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Saturday, April 10, 2010

The charm of fairy tales: a Brother Grimm's work, "The two brothers"

The fairy tale entitled "The Two Brothers" is perhaps the longest and most complex of the entire Brother Grimm's collection and contains many narrative themes proper of novels and medieval legends that in turn, of course, date back to very distant times. There were once two brothers, one rich and evil, the other very good and very poor. The latter had two sons, two identical twins. One day, going into the forest, the poor brother saw a golden bird, and managed to take a magic feather of this bird.
The next day he found his nest and managed to get a golden egg from the nest of this wonderful bird. The third day, his brother asked him the rich bird itself and gave to the poor brother a large sum of gold coins for its capture. But the rich brother knew what great mystery this mysterious animal hid: the promise of eternal wealth. In many fairy tales is present the figure of this bird of gold or bird of the paradise, and always it is a symbol of luck and wealth for those to whom it chooses to appear or to grant its favors. The theme of the golden bird, a symbol of wealth and prosperity, is a very ancient theme and may even derive from the mythical tradition of the supernatural bird for excellence, the phoenix. This bird, if eaten completely, will provide a gold coin every day, forever. The twins, knowing nothing of this story, went to their uncle for begging some food and ate some 'meat of the bird and instead of the wicked uncle, they woke up every day with a gold coin under the pillow. Their father, the good brother, could not understand this strange phenomenon and confided everything to his evil brother. He, understanding how things were happened, advised his brother to abandon his children in the forest, because now they have been transformed by the Devil in two powerful sorcerers.

Teutonic Mythology in Four Volumes (4 volume set)

Elves, Wights, and Trolls: Studies Towards the Practice of Germanic Heathenry: Vol. I (v. 1)

The Saga of the Volsungs (Penguin Classics)

The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales, Deluxe Edition (Literary Classics (Gramercy Books))

The Complete Grimms Fairy Tales

So the twins were left in the forest, at the mercy of fate. When it seems they were about to succumb, there came a hunter who, being childless, took gladly them with him, and raised them in his house, making them two brave hunters. They then asked the adoptive father to go for the world to seek their fortune, so he encouraged them and gave them a shiny knife: if they had to be separated, they had to thrust the knife into a tree. If the blade had rusted on one side, this would indicate the death of one of two brothers. They began their journey and, almost immediately, were lost in a vast forest. They decided to go hunting to find some food: first, they found a hare who asked to them to not kill her because in her place, she would give them two little hares. The two brothers agreed, but once seen the little creatures, they not killed them because of tenderness and compassion, instead they kept the two hares with them. The same thing happens with a fox, a wolf, a bear and a lion. So the two brothers are found to have a wide following of animals. Eventually, the two decided to divide, one going to the west and the other to the east. From here it is told especially the adventures of the brother who took the route of the West: he arrived in a beautiful city, draped entirely in black, and he came to know that on that day the princess will be given to feed a dragon living on the mountain. He decided to become the savior of the maiden by killing the monster. But he had the test to overcome: he climbed up the mountain and here he saw a strange scene. This scene brought us back to Celtic times: first, the sword planted in the doorway of the church (clearly, the presence of a church here is absurd: it must be a review of some ancient temple, a place for safekeeping some supernatural objects), that the protagonist manages to pull out after having drunk from three cups, placed above the altar. This scene takes us back to a Celtic ritual of initiation, but now reinterpretated with a christian interpretation.
The sword, of course with many magical powers, also refers to the Celtic setting, bringing to mind the famous sword of King Arthur, also planted in the rock and that only the rightful king could remove from its imprisonment. On the other hand, the world of fairy tales of magic leads to those very origins, become mysterious because largely unknown and distant from our knowledge from so long. That sword that only the predestined hero can extract and successfully hold is also the sword of Siegmund, belonging to the legend of Volsunga, who is the future father of Siegfried.

Continuing the analysis of this tale, a real adventure novel, we find the episode of the dragon. This scene brings to mind the romance of Tristan: the fairy-tale hero saves the beautiful princess, offered to the dragon to be eaten by the monster. So the fairy-tale hero killed this monster with seven heads and then cut the seven tongues from his mouths, finally he fell asleep from fatigue of battle. Then came the Marshal, that is described in the tale as "impious and cruel" (the false hero, a very common figure in fairy tales)- which is none other but the steward of the novel of Tristan- and, finding the hero asleep, took hold of the victory over the dragon, cutting the seven heads, to submit them as an evidence for the king to marry the princess, but also he cut off the head of the young hero and bring back the princess at her palace, against her will.
As in all fairy tales, the princess has already chosen her hero, the valiant one who had saved her from a terrible death. So she, forced against her sweet will, agreed to marry with the Marshal but asked also that the wedding take place in a year and a day. In the meantime, the animals found their beloved hunter dead, but the hare knew a magical root that could be used to bring the dead back to life. The hare was successful and the hunter returned to life again, but, desolated in his heart, he abandoned the kingdom and went away. Exactly after a year, he returned there and came to know that the marriage of his sweet princess was at hand: the parallel with the Arthurian romance continues until the unmasking of the false hero through the presentation of the tongues that were missing in the heads of the dragon.
The Marshal was condemned by the king to be torn apart by four bulls: aside from the obvious condemnation of the sinful, it is remarkable that this type of torture was a very ancient one that we can find even in the Greek mythology.

Tales and Translation: The Grimm Tales from Pan-Germanic Narratives to Shared International Fairytales (Benjamins Translation Library, V. 30)

Indo-European Poetry and Myth

Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen [Box Set]

Indo-European Poetry and Myth

The hero became the new king and got married to the princess. One day he went hunting in a magic forest where he saw a white hind that he desired to capture, all alone. This is a very common theme of Celtic tales: the white hind is the clear symbol of enchantment, spell and incantation and a sign of the presence of supernatural creatures also, such as Gods, fairies, elves or witches. It is witch that the hero met, in the form of an old woman, seated on the top of a tree: she resided in this forest just as Circe in her land, she amused herself to turn into stone all men that arrived in her forest. This was also the fate of the young hero, turned to stone with his animals and thrown into a deep pit. Here returns the twin who, having seen the knife almost at all rusted, having realized that his brother was in danger, came to rescue him. When he arrived in the kingdom, he was mistaken for the king- they were indeed identical between each other- and all welcomed him with joy, after the fear of losing him. The brother went in turn to hunt in the enchanted forest, he too saw the white hind and met with the witch, but he was not bewildered by her spells and gained victory over her and, along with his brother, he "kills" the magic creature and the whole forest was liberated from the incantation. The king, when he came to know that his brother had even slept with his own wife, taken by fury, killed him. But soon after he repented for his cruel act and the hare used again the magic root to resurrect the good brother. And there is the last clear theme that takes us back to the literature of medieval court, that is the drawn sword, located between the princess and the second brother. In medieval times this was a symbol of chastity. This theme is in two famous medieval romances: the German version of "Tristan" and the legend of Siegfried and Brunhild. In the first example, the sword is misleading, serves to deceive the King Marke and convince him of the bride's chastity, in the second example, on the contrary, the sword, placed between the hero and Brünnhilde, indicates the chaste relationship that there is between the two characters. This fairy tale ends in this manner: with the chaste queen who asks why, in the previous days, he slept with her putting the drawn sword between them...she was so afraid...and so the hero understand the love that his brother has for him.

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