“One summer day the bear and the wolf were walking in the forest, and the bear heard a bird singing so beautifully that he said, ‘Brother wolf, what bird is it that sings so well?’ ‘That is the King of the birds,’ said the wolf, ‘before whom we must bow down.’ It was, however, in reality the willow-wren.”
A short, quippy summary of this tale would go something like this: Bear is disrespectful towards “royal” children who then cause a war between the animals of the forest, during which a sly fox is outsmarted (by being stung three times), thus losing the war for the bear’s side. Such an example of war has not appeared in any of the Grimm fairy tales thus far; participants range from farm animals to the smallest flying creatures (midges, hornets, etc.), and there is a brief scene of spying and talk of fighting strategy.
Of course, as with most fairy tales, there are various lenses through which to view a story. This particular one is exciting to read and features various animals that are fun to imagine, not to mention the magic that comes with those animals talking and having vibrant personalities. But in knowing a bit about Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s personal lives and history, the inclusion of a war-themed tale in their collection creates a subtly serious quality. Do I believe the specific details of this tale hold symbolic connections to the Brothers living during Napoleon’s conquering of Germany, and Napoleon’s eventual defeat? No, but with the inclusion of this tale I am reminded of how personal these tales and their assemblage was, as well as how I initially thought this Reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales project was going to be a fun read through of the tales – and here I am reflecting on the psychological and emotional implications of including these specific stories…
Anyway, if you’ve been following my posts about these fairy tales you are likely not surprised that this post took the turn it did – and I appreciate that you are just as interested in these reflections as I am. But if you are disappointed that I did not talk more about the story specifically (I get it), I’ve linked it below for you to access at your leisure.
- #59 The Little Folks’ Presents
- Listen to and/or read The Willow-Wren and the Bear.
- Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales by Valerie Paradiž (my review and recommendation for anyone wanting to learn the history of the Grimm Brothers and some of the women who were instrumental in the creation of the infamous collection of tales)