The Juniper Tree

The Juniper Tree Fairy Tale

A stepmother resents her stepson and kills him. But what to do with a dead stepson? Turn him into a tasty stew? Bury him under the juniper tree?

The Juniper Tree is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a couple who wishes for a child and get a boy. The mother dies, the stepmother kills him and feeds him to his father. Turning into a beautiful bird, the boy sings about it. He returns with gifts, kills his stepmother and becomes alive again.

Complete text The Juniper Tree

A couple wishes for a child

Long ago, around two thousand years ago, there was a rich man who had a beautiful and pious wife. They loved each other dearly.

They had no children, though they wished for them very much and the woman prayed for them day and night.

Now there was a courtyard in front of their house. There stood a juniper tree. One day in winter the woman was standing beneath it, paring herself an apple. While she was paring herself the apple she cut her finger and her blood fell on the snow.

“Ah,” she said and sighed heavily, looking at the blood before her and filled with unhappiness. “Ah, if I had but a child as red as blood and as white as snow!”

While she said this, she became quite happy in her mind and felt just as if that were going to happen. She went into the house.

Time passes and the child is born

A month went by, the snow was gone.

Two months, everything was green.

Three months, all the flowers came out of the earth.

Four months, all the trees in the wood grew thicker, the green branches were all closely entwined, the birds sang until the wood resounded and the blossoms fell from the trees.

The fifth month passed away and she stood under the juniper tree, which smelt so sweetly that her heart leapt and she fell on her knees and was beside herself with joy.

When the sixth month was over the fruit was large and fine and she grew quiet.

The seventh month she snatched at the juniper berries and ate them greedily, growing sick and sorrowful.

The eighth month passed, she called her husband to her and wept and said, “If I die then bury me beneath the juniper tree.”

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

Her husband buried her beneath the juniper tree, weeping his eyes sore all day. After some time he was more at ease and though he still wept he could bear it. When more time had passed, he took another wife.

The jealous stepmother tortures the son

The first wife’s child was a little son, as red as blood and as white as snow. By the second wife he had a daughter. When the woman looked at her daughter she loved her very much, but then she looked at the little boy and it seemed to cut her to the heart, for the thought came into her mind that he would always stand in her way.

She was forever thinking how she could get all the fortune for her daughter. The Evil One filled her mind with this until she was quite angry with the little boy. She slapped him here and cuffed him there, until the unhappy child was in continual terror, for when he came out of school he had no peace in any place.

One day the woman had gone upstairs to her room. Her little daughter went up too and said, “Mother, give me an apple.”

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

“Mother,” the little daughter said, “is brother not to have one too?”

This made the woman angry, but she said, “Yes, when he comes out of school.”

When she saw from the window that he was coming, it was just as if the Devil entered into her. She snatched the apple away again from her daughter and said, “You will not have one before your brother.”

Then she threw the apple into the chest and shut it. The little boy came in at the door and the Devil made her say to him kindly, “My son, would you like an apple?”

She looked wickedly at him. “Mother,” the little boy said, “why do you look so dreadful?! Yes, give me an apple.”

Then it seemed to her as if she were forced to say to him, “Come with me.”

The son is killed and the daughter is tricked

She opened the lid of the chest and said, “Take out an apple for yourself.” While the little boy was stooping inside, the Devil prompted her, and crash! she shut the lid down. His head flew off and fell among the red apples.

She was overwhelmed with terror and thought, “If I could but make them think that it was not done by me!”

So she went upstairs to her room to her chest of drawers, took a white handkerchief out of the top drawer, set the head on the neck again, folded the handkerchief so that nothing could be seen, set 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 with a pan of hot water before her which she was constantly stirring round. “Mother,” Marlinchen said, “brother is sitting at the door, 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 her mother, “and if he will not answer you, give him a box on the ear.”

So Marlinchen went to him and said, “Brother, give me the apple.”

He was silent and she gave him a box on the ear, on which his head fell down. She was terrified, began crying and screaming, ran to her mother and said, “Mother, mother, I have knocked my brother’s head off!”

She wept and wept and could not be comforted.

The son is turned into a stew and eaten

“Marlinchen, what have you done? But be quiet and let no one know; it cannot be helped now, we will make him into a stew.”

The mother took the little boy, chopped him in pieces, put him into the pan and made him into a stew. Marlinchen stood by weeping and weeping. All her tears fell into the pan and there was no need of any salt.

Then the father came home, sat down to dinner and said, “But where is my son?”

The mother served up a great stew and Marlinchen wept and could not leave off. Then the father again said, “But where is my son?”

“Ah,” the mother said, “he has gone across the country to his mother’s great uncle; he will stay there awhile.”

“And what is he going to do there? He did not even say good bye to me?!”

“Oh, he wanted to go and asked me if he might stay six weeks, he is well taken care of there.”

“Mmmm, I feel so unhappy, maybe somethin is wrong. 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. Ah, wife, how delicious this food is, give me some more.”

And the more he ate the more he wanted to have. He said, “Give me some more, you shall have none of it. It seems to me as if it were all mine.”

He ate and ate and threw all the bones under the table, until he had finished eating everything. Marlinchen went away to her chest of drawers. She took her best silk handkerchief out of the bottom drawer, got all the bones from beneath the table, tied them up in her silk handkerchief and carried them outside the door, weeping tears of blood.

A beautiful bird emerges out of the juniper tree

There the juniper tree began to stir itself. The branches parted asunder and moved together again, just as if someone was rejoicing and clapping his hands. At the same time a mist seemed to arise from the tree. In the centre of this mist it burned like a fire. A beautiful bird flew out of the fire singing magnificently. He flew high up in the air and when he was gone, the juniper tree was just as it had been before, only the handkerchief with the bones was no longer there.

Marlinchen, however, was as joyful and happy as if her brother were still alive. She went merrily into the house and sat down to eat dinner.

The beautiful bird sings for the goldsmith

The bird flew away, lighted on a goldsmith’s house and began to sing:

“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,
Tweet, tweet, what a beautiful bird am I!”

The goldsmith was sitting in his workshop making a gold chain. When he heard the bird which was sitting singing on his roof, it seemed to him a very beautiful song. He stood up, but as he crossed the threshold he lost one of his slippers. Right up the middle of the street he went with one shoe on and one sock. He had his apron on, in one hand he had the gold chain and in the other the pincers. The sun was shining brightly on the street.

He went right on, stood still and said to the bird, “Bird,” he said, “how beautiful you sing! Sing me that piece again.”

“No,” 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.”

The bird came and took the golden chain in his right claw, went and sat in front of the goldsmith, singing,

“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,
Tweet, Tweet, what a beautiful bird am I!”

The beautiful bird sings for the shoemaker

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

“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,
Tweet, tweet, what a beautiful bird am I!”

The shoemaker heard that and ran out of doors in his shirt sleeves. He looked up at his roof and was forced to hold his hand before his eyes to not be blinded by the sun. “Bird,” he said, “how beautiful you sing!”

Then he called in at his door, “Wife, just come outside, there is a bird, look at that bird, he just can sing well.”

He called his daughter, his children, his apprentices, boys and girls. They all came up the street and looked at the bird and saw how beautiful he was, what fine red and green feathers he had, how like real gold his neck was and how the eyes in his head shone like stars.

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

“No,” the bird said, “I don’t sing twice for nothing; you must give me something.”

“Wife,” the man said, “go to the garret, upon the top shelf there stands a pair of red shoes, bring them down.”

The wife went and brought the shoes. “There, bird,” said the man, “now sing me that piece again.” Then the bird came, took the shoes in his left claw, flew back on the roof and sang:

“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,
Tweet, tweet, what a beautiful bird am I!”

The beautiful bird sings for the miller’s men

And when he had sung the whole song he flew away. In his right claw he had the chain, in his left the shoes. He flew far away to a mill. The mill went, “klipp klapp, klipp klapp, klipp klapp,” and in the mill sat twenty miller’s men hewing a stone, and cutting, hick hack, hick hack, hick hack, and the mill went klipp klapp, klipp klapp, klipp klapp. The bird sat on a lime tree standing in front of the mill and sang:

“My mother she killed me,”

One of them stopped working,

“My father he ate me.”

Two more stopped working and listened to that,

“My sister, little Marlinchen,”

Four more stopped,

“Gathered together all my bones,
Tied them in a silken handkerchief,”

Only eight were still hewing,

“Laid them beneath”

Only five,

“The juniper-tree,”

And now only one,

“Tweet, tweet, what a beautiful bird am I!”

Then the last one also stopped. He heard the last words and said, “Bird, how beautiful you sing! Let me, too, hear that. Sing that once more for me.”

“No,” the bird said, “I will not sing twice for nothing. Give me the millstone and then I will sing it again.”

“Yes,” he said, “if it belonged to me only, you could have it.”

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

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

“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,
Tweet, tweet, what a beautiful bird am I!”

The beautiful bird returns home with gifts

When he he was finished singing, he spread his wings. In his right claw he had the chain, in his left the shoes and around his neck the millstone. He flew far away to his father’s house.

In the room sat the father, the mother, and Marlinchen at dinner. The father said, “How lighthearted I feel, how happy I am!”

“No,” the mother said, “I feel so uneasy, just as if a heavy storm were coming.”

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

“No,” the woman said, “I feel so anxious, my teeth chatter and I seem to have fire in my veins.” And she tore her corset open, but Marlinchen sat in a corner crying, holding her plate before her eyes and crying till it was quite wet. Then the bird sat on the juniper tree, and sang:

“My mother she killed me,”

The mother stopped her ears and shut her eyes. She would not see or hear, but there was a roaring in her ears like the most violent storm and her eyes burnt and flashed like lightning,

“My father he ate me,”

“Ah, mother,” says the man, “that is a beautiful bird! He sings so splendidly and the sun shines so warm, and there is a smell just like cinnamon.”

“My sister, little Marlinchen,”

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

“Oh, don’t go,” the woman said, “I feel as if the whole house were shaking and on fire.”

But the man went out and looked at the bird:

“Gathered together all my bones,
Tied them in a silken handkerchief,
Laid them beneath the juniper tree,
Tweet, tweet, what a beautiful bird am I!”

On this the bird let the golden chain fall. It fell exactly around the man’s neck, so exactly that it fitted beautifully. He went in and said, “Just look what a fine bird that is, what a handsome gold chain he has given me and how pretty he is!”

But the woman was terrified and fell down on the floor in the room. Her cap fell off her head. Then sang the bird once more:

“My mother she killed me.”

“Would that I were a thousand feet beneath the earth so as not to hear that!”

“My father he ate me,”

Then the woman fell down again as if dead.

“My sister, little Marlinchen,”

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

“Gathered together all my bones,
Tied them in a silken handkerchief,”

Then he threw down the shoes to her.

“Laid them beneath the juniper-tree,
Tweet, tweet, what a beautiful bird am I!”

She was lighthearted and joyous and she put on the new red shoes, danced and leaped into the house. “Ah,” she said, “I was so sad when I went out and now I am so lighthearted; that is a splendid bird, he has given me a pair of red shoes!”

The stepmother is killed and the boy is brought back

“Well,” said the woman and sprang to her feet and her hair stood up like flames of fire, “I feel as if the world were coming to an end! I, too, will go out and see if my heart feels lighter.”

As she went out the door, crash! the bird threw down the millstone on her head and she was entirely crushed by it.

The father and Marlinchen heard what had happened and went out. Smoke, flames and fire were rising from the place. When that was over, there stood the little brother. He took his father and Marlinchen by the hand, and all three were right glad. They went into the house to dinner and ate.

Tips for Telling The Juniper Tree

Storyteller Rudolf Roos
  • There are many striking images in this story: the chest and the cutting off of the head, the dead boy with the apple, the juniper tree, the bird etc. Do the work of imagining and seeing these images before you tell the story, it will deepen your telling.
  • The different characters have different emotions during the story. It can help you to feel the story better to tell it from the vantage point of the different characters. Example: tell the story as Marlinchen would tell it.
  • Take the song which is repeated throughout the story and fit the words and melody to your way of saying / singing it. It needs to flow smoothly.
8 storytellers tell The Juniper Tree

All Questions Answered

Who wrote the story The Juniper Tree?

It was written down by the painter Philipp Otto Runge and published in a journal in 1808. The Brothers Grimm knew other versions of this story and included it in the first edition of their collection of fairy tales.

When was The Juniper Tree written?

It was written down by the painter Philipp Otto Runge in 1808 and included in the 1812 edition of the Grimm’s fairy tales.

More useful information

Photo credits: Andrew Gloor on Unsplash

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