Little Brother and Little Sister

Little Brother and Little Sister, illustrated by Bruno Grimmer

This fairy tale was included as number eleven in the first volume of the collection by Brothers Grimm. Like many of their tales, it starts with the death of parents leading to many dangers of the orphans. The tension is further emphasized with the arrival of the stepmother (the most often opponent in their fairy tales) who is also a witch.

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Let’s walk through the story with an interesting combination of black and white drawings and pictures by Bruno Grimmer (1879-1936). The book was published by A. Jaser Kunstverlag in 1927.

Short Summary

Once upon a time, a brother and a sister lost their mother. After her death, they got a stepmother. She was very mean to them. So they decided to leave home and go to the woods.

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They spent the night in a cave.

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They were very hungry and thirsty. Unfortunately, their stepmother didn’t forget about them. With her magic, she poisoned all the brooks in the wood. While the brother tried to drink some water, his sister heard a warning. If she drinks from a specific brook he will become a tiger.

He tried at another brook but she heard a voice claiming he would become a wolf.

At the third brook, he couldn’t resist despite the warning he would turn into a deer. So he became a deer and she promised him to take care of him.

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They lived in the forest for some time when hunters found (and slightly wounded) the deer.

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One of them was a king who followed the deer, curious because of a golden necklace around deer’s neck and hearing how animal commands somebody in the hut to let it in.

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The king discovered the girl and immediately fell in love with her. She explained the situation with her brother and the king allowed her to take the deer in the castle.

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But the stepmother of both youngsters found out how happy is her stepdaughter and wanted to put her own daughter (who had only one eye) in her place. When the stepdaughter who became a young queen gave birth, she disguised herself and together with her daughter came to the castle to help.

She arranged the bath for the young queen was so hot she died and transformed her daughter to look like the queen except for the eye which was still only one. But for some time she managed to mislead the king who believed his wife is just exhausted from the birth and can’t be with him momentarily.

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But the dead queen returned to the castle as a ghost and nursed her son. There was a nurse who saw her and after a few night visits hear that the dead queen will return just twice and then just once more.

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She told that to the king who stayed awake by night and used the last chance to speak to the ghost.

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The dead queen returned to life and told the king what happened. The witch and her daughter were punished.

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The witch died in the fire and the daughter was torn to pieces by beasts in the forest. The deer changed to a young man right after the witch died and her spell lost power.

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Together with his sister, her husband, and their son (his nephew), he lived happily in the castle.

Some of the Used Themes in the Story Little Brother and Little Sister

There are many frequent themes, typical for fairy tales by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, in this story:

  • death of the mother (Snow White, Cinderella),
  • an absent father (Snow White again),
  • going to the woods (yes, again, Snow White, and also Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, …),
  • a powerful opponent is trying to hurt the protagonists by magic (Snow White),
  • transformation of a human into an animal (Frog Prince),
  • the sacrifice of one of the siblings for the other one(s) (Seven Ravens),
  • a powerful helper is needed (Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Briar Rose, Snow White, …),
  • switch of social status (Goose Girl),
  • resurrection (Snow White, Red Riding Hood, Wolf and Seven Kids, …),
  • the opponent must be completely destroyed before the happy ending is possible (Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Goose Girl, Wolf and Seven Young Kids, …),
  • the transformation from animal to the human being (Frog Prince) …

We can go on and on but you probably already got the idea.

One more interesting tidbit:

Little Brother and Little Sister shared the title with Hansel and Gretel at first but Brothers Grimm wanted to avoid the confusion and decided to name the protagonists of the later story. That seems a good choice because their role is much more balanced while at Little Brother and Little Sister majority of work is done by the girl.

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