Juniper Tree, The (The Wicked Stepmother, The Rose Tree)
DESCRIPTION: A boy is murdered by his stepmother. She feeds the body to his father and (half-)sister. The boy comes back to life as a bird, and gains revenge on his stepmother (giving gifts to his family in the process). He is restored to humanity
EARLIEST DATE: 1956
KEYWORDS: stepmother homicide death bird revenge recitation
FOUND IN: US(Ap) Britain(Scotland)
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Chase, pp. 47-50, "The Wicked Stepmother" (1 text, 1 tune)
Stewart-Queen, pp. 138-142, "Aippley and Orangey" (1 text, in which both children are girls but the rest essentially the same)
Roberts, #141, "My Mammy Killed Me" (1 text, much reduced -- the storyteller wouldn't give the whole version -- and without music, but with the key "My mother killed me" stanza)
NOTES [406 words]: This tale is widely known -- reported by Chase to be known in England, Ireland, Australia, northwestern Europe, and the southern U.S. As "Von dem Machandelboom" it is #47 in the Grimm collection (from Philipp Otto Runge, printed 1812; it is in Pomeranian dialect. According to Tatar, p. 158, Runge reworked it and supplied the dialect to make it seem more "folkloric"). As, however, the bird's accusation against his stepmother is generally sung, it perhaps deserves a place in this Index.
Partial parallels are fairly common; see, for instance, the following from Briggs, volume I,
-- p. 283, "The Golden Cup"
-- pp. 378-379, "The Little Bird"
-- p. 414, "The Milk-White Dog"
-- pp. 441-443, "Orange and Lemon"
-- pp. 472-473, "The Rose Tree" (also in Jacobs, pp. 15-19, who had it from Henderson's Folk-Lore of the Northern Counties and who also compares it to "Orange and Lemon")
-- pp. 473-474, "Rosy"
In her notes to "The Little Bird," Briggs affirms that the tale is widely distributed and declares "The Juniper Tree" to be the best-known version. "The Juniper Tree" is Grimm #47, and its chorus was quoted by Goethe in "Faust," according to Jacobs, p. 234.
Is it significant that the tree is a juniper? Alexander, p. 152, notes that "There were many other traditions both Christian and pagan emphasizing the juniper's protective role"; it was used, e.g., to help the elderly. It was also said to have guarded the baby Jesus. Tatar, p. 158, notes the many medicinal uses to which the tree is put, which hints that it was chosen as a healing tree.
But the most important mention of the juniper in English folklore is in fact an error. In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah is fleeing from Queen Jezebel of Israel, and in 19:4-5 the King James Bible says that he rested under a "juniper tree" -- a translation probably derived from the Latin Vulgate, which renders "iuniperum." InterpretersDict, volume II, p. 1027, flatly declares the King James rendering a "mistaken translation'; the reference is to the broom tree, and it is so rendered in the Revised Standard and New Revised Standard versions.
J. R. R. Tolkien, who definitely knew his folktales, refers to the tale's "beauty and horror" and its "exquisite and tragic beginning" (see Tatar, p. 158) -- but also notes that what stayed with him about this tale was its remoteness in time and place (Tolkien, p. 31). An interesting observation about such a well-known tale. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.2
- Alexander: Marc Alexander, A Companion to the Folklore, Myths & Customs of Britain, Sutton Publishing, 2002
- Briggs: Katherine Briggs, A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language, Part A: Folk Narratives, 1970 (I use the 1971 Routledge paperback that combines volumes A.1 and A.2)
- Jacobs: Joseph Jacobs, collector, English Fairy Tales, originally published 1890; revised edition 1898 (I use the 1967 Dover paperback reprint)
- InterpretersDict: [George Arthur Buttrick et al, editor], The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, four volumes, 1962 (a fifth supplementary volume was published later)
- Tatar: Maria Tatar,The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, edited and with an Introduction by Maria Tatar, Norton, 2002
- Tolkien: J. R. R. Tolkien, "On Fairy Stories" (presented as a lecture in 1938, then in 1947 in Essays Presented to Charles Williams, then combined with "Leaf by Niggle" in the 1964 volume Tree and Leaf); I use the version published in The Tolkien Reader, Ballantine, 1966 (although, because "Tree and Leaf" has a pagination separate pagination from the rest of the book, it likely is close to the pagination in Tree and Leaf)
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