Fairy Tales 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
All of these attributes distinguish him from the other transformed humans, but one thing is the same. The method of transformation has to be by some magical object. The transformation in The Juniper Tree was brought on by the magic in the juniper tree. The tree performed magic on the boy's mother and again on the boy himself. In stories such as The Six Swans and The Twelve Brothers, a witch or stepmother uses magical shirts or the water in a stream to transform the boys. The transformation from animal back to human is different however. In the other stories, a sister has to undergo some trial or test in order to turn the brothers back into humans. In The Juniper Tree the boy is able to turn himself back into a human throught the use of cunning and the completion of revenge on his evil step-mother. The fact that he comes back from the dead is unique, but not inconcievable considering the tree that initially gave him life is what brings him to life a second time.
The transformation of the boy into a bird in The Juniper Tree is a very different scenario than those that appear in other bird/human transformations. In other stories, like The Seven Ravens, The Twelve Brothers, and The Six Swans, the brothers are changed into birds by some accident or curse. Then, the sister must perform difficult tasks in order to save the brothers and transform them back into humans.
In The Juniper Tree, though, the boy is not turned into a bird until he is dead and his bones are buried. Then, he goes around singing to acquire what he needs to reward the father and sister and kill the stepmother. Once this is accomplished, he can return to his human form. The fact that he still retains his “human ability” to speak and goes around singing a song about what happened shows that he is still more human than animal. This makes it seem like the bird is merely representative of his ghost. And once he is transformed into a human again, life continues happily as if nothing had happened.
Although he transforms into an animal, he still has more human characteristics than animal characteristics. Then, of course when the cause of his destruction is also destroyed, he comes back to life. While this is not logical or realistic (not that it should be), it just goes to show that he was always a human, but had to transform into something else (i.e. a bird because a ghost just wouldn’t have fit the fairy tale image) because he had died.
His song takes on a different form than one would expect as well. Rather than the bird literally somehow singing the words as one might think, the bird's message is somehow carried in normal bird chirps but takes on magical qualities that human's understand. It's similar to how the mother 'sensed' the boy's spirit when she felt "a big storm were on its way." Nature, in this case being bird chirps, somehow transmitted sensations into humans without having to take on human form.
In my view, the boy doesn't necessarily literally come back from the dead, rather the ending is a symbol of a return to spiritual realignment and perfection. The mother, being a wicked character, is excluded from the final scene, but the boy's reappearance shows how the perfect family would have been, with just brother, sister, and father. This transformation is different from others we read in that there was a need for magical properties "smoke, flames, and fire" to appear before the transformation to take place rather than it just happening out of nowhere, such as in "Sweetheart Roland." Also, it is clearly magic taking place here as opposed to human involvement in the transformation such as in Hans the Hedgehog where he is shaved and oiled. Again, I don't think the transformation is so much important as the symbol of a return to order and good spirits.
This raises some troubling concerns when you ask whether he is more of a bird or more of a person, for can he be either if he is dead? His human to animal to human transformation might be, instead, a way of looking at death/afterlife. The very fact that the bird sings a song with uniquely human lyrics (my mother, she slew me / my father, he ate me) and that the bird plots vengeance against his stepmother supports the supposition that the brother remains human in his animal state. The bird, from this reading, becomes a sort of ghost-like presence, haunting his stepmother and rewarding his sister to represent his incompleteness with the people in his former life.
Perhaps I'm stretching this too far, but if we continue along this thread, the death/murder of the stepmother rights the wrong and completes the revenge cycle, enabling the bird to return to his human state... or perhaps move from the world/purgatory and into his heaven which contains his kind stepsister and father. Just a theory, and a bit of a stretch.