The Juniper Tree

Enchantment, gold rings, clammy frogs, incest, spinning wheels, and cannibalism: The symbols and themes of these 27 tales (”Rapunzel,” ”The Frog King,” and many less familiar) are so simple and yet so startling, so deep- rooted in our culture and yet so strange, that many adults shun them in horror. The Juniper Tree collection, first published in 1973, should change their minds. Lore Segal, a distinguished novelist, translated the tales by the Brothers Grimm with stunning freshness. You can’t read this urgent, unvarnished prose without hearing the storyteller’s unaffected voice, and without feeling your skin prickle.

As the child psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim argued, ”fairy” tales may seem, on the surface, alarmingly unsuitable for children. But children know that the stories are a deep, poetic source of consolation, encouragement, and rare honesty about the perils and hopes of the vulnerable. Try reading them aloud to your children and see. I did, years ago, and was surprised to find my children riveted, enraptured, and begging for more. The horrors that strike us (like the wicked stepmother in the title story who cooks up her murdered stepson) seem to sail right past young listeners. What they hear, mostly, is the courage and resourcefulness of youth, the bluff humor, and the unexpected magical reward that may bless the simple and good-hearted. The inexplicable, threatening, and hopeful world of giants and talking toads does not seem so strange to children.

Maurice Sendak’s famous black-and-white drawings have enough mystery, dread, and dreaminess to stay in your mind for decades. A+

The Juniper Tree
  • Book