Little Brother & Little Sister
With a story from The Brothers Grimm
Episode 14 - Monday, 9 March 2020
A fun little tale with a grisly ending for you here on Deep in the Dark Forest.
This story by the Brothers Grimm has bits of everything. A little something from Cinderella, something from Hansel and Gretel perhaps. It is a popular theme; children plus evil stepmother, a very big forest, a witch, a curse, and, to finish off, a king.
You really get the sense after a while that many of the stories out there are variations on other stories.
And, or course, I am far from the first person to notice this. Back in the early 20th Century, Antti Aarne created a Folk Lore Index, classifying them by type. This was later expanded by Stith Thompson, and in this century, further expanded by Hans-Jörg Uther. And eventually we have ended up with the Aarne–Thompson–Uther Index. You can read about it here.
By the way, I think today's story is ATU 450, but I might have that wrong.
Here we go again! How are you? Did you have a good week? I certainly hope so.
Welcome to Deep in the Dark Forest with me, CC Hogan. A podcast of tales from everywhere and everywhen.
Before we get into a rather nice story about a couple of siblings, just a reminder to tell all your followers all about me and the podcast. Any age, it doesn’t matter. These stories are for everyone, and though some are very old, they don’t really date.
I thought about this when I recorded one of mine. Obviously I wrote it in the style of yesteryear, but I am person of now, and the ideas behind the story are relevant to me. But with the old tales, this is also true.
Here is one such example. This is the tale of Little Brother and Little Sister, from the Brothers Grimm.
Little Brother and Little Sister
Adapted from the story by The Brothers Grimm
Once there were two little children who lost their mother. In her place came a stepmother, who, like so many stepmothers of old was cruel and heartless. She tormented the children, treated them as no better than slaves to do her bidding, until one day the children could take no more.
Little brother took his little sister by the hand and said, “Since our mother died, we have had no happiness; our step-mother beats us every day, and if we come near her she kicks us away with her foot. Our meals are the hard crusts of bread that are left from last night’s supper, and her little dog under the table is better off than we, for she often throws it a nice morsel from her plate. May the heavens pity us. For if our mother only knew! Come, let us flee this prison and find a new life out in the wide world.”
They left in the early morning, turning their back on their home as easily as their stepmother had turned her back on them. They walked the whole day over meadows, fields, and along harsh, stony paths. And when the clouds turned black and the cold rain poured down upon them, the little sister said, “Heaven and our hearts are weeping together, brother.”
In the evening they came to a large forest, and they were so weary with sorrow and hunger and the long walk, that they lay down in a hollow tree and fell asleep. So exhausted were they, that the slept the whole night through and all the morning too.
The stepmother, meanwhile, sat in a tree, a thoughtful smile across her face. She was a dread woman, dressed in black and with the mind of a witch, and she had seen the two children creep off before the dawn. So, evil of heart, she had followed silently as only a witch can, and when they were asleep, she bewitched all the waters of the forest, the streams and the springs.
When little brother and little sister awoke, the sun was high in the sky. It was hot and had dried away the rain.
“Sister, I am thirsty,” said the brother. “I must find a stream or a brook to drink from. Is that one I can hear in the distance? Let us find it.” The brother took his sister by the hand, and they set off to find the brook, followed silently by the witch.
It wasn’t far away, and the merry water danced brightly over the stones, chuckling as it went. The brother knelt ready to drink, but the sister put her head on one side, listening to its song.
“Who drinks of me will be a tiger; who drinks of me will be a tiger.”
The sister grabbed her brother’s shoulder. “Pray, dear brother, do not drink, or you will become a wild beast, and tear me to pieces. For the water is cursed and sings a warning.”
The brother stood quickly, and although he was so thirsty, he said, “I will wait for the next spring, sister.”
“Cursed be that girl,” muttered the witch. “But there are others yet.” And she followed as silent as a wolf.
When the children came to the next brook, the sister once more listened to its song. “Who drinks of me will be a wolf; who drinks of me will be a wolf.”
The sister cried out, “Pray, dear brother, do not drink, or you will become a wolf, and devour me.”
“I will wait until we come to the next brook, sister, but then I must drink. Say what you like, my thirst is too great.”
Again the witch cursed the girl, but was heartened by the brother’s words. She followed them once more.
At last they found another cheerful little brook, and once more the sister listened to its song as it ran. “Who drinks of me will be a roe deer; who drinks of me will be a roe deer.”
The sister turned to her brother. “Oh, I pray you, dear brother, do not drink, or you will become a roebuck, and run away from me.”
But the brother had knelt at once by the brook, so thirsty was he. He cupped his hand and lifted the tempting water to his mouth. As soon as the first drops touched his lips, he fell to the ground, changing into small roebuck.
The witch, hiding in the shadows, chuckled quietly to herself. “A nice meaty morsel he be, fit to attract the hungry beasts of the forest. They will be dead by morn.” And, with a smile across her evil face, she crept back home.
The sister wept over her poor bewitched brother, and the little roe wept also. And he did not run but sat sorrowfully near to her. “Be quiet, dear little roe,” said the little sister, “I will never, never leave you.”
She untied her golden garter and put it round the roebuck’s neck as a collar, and she plucked rushes and wove them into a soft cord to use as a lead. Then she led the little beast on and they walked deeper and deeper into the forest.
They travelled so long and so far across that great forest. Over hills and through valleys. And when they had gone a very long way they came at last to a little house, and the girl opened the door and peeked inside, but it was empty and forgotten.
“We can stay here and live, little brother.”
She collected dried leaves and moss to make a soft bed for her and the roebuck, and every morning she went out and gathered roots and berries and nuts for herself, and brought tender grass for the roe, who ate from her hand, and was content and played round about her. In the evening, when the little sister was tired, she laid her head upon the roebuck’s back, and they slept peacefully together.
For many years they were alone like this in the wilderness, and the little sister and the little roe grew up, free of the stepmother and all her cruelty. And if only the brother had had his human form, it would have been a most delightful life.
One day, the new young King of the country held a great hunt in the forest. The blasts of the horns, the barking of the hounds, and the merry shouts of the huntsmen rang through the trees.
The poor little roebuck found himself drawn to the sounds and he leapt up upon his little feet. “Oh please,” said he, to his sister, “I must away to the forests for they call to me.” And he begged so much that at last she agreed. “But come back to me in the evening,” she said to him. “I must shut my door for fear of the rough huntsmen, so knock and say, ‘My little sister, let me in!’ that I may know it is you, and if I do not hear those words, I shall not open the door.”
Then the young roebuck sprang away; so happy was he and so merry in the open air.
The King and the huntsmen saw the pretty creature, and started after him, but they could not catch him. And even when they thought they surely had him, away he sprang through the bushes and trees, vanishing from sight. When evening came, he ran to the cottage, knocked at the door, and said, “My little sister, let me in.” She opened the door and he jumped in, and rested himself the whole night through upon his soft bed.
The next day the hunt began afresh, and when the roebuck again heard the bugle-horn, and the ho! ho! of the huntsmen, he could not rest. “Sister, let me out, I must be off.” His sister opened the door for him, and said, “But you must be here again in the evening and call me as you did last eve.”
When the King and his huntsmen again saw the young roebuck with the golden collar, they all chased him round and around, but he was too quick and nimble for them. This went on for the whole day, but at last as evening fell across the trees, the huntsmen surrounded him, and one of them wounded him in the foot. The little roebuck limped away as quickly as he could.
One hunter crept after him to the cottage and heard him call through the door. “My little sister, let me in.” And he saw that the door was opened for him, and was shut again at once. The huntsman went to the King and told him what he had seen and heard. And the King said, “Tomorrow we will hunt once more.”
The little sister, however, was dreadfully frightened when she saw that her fawn was hurt. She washed the blood off him, laid herbs on the wound, and said, “Go to your bed, dear roe, that you may get well again.”
But the wound was so slight, that by the next morning the roebuck could hardly feel it. And when he again heard the sport outside, he said, “They are calling to me and I must be there. But they shall not find it so easy to catch me today.”
The sister cried, and said, “this time they will kill you, and here am I alone in the forest and forsaken by all the world. I will not let you out.”
“Then you will have me die of grief,” answered the roe. “When I hear the bugle-horns I feel as if I must jump out of my skin.” The sister, hearing his plea, opened the door for him with a heavy heart, and the roebuck, full of health and joy, bounded into the forest.
When the King saw him, he said to his huntsmen, “Chase him! All day long past the evening and into the night, but take care that no one does him any harm.”
As soon as the sun had set, the young King said to the huntsman, “Show me the cottage in the wood.” And when he was at the door, he knocked and called out, “Dear little sister, let me in.” Then the door opened, and the King walked in, and there stood a young woman, more lovely than any he had ever seen.
The woman was frightened when she saw not her little roe but a tall man come in who wore a golden crown upon his head and a soft smile on his young face. The king looked kindly at her, and at once, he fell in love. He stretched out his hand, and said, “Will you go with me to my palace and be my dear wife?”
“I will,” answered the young woman, “but the little roe must go with me, I cannot leave him.”
The King replied, “It shall stay with you as long as you live, and shall want for nothing.” Just then the roe came running in through the door, skidding to a halt with fear when he saw the king. But the sister calmed him, slipped the lead of rushes through his collar, took it in her own hand, and they went away with the King from the cottage.
The King took the lovely young woman upon his horse and they rode to the palace with the roe trotting along behind. They held a grand wedding with all the pomp and ceremony the little kingdom could afford. The little sister was now the Queen, and they lived happily together while the roebuck was tended and cherished, and ran about in the palace garden to the delight of all.
But at the other side of the great forest, the witch brooded. She had watched the children pass from stream to stream, and when the little brother had been turned into a roebuck, had crept back home, certain that the sister would be torn to pieces by the wild beasts in the wood, and that the brother would be shot for a roebuck by the huntsmen.
But now, a different story came to her. A story of a little sister who became a queen and a little brother who danced merrily in the palace gardens. The children were happy and content, their lives full of riches. The stepmother grew envious, and hatred rose in her heart and left her no peace, and she thought of nothing but how she could bring them again to misfortune.
Her own daughter, who was as ugly as night, and had but one eye, grumbled at the witch and said, “A Queen! that ought to have been my luck.”
“Be quiet,” answered the old woman, but comforted her by saying, “when the time comes I shall be ready.”
In time, the queen told the king there would soon be a child, but sad to say that when her time came, the king was out hunting once more. The old witch and her daughter dressed up as chamber maids, and went into the room where the Queen lay exhausted from the birth, and the witch said to her, “Come, Your Majesty, the bath is ready. It will do you good, and give you fresh strength. Make haste before it gets cold.”
They carried the weakly Queen into the bathroom, and helped her into the bath; then they shut the door and turned the key. For in the bathroom they had made a fire of such deadly heat that the beautiful young Queen was soon suffocated.
When this was done, the old woman took her daughter, put a nightcap on her head, and laid her in bed in place of the Queen. She used her enchantments to give the girl the shape and the look of the Queen, only she could not make good the lost eye. So, in order that the King might not notice, she told her daughter to lie on the side on which she had no eye.
In the evening when the king came home and heard that he had a son, he was heartily glad, and was on his way to his wife’s bed to see how she faired, when the old witch called out to him. “For your life leave the curtains closed. The Queen ought not to see the light yet, and must have rest.” The king did as the old woman said, and so did not realise that a false Queen was lying in the bed.
But at midnight, when all slept, the nurse, who was sitting in the nursery by the cradle, and who was the only person awake, saw the door open and a beautiful apparition of a young woman walked in. The ghost took the child out of the cradle, laid it on her arm, and suckled him. Then she shook up its pillow, laid him down again, and covered him with the little quilt. Then she went to the corner of the room where slept the roebuck, and stroked his back. Then she went quite silently out of the door again.
The next morning the nurse asked the guards whether anyone had come into the palace during the night, but they answered, “No, we have seen no one.”
The apparition came again the next night and on many nights after, and she never spoke a word. The nurse always saw her, but she did not dare to tell anyone about it, for she feared she was going mad.
After a few nights more, the apparition spoke.
“How fares my child, how fares my roe? Twice more shall I come, then never more.”
The frightened nurse did not answer, but when the ghost had left, she went to the King and told him all. The King said, “What is this strange tale? Who is this apparition? Tonight I will watch by the child.”
In the evening he went to the nursery, and at midnight the apparition again appeared and spoke. “How fares my child, how fares my roe? Once more will I come, then never more.”
And she nursed the child as she was wont to do before she disappeared. The King dared not speak to her, but on the next night he watched again. Then she said: “How fares my child, how fares my roe? For I will never more return.”
The King could not restrain himself. He sprang towards her, and said, “You can be none other than my dear wife.”
A smile graced the beautiful apparitions face, and she said, “Yes, I am your dear wife!” And at that very moment, the life flowed back into her, and she was once more fresh and rosy, and full of health.
Then she told the King the evil deed which her step mother, the wicked witch, and her daughter had done to her. The King ordered both to be led before the judge, and judgment was delivered against them. The daughter was cast out into the forest where she was torn to pieces by the wild beasts, And the witch was cast into a fire and miserably burnt.
And the moment she died, the curse she had cast all those years ago was broken, and the roebuck became human once more. And so the sister and brother lived happily and safely together for the rest of their lives.
I think I might have overcooked the music there a little! Well. I happen to have this choir sitting around doing nothing so why not! This story has a lot of elements from other stories. A little touch of Hansel and Gretel, a bit of Cinderella, maybe even a sense of sleeping beauty.
One part of the story confuses me a bit. Why when he hears the huntsman’s horns does the roebuck want to run out into the forest and be chased? Surely he would stay happily shut up in the little cottage! I thought I had misread that part of the story to begin with, but no, that is how it works. Addicted to danger? Who knows!
I started the show by saying even the oldest stories have relevance today, and very sadly, young children running away from home because their home life is so awful, is a common story in our word. Unfortunately, unlike Little Brother and Little Sister, most do not marry a young king and live happily ever after. Worth remembering, me thinks.
And on that sombre note, I bid you farewell. Don’t forget to leave reviews and send me messages via Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag Deep in the Dark Forest. Links in the show notes
You have been listening to Deep in the Dark Forest with me, CC Hogan. And I wish you good fortune, as you travel on your way.