The Three Snake-Leaves is not the picture of a children’s fairy tale. It’s dark and involves many elements centered on adult relationships.
Once upon a time a young man left his father and joined the military service. The battle was very bad and fellow soldiers and even the commander were all killed around the young man. When he saw that he was one of the only ones left he charged the enemy and others were inspired to follow in his footsteps. The battle was won.
When the king of the land heard that he owed the victory of this battle to this young man he promoted him above all others. In a short time he was raised from a lowly young man to one of the highest in the kingdom. The king offered the young man his daughter. The king’s daughter had not been married before and there was a reason why.
The king’s daughter wanted any man who married her to be buried alive with her if she died first. No one had taken this oath until this time, but this young man liked her and said he would marry her. He agreed to be buried alive with her if she died first.
They were married and lived happily for a few years. The queen contracted some illness which doctors could not cure. It was apparent that she would soon die. The young king was distressed, but he had taken an oath and would not go back on it. The young queen died and was buried in a tomb. The young king was sealed in the tomb with her. He had food and provisions for a few days. He decided he would eat a little at a time in order to prolong his life.
One day a snake crawled into the tomb looking to gnaw on the body of the queen. The young king sliced the snake in three pieces or so with his sword. Another snake soon came out, but it brought with it some leaves. The new snake proceeded to line the pieces of the dead snake’s body up. Then the snake laid one leaf on each joint on the severed snake. Amazingly, the dead snake came back to life.
The young king wondered if the same would work for his wife. He found three leaves. He laid one of the queen’s mouth and one on each eye. The queen was restored to life. They made a bunch of racket and people soon let them out. Before they left the tomb, the young king gave three of the snake leaves to one of his servants and told him to keep them handy in case any misfortune befell them in the future.
After this the queen became a little strange. She wasn’t really interested in her husband anymore. On a long voyage, by ship, to visit the young king’s father, the young queen conspired with another man to throw her husband overboard and say that he died on the journey. She would do this so she could marry the other man and he would be made heir to the kingdom. The two carried out their nefarious plan, but someone was watching. The servant with the snake leaves saw the whole thing.
He rushed in a boat to fish the king out of the water. He used the three snake leaves to bring him back to life. Then the two sped back to the old king to tell him what happened. They arrived before the young king and her cohort in crime. The king asked his daughter where her husband was and she told the king that he had died. The king said that perhaps he could be restored to life and the young king burst into the room. The queen was quite disturbed and no one was happy. The old king put his own daughter, and her man friend, on a boat full of holes and pushed it off into the sea, where they drowned.
This is such a happy story isn’t it?
Again, we have this number three thing going on. It’s a magical number, remember that.
Obviously, this is a more adult tale. We have this idea of death. We have this idea of outrageous demands. We have this idea of infidelity. There is warfare in this story and it’s not the courageous honorific kind. It’s the bloody in your face kind. This story has a lot of death, which is part of life, so it isn’t that weird of a thing.
This princess, or whatever she is, has some sort of god-complex. She thinks the world should stop if she were to die. There are situations in which spouses choose to leave off their former lives when they lose their significant other, but generally people try to move on. People try to get on with their lives. Maybe they get remarried, maybe they have a mid-life crisis, just whatever. This girl in this story wants none of that. She’s pretty much like, “I’m the queen, I’m awesome. The sun and moon revolve around me. Life must stop if my life stops.” I totally think she’s onto something there…no, not really, well maybe. Am I joking? How are you guys to know?
I am reminded of the story of Joseph from the Bible. Remember Joseph? You know the guy who had eleven brothers that sold him into slavery. He was so awesome that he managed to get himself promoted by the Pharaoh’s adviser, Potiphar, but all that ended when Potiphar’s wife claimed she slept with Joseph, because she really wanted to sleep with Joseph. The guy in this story was raised up from nothing, like Joseph. He was also betrayed by a woman, like Joseph. I do have to believe that the people who conjured this tale up might have been referring to this biblical story.
Here’s a theme… sometimes relationships are screwed up and there is nothing you can do to fix them. Sometimes you have some indications in the beginning that your relationship is going to be crazy and sometimes you don’t. This young man gets into this relationship. He falls head over heels for this girl despite her strange idea that he should die if she dies first. Isn’t that a bit odd? I told my husband before I married him that if he abused any children we might have, I would kill him. I think he’s forgotten about that and we also don’t have any kids, so it’s a moot point right now.
Do you want to know what that reminds me of? It reminds me of some of the ancient Egyptian practices where living creatures would be buried with the Pharaoh if he died. There were also certain cultures in which women would throw themselves on the burning pyre of their husband if he died before they did. It was the honorable thing to do.
As much as I would like to think of myself as the moon and the sun, I am not. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, everyone’s lives are going to keep moving. They’re not going to rot away and pine for me after my death. They’re going to pick themselves up and move on with life. Think about this tale as a warning for not moving on after the death of a loved on. No one likes to think about when Daddy is going to die, but it does happen and you have to learn to live again despite not having your daddy by your side.
I’m not too sure about the snakes in this story. Snakes generally represent evil, but I know there are other ideas about what snakes symbolize and don’t symbolize. Do you know that symbol that the medical profession uses, the caduceus? It’s a snake on a stick. It’s meant as a healing symbol and what does the snake do in this tale? It heals. The reason a snake heals is also a biblical story. God sent a bunch of poisonous snakes to a group of people to test their faith. A symbol was set up, a snake on a stick, and if they believed they could be healed all they had to do was look upon the snake and they would be healed. It was a test of faith. It’s now also our modern-day caduceus, well not entirely. This symbol also has its place in Greek and Roman mythology, mainly where Hermes is concerned. I’m not going to delve into that right now though.
Infidelity is another theme in this tale. That’s heavy stuff for a children’s story. The queen tires of her very faithful husband. She decides that she wants to be with someone else and even plans her husband’s murder. Again, this is another person who should be on that show Who the Bleep Did I Marry? This woman probably wouldn’t make it on the show though. She had a strange request before her husband even married her and he should have seen this as a sign to clear out. Some people are just too crazy to marry.
Infidelity is a big deal. If you are married to someone, you’re not supposed to go around having sex with other people. There are people who get away with it because they have lots of money, they’re kings, or both parties are cheating mutually, but generally, people get very hurt and upset if you cheat on them. You made a commitment, you do not break that commitment. It’s a big thing. Being married doesn’t just mean you can file taxes jointly, it’s an oath. It’s a promise. It’s a binding contract. It might be easy for you to be unfaithful, but should you? No, you shouldn’t you know that. Yes, your scumbag husband might deserve you cheating on him, but he might also just deserve a divorce. See that’s another theme in this story, sometimes relationships just don’t work no matter how hard you try.
The guy in this story tried, hard. He was the best try-er there has ever been. He allowed himself to be buried alive with his dead wife. That is dedication, but how does the wife repay him when he brings her back to life? She cheats on him, nice. Obviously, she just wasn’t that into her husband in the first place. Thank goodness, the story doesn’t mention any children.
“Kids, when mommy dies, you’re coming with me.”
This is a strange Grimm’s fairy tale. I wouldn’t read this to my kid, if I had a kid. I think the idea of this snake coming back to life and this terrible wife are just too much for a kid to try to wrap their heads around.
On the other hand, you could use this story as a campfire tale at an adult camp out. Just insert names into this tale where king and queen are mentioned. Once upon a time there was a man named Bob, who married a woman named Linda who said that when she died, she wanted Bob to be buried alive with her. Bob was too twitter-patted to argue, so they got married….
It’s a scary story. You’ll be on the edge of your seat.
buried alive, caduceus, grimm’s brothers, grimm’s fairy tales, infidelity in grimms, snake leaves, snake symbology, snakes, the three snake-leaves
Grimm’s Fairy Tales