Grimms' Fairy Tales (Selected) | Study Guide

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

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Grimms' Fairy Tales (Selected) | Jorinda and Joringel | Summary

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Summary

A castle lies deep in the woods. The old woman who lives there can turn herself into a cat or an owl and loves to lure wild game and birds to her house so she can feast on them. She also loves turning young girls into rare birds whom she can cage; there are 7,000 birdcages in the castle occupied by transformed girls. There's a magic circle around the castle, and anyone who crosses this border freezes like a statue.

A young betrothed couple, a girl named Jorinda and a boy named Joringel, live nearby. One day, the young lovers stray too near the castle. Pierced with a mysterious sadness, they stand motionless as an owl flies by. Jorinda turns into a nightingale; Joringel becomes paralyzed. Moments later, the owl flies into a bush. The old woman emerges, grabs the nightingale, and heads home. Later that night, the woman returns to where Joringel is frozen. She murmurs, "When the moon shines on the cage, set him free."

A short time later the boy can move again. He falls to his knees and begs the old woman to bring Jorinda back. She replies that he'll never see the girl again, and she goes back to the castle. Weeping, Joringel sets off into the forest.

He finally reaches a strange village, where he takes a job as a shepherd. One night, he dreams he finds a "blood-red flower with a big, beautiful pearl in it." In the dream, anything the flower touches is disenchanted. When he awakes, he sets off in search of the flower. After nine days, he finds it near the enchanted castle. He plucks the flower and touches it to the castle gate, which magically opens. Joringel passes through the courtyard, and suddenly hears birdsong somewhere inside the castle. He follows the sound until he reaches the castle's bird room, where the old woman is feeding her feathered captives.

The old woman leaps toward Joringel but finds she can't get closer than two feet from him. Joringel is searching through the birdcages when he spies the old woman sneaking away with one cage in her hand. The boy rushes over and taps the old woman with the magic flower, removing her magical abilities. Then he taps the cage, and his beloved Jorinda is standing before him.

Joringel uses the magic flower to turn the other 7,000 birds into girls. Then he and Jorinda happily head home.

Analysis

The names Jorinda and Joringel are so similar that it's easy to forget they're not brother and sister, and their story reads like a typical brother-sister story in the Grimms' tales. Jorinda and Joringel haven't been cast out into a cruel world, but they do wander into the witch's magic circle, which is pretty much the same thing.

Once they're trapped in the circle, "they no longer [know] the way home," and the story turns nightmarish. Jorinda's strange song is followed by her even stranger transition, and—like someone in a dream—Joringel is unable to move as the witch carries Jorinda away.

The tale becomes rather slack at this point, as if the narrator is losing interest. It seems like cheating that Joringel learns about the red flower in a dream. His search isn't described; he just finds the flower and brings it to the witch's castle. In the bird room, he's lucky enough to spot the witch stealing away with Jorinda, and then all he has to do is "rush over" and tap the cage with the magic flower. Readers aren't even given a description of the bird room, which seems like a wasted opportunity on the writer's part.

Still, the story leaves a creepy impression. Why is the old woman obsessed with girls and birds, and why 7,000 birdcages? Readers never learn. But when the story is over, those birdcages are hard to forget.

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