Thoughts on “The Seven Ravens”

by crfricke

Another tale in the “brothers turned into birds” fairy tale sub-genre, “The Seven Ravens” is notable for its whimsical and frightening imagery, and the fact that it’s a rashly uttered curse, rather than a witch or a powerful wish, that turns the seven brothers in the tale into ravens.

As far as any fairy tale might have a moral, “The Seven Ravens” could well be interpreted as a warning again using harsh words which you’re sure to regret: in this story, when a man’s seven sons don’t return after he sends them to get fresh water for his ailing infant daughter, he angrily shouts, “I wish all those boys would all be turned into ravens!” Sure enough, they immediately are. (I’m indebted to this scene for the header illustration featured here on the blog, which is by Albert Weisgerber.)

But the story, like most “brothers turned into birds” tales, really belongs to the little sister who, upon learning that she once had brothers, sets out to find and rescue them. What I love about “The Seven Ravens” versus “The Twelve Brothers” and “The Six Swans” is that this particular  sister journeys to the literal ends of the earth to find her brothers. She meets the sun, who eats human flesh; the moon, who is terrifying and threatening; and the stars, who are described as very friendly, each sitting on its own little chair. She finds her brothers living inside of a glass mountain — to enter it, she must cut off her own little finger and use the bone as a key. The tale is so dreamlike, so evocative of a child’s darkest imaginings, that it lifts itself above the other tales of its ilk, for me, and sets my imagination spinning.

Read my freewrite response to this tale here, and read the Grimms’ original, translated by D. L. Ashliman, here.

Illustration by Felix Hoffman

Illustration by Felix Hoffman