Fairy Tales 2010

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Boy as bird

In The Juniper Tree, the boy is turned into a bird after he is dead and his body is devoured. This, in itself is different from other stories we have read when the boys have been alive when they were turned into birds. I believe that this means that the boy in The Juniper Tree cannot be transformed back into a human, since his human body is nonexistent except for the remains that were buried. In other words, what I have gathered from this is that his spirit is in the bird because that was all that was left to be transformed. If he were to turn back into a human spirit, he would be some angel or ghost. The boys in other stories were transformed by some spell, so the bird is their body, just in a different form. So, does that make him more of a bird or a boy? I believe that this puts him somewhere in between. I believe that he is more bird than the boys in the other stories, who are still boys, but in a different form. Yet, we hear his song, and he still knows exactly what happened to him even after he died. Then, he was able to receive gifts as a bird, and he knew exactly what to do with each gift. This shows that he is still there. I think he is merely a spirit occupying the bird. Therefore, he is somewhere in between. Yet, since the spirit controls the body, he is still more of a boy than a bird. Either way, the reader can understand that this transformation is different. It is closer to resurrection than pure transformation as in other cases.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The transformation that takes place within the Juniper Tree I believe is different from the other transformation stories based on two main facts. The first is that the boy is dead before he becomes a bird in the Juniper Tree. In the other stories the boys that get transformed are always alive and then transformed. The fact that the boy is dead and then becomes a bird in the Juniper Tree leads me to believe that the bird is meant to be the physical manifestation of the soul/angel/ ghost or whatever else you would like to call it. This leads me to the second difference, which is that the brother does all the work to be converted back into human form. The sister does her part at the beginning by burying the bones, but that aside, the boy does all the work. In the other brothers into birds stories the sister has to go through some tumultuous trial, usually over the course of several years, to finally turn the brothers back into humans. In the Juniper Tree it seems as if the boy takes one to two days max before he is reborn as his old self.

Boy or Bird?

I definitely agree with the general consensus that the brother is more human than bird when he is transformed. I think that is transformation is only a physical one (and not even complete at that since he can still talk/sing). The brother seems to maintain all personality traits, communication skills, and ability to analyze. I think that the latter is a main point in my argument. Often times we have seen other children transformed (again, the theme of a transformation into birds is quite common), however, we do not typically have that much inside knowledge into the fullness of that child's transformation. The transformed child can still usually talk, but our interaction with them is very limited. In Juniper Tree, the boy is still a main character. In fact, I find it most impressive that the boy is actually able to save himself. I think this is the first story (unless I've forgotten one) where the transformed animal is the one who transforms itself back. For example, we talked earlier about how the sister typically had to transform her brothers back, but in Juniper Tree, she merely saved his bones. The "bird" is clever enough to come up with an elaborate plan so that he may kill the stepmother and reverse the spell. I find this quite interesting because I think that this, above all else, shows his "humanness." Not only can this brother still communicate, but he can also still purposefully use this communication in order to create an elaborate plan. Besides, there would be no other point for a bird to have shoes, a golden chain, and a millstone-- there can be no doubt that it was all planned. Lastly, as a side note, I think it's interesting that the versions of this story have all very similar songs for the bird. My guess is that that's because a song is more likely to be remembered in a story than the precise details of anything else. 

The Death Axis

To ask where the boy's identity lies between beast and animal is attribute his identity to an X,Y axis. Along the bottom of the graph we chart his progress towards the human and from top to bottom measure's his existence as an animal, or in the case of Juniper Tree specifically his "birdliness." But I think this charting, though certainly academically fruitful, benefits even further from the third axis; in what sense is our boy alive, and in what since is he dead, and how does that play into the animal vs. human debate. This evocation of the "death axis" provides another dissimilarity between this story and those of the "brothers transformed into birds" story type. In the Juniper Tree the subject of transformation dies before corporeal transference. His conversion from bones to bird acts as a resurrection, and it might be argued that boy's bird identity is actually just an avatar, or a vengeful spirit. Only in loose terms is he actually a bird, since he seems to maintain all of the conscious operations he could have performed as a human. In his bird form, he is still deceased, his repeated song like a stubborn memory. When he finally returns to his boy form at the end, the question has never been answered as to what has granted him life. The transference of matter is somehow more plausible than the recreation of matter, even in the context of the mystical fairy tale. It may also be significant that the bird form was considered a link between earhtly and heavenly bodies, since that is actually what this boy has become. Somewhere along the "Death axis" between the living and the deceased.

The Juniper Tree

When I first considered the transformation of the boy to the bird in the Juniper Tree, I thought about the brothers and birds stories that we read last week. These brothers went from human to bird and then to human again, and all by the help of their sister. Although, the reason for the transformation to and from the bird is not as explicitly stated as it is in the brothers to birds stories, the brother seems to turn into the bird because his sister, Marlene, took the bones and wrapped them in silk and buried them under the juniper tree. However, somethings are remarkably different. Unlike the brothers into birds stories, the young boy is already dead and it is his bones that turn into a bird. Also it seems that with the death of the stepmother, the boy is able to become human again even after he has died, he is not necessarily saved by someone in particular. It seems as though the tree is what gives him this sort of life when he is buried there. I also found it interesting that the boys' mother was buried there too and was wondering what significance that had. I thought that his song was also interesting. It makes sense that he says that his mother killed him, but I found the fact that he chirped that his father ate him was weird considering he rewards him in the end, and that the father is oblivious to the fact that he is eating his child. It is his beautiful voice as a bird that allows him to give to those what they deserve, and for the stepmother that is stoning which seems to create human life out of the bird. In closing and in regards to the prompt, I really don't know where he lies on the scale of human and animal, but I think that its interesting that this is a transformation in which the dead is transformed into a bird and then has life again, rather than the pattern we have seen in the brothers to bird stories where they simply go from human to bird and back again.


At first glance, the transformation in The Juniper Tree doesn’t strike the reader as anything out of the ordinary (as far as these matters are concerned, at least), as the bird seems to function less as a beast and more as a boy trapped in a bird’s body—he thinks, he plans, and he works to seek revenge (which, whether he knows or not, is tantamount to working for his own resurrection), but he must do so within the confines of the avian practices of flying and singing. In other words, then, this “transformation” is just that—a change across forms, not minds. Unlike other fairy tale transformations, being a bird is a means to an end, not a new condition to be accepted; the brother in The Juniper Tree does not have to deal with the concerns of a bird in the same way that the brother in Brother and Sister must try to live a happy life as a fawn, feeling the call of the hunt and what not.
Interestingly, however, not all the stories in this tale type operate in the same way. Sometimes the boy’s song is sung by a whole group of birds (The Girl and the Boy), and the boy himself is never transformed or resurrected. Other stories (like The Milk-White Doo) mention the bird coming from the boy’s bones but ascribe no conscious thought to the creature, ending abruptly with the (step)mother’s death. At the root of all the stories is the idea that the bird is in some sense a manifestation of the boy’s (and the reader’s) cry for justice against the wrongdoer, but only rarely is this link spelled out as “the boy’s mind was reborn into a bird’s body.” The fact that the bird’s song is always from the boy’s perspective is only incidental—for one, a bird’s song is more associated with identification than communication, and no one seems to understand the song’s story anyway.
The boy’s birth, death, transformation, and resurrection (the last of which, as we have seen, is not too common outside of The Juniper Tree) are all heavily tied to the women in his life (“birth” might seem obvious, but the story gives it a magical emphasis), but ultimately his own efforts in killing his stepmother are what allow his rebirth. Given the boy’s rather complicated life history, then, it’s difficult to say which gender comes out on top, so to speak. We could point to the violent death of the stepmother as just another example of patriarchy in action, but so much of the boy’s existence and the story’s plot is owed to the actions of women (2/3 of which are positive figures!). I’ll call it a draw.

Brother Bird - Human or Animal?

The Juniper Tree has personified brother bird, giving him human characteristics such as singing in an understandable language to humans and memory to remember his human lifestyle after his transition from a bird back to a human. Brother bird is no ordinary bird, but a unique, thinking bird, who clearly responds to the request of goldsmiths, shoemakers and millers to obtain items in a grand plan. Brother bird’s previous life translates into his animal life which causes me to categorize him more towards the totally human side of the spectrum. His song, his life, is unfortunate and he is clearly aware of this. He calls out the devilish, the ignorant and the dutiful, clearly delineating properties to the various people in his life. Not only does he acknowledge his misfortune through the words of his song but ironically ends with “what a lovely bird I am!” Yeah, right. Furthermore, the bother comes back from the dead with the help of someone who possesses both the power to heal and destroy. Even though we think of stepmothers as evil, in some of these other fairy tales they do in fact have their own children who they are nice to, just at the expense of the stepchild. In the Twelve Brothers for example, the daughter although innocent and benevolent, is indirectly responsible for the mal fortune that befalls her brothers. Her piety just like Marlene’s, is responsible for restoring her brothers. It is a derivative of the archetypal mother that is responsible for the saving in most of these fairytales. Even in the Seven Ravens, the sister actively searched for her brothers to rescue them putting herself in danger in an act of selflessness. The transformations all seem relatively smooth, ending happily ever after with everything resuming as usual but with perks (– dead stepmother, royal marriage).

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Brother Bird Transformation

Perhaps the point of fairytale stories, and part of their intrigue, is that one can never be completely certain about definitions. Yes the morals are strategic and outlined fairly clearly but the characters are meant to be ambiguous, particularly the men. The brother who is turned into a bird is, I believe, still mostly human since he is able to transform back, he just has a spiritual and physical for a time connection with the heavens and the supernatural realm. So he is not entirely animal but his animal form gives him a connection with the fantastical realm of fairytales while he retains his human sensibilities as displayed by his song. Although the brother sings, “tweet tweet! What a lovely bird I am!” I think it is meant as a kind of joke because of the tragedy and horrible circumstances he describes in the previous lines of the song about how his mother killed him and his father eating him.

The brother can come back from the dead because he is a brother, a virtuous figure who can overcome the horrible things the evil woman in the story does to him. If male virtue and strength cannot overcome the evil nature of the woman it overthrows the hegemonic traditions and the moral of the story. This transformation is different because when he returns he is able to physically crush his captor, the woman who put the spell on him, with the millstone and transforms himself rather than his sister completing the process for him.