The Twelve Brothers is another one of those lesser known Grimm’s fairy tales, but elements of it will be familiar to you.
Once upon a time there was a king and a queen who had twelve sons. The queen was pregnant, again. For some reason the king decided that if the baby were a girl, that the twelve brothers would die so the princess could have lots of clothes and be the ruler of the country. He even had twelve coffins made, complete with shavings and coffin pillows.
The queen was distressed. Her youngest son wanted to know what was wrong. For a while she wouldn’t tell him anything, but finally she showed him the coffins and told him the whole story. She then asked him to take his eleven brothers and go into the forest. The queen said she would hang a white flag upon the castle if the baby was a boy and if it were a girl she would hang a red flag on the castle. If the red flag appeared the brothers would have to stay away forever.
The boys went into the woods where they found a bewitched cottage. They climbed a tree each day to look at the castle to search for flags. The day finally came and the flag was red. The boys swore that any maiden they came across would die and her red blood would be spilt upon the ground because a girl would have caused their deaths.
For ten years they lived in the forest. After those ten years the girl was grown somewhat and was helping her mother do some laundry one day. She found twelve shirts, which were too small for her father and asked her mother about them. Her mother told her that she had twelve brothers. The girl took the shirts and went out into the forest in search of her brothers. She found the bewitched cottage and there she also found the youngest brother, named Benjamin(sound familiar?). Benjamin promised that he would not kill her and that he would work something out with the rest of the brothers.
He hid her under a tub and when the other brothers came home he asked them not to kill the first maiden they saw. They agreed. Benjamin told them their sister was there. They were all quite happy to see her. She stayed in the cottage and helped them cook and clean. One day she picked some lilies from the garden, of which there were twelve, and her brothers were turned into ravens. An old woman appeared asking why she picked the lilies. The girl said she wanted to have a present for her brothers and wanted to know if there were any way to change them back. The old woman said the only way to change them back is if she were to remain completely silent for seven years.
The girl agreed.
One day a king was riding in the forest. He came upon the girl and asked her to marry him. She couldn’t speak, but nodded her head, “Yes,” or, “No,” the king probably didn’t care. The story does say that she consented though. They were married some time and people started complaining about the new queen, specifically one of the king’s other family members. They said that maybe she was faking her muteness. The king sentenced her to death at the stake. They lit the whole thing on fire and the very hour of seven years passed. Twelve ravens swooped down and turned back into the twelve brothers, who then put out the fire. The queen was saved and the king was very happy to have her back.
Hey look, another girl who can’t talk. Isn’t that just a surprise? Hey baby, it’s so hot how you can’t speak…
I don’t know if you got what I was hinting at earlier, but this story holds elements from the Bible, primarily the story of Jacob’s twelve sons, the youngest of which was named Benjamin. They also had a sister named Dinah. Their father never tried to kill them though. They did unleash quite the thrashing on a nearby village though, because apparently Dinah had been defiled. A good book, although fiction, to read about this is The Red Tent by Anita Diamont.
Also, kings apparently ride in the forest all the time and find princesses growing from trees. Oh, look we found a princess, what do we do with this one? Well, this is the third one we’ve found this week.
Does it bug anyone else that all these kings are so quick to put their wives to death? Your wife ate her baby. Your wife can’t talk, maybe she’s faking it. Well, then, off with her head, I mean let’s burn her, she’s a witch. I’m not a witch, I’m not a witch. But you’re dressed like one. They dressed me like this. Well, we did a bit. She turned me into a newt. It got better. What floats? Small rocks, churches….
Ok, I’m not going to do the rest of that.
You know who all these kinds remind me of…Henry VIII. Anytime he got tired of a wife, he was like, oh well, let’s chop this one’s head off. Of all the terrible people in history, I have a particular disliking for Henry VIII.
The moral of this story is don’t marry crazy people. Well, maybe that’s not the real moral of this story, but I kind of feel like it should be. This king should be on that show Who the Bleep did I marry?.
I guess one could also say a theme in this story is that family is important, unless you’re the dad, apparently. This girl grew up ten years without her brothers, she went out to find them, and when she did find them she fit right in and helped them out. She also spent seven years of her life without saying a single word just so they could be human again. That’s some sibling dedication for you. None of my siblings would do anything like that for me. If some magical old woman told one of my brothers they had to be silent for seven years or I would stay a bird forever it would not end well. My oldest younger brother would say, “Well, screw that,” and leave me a bird. My middle younger brother would say, “That’s not going to happen,” and leave me a bird. My youngest younger brother, who is autistic, would ask a bunch of questions immediately of the old woman, already dooming me to be a bird for forever, and the woman would get so fed up with the questions that she would probably also turn herself into a bird to have some peace and quiet.
We could say that sibling devotion is good when you can get it. It sadly does not exist in my family, to my knowledge.
Maybe another theme or lesson of this story is that you shouldn’t mess with things you don’t know anything about. If you find some strange flowers growing in the woods, leave them alone. Don’t lick that strange frog you found. Don’t try to pet a strange-looking snake. Don’t eat something if you’re not sure that it’s actually food. If you’re not sure, you could always ask someone. It’s better to err on the side of caution than turn your siblings into birds.
I find this story a little strange. I also find this mute girl obsession strange.
brothers turned into ravens, girl lives in the woods, grimm’s fairy tales, princess, red flag, the twelve brothers, the twelve brothers grimm’s fairy tales, white flag
Grimm’s Fairy Tales