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Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales: Simeli Mountain

“There were once two brothers, the one rich, the other poor.”

This fairy tale slightly reminds me of The Singing Bone, in that there are two brothers: one who is good and the other is selfish (in both, this brother suffers a gruesome demise). In Simeli Mountain, the rich brother does nothing to help his poor brother, who does his best to provide for his wife and children. One day, the poor brother is going through the forest and encounters something he never has before: “a great, bare, naked-looking mountain.” Suddenly, twelve “great, wild men” come lumbering in his direction, but luckily he’s able to scamper up a tree to hide. The men walk up to Simeli Mountain and chanted “Semsi mountain, Semsi mountain, open,” after which the mountain did miraculously open. The men go inside for a time, then come back out and chant “Semsi mountain, Semsi mountain, shut thyself.” And then they go away.

The poor brother gets down from the tree, mimics the opening chant to the face of the mountain, and walks inside to get a look for himself. What he finds is vast treasure – gold, pearls, and jewels. “The poor man hardly knew what to do,” but he fills his pockets with gold, leaves behind the other precious items, and exits the mountain. He was sure to recite the second chant to close the face.

Back home, he buys food for his family and helps his poor neighbors with the riches he took from the mountain. When the gold runs out, he borrows “a measure” – which I’m assuming is a scale of some kind – from his brother, which he takes to the mountain to collect more gold. Of course, his (already rich) brother starts to wonder how his poor brother was able to provide so much with seemingly so little. So when his poor brother asks for a measure a third time, the rich brother covers the bottom with pitch. When the brother returns the empty measure, gold coins are stuck to the bottom. With a threat to go to the authorities, because he assumes his brother is stealing, the rich brother forces the poor brother to tell him everything. Afterwards, the former orders a carriage and heads to the mountain. He uses the opening chant and is amazed at what he sees inside. He immediately starts gathering gold, pearls, and jewels, but gets so caught up in the glimmering treasure he forgets the name of the mountain, and try as he might, he cannot get the mountain to open and let him out.

So when the twelve men return to the mountain, they find the rich brother inside, and blame him for all the gold that was taken. The rich brother pleads and gives up his brother, but the men do not listen and “they cut his head off.”

Grimm's Complete Fairy Tales: Simeli Mountain

I think the morality of the poor brother is really the focus here – not the selfishness of the older brother. On the one hand, the poor brother takes only what he needs from the mountain. He then uses what he takes to support his family and his neighbors. On the other hand, he is stealing from the twelve men (presumably). It’s the old “would you steal bread to feed your family?” conundrum, which highlights the complexities of morality itself.

Of course, the fate of the rich brother offers a lesson too – being greedy and ungrateful breeds discontent. In this case, the discontent is getting one’s head cut off.

Are you on the side of either of the brothers? Neither of the brothers?

Up Next:
Extras:
  • Aarne-Thompson classification – 676: Open Sesame!
  • I haven’t been able to find a resource that describes why the mountain is named Simeli, while in the chant it’s called Semsi. Perhaps the twelve men got sick of three syllables, so they shortened it to two. That’s my theory, anyway.

2 thoughts on “Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales: Simeli Mountain”

  1. Hmm – I sympathise with the poor brother, but my conscience tells me that stealing a little isn’t morally better than stealing a lot. (Scottish Presbyterian upbringing – we get away with nothing!) However, if it could be proved that the wild men were in fact trolls or giants or something, then go for it, poor brother, I say! 😉

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