aka “Little Brother and Little Sister”*
The Gist: A brother and sister run away from their witch of a stepmother. The brother drinks from a stream cursed by the witch (even though his sister tells him not to) and he turns into a fawn. The sister and the fawn live in a little cabin, until one day the fawn leads a king home to his sister. When the stepmother hears that the sister is happy and has married a king, she sets out to cause them misfortune and place her own daughter on the throne.
This tale is filled with elements that when you think “fairy tale” you think these things: a wicked stepmother, a human turned into an animal, a king, an ugly step sister, etc. I started out really liking this tale because of these motifs that I grew up with, but then the story started to unravel. It wasn’t just that there were the typical gaps in logic or details, as is often found in fairy tales; there were gaps in the story. Substantial gaps. Philip Pullman addresses many of these gaps in his translation, but even so, not all the gaps can be filled without significantly changing the storyline.
I definitely appreciated the additions Pullman made to the story, especially with regards to the arc of the narrative—it’s not as jumpy. I also found it amusing that he has the sister tell the fawn not to “pee-pee” in the house (p. 50)—there’s a phrase I never thought I’d read in a Grimm tale.
There is still one colossal question that remains to be answered by either story: Where is the children’s father? It says their mother dies and they get a stepmother, but not once is a father ever mentioned. Normally, the father is at least mentioned in passing, even though he tends to be a very, very weak character. But this father seems to have fallen right off the face of the earth. And another thing that bother me about this tale: Why does the stepsister need her face magically transformed to look like the queen if no one is allowed to see her anyway? Seems like a waste of magic to me…
If you enjoy reading fairy tales with wicked stepmothers and magic spells, I do recommend giving “Little Brother and Little Sister” a read. (Just try to read Pullman’s version if you can. It doesn’t have giant plot pot holes like other versions.)
What is your favourite tale involving a wicked stepmother? Share your answers in comments.
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*story title in Pullman’s translation
- The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, 3rd Edition translated by Jack Zipes (Bantam, 2003)
- Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman (Viking)