Friday, August 21, 2009

The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm

The Juniper Tree
Grimm Brothers
translation by Lore Segal ~ pictures by Maurice Sendak
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973

When I first tiptoed into the early readers/young adult section at my local used book haunt, I asked one of the sales ladies if she knew of any authors like Roald Dahl or books like My Father's Dragon that were older, short and illustrated, and she handed me this gorgeous two-volume boxed set. She said it'd been in stock a while, so she marked it down to $4 dollars and I was on my way. Though, at this point, I've been doing more of the reading for myself than for the boy, it thrills me that this collection is on his shelf, ready to be enjoyed in the next few years.

According to the book jacket, the Grimm brothers released their first collection of stories in 1823, and in the early 1970s, Segal and Sendak got together and selected 27 of the original 210 tales to translate and illustrate. Many of the stories are old favorites (Hansel and Gretel) but others are relatively unknown (The Story of One Who Set Out to Study Fear). We all know that Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were deep in the study of linguistics when they became intrigued with European folk takes of old. Many of the original stories they set to the printed word might have been lost to time had it not been for their retelling. Without them, Disney would be lacking a back-to-school Princess Collection at this very moment (think Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White... not to mention the soon to be released Princess and the Frog, i.e. The Frog Prince.) Apparently, the Segal translations here are as close to the original German stories as they have ever come in English, and it was the first time Sendak had wandered into his more "serious" realm of illustration. Though sparsely illustrated (there is about one drawing for every six pages of text), the black and white plates are simply lovely... each one a little gift alluding to the plot-at-large.

I must warn you however, these stories are not our childhood fairy tales. These are the real things often filled with a little gore and magic and creepy, awful things. Take the title story, for instance. A mean mother kills her stepson, makes her daughter think that the daughter did it, boils the boy up into a black stew and serves him to his own father for dinner. Then, magic takes over. At the foot of the family juniper tree, the sister places the boy's bones and his soul takes possession of a bird that floats around town singing a beautiful song of woe.

"My mother butchered me,
My father ate me,
My sister, little Ann Marie,
She gathered up the bones of me
And tied them in a silken cloth
To lay under the juniper.
Twee twee, what a pretty bird I am!"

In the end, the boy avenges his own life, kills the stepmother, is born again and lives happily ever after with his father and stepsister. Grim is right, no? And, why is it the stepmothers who always get the bad wrap? Were second wives looked at as witches back then or something? Poor ladies. Anyway, 80 thumbs up. Totally.

Also by:
A Very Special House
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present
Moon Jumpers
What Do You Say, Dear?
Pierre: A Cautionary Tale
Some Swell Pup
Let's Be Enemies
Chicken Soup with Rice
Lullabies and Night Songs
I'll Be You and You Be Me
Outside Over There
In the Night Kitchen
Where the Wild Things Are
Seven Little Monsters
The Giant Story
Open House For Butterflies
Dear Mili


Unknown said...

Wow, that looks lovely.

Weirdly I just read a version of that story in a book of English fairy tales. In the English version, The Rose Tree, it's the girl who dies and the boy sits under a wild rose tree pining for her while the bird sings:

Stepmother slew me,
Father nigh ate me,
He whom I dearly love
Sits below, I sing above,
Stick! Stock! Stone dead!

It ends much like the Ballad of Barbara Allen, with the characters represented in the rose (a tuft of gold for her hair, red for his shoes), and both of them dead. Odd that the Germans would be more cheerful :-)

Esme Raji Codell said...

Wonderful, terrible, transformative stuff! My mother read me this book as a child, I am still terrified of "Hans My Hedgehog" and so moved by "Brother and SIster." I loved reading aloud these stories to the7th graders at one of the schools where I taught. Thanks for sharing!

Jennifer said...

Always great books you find!

I thought of you the other day when I found a copy of the book "Andrew Henry's Meadow" written and illustrated by Doris Burn, who was also the illustrator of "Christina Katerina & The Box." I couldn't tell if you'd ever reviewed either of those before, but I just wanted to pass that along. I'd never seen the Andrew Henry one before and thought it was great.

Thanks for all of your great reviews!

Antmusic said...

I've had one book in this duo for YEARS. Finally, earlier this year I ran across a complete-in-one thick book (same small size), and picked it up for $7.00. Great set of stories and AWESOME illustrations!

Burgin Streetman said...

had I grown up with this book in my room, I imagine my life would be COMPLETELLY different from what it is now. astounding!

Juniper Sage said...

I did grow up with this in my room - it is my name after all:) Sendak really outdid himself here. Thanks for this!

Sandra said...

I just stumbled on to your blog a while ago and am utterly smitten with it. Terrific!
I love tracking down vintage books for my nieces. My general M.O. is just to browse aimlessly, but your site might wind up giving me some specifics to hunt for.

Since you seem to rather like Sendak, I would recommend Dear Mili. (can check out some of it here: I picked that up at a used bookstore once for my oldest niece once and I was rather miffed to later discover that my sister got rid of it!! She said it was too sad (it is very sad, actually, but still beautiful) I wish she'd told me in advance she was going to do that-- I would have asked for it back!

TheAuthor said...

Oh my WORD!
My all time favourite Grimm's tale (it's the way she shuts his head in the chest). I had no idea Sendak had illustrated it. My yr 4 son is doing a study comparing original Grimm's and modern day versions at school.
I'm off to find this gem on ebay

thanks again!

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