The Singing Bone – Grimm’s Fairy Tales

Happy Monday again, readerlings! Well, we’ve been enjoying autumn, getting pumpkins for carving and going costume shopping. Hope your first week of October was as fun as ours!

So! Are you ready for another *thunderclap* FREAKY FAIRY TALE? I hope you are! (If you’re confused about what the heck I’m talking about, visit the first entry for some background.) Cuz I’ve got a tale so weird, so morbid, it’ll make your bones sing with fear!


BEHOLD!  Day 1 + Day 2 + Day 3 + Day 4 + Day 5


A flute made out of a bone

THE SINGING BONE

[Original source] – I’ve added punctuation and fixed formatting here.

OooooooohoooooOooooOooooohhh…..it’s, it’s the sound of a singing bone…it’s….it’s singing…

Anyway, those of you who read my blog know about The Twa Sisters story. Today’s tale is actually similar in nature to that tragic tale of two sisters, except it’s not a song, so its details are fleshed out better and there’s more testosterone.

So, once upon a time there was a massive rampaging boar that was killing people and animals and ruining fields. It got so bad that even though the king had put out a sizable reward for the boar’s death, no one was brave enough to try their luck. Finally, the king upped the ante.

At last the king gave notice that whosoever should capture or kill the wild boar should have his only daughter to wife.

High stakes indeed. So, as it happens, two poor brothers from the country decided they would undertake this foolhardy but highly profitable venture. Let’s meet these brave heroes!

The elder, who was crafty and shrewd, [wanted to do it] out of pride, [and] the younger, who was innocent and simple, from a kind heart.

Ringing any bells? *cough TWA SISTERS cough* The older sibling is evil, the younger is pure and kindhearted…according to TV Tropes, going back to Cain and Abel, this trope is Older than Feudalism. Hope I’m not spoiling the ending for you…

The king said, in order that you may be the more sure of finding the beast, you must go into the forest from opposite sides. So the elder went in on the west side, and the younger on the east. When the younger had gone a short way, a little man stepped up to him.

Father Mushroom and Ivan from "Jack Frost" sitting in the forest with the MST3K silhouette in front

Ivanushka! I have a new church hat!

So a little man comes up to the kindly younger brother, which is not an unusual thing to happen to kind souls walking alone in dangerous forests in fairy tales. He presents to him a black spear, which presumably looked pretty awesome, and said,

I give you this spear because your heart is pure and good, with this you can boldly attack the wild boar, and it will do you no harm.

This bolsters the young man’s courage, and he accepts the spear and thanks the little man. He’s bright too, if you don’t say thank you to generous, mysterious folk you meet in the woods, you could get turned into a bear.

Ivan seeing his new bear head

Just ask Ivan. Fine, last “Jack Frost” reference.

And of course, after receiving very timely supernatural aid, he soon spots the boar and points the spear at it, ready to fight. The boar is so mad and rushes him so hard that it skewers its heart in half on the spear. Well, that was easy! He just throws the dead boar on his back to take it to the king. But…

As he came out at the other side of the wood, there stood at the entrance a house where people were making merry with wine and dancing. His elder brother had gone in here, and, thinking that after all the boar would not run away from him, was going to drink until he felt brave.

But when he saw his young brother coming out of the wood laden with his booty, his envious, evil heart gave him no peace.

Uh oh…

Trollface

This is all the big brother can see in his little bro’s innocent, smiling face. And he just wants to punch it. To death.

Of course, the little brother has no idea his older brother wants to send him on a long walk off a short pier, and they sit down, have some wine, and he tells him ALL about the little man and the black spear and how he slew the boar. I can just imagine the older brother smiling, trying to keep from grimacing, slapping his brother on the back, wishing he could bash his brains in. But he formulates a cunning, convoluted plan.

The elder brother kept him there until the evening, and then they went away together, and when in the darkness they came to a bridge over a brook, the elder brother let the other go first, and when he was half-way across he gave him such a blow from behind that he fell down dead.

Blunt force trauma death! Dead before he hits the bridge. Excellent. So, the murderous brother buries his younger brother’s body under the bridge…wait, how could he have buried him under the bridge? Was it over a dried up bed? It’s hard to bury a dead body in water (well, without cinder blocks), since he’ll just float downstream. Well, all that’s mentioned is a bridge, so I’ll just assume the water isn’t implied.

So, he buries his brother under the bridge, takes the boar to the king and claims he killed it, and marries the king’s daughter, and they all lived happily ever after in their deluxe split level castle, and if people ever asked about his brother at a dinner party, he just tells them the boar must’ve got him, and everyone believes him, of course.

But as nothing remains hidden from God, so this black deed also was to come to light.

Oh yes, mysterious narrator. Justice is a dish best served musically, dry and buried under a bridge!

So, a number of years after this incident, a shepherd walks his flock over the bridge, and sees a “snow-white little bone” sticking out of the sand under the bridge. Well, that proves it was a dry bed this whole time, if the remains are still there.

And of course, being the kind of fellow who would probably build a playground over an Indian burial ground…

…he clambered down, picked it up, and cut out of it a mouth-piece for his horn, but when he blew through it for the first time, to his great astonishment, the bone began of its own accord to sing.

I personally would love it if the bone just started making weird haunting noises without someone cutting holes in it, but that’s just my strange sense of the macabre.

So, the bone sings,

“Ah, friend thou blowest upon my bone. Long have I lain beside the water, my brother slew me for the boar, and took for his wife the king’s young daughter.”

“What a wonderful horn,” said the shepherd, “it sings by itself.”

Prince Regent from Blackadder "Well, that goes without saying!"

Oh, and it told you about a horrible murder too. THAT’S ALL! He’s too excited about the bone singing to hear what it’s actually singing about!

Either way, he takes it to the king, and the bone sings its sad story to the court. The king decides its wise to believe the singing bone, and has his men dig under the bridge until they exhume the poor younger brother’s skeleton. I like the way the story says it: “the whole skeleton of the murdered man came to light.” It’s got a lovely double meaning, out from under the dark bridge and into the knowledge of the king and ultimately into the light of justice.

Well, I guess all’s well that ends well.

The wicked brother could not deny the deed, and was sewn up in a sack and drowned. But the bones of the murdered man were laid to rest in a beautiful tomb in the churchyard.

Sounds like the king didn’t much care what his daughter thought of her husband being killed as punishment, but we never hear her opinion. Maybe the king always thought the older brother was kind of a jerk. And that’s a nasty way to kill a man, to drown him in a sack, he must’ve really not liked the way he bragged and spent money and picked his teeth at the dinner table. Or maybe he was a stickler for justice, again, I’m thinking too hard about this.

But here’s one interpretation of what the bone song might have sounded like, from the 1962 “The Wonderful World of the Brother’s Grimm.”

(In this version, it sounds like they were trying to slay a dragon instead of a boar, and the older brother stabbed the younger brother and buried him beneath a tree…and maybe they were master and servant. WHO KNOWS, fairy tales suffer from the same evolution folk songs do.)

But hey, today’s story actually kind of has a moral! Don’t kill your brother and steal his reward, cuz his very bones will cry out for justice!

Thanks for reading, guys! New Freaky Fairy Tales next week! Now if you’ll excuse me, we ate chicken yesterday night, I think I hear a barbershop choir singing from the trashcan…

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Christina {PuellaDocta}

Christina is an artist and graphic designer, fantasy writer, and a huge geek. She chronicles her creative process--as well as her love for storytelling, the arts, tea, and more--in blogs, portfolio posts, vlogs and on social media. Read more about her here >>

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