A wild boar ravages the land. The king promises his daughter to the hero who kills the boar. Two brothers decide that they will take their chances. Will they succeed?
The Singing Bone is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about two brothers. They set out to kill a wild boar. The younger kills the boar, the older kills him and claims the reward. The crime is discovered when a little bone of the brother is used to make a horn which sings about what really happened.
Complete text The Singing Bone
A wild boar ravages the country
Once upon a time in a country far away they had a big problem. A wild boar laid waste to the farmer’s fields, killed the cattle and ripped up people’s bodies with his tusks.
The king promised a large reward to anyone who would free the land from this plague. However the beast was so big and strong that no one dared to go near the forest in which it lived. At last the king declared that whoever would capture or kill the wild boar would win his only daughter for a wife.
In the country lived two brothers, sons of a poor man, who were willing to undertake the dangerous job. The elder, who was crafty and shrewd, out of pride; the younger, who was innocent and simple, from a kind heart.
The king said, “In order that you may be the more sure of finding the beast, you must go into the forest from opposite sides.”
So the elder brother went in on the west side, and the younger on the east side.
The younger brother kills the boar
When the younger had gone a short way, a little man stepped up to him. He held a black spear in his hand and said, “I give you this spear because your heart is pure and good; with this you can boldly attack the wild boar and it will do you no harm.”
He thanked the little man, shouldered the spear and went on, fearlessly.
Before long he saw the beast. It rushed at him. He held the spear towards it. In its blind fury it ran so swiftly against it that the spear split its heart in two. The younger brother took the monster on his back and went homewards with it to the king.
The two brothers meet
He came out at the other side of the wood. At the entrance was a house where people were having a good time with wine and dancing.
His elder brother had gone in here. Thinking that after all the boar would not run away from him, he decided to drink until he felt brave.
When he saw his young brother coming out of the wood laden with his booty, his envious, evil heart gave him no peace. He called out to him, “Come in, dear brother, rest and refresh yourself with a cup of wine.”
The younger one, who suspected no evil, went in and told him about the good little man who had given him the spear with which he had slain the boar.
The elder brother kills his younger brother
The elder brother kept him there until the evening. They went away together.
In the darkness they came to a bridge over a brook. The elder brother let the other go first. When he was halfway across he gave him such a blow from behind that he fell down dead. He buried him beneath the bridge.
He took the boar and carried it to the King, pretending that he had killed it. He received his reward and married the king’s daughter. When his younger brother did not come back he said, “The boar must have killed him,” and everyone believed it.
The truth comes to light
Nothing remains hidden from God: also this black deed was to come to light.
Years afterwards a shepherd was driving his herd across the bridge. Lying in the sand beneath he saw a snow white little bone. Thinking that it would make a good mouthpiece, he clambered down, picked it up, and cut out of it a mouthpiece for his horn.
When he blew through it for the first time, to his great astonishment, the bone began of its own accord to sing:
“Ah, friend, you blow upon my bone!
Long have I lain beside the water;
My brother slew me for the boar,
And took for his wife the King’s young daughter.”
“What a wonderful horn!” the shepherd said. “It sings by itself; I must take it to my lord the king.”
When he came with it to the King the horn again began to sing its little song. The King understood it all. He ordered the ground below the bridge to be dug up. The whole skeleton of the murdered man came to light.
The wicked brother could not deny the deed. He was sewn up in a sack and drowned. But the bones of the murdered man were laid to rest in a beautiful tomb in the churchyard.
Tips for Telling The Singing Bone
- This is a short fairy tale, in which quite a lot happens. Take some extra time for the song you find at the end, it is worth putting it into your own words and repeating a few times during the story.
- What is going on in the head of the older brother during this story? You don’t need to tell your audience, but you do need to know it. Your listeners will feel it when you are still wondering why the older brother does what he does.
- If you want to give the tale more complexity, think about what you can tell us in the beginning that shows the characters of the brothers. It works better if you don’t tell us one of the brothers is evil, but we conclude for ourselves: this guy is evil.
All Questions Answered
The tale was published by the Brothers Grimm in the first edition of their Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Their source was Dortchen Wild. It was significantly revised in later editions.
The fairy tale was included in the first edition of the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales (1812). In subsequent editions the tale was heavily edited.