#FairytaleTuesday: The Sparrow and His Four Children

Nota bene: My posts won’t always match up with the hashtag themes because I’m going straight through the Grimm’s 1812 edition, one after the other.

Aarne-Thompson-Uther Index type 157: Learning to Fear Men

Okay, so no content warnings needed this week, which is always nice. The story is pretty basic and centers on a sparrow-father (sparrow-mom is never mentioned) whose four sparrow-sons are lost when some “bad boys” break the nest. The fledglings are able to escape in a strong wind and the father is left alone.

Sunny Gu, 2008

Then their father became sorry that his sons went off into the world before he was able to warn them about its many dangers or to give them good advice about how to fend for themselves.

The sons eventually come back with another group of sparrows who are looking for an autumn snack in a wheat field. Father and sons reunite and father takes them home.

“Ah, my dear sons, I was terribly concerned about you all summer, especially since you had been carried away by the wind before I could give you my advice. Now, listen to my words, obey your father, and keep this in mind: Little birds must face grave dangers!”

The sons tell their father where they went on their unplanned journeys and what they ate. After each son answers the father will admonish him, telling him of the dangers he could have faced. Each of these dangers centers around men and boys, which is unsurprising given that the nest was damaged by bad boys simply for the sake of causing trouble.

Not that kind of bad boy…

And then we get to the final son, the “silliest and weakest” of them. This little sparrow found himself in a church where he snacked on spiders and flies all summer. Upon hearing this the father-sparrow says:

Faith, my dear son! If you take refuge in the churches and help clean out the spiders and the buzzing flies, and if you chirp to God like the young ravens and commend yourself to the eternal Creator, you will stay well, even if the entire world be full of wild and malicious birds.

So, unlike many of these tales, where you have to tease through layers of subtext to get to the meaning, the moral of this one is pretty clear:

Yup. That’s it. It’s all about God. I tried to do some research on this one, but information is pretty thin on the ground. Even D.L. Ashliman didn’t have much, beyond pointing out the ATU type.

The very sparse Wikipedia entry states that one source placed this story in the “deep Middle Ages” but that it could also go back to Aesop’s Fables. I checked and couldn’t find this story within the currently known Fables but it may very well be in a different form. We know how folktales can evolve and mutate as they move around. And if there is/was a similar story in the Fables, it definitely wouldn’t be about the Christian God when it was first told, given that Aesop was believed to have existed several hundred year before the Common Era.

But, I mean, it’s certainly not as if the Christian Church was in the habit of repurposing every bit of pre-Christian and pagan lore that they could, right?

Work Cited:
Grimm, Jacob; Grimm, Wilhelm. The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition. Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s