In the year I’ve been running the Tess Talks Fairy Tales series on this blog, I realize I haven’t really talked about Grimm’s all that much, which is an oversight that must be corrected immediately. Luckily, my Christmas present to myself was Jack Zipes’ new translation of Grimm’s, featuring previously unpublished material. I had inadvertently stumbled upon a cornucopia of WTFery. I am likely to cover a lot of these stories in the months to come, but for now I’m going to tell you the story of The Twelve Brothers…
Once Upon a Time, as stories tend to start, there lived a king who had twelve children, all boys. Fully embracing his kingly sanity, he says to his wife one day,
“If you give birth to our thirteenth child and it’s a girl, I shall have the twelve boys killed. If you give me another son, they’ll all remain alive and we can live happily ever after.”
Wifey, naturally being in full control of her unborn child’s gender, decides to have a girl. I’m sure it was a great joke for about five minutes until she twigged on that oh shit, my twelve sons will be murdered for this.
So she tells her youngest son to take the brothers into the forest and never return, because of the oncoming prolicide and all that jazz. The boys do as she says but, of course, get fucking angry at their newborn sister.
“Why should we be under threat of losing her lives because of one girl?” they scream, “What an absolute bitch our baby sister has turned out to be, let us hate her. Fervently.”
“Can I stop you just there?” I imagine one brother saying, “Why don’t we just hate all women, not just our bitch baby sister? That’s the natural progression following this situation, no?”
And so they decide that any woman they see shall be murdered without exception.
So the boys make lives for themselves in the forest, sleeping in a cave, hunting during the day, and engaging in copious amounts of homocide for a number of years. Their little sister grows up in the palace, under no apparent threat from her crazy father, who doesn’t try to have her killed at all. Because of course.
One day, on laundry day, the young princess spies twelve shirts in the laundry room, and starts to grow suspicious.
“Who do these shirts belong to?” she asks a servant, “They’re too small for my father, and he is clearly the only man with washing in this fuck off gigantic palace.”
The servant tells the princess that she actually has twelve brothers who mysteriously disappeared one day.
“Why am I only hearing about this now?” the princess asks, astounded, “Furthermore, why are you washing the clothes they haven’t worn for years? Did you only think to do this now, at a point in the tale where years have clearly passed as I appear to have reached the age when I can form coherent sentences without a problem?”
The servant doesn’t answer this, because the princess didn’t actually say all of that.
Instead she decides to go find her brothers, and does so with remarkable ease apparently because she finds their cave of residence in the next goddamn paragraph.
Only one brother is home when she arrives and, being the woman-killer he has grown to be, draws a damn rapier and warns her she’s about to die. The princess begs for her life, and the brother decides to spare her, pretty much just because she is PHIT.
When the rest of the brothers return, they decide to keep the princess on as a housemaid. They have no idea she’s their sister of course, and naturally, neither does she. I mean, she only went looking in the local forest for her twelve brothers, and she only stumbled upon a cave containing twelve men who presumably look pretty fucking similar. Well, they could be anyone, couldn’t they?
But she accepts her incarceration and sets about making house, cooking and cleaning while the twelve brothers go out to hunt each day (for woman and food, I imagine). It’s not until the princess one day picks twelve white lilies from the forest floor that a random woman appears in front of her and says,
“Why on earth did you pick those flowers, you little shit? They’re your twelve brothers, and now they’ve been changed into ravens and are lost forever!!”
“Excuse me, who even are you?” the princess asks.
“My brothers are not flowers, you mental broad.” she scoffs.
“They’re ravens now, are they? Lost, you say? It’s cool I’ll just get Edgar Allen Poe on the phone, have a nice day.”
The princess’s reaction:
“Is there any way I can save them?” she cries, “I love them so! I’ve only known of their existence about ten minutes, but in that time they’ve shown me how wonderful they truly are. They’ve enslaved me and used me as their housemaid while they go out slaughtering women because of reasons, and that’s just love right there I tell you, LOVE.”
The woman cackles (probably) and tells the princess that the only way in the world to save her brothers is to spend the next twelve years in complete silence. If she is to speak one word before the twelve years is up, her brothers will die instantly.
“HOW WILL THEY DIE IF I FUCKING SPEAK?” the princess does not scream.
So our little princess has no other choice but to climb up a tree, and stay there in silence for twelve years, to save her brothers’ noble, noble lives.
Well this is her plan at any rate, but this being Grimm’s, a king just happens to stumble across her path and catches sight of her in the tree. He is, to say the least, warm for her form, and asks her to marry him right then and there. We’ve seen previously how good the princess is at sticking to plans, so it comes as a complete shock when she nods her consent.
The king assumes she is mute, and is quite happy to marry her for this reason. No nagging bitches to throw off his groove, AMIRITE!?
Ah no shit, there’s one nagging bitch he didn’t account for: mum.
“She’s a common beggar you’ve dug up from nowhere and she’s doing the most disgraceful things behind your back!” the king’s mother begins to slander. The princess, actually sticking to this one plan, keeps her trap shut and doesn’t defend herself. It’s only a matter of time until kingy gets led astray. And, you know, all he can do now is sentence her to death. #obviously
An enormous bonfire is built in the castle courtyard, where the princess is sentenced to die. As she stands in the flames, she realizes that the twelve years are – suddenly! – up (how convenient) and twelve ravens immediately swoop down into the courtyard. As soon as their feet touch the ground, the ravens turn into the twelve brothers who stomp out the fire and save the day!
“I literally haven’t spoken to you in twelve years, how on earth did you know where to find me?” she princess asks, bewildered.
“Oh my God, put some clothes on before you hug me!” she yells.
Finally able to speak, the princess tells gives the king the 411. No she’s not mute, these are her brothers, yeah they’re not ravens any more (long story), she’s actually a princess though, so…
How well things have turned out! They all heave a sigh of relief and have a hearty chuckle. The king almost murdered his fiancé, what a faux-pas that would have been! But luckily all is forgiven now that the situation has been cleared up.
But wait! What about the king’s evil mother? Spreading her evil, evil lies! Calling the king’s wife a common beggar that he just plucked out of the forest, when actually, she was a princess disguised as a common beggar that the king just plucked out of the forest!
SUCH HORRIBLE SLANDER THE KING’S MOTHER HAS SPOKEN!
The brothers’ beliefs are reinforced, all women are evil, they cry! Except their sister though. She’s cool.
“Wait, hold the phone, she’s our sister? When the fuck were we told this?”
The congregation sticks the king’s mother into a barrel full of burning oil and poisonous snakes, the latter of which are kind of redundant but FUCK IT, THEY ARE MAKING A POINT, OKAY?!
The king’s mother dies a horrible death, thus leaving us with the moral of the story: the true villains always get their just deserts.