“Where are those blasted boys!”, a father grumbles. “I wish they were all turned into ravens.” And so they were. Will their sister ever see them again?
The Seven Ravens is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a sister and seven brothers. After their sister is born, the father wishes in a fit of anger the seven brothers to be ravens. She grows up and journeys into the world to save her brothers. She finds them and they turn back into humans again.
Complete text The Seven Ravens
After seven sons, a daughter is born
Once upon a time there was a man who had seven sons. He still had no daughter, however much he wished for one.
At last his wife again gave him hope of a child. When it came into the world it was a girl. The joy was great, but the child was sickly and small. She had to be privately baptized because she was so weak.
The father sent one of the boys in haste to the spring to fetch water for the baptism. The other six went with him. As each of them wanted to be the first to fill it, the jug fell into the well. There they stood and did not know what to do. None of them dared to go home.
When then did not return, the father grew impatient, and said, “They have certainly forgotten it for some game, those wicked boys!”
The sons turned into ravens
He became afraid that the girl would die without being baptized. In anger he shouted, “I wish the boys were all turned into ravens.”
Hardly was the word spoken before he heard a whirring of wings over his head in the air. He looked up and saw seven coal black ravens flying away. The parents could not revoke the curse. Sad as they were at the loss of their seven sons, they still to some extent comforted themselves with their dear little daughter.
The daughter grew strong and became more beautiful every day. For a long time she did not know that she had had brothers. Her parents were careful not to mention them before her, but one day she accidentally heard some people saying of herself, “that the girl is certainly beautiful, but she is to blame for the misfortune which has befallen her seven brothers.”
She was very troubled, went to her father and mother and asked if it was true that she had had brothers, and what had become of them? The parents did not dare to keep the secret any longer. They told her that what had befallen her brothers was the will of Heaven and that her birth had only been the innocent cause.
The young woman thought about it every day, and came to the conclusion that she had to deliver her brothers.
The daughter on a rescue mission
She had no rest nor peace until she set out secretly. Going into the wide world to trace out her brothers and set them free, whatever the cost would be. She took nothing with her but a little ring belonging to her parents as a keepsake, a loaf of bread against hunger, a little pitcher of water against thirst, and a little chair as a provision against weariness.
On and on she went, far, far to the very end of the world. She came to the sun, but it was too hot and terrible, and devoured little children.
Hastily she ran away to the moon, but it was far too cold, and also awful and malicious. When it saw her, it said, “I smell, I smell the flesh of men.”
Swiftly she ran away and came to the stars. They were kind and good to her and each of them sat on its own particular little chair. The morning star arose, gave her the drumstick of a chicken and said, “You need this drumstick to open the Glass mountain, there are your brothers.”
The maiden took the drumstick, wrapped it carefully in a cloth and went onward again until she came to the Glass mountain. The door was shut. She wanted to take out the drumstick, but when she undid the cloth it was empty. She had lost the good star’s present.
Journeying into the Glass mountain
What to do now? She wished to rescue her brothers, but had no key to the Glass mountain. The good sister took a knife, cut off one of her little fingers, put it in the door and succeeded in opening it. When she had gone inside, a little dwarf came to meet her and said, “My child, what are you looking for?”
“I am looking for my brothers, the seven ravens,” she replied.
The dwarf said, “The lord ravens are not at home, but if you want to wait here until they come, step in.”
The little dwarf carried the ravens’ dinner in on seven little plates and in seven little glasses. The little sister ate a morsel from each plate and from each little glass she took a sip, but in the last little glass she dropped the ring she had taken with her.
The brothers are restored to their human form
Suddenly she heard a whirring of wings and a rushing through the air. “Now the lord ravens are flying home”, the little dwarf said.
There they came, wanting to eat and drink and looking for their little plates and glasses. One after the other said, “Who has eaten something from my plate? Who has drunk out of my little glass? It was a human mouth.”
When the seventh came to the bottom of the glass, the ring rolled against his mouth. He looked at it and saw that it was a ring belonging to his father and mother. He said, “God grant that our sister may be here and then we shall be free.”
When the sister, standing behind the door, watching, heard that wish, she came forth. At that moment all the ravens were restored to their human form again. They embraced and kissed each other and went joyfully home.
Tips for Telling The Seven Ravens
- The part where the sister seeks her brothers is pure magic. Dreamlike. Meeting the sun, the moon and the stars. The little details of the chairs and the chicken drumstick. The sacrifice of the finger. You need to feel this magic and wonder yourself when telling it.
- When you tell a fairy tale, it helps to find the images in the story that speak the most to you. I find the image of the sister cutting off her finger and red blood leaking out very strong. So I will visualize this image and it will reinforce my telling of the tale. Also the image of the stars sitting on little chairs speaks to me. What images speak the most to you?
- Make sure you stay in connection with your audience during the telling. They hear this tale for the first time. The time they need to process it and see the images for themselves is the time you need to take in telling it.
All Questions Answered
The tale was published by the Brothers Grimm in their first edition of Grimms’ Fairy Tales. However at that moment it was called ‘The Three Ravens’. In the second edition the Grimms’ rewrote the tale and it was named ‘The Seven Ravens’. They heard the tale from the Hassenpflug family and Clemens Brentano.
The fairy tale was included in the first edition of the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales (1812). However it was heavily rewritten for the second edition in 1819.