Six Swans | The Seven Ravens (A German Tale)

The following is an annotated version of the fairy tale. I recommend reading the entire story before exploring the annotations, especially if you have not read the tale recently.

THERE was once a man who had seven sons, and still he had no daughter, however much he wished for one. At length his wife again gave him hope of a child, and when it came into the world it was a girl. The joy was great, but the child was sickly and small, and had to be privately baptized on account of its weakness. The father sent one of the boys in haste to the spring to fetch water for the baptism. The other six went with him, and as each of them wanted to be first to fill it, the jug fell into the well. There they stood and did not know what to do, and none of them dared to go home. As they still did not return, the father grew impatient, and said, "They have certainly forgotten it for some game, the wicked boys!" He became afraid that the girl would have to die without being baptized, and in his anger cried, "I wish the boys were all turned into ravens."

Hardly was the word spoken before he heard a whirring of wings over his head in the air, looked up and saw seven coal-black ravens flying away. The parents could not recall the curse, and however sad they were at the loss of their seven sons, they still to some extent comforted themselves with their dear little daughter, who soon grew strong and every day became more beautiful. For a long time she did not know that she had had brothers, for her parents were careful not to mention them before her, but one day she accidentally heard some people saying of herself, "that the girl was certainly beautiful, but that in reality she was to blame for the misfortune which had befallen her seven brothers."

Then she was much troubled, and went to her father and mother and asked if it was true that she had had brothers, and what had become of them? The parents now dared keep the secret no longer, but said that what had befallen her brothers was the will of Heaven, and that her birth had only been the innocent cause. But the maiden took it to heart daily, and thought she must deliver her brothers. She had no rest or peace until she set out secretly, and went forth into the wide world to trace out her brothers and set them free, let it cost what it might. She took nothing with her but a little ring belonging to her parents as a keepsake, a loaf of bread against hunger, a little pitcher of water against thirst, and a little chair as a provision against weariness.

And now she went continually onwards, far, far to the very end of the world. Then she came to the sun, but it was too hot and terrible, and devoured little children. Hastily she ran away, and ran to the moon, but it was far too cold, and also awful and malicious, and when it saw the child, it said, "I smell, I smell the flesh of men." On this she ran swiftly away, and came to the stars, which were kind and good to her, and each of them sat on its own particular little chair. But the morning star arose, and gave her the drumstick of a chicken, and said, "If you thou hast not that drumstick thou canst not open the Glass mountain, and in the Glass mountain are thy brothers."

The maiden took the drumstick, wrapped it carefully in a cloth, and went onwards again until she came to the Glass mountain. The door was shut, and she thought she would take out the drumstick; but when she undid the cloth, it was empty, and she had lost the good star's present. What was she now to do? She wished to rescue her brothers, and had no key to the Glass mountain. The good sister took a knife, cut off one of her little fingers, put it in the door, and succeeded in opening it. When she had gone inside, a little dwarf came to meet her, who said, "My child, what are you looking for?" "I am looking for my brothers, the seven ravens," she replied. The dwarf said, "The lord ravens are not at home, but if you will wait here until they come, step in." Thereupon the little dwarf carried the ravens' dinner in, on seven little plates, and in seven little glasses, and the little sister ate a morsel from each plate, and from each little glass she took a sip, but in the last little glass she dropped the ring which she had brought away with her.

Suddenly she heard a whirring of wings and a rushing through the air, and then the little dwarf said, "Now the lord ravens are flying home." Then they came, and wanted to eat and drink, and looked for their little plates and glasses. Then said one after the other, "Who has eaten something from my plate? Who has drunk out of my little glass? It was a human mouth." And when the seventh came to the bottom of the glass, the ring rolled against his mouth. Then he looked at it, and saw that it was a ring belonging to his father and mother, and said, "God grant that our sister may be here, and then we shall be free." When the maiden, who was standing behind the door watching, heard that wish, she came forth, and on this all the ravens were restored to their human form again. And they embraced and kissed each other, and went joyfully home.

Grimms' Notes

From the Maine district, but the beginning, up to where the little sister goes out into the world, is added from a Viennese story. The former only tells briefly that the three little sons (seven in the latter) play at cards on Sunday, during church time, and on that account are bewitched by their mother, as in a story in E. M. Arudt, where for the same reason they are changed into mice (see further on). The story of the Six SwansNo. 49, has some resemblance, in which story, too, the Austrian one is merged. In that we have the ravens in the black and more unhappy form; in the story of the Twelve Brothers they also appear in the same way as here, and the whole bears some affinity. We have also a story about the Glass Mountain from Hanau. There was an enchanted princess whom no one could set free, who had not climbed the Glass Mountain whither she was banished. Then a young apprentice came to the inn; a boiled chicken was set before him for dinner, all the bones of which he carefully collected, put them in his pocket, and went towards the Glass Mountain. When he had got there he took out a little bone, stuck it in the mountain, and climbed on it, and then he stuck in one little bone after the other until he had in this way mounted almost to the top. He had only one single step more to make, but the little bone was wanting to do it with, whereupon he cut off his little finger and stuck it in the Glass Mountain, and thus attained the summit and released the princess. Thus does Sivard deliver proud Bryniel af Glarbierget (Altdän. Lieder, S. 31), riding up it on his foal. In a song from Ditmars, occurs

"So schalst du my de Glasenburg [1]
Mit eeneu Perd opriden."

Wolfdieterich is bewitched in a tomb, where, according to the Dresd. Gedicht, Str. 289.

vir perg umb in geleit [2], 
die waren auch glesseine 
und waren hel und glatt."

In the old edition it says (Str. 1171),

"mit glasse was fürware [3]
burg und grabe überzogen, 
es mocht nichts wan zum tore 
sein in die burg geflogen."

A Glass Mountain occurs in the Younger Titurel (Str. 6177) also in other stories, viz, in Snow-white (No. 53), in the Raven (No. 93), in the Iron Stove (127). King Arthur dwells with Morgan le Fay, on the Glass island, and it is easy to trace a connection not in words alone, with the Norse Gläsiswoll. In Scotland, walls are still to be found covered as it were with glass (vitrified forts), see Archaeologia Britan. 4. 242. Saemundar Edda, 2. see 879, Notes.

When the little sister reaches the end of the world, we may compare the observations in the Scottish version of the Frog King (No. 1). Fortunatus also travels until at last he can go no farther, with reference to which Nyerup (Morskabsläsning, p. 161) quotes the following song,

"gamle Sole ligge der [4]
og forslidte Maaners Här,
hvoraf Stjerner klippes."

With this should be compared a song in the Wunderhorn, 1; 300. In the Younger Titurel it is said,

"swer an der erden ende [5]
so tiefe sich geneiget, 
der vindet sunder wende
daz er Antarticum wol vingerzeiget 4748."

Wolfram speaks of a land,

"daz so nâh der erden orte liget [6],
dâ nieman fürbaz buwes pfliget, 
und dâ der tagesterne uf get,
so nâh, swer dâ ze fuoze stet
in dunet daz er wol reichte dran." 
Willehalm, 35, 5-9.

Vossius, in his Abhandlung über die alte Weltkunde, gives the following fragments. "The Spinning-girls tell of a young tailor's apprentice who travelled farther and farther, and after manifold adventures with griffins, enchanted princesses, wizard-dwarfs, and fierce mountain-piling giants at last reached the end of the world. He did not find it as it is commonly supposed to be, all boarded up with planks, through the seams of which one sees the holy angels busily engaged in brewing storms, forging lightning, and working up the old sunshine into new moonlight, and the used-up moon and starlight into northern lights (aurora), rainbows, and the bright twilight of the summer nights. No, the blue vault of heaven sank down on the surface of the earth like a dome. The moon was just rising above the horizon, and the tailor allowed himself the pleasure of touching it with his fore-finger. But it hissed, and skin and flesh were scorched off to the nail." Falk has elaborated this story in his Osterbüchlein, pp. 178-252. Compare Kuhn, No. 7. Müllenhoff, No. 3. Büchlein für die Jugend, No. 1. Meier, No. 49. Sommer, No. 11. Asbjörnsen, No. 3The Seven Doves in the Pentamerone, (4, 8). A Lithuanian story, see Schleicher, pp. 109-112, is allied, and so is a Finnish story, as is remarked by Schiefner, p. 607. A portion of the fable reminds us also of the ancient Danish ballad of Berner Ravu, who was bewitched by his step-mother, and whose sister gave him her little child, that by means of its eyes and heart's blood he might be restored to his human form again.

1: And thus shalt thou ascend the Glass Moufltain on horseback. 
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2: Four mountains lay around it, they were also like crystal, and were bright and smooth.
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3: Truly castle and moat were coated with glass, nothing could have entered the gate unless it had flown.
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4: Old suns are lying there, and a host of waned moons, out of which stars are cut.
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5: Whosoever bends down deep enough at the world's end, will find that without turning round, he points his finger to the Antarctic (regions).
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6: That lies so near the end of the earth that no one takes thought for building, and where the morning star rises so near that whoever sets foot there fancies he can almost touch it.
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Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm. Household Tales.Margaret Hunt, translator. London: George Bell, 1884.




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