The Seven Raven
A Fairy Tale from the Brothers Grimm
Retold and translated by Heidi Muijen and Greg Suffanti
Once upon a time there was a husband and wife who had seven sons. They were very happy, but their joy was even greater when they finally had a daughter. However, she was particularly delicate and weak in health, and therefore, the father wanted to have her baptized as quickly as possible to save her soul should she suddenly die. He asked his seven sons to fetch some baptismal water from the village well.
Because the boys quarrelled so much about who would be the first to actually get the water, the jug ended up accidentally falling down the dark and deep well. The boys got increasingly frightened as they tried and tried, but could not succeed in getting the jug out of the well.
Meanwhile, the mother and father waited patiently by their sick daughter’s bedside, wondering what was taking the boys so long. The boys dared not return home to confess the loss of the jug, for fear of being punished. As time passed, the father began to fear that his daughter would die unbaptized and he began to lose his temper. He suspected that they had forgotten his request and were hanging out somewhere playing. He exclaimed furiously:
“I wish those boys were all ravens!”
He had barely finished speaking when he heard a rustle in the air: and looking up, he saw seven ravens flying overhead. The husband, wife and daughter watched the seven ravens fly high in the sky, until they disappeared over the horizon.
The parents were very sad about the turn of events but could not undo their curse. They found comfort and happiness in the fact that their daughter had fully recovered and had grown up to become a beautiful and sweet young lady. Once, while she was playing at the village well where the seven boys had lost the jug, she overheard people talking about her brothers, the ravens, saying that she was the one who was actually guilty of causing their unfortunate death. In deep sadness, the girl walked back home and asked her parents if the story was true. Her mother and father could no longer keep their deep secret and said:
“Oh my dear daughter, don’t feel guilty: a tragic course of events led to your brother’s death, to which your birth and weak constitution didn’t give rise to.”
However, the girl couldn’t let go of the story she’d heard and felt that somehow she was responsible and therefore had to set her brothers free. Her parents tried in vain to change her mind, and eventually one morning she secretly left the house. She put a small jewelled ring on her little finger, wearing it as a keepsake as it was a gift from her parents. Further, she brought only a few provisions and a chair, to sit on when she got tired.
The young girl walked day after day, after day, traversing fields, forests, mountains, plains and roads until she finally reached the end of the world. As she knocked on heaven’s door, she suddenly turned around, feeling the scorching heat of the sun on her back. She’d heard the sun ate little children, so she ran and ran and ran until she came to the moon’s door. As she knocked, she began to tremble from the freezing cold when she heard a voice that said:
“I smell human flesh!”
In great fear she then ran and ran quickly toward the stars. There, she was welcomed, and the friendly stars took good care of her. One morning the stars gave her a hopscotch bean. The stars told her that she would need the hopscotch bean to enter the glass mountain where her brothers now lived. She wrapped the little bean carefully in a piece of cloth and headed off to the glass mountain. When she finally unwrapped the piece of cloth, she was shocked to discover that the hopscotch bean was missing. The gate to the glass mountain wouldn’t open, and so the girl cut off her little finger with the ring in desperation. To her surprise and delight, the little finger with the ring fit perfectly into the lock and the gate to the glass mountain opened. A dwarf wearing a white suit ran up to the girl and asked:
“My child, what are you doing here and who are you looking for?”
“I am looking for my seven brothers who turned into seven ravens. I want to save them from the enchantment of death!”
The dwarf laughed delicately:
“Aah, so the gentlemen ravens are your brothers? They’ve gone out today, but you can wait for them as long as you’d like.”
The dwarf then prepared an elaborate meal and served it up on seven plates for the seven ravens for their dinner upon their return. The girl took a bite from each of the seven plates and a sip from all seven cups as well. In the seventh cup, she saw her missing finger with her parents’ ring.
When night fell, she heard a rustle in the air just outside her bedroom window. Then, one by one the ravens flew into the dining room and went directly to the food on the table. Once they had all taken a bite of their food and a sip of their drinks they asked one by one:
“Who ate from my plate?”
“Who drank from my cup?”
“I smell it has been a human!”
“Look what I find in my cup?”
The seventh raven, who had drained his cup completely, picked up the little finger with the ring and examined it closely.
“Look carefully, my brothers, do you see that this is the ring from our parents?”
“Yes, that is the ring that our dear sister received on the day she was born!”
“If only our dear good sister would come to save us …”
Upon hearing her brothers’ expression of their true heart’s desires, the girl suddenly appeared and her seven brothers flew gleefully around her neck as if they were all one. Through that joyful embrace, the ravens then regained their human forms and the next day they all set out together to return to their family home.