I shall be ready.”
As time went on the Queen had a pretty little boy. At that time the King was out hunting.
Killing the Queen
The old witch took the form of the chambermaid, went into the room where the Queen lay, and said to her, “Come, the bath is ready. It will do you good and give you fresh strength. Make haste before it gets cold.”
The stepmothers daughter was also close by. They carried the weak Queen into the bathroom and put her into the bath. Then they shut the door and ran away. In the bathroom they had made a fire of such deadly heat that the beautiful young Queen soon suffocated.
When this was done the old woman took her daughter and put a nightcap on her head. She laid her in bed in place of the Queen. She gave her also the shape and the look of the Queen. The only thing she could not change was the lost eye. In order that the King would not see it, she needed to lie on the side on which she had no eye.
In the evening the King came home. He heard that he had a son and was very happy. He went to the bed to his dear wife to see how she was.
The old woman quickly called out, “For your life leave the curtains closed! The Queen needs to rest, she cannot see so much light yet.”
The King went away. He did not find out that a false Queen was lying in the bed.
The dead Queen comes to nurse
At midnight all slept except the nurse, who was sitting in the nursery by the cradle. She saw the door open and the true Queen walk in. She took the child out of the cradle, laid it on her arm and gave it milk. Then she shook up its pillow, laid the child down again, and covered it with the little quilt. She did not forget the roebuck, but went into the corner where it lay and stroked its back. Silently she left.
The next morning the nurse asked the guards whether anyone had come into the palace during the night, but they answered, “No, we have seen no one.”
Many nights this happened. The Queen never spoke a word. Yhe nurse always saw her, but she did not dare to tell anyone about it.
After some time, one night the Queen began to speak:
“How fares my child, how fares my roe?
Twice shall I come, then never more.”
The nurse did not answer, but when the Queen was gone, she went to the King and told him all. The King said, “Ah, heavens! what is this? Tomorrow night I will watch by the child.”
In the evening the King went into the nursery. At midnight the Queen again appeared and said:
“How fares my child, how fares my roe?
Once will I come, then never more.”
She nursed the child as she was used to do and then disappeared. The King dared not speak to her, but the next night he watched again. The Queen said:
“How fares my child, how fares my roe?
This time I come, then never more.”
The Queen receives life again
The King could not restrain himself. He sprang towards her, saying, “You can be none other than my dear wife.”
She answered, “Yes, I am your dear wife.”
At that same moment she received life again, and by God’s grace became fresh, rosy, and full of health.
She told the King about the evil deed of the wicked witch and her daughter. He ordered both to be led before the judge and judgment was delivered against them.
The daughter was taken into the forest where she was torn to pieces by wild beasts, but the witch was cast into the fire and miserably burnt.
As soon as she was burnt the roebuck changed his shape and received his human form again. And so the sister and brother lived happily together all their lives.
Tips for Telling
- There are many cruel, but also many tender moments in this fairy tale. It’s this contrast that gives extra power to your telling. Feel the tender moments when the sister cares for her roebuck brother, and when the dead Queen cares for her child.
- In fairy tales things often happen three times. Don’t skip two times by summarizing them, instead tell it three times but make the differences interesting.
- When preparing this story, make sure you see all the images yourself. They are strong, and the more you have seen them, the more your listeners will see them.
All Questions Answered
The story Little Brother and Little Sister was originally written down by the Brothers Grimm. It was told to them by a woman called Marie Hassenpflug.
The Brothers Grimm collected this story and wrote it down in 1812 in their book ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’. They expanded and revised it for the second, 1819 edition.
Yes, it is a well know tale in different countries. It was also recorded in the Italian Pentamerone as the tale of Ninnillo and Nennella. In Russia the story was collected by Alexander Afanasyev as the tale ‘Sister Alionushka, Brother Ivanushka’.