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Introductory Post—Summary

The Brothers Grimm story “The Two Brothers” focuses on two brothers, the identical twin sons of a kindhearted but poor broom maker. The broom maker has a brother who is a rich but evil goldsmith.

The twin sons eat the heart and liver of a bird; now when they wake up in the morning, there will be two pieces of gold under their pillow. Their father is told by his envious brother this means they’ve become allied with the devil; so, with a heavy heart, the broom maker leads his twin sons out into the forest and abandons them. The boys try to find their way home, but a huntsman finds them and questions what they are doing in the forest. The twins explain their story and the huntsman adopts them. He saves their gold pieces for them and teaches them to hunt.

When the now young men prove themselves to be expert huntsmen, their foster father gives them the gold they have saved up and a magic knife. If the brothers ever part, they can drive the knife into the tree where they part. The knife rusts on one side if one of the brothers dies, so the brothers can always know if the other is alive. With this gift, the twins go out into the world to go on adventures.

Eventually, the brothers start to get hungry in the woods. They come across a hare and nearly shoot it, but the hare gives them two baby hares instead. Unable to kill the beautiful baby hares, the brothers look for something else to hunt. This happens again with a fox, a wolf, a bear, and a lion.

Now the brothers have ten baby animals and no food. The baby animals lead the brothers to a nearby village, where they can buy food for themselves and their new pets. The twin brothers travel together for a while before deciding to part ways. They stab a nearby tree in case they should ever want to meet again.

One brother arrives at a town decorated with black crepe. Upon visiting the inn, he asks for a place for his pets and asks why the town was in mourning. The innkeeper provides a stable for the huntsman’s animals and tells him the princess of the kingdom is going to be fed to the dragon. The dragon demands a virgin sacrifice every year or he’ll destroy the entire kingdom, and all of the kingdom’s maidens have already been sacrificed. Many knights have tried to slay the dragon, but they have all been killed. The king promises his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who can kill the dragon.

The next morning, the huntsman and his animals go to the dragon’s hill, where there is a small church. Inside the church are three small cups with the inscription “Whoever can empty these cups will become the strongest man on earth, and can lift the sword from the ground.”

The huntsman empties the cups so he can lift the sword. Meanwhile, the princess is going up the hill to her death, and the court marshal is watching from a distance. The huntsman locks the princess in the church and beheads the dragon as the animals tear its body to shreds.

The huntsman goes back for the princess, who’s impressed and grateful that she’s been saved from the dragon. She divides her necklace and gives the pieces to the animals and gives the huntsman her handkerchief, which he uses to preserve the dragon’s tongues.

Now he’s sleepy, and the princess is sleepy, so they decide to fall asleep on the hill. So nothing surprises him in his sleep, the huntsman tells the lion to watch over them. The lion agrees, but delegates the task to the bear, who delegates it to the wolf, who delegates it to the fox, who delegates it to the hare, until everyone’s asleep. The court marshal uses this opportunity to behead the huntsman in his sleep, and threatens to kill the princess unless she agrees to say it was the marshal who killed the dragon. She agrees, but also refuses to marry him for a year and a day, just in case her huntsman comes back for her.

The animals wake up and find their master is dead, and they all blame the rabbit, who claims to know a root that can resurrect him, but it’s two hundred hours away. The lion tells the hare to make the journey and get the root in twenty four hours, and the hare complies. The lion puts the head back on the huntsman and the hare places the root in his mouth. The huntsman awakes and thinks the princess must have killed him in his sleep.

The huntsman is depressed over the loss of his princess and travels with his animals, making them dance for people. After a year, he arrives at his princess’s kingdom once again, and the kingdom is decorated with red crepe. He asks the innkeeper what this means, and the innkeeper tells the huntsman that the marshal, who had killed the dragon, was to be married to the princess the next day.

The huntsman ultimately reveals himself to the court; the princess is elated her true saviour and love is back. He tells everyone what the marshal did and the marshal is then beheaded. He can’t come back to life, he’s evil.

The young couple live in happily married bliss until the huntsman/young King hears about a haunted forest and decides to check it out. He ends up at a witch’s house, turned into a rock statue along with his animals. His queen misses him but then his twin brother shows up. She mistakes him for his brother and adores him. The brother is creeped out by this and places his sword between them in bed so she stays on her side.

The huntsman goes to look for his kingly brother and comes across the witch’s house. He shoots her and frees his brother and pets; everyone rejoices. They catch up as they walk back to the castle and the huntsman learns his brother is the king and married to that young Queen who had been all over him the previous night. He says this to his brother, who beheads him for sleeping with his wife.

He realises his tiny mistake and revives his brother with the same root he had been revived with. They all live happily ever after.

Introductory Post—Themes, Tropes, and Parallels

The plot of “The Two Brothers” is long winded, complex, and incorporates many themes from the medieval literature and possibly earlier myths, yet is an original work by the Brothers Grimm, with no discernible morals for children incorporated into the plot. The most famous themes are the princess in distress trope and the drawn sword, both of which immediately come to mind when one thinks of medieval literature.

The sword is particularly interesting; while it has a bloody, violent connotation for good reason, in the medieval period, the drawn sword was used as a symbol for chastity and fidelity. This theme can be seen in the Norse tale of Brunhilde and the legend Tristan and Isolde, in which the heroes of these stories slept with women they shouldn’t have, but placed their sword between themselves and the woman to show the woman was still chaste and pure; they did not engage in sexual activities while sharing a bed.

In the story of Brunhilde, this was so Siegfried was not tempted to have sex with Bruhilde before giving her to the man he was impersonating, yet in Tristan and Isolde, this was so Tristan could have sex with Isolde, but also trick the king into thinking his bride is still a virgin (Leviant 101).

The other major theme in “The Two Brothers” is the cliché dragon and princess premise that is central to the second half of this story. The princess is being sacrificed to the dragon, yet the huntsman is able to slay the dragon and marry the princess, who is now swooning over such a brave act. This is a common idea in many medieval romances; even variants of Tristan and Isolde have Tristan winning Isolde for King Mark by killing a dragon (Grimbert 44).

Feminists would have issues with both of these tropes because it places value on women as commodities to be won and protected, especially princesses, or women of high societal rank. The drawn sword theme emphasises the importance of a woman’s purity outside of marriage; in “The Two Brothers,” one of the brothers is killed out of rage because he is thought to have slept with his twin’s wife.

The princess and dragon cliché puts emphasis on how a princess has to be saved from danger, and she is her saviour’s prize for so boldly killing whatever monster is about to kill her. This trope makes women seem weak and helpless, unable to fend for themselves, and emphasises the strength of men and the patriarchy.

These themes seem “old fashioned” but not completely archaic and out of place in today’s society, while the Brothers Grimm would have surely lived in a culture where this was the norm and these tropes would surely have been seen as the epitome of romance in nineteenth century Germany. It’s unsurprising they would have included these themes to their story, especially if they wanted it to gain as much popularity as their other fairy tales.

Sources

Tristan und Isolde—”O sink hernieder.” (Love Duet, Act II)

This twenty-six minute vocal and orchestral piece is from the opera Tristan und Isolde by Wagner. It’s the love duet between Tristan and Isolde in Act II, where their affair begins. Tristan is abusing King Mark’s trust by being with Isolde, but the lovers simply do not care. This opera differs from “The Two Brothers” in that Tristan and Isolde do have sexual relations, while the huntsman in the Brothers Grimm story did not betray his brother by sleeping with his wife. Up until this point, the damsel in distress trope in the story of Tristan and Isolde paralleled the princess and dragon theme used in “The Two Brothers,” where the dashing protagonist saves the damsel and woos her with his courage.

Source


Tristan and Isolde—Painting by Herbert Draper

This painting by Herbert Draper depicts Tristan and Isolde from the legend. It looks like it’s set in a medieval fantasy land that vaguely represents medieval Europe, much the same as “The Two Brothers.” Isolde is wearing mostly white; it’s hard to say if Draper did this intentionally to represent her false purity. Tristan is looking up to her, which is understandable considering he’s a Cornish knight and she’s an Irish princess, soon to be queen. This is the same class barrier in “The Two Brothers” because the huntsman who kills the dragon also marries higher than his own rank.
Sources
Draper, Herbert. "Tristan and Isolde." Painting. 1901. Herbert James Draper, "Tristan and Isolde." Flickr. Web. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/sofi01/4599386034/>

Tristan and Isolde—Painting by Herbert Draper

This painting by Herbert Draper depicts Tristan and Isolde from the legend. It looks like it’s set in a medieval fantasy land that vaguely represents medieval Europe, much the same as “The Two Brothers.” Isolde is wearing mostly white; it’s hard to say if Draper did this intentionally to represent her false purity. Tristan is looking up to her, which is understandable considering he’s a Cornish knight and she’s an Irish princess, soon to be queen. This is the same class barrier in “The Two Brothers” because the huntsman who kills the dragon also marries higher than his own rank.

Sources

Brockington, Mary. “The Separating Sword in the “Tristran” Romances: Possible Celtic Analogues Re-Examined.” Modern Language Review. 91.2 (1996): 281-300. Print.

This article explores the source of the separating sword motif in the story of Tristan and Isolde, claiming there’s no evidence it came from Celtic literature of the time. Brockington evaluates the origins of the story in Celtic cultures to gauge how old this purity motif is and finds the theme is more of a modern invention than a medieval trope.

Brockington’s article on Tristan and Isolde is relevant to “The Two Brothers” by the Brothers Grimm because the Grimm story also has the separating sword which symbolises chastity, although it’s admittedly a truer symbol than that used by Tristan. Brockington is thorough in her search for the origins of the sword motif in Celtic culture, going back to the original versions of the legend to see if the separating sword is mentioned.


Siegfried comes upon the sleeping Brunhilde—Painting by Arthur Rackham

This Rackham painting depicts Siegfried discovering the sleeping Brunhilde, who is trapped asleep in a ring of flames until a man saves her and marry her. Brunhilde, while being a strong valkyrie, needs a man to save her from Odin’s punishment. This is similar to “The Two Brothers” because the princess also needs a man to save her from being eaten by a dragon, and the king gives her hand in marriage to the man who saves her.
Source
Rackham, Arthur. ”???" Painting. 1911. Siegfried. Sacred Texts. Web. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/ron/img/08800.jpg>

Siegfried comes upon the sleeping Brunhilde—Painting by Arthur Rackham

This Rackham painting depicts Siegfried discovering the sleeping Brunhilde, who is trapped asleep in a ring of flames until a man saves her and marry her. Brunhilde, while being a strong valkyrie, needs a man to save her from Odin’s punishment. This is similar to “The Two Brothers” because the princess also needs a man to save her from being eaten by a dragon, and the king gives her hand in marriage to the man who saves her.

Source


Siegfried and Brunhilde—Painting by Charles Butler

Here is another depiction of Siegfried saving Brunhilde by awaking her, although it should be noted that both the Rackham and Butler paintings of this scene are woefully inaccurate to the Norse legend. Here, Brunhilde is sleeping peacefully in a forest, completely vulnerable and easy to rescue. In the original Norse myth, she is placed in a tower in a remote location with a circle of fire around her as she slept. Siegfried would have had to risk his life and limb to save her, but in this painting, it looks like he just happened across her while hunting. The extreme act of courage to save a strange woman is what makes the heroine want to marry the protagonist.
In “The Two Brothers,” the huntsman is encircled by the dragon’s flames before his pets trample the fire to allow him to severe the dragon’s seven heads. The huntsmen nearly dies trying to save the princess so she won’t be eaten by the dragon. This exhibition of might and bravery by a man is what the king needs to marry his daughter off.
Source
Butler, Charles. ”Siegfried and Brunhilde." Painting. 1909. Eva’s Blog: Siegfried and Brunhilde. Eva’s Blog. Web. <http://fleurdulys.tumblr.com/post/31015434616>

Siegfried and Brunhilde—Painting by Charles Butler

Here is another depiction of Siegfried saving Brunhilde by awaking her, although it should be noted that both the Rackham and Butler paintings of this scene are woefully inaccurate to the Norse legend. Here, Brunhilde is sleeping peacefully in a forest, completely vulnerable and easy to rescue. In the original Norse myth, she is placed in a tower in a remote location with a circle of fire around her as she slept. Siegfried would have had to risk his life and limb to save her, but in this painting, it looks like he just happened across her while hunting. The extreme act of courage to save a strange woman is what makes the heroine want to marry the protagonist.

In “The Two Brothers,” the huntsman is encircled by the dragon’s flames before his pets trample the fire to allow him to severe the dragon’s seven heads. The huntsmen nearly dies trying to save the princess so she won’t be eaten by the dragon. This exhibition of might and bravery by a man is what the king needs to marry his daughter off.

Source

Krappe, A.H. “The Legend of Amicus and Amelius.” Modern Language Review. 18.2 (1923): 151-161. Print.

Krappe explores the story of Amicus and Amelius, linking it to later rehashed versions, including “The Two Brothers” by the Brothers Grimm. Krappe says there are three major similarities between the Grimm story and the original legend: how much the brothers look alike, how one is substituted with the other, and how the substition brother lays the drawn sword between himself and his brother’s wife. While these two stories are similar, they are also different from each other in how the brother handles his assumedly adulterous twin; in the Grimm version, the king brother kills his twin, but this doesn’t happen in the original story.

This article is relatively scant in regards to the Grimm story, although it provides interesting links between the two tales. Krappe cites the Grimm brothers throughout his article, but only devotes a few paragraphs to talking about “The Two Brothers.” It’s centered around the relationship between the brothers, both in physicality and emotionality.


The End of the Song—Painting by Edmund Leighton

The fashion in this painting shows the status difference between Tristan and Isolde, which is paralleled in “The Two Brothers.” Tristan’s knightly outfit is plain in comparison to Isolde’s richly embroidered gown; the huntsman in “The Two Brothers” is likewise outranked by his love interest, the princess. Both Tristan and the huntsman are able to move up the social ladder by proving themselves worthy; while Tristan is still a knight in his story, he’s closer to the king once he delivers Isolde to him.
Source
Leighton, Edmund. ”The End of the Song." Painting. 1902. Leighton-Tristan and Isolde. Wikipedia. Web. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Leighton-Tristan_and_Isolde-1902.jpg>

The End of the Song—Painting by Edmund Leighton

The fashion in this painting shows the status difference between Tristan and Isolde, which is paralleled in “The Two Brothers.” Tristan’s knightly outfit is plain in comparison to Isolde’s richly embroidered gown; the huntsman in “The Two Brothers” is likewise outranked by his love interest, the princess. Both Tristan and the huntsman are able to move up the social ladder by proving themselves worthy; while Tristan is still a knight in his story, he’s closer to the king once he delivers Isolde to him.

Source


Tristan and Isolde Sharing the Potion—Painting by John William Waterhouse

In the story, Tristan and Isolde are led to fall in love with each with a love potion, which is what makes it different from the tale of Brunhilde and “The Two Brothers.” Tristan and Isolde aren’t falling in love of their own accord; it’s magic that’s forcing them together. It shows that magic can either hurt or help those who unwittingly partake in it—when the two twins in the Grimm story unknowingly ate the heart and liver of the golden bird, it caused them to be abandoned by their father. 
Source
Waterhouse, John William. ”Tristan and Isolde Sharing the Potion." Painting. 1905. Victorian British Painting: John William Waterhouse. Victorian British Painting. Web. <http://19thcenturybritpaint.blogspot.com/2012/07/john-william-waterhouse-ctd_17.html>

Tristan and Isolde Sharing the Potion—Painting by John William Waterhouse

In the story, Tristan and Isolde are led to fall in love with each with a love potion, which is what makes it different from the tale of Brunhilde and “The Two Brothers.” Tristan and Isolde aren’t falling in love of their own accord; it’s magic that’s forcing them together. It shows that magic can either hurt or help those who unwittingly partake in it—when the two twins in the Grimm story unknowingly ate the heart and liver of the golden bird, it caused them to be abandoned by their father. 

Source