Literature Study GuidesGrimms Fairy Tales SelectedLittle Brother And Little Sister Summary

Grimms' Fairy Tales (Selected) | Study Guide

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

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Grimms' Fairy Tales (Selected) | Little Brother and Little Sister | Summary



Little Brother and Little Sister decide to leave home, since their cruel stepmother has been beating them and making their lives miserable. Their first day of traveling is arduous and exhausting. At nightfall they take refuge in the hollow of a tree. When they wake up next morning, Brother announces he's thirsty and suggests they find a brook to drink from.

Meanwhile, the siblings' stepmother—who is actually a witch—finds out that the children have run away. She follows them in secret, "sneaking along behind them the way that witches do." When she overhears their conversation, she secretly poisons every stream in the forest.

Brother and Sister find a brook. As Brother bends down to drink, Sister hears the brook speak: "He who drinks from me will turn into a tiger." She begs Brother to leave the brook alone, and he agrees. The next stream they find announces, "He who drinks from me will turn into a wolf." Again Sister persuades Brother to leave that brook alone. Brother replies that he'll wait now, but he's going to drink from the next stream no matter what it says in warning.

The third stream announces, "He who drinks from me will turn into a deer." Sister implores Brother to leave the water alone, but she's too late. As soon as his lips touch the water, he turns into a fawn.

Both Sister and the fawn weep together until Sister finally composes herself and promises the fawn she'll never leave him. She fastens a garter around his neck as a collar and braids reeds to make a leash. Then she leads him deep into the woods.

Eventually Sister and the fawn find an empty hut and set up housekeeping there. Sister finds grass for the fawn (who eats it out of her hand) and nuts and berries for herself. Life is peaceful until a nearby king puts on a great hunt. When the sound of horns rings through the forest, the fawn begs Little Sister to let him join the hunt, but she only agrees when he promises to be home by nightfall. She gives him a password so she won't let in anyone dangerous.

The fawn springs joyfully out of the hut. The king and his huntsmen immediately give chase but can't catch him. He returns home at dusk, speaks the password, and is welcomed in by Sister.

The hunt recommences the next morning, and the day's activities are the same—except that one of the huntsmen wounds the fawn slightly. He follows the fawn to the hut and overhears the password as Sister lets her fawn brother in. The huntsman reports what he's witnessed to the king.

The hunt resumes on the third morning. Sister desperately wants the fawn to stay home, but he announces that he'll die unless he can obey the sound of the hunting horns. Finally she lets him out, and he's spotted by the king. "Hunt him all day long," the king instructs his men, "but don't let him come to any harm."

When the sun sets, the king orders the huntsman to lead him to the hut. They arrive, and the king speaks the password. The unsuspecting Sister lets him in. She and the king fall in love at a glance, and the king proposes. Sister agrees on the condition that the fawn will be allowed to stay with them. The King is happy to bring him along. The king and Sister marry and live happily for many years. The fawn, who is well taken care of, is also happy.

But the stepmother is furious when she hears that Brother and Sister have prospered. She bides her time until the queen bears her first child, a son, while the king is out hunting. Disguised as a chambermaid, the stepmother urges the queen to strengthen herself with a bath. Then, with her own one-eyed daughter's help, she locks the queen in the bathroom. She's prepared a smoldering fire there, planning to let the queen suffocate.

As soon as the queen is locked away, the stepmother dresses her own ugly daughter in the queen's nightgown and settles her in the queen's bed. She uses magic to make the daughter resemble the queen but is unable to replace the missing eye. The false queen lies on her side to keep the king from noticing this defect and manages to fool him this way.

At midnight, when everyone but the baby's nurse is sleeping, the door opens and the real queen enters. She feeds the baby and returns him to his cradle. Next, she moves over to the sleeping fawn and strokes his back. Then she tiptoes away.

The real queen visits her son and the fawn night after night without speaking a word, and the nurse tells no one. When some time has passed, the nurse hears the queen uttering these words to herself: "Where's my child? Where's my fawn? Two more times, and then I'm gone." This time, the nurse tells the king what's happened.

That night the king stations himself in the nursery, where he sees and hears the queen for himself. This time, though, the queen's chant ends, "One more time, and then I'm gone." When the king keeps watch the next night, the queen announces, "After this, I'm really gone."

The king jumps up and greets the real queen. Suddenly she comes back to life and tells the king everything that's happened. The king sentences the stepmother and her daughter to death. When the stepmother is dead, the spell on Brother is lifted and he turns back into a person. (It's left unstated whether he's a boy or a man.) Little Sister and Little Brother live happily ever after.


There are a few loose ends in this story, and critics have noted that it seems to consist of two stories imperfectly grafted together. The first story takes place in the woods, the second in the king's palace. What the two half-stories have in common is a strong and resilient female character and a rather ineffective brother.

Little Sister is more competent than Little Brother, who's impetuous and unable to resist temptation. Confronted with a spoken warning from the stream—and a plea from his sister—Little Brother drinks from it anyway. When he turns into a fawn, Little Sister wastes no time in making him a collar and braiding a leash with which she leads him "deeper and deeper into the forest." She has firmly put herself into the role of caretaker and has made it clear that she and her brother are a unit.

As in "Hansel and Gretel," "Little Brother and Little Sister" begins with a brother taking charge and ends with his sister saving him. In this story, the siblings seem almost like spouses. Their stay in the forest hut is cozily idyllic. Little Sister gathers all their food and even picks grass for the fawn, which he eats from her hand. He seems completely dependent on her; she does all the work while the fawn, "always in high spirits," frolics merrily. (Note that only Little Sister is described as growing tired at the end of the day.) But the arrangement is a happy one, and the fawn is at least useful as a pillow for his sister. The narrator notes the siblings' general contentment "If Brother had only had his human shape, they would have had a glorious life out there."

After she's married, Little Sister, now a queen, continues in her role as nurturer. Even death can't stop her: the text continues to describe her as "the real queen," not the queen's ghost. She's certainly real enough to nurse her baby; she even tiptoes in the baby's room, which suggests that her walking is audible. Though dead, the queen out-performs her living stepsister, the false queen, who gets into the real queen's bed and apparently stays there until the end of the story. The fawn has receded into the background. He's shown only once in this section, and he's asleep. Still, his sister makes sure to stroke his back every night.

The king's happiness at seeing his real queen is strong enough to bring her back to life, but the story ends when the fawn turns back into Little Brother. Readers are informed that "Little Sister and Little Brother lived happily together until the end of their days." It's to be hoped that the king and the baby are part of this happy unit.

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