If there’s one story that moves me deeply it’s ‘The Seven Raves. This tale was collected by the Brothers Grimm and it deserves its own adaptation for the big screen. The fairy tales that Disney have adapted often have ballrooms, princesses marrying princes and fairies in common.
Therefore it would be refreshing to see a story that isn’t about romantic love, princes that have been turned into frogs, or lost slippers. This tale is about a father who unwittingly loses his sons and a sister who will do everything to save the brothers whom she has never met. It’s about grief, sacrifice and hope.
A father has seven sons but despite all of his wishes he has no daughter. One day, everything changes. His wife delivers a baby girl. He couldn’t be more happy, but it quickly becomes clear that the child is sickly and weak. The father is afraid that the child will die. He sends his sons to the well to fetch water for the baptism. During this time people believed that an unbaptised infant would not be welcomed in heaven.
The boys ran quickly to the well. They all wanted to be the first to fill the jug which turns out not be a very good idea. The jug fell into the well. They didn’t know what to do and were afraid to go home.
The father grew impatient. He thought that they were playing a game instead of doing what he had asked them to do. We all know that people often say things that they regret when they’re angry, and the father said: ‘I wish the boys were all turned into ravens.’ At that very moment seven ravens flew over his head. But he didn’t make the connection and soon forgot what he had said.
The parents were distressed because they didn’t know what had happened to their boys. Against all odds their daughter lived and they took comfort in bringing her up. Her parents were careful never to mention her brothers. One day she learned the tragic tale of her birth from some gossiping children. Our poor heroine was convinced that she was to blame for the disappearance of her brothers.
She felt so miserable that she asked her parents about it. They couldn’t deny it any longer. She had seven brothers. They assured her that it wasn’t her fault. It must have been the will of heaven. One night, she took a ring that belonged to her parents, some bread and water, a chair to rest in and closed the door softly behind her. She was determined to find out the truth.
First she went to the sun, but the sun was gruesome. Unsurprisingly it was too hot but even worse than that, the sun also had an appetite for small children.
She traveled to the moon. The moon was cold and when it saw it had a visitor it said that it smelled the flesh of men. This was enough to make her sprint for the stars. The morning star was friendly. It gave her a drumstick of a chicken. It said that the drumstick would save her brothers and that she could find them in the Glass Mountain.
When she arrived at the Glass Mountain she noticed that she had lost the drumstick. It was the key to open the door. The girl was desperate. She took out a knife and cut off one of her fingers. It worked. She entered the mountain and a dwarf welcomed her. He said that the raven lords were not at home but that she could wait here. The dwarf put seven little plates and seven little glasses on the table. The girl had a bite from each plate and a sip from each drink.
In the last glass from which she drank she dropped the ring which belonged to her parents.
Suddenly she heard the ravens arriving. Not knowing if she would be welcomed she hid herself behind a door. The ravens looked strangely at each other. Someone had eaten from their plate and sipped from their drinks. They were even more astonished when they realised that it must have been a human mouth.
The last raven gulped down his drink and the ring of his parents touched his mouth. Quickly he took it out and held it into the air. ‘If our little sister is here, we shall be free’ one of the ravens said. When the girl heard this she came out of her hiding place. She embraced her brothers and they turned into boys again. Joyfully they went home together.
Imagining the story
I think that there’s a lot that can be done with this tale. It would be magical to see our little heroine travel in the sky to the sun, moon and eventually the stars. It would be enthralling to see her enter the Glass Mountain and save her brothers just by being there.
The ways in which this tale has been interpreted by folklorists is quite interesting as well. Some think that it’s about men who had to go fight for king and county and the wish of their sisters for them to return home safely.
It also makes me think of another fairy tale. ‘The Wild Swans’ by Hans Christian Andersen is far more gruesome, but it has a lot of resemblances. In ‘The wild Swans’ an evil queen has turned eleven princes into swans. Their only hope is their little sister who must make eleven shirts for them with her bare hands out of nettles.
It must be said that ‘The Seven Ravens’ has a happier ending than ‘The Wild Swans.’ There the sister manages to save her brothers but she fails to save herself.
While Josef Rheinberger based on opera on this fairy tale, it has never been adapted for the screen. You can listen to a fragment above.
Were you familiar with the tale of ‘The Seven Ravens?’ Does it make you think of any other fairy tales that strike you as being quite similar? How would you adapt the tale for the big screen if you had the chance? How would you interpret the tale? Let me know in the comments!
Note: All images are in the public domain. The first one comes from a children’s book that was published in 1910. The others are the work of the German painter and illustrator Oskar Herrfurth. The last image is the work of the Scottish illustrator Anne Anderson.