Grimm's Fairy Tales

by Grimm Brothers

The Willow-Wren and the Bear

Additional Information
  • Year Published: 1905
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: Germany
  • Source: Edwardes, M., Taylor, E., trans. (1905). Grimm's Fairy Tales. New York: Maynard, Merrill, & Co.
  • Readability:
    • Flesch–Kincaid Level: 6.3
  • Word Count: 914


Once in summer-time the bear and the wolf were walking in the forest,and the bear heard a bird singing so beautifully that he said:‘Brother wolf, what bird is it that sings so well?’ ‘That is the Kingof birds,’ said the wolf, ‘before whom we must bow down.’ In realitythe bird was the willow-wren. ‘IF that’s the case,’ said the bear, ‘Ishould very much like to see his royal palace; come, take me thither.’‘That is not done quite as you seem to think,’ said the wolf; ‘youmust wait until the Queen comes,’ Soon afterwards, the Queen arrivedwith some food in her beak, and the lord King came too, and they beganto feed their young ones. The bear would have liked to go at once, butthe wolf held him back by the sleeve, and said: ‘No, you must waituntil the lord and lady Queen have gone away again.’ So they tookstock of the hole where the nest lay, and trotted away. The bear,however, could not rest until he had seen the royal palace, and when ashort time had passed, went to it again. The King and Queen had justflown out, so he peeped in and saw five or six young ones lying there.‘Is that the royal palace?’ cried the bear; ‘it is a wretched palace,and you are not King’s children, you are disreputable children!’ Whenthe young wrens heard that, they were frightfully angry, and screamed:‘No, that we are not! Our parents are honest people! Bear, you willhave to pay for that!’

The bear and the wolf grew uneasy, and turned back and went into theirholes. The young willow-wrens, however, continued to cry and scream,and when their parents again brought food they said: ‘We will not somuch as touch one fly’s leg, no, not if we were dying of hunger, untilyou have settled whether we are respectable children or not; the bearhas been here and has insulted us!’ Then the old King said: ‘Be easy,he shall be punished,’ and he at once flew with the Queen to thebear’s cave, and called in: ‘Old Growler, why have you insulted mychildren? You shall suffer for it—we will punish you by a bloodywar.’ Thus war was announced to the Bear, and all four-footed animalswere summoned to take part in it, oxen, asses, cows, deer, and everyother animal the earth contained. And the willow-wren summonedeverything which flew in the air, not only birds, large and small, butmidges, and hornets, bees and flies had to come.

When the time came for the war to begin, the willow-wren sent outspies to discover who was the enemy’s commander-in-chief. The gnat,who was the most crafty, flew into the forest where the enemy wasassembled, and hid herself beneath a leaf of the tree where thepassword was to be announced. There stood the bear, and he called thefox before him and said: ‘Fox, you are the most cunning of allanimals, you shall be general and lead us.’ ‘Good,’ said the fox, ‘butwhat signal shall we agree upon?’ No one knew that, so the fox said:‘I have a fine long bushy tail, which almost looks like a plume of redfeathers. When I lift my tail up quite high, all is going well, andyou must charge; but if I let it hang down, run away as fast as youcan.’ When the gnat had heard that, she flew away again, and revealedeverything, down to the minutest detail, to the willow-wren. When daybroke, and the battle was to begin, all the four-footed animals camerunning up with such a noise that the earth trembled. The willow-wrenwith his army also came flying through the air with such a humming,and whirring, and swarming that every one was uneasy and afraid, andon both sides they advanced against each other. But the willow-wrensent down the hornet, with orders to settle beneath the fox’s tail,and sting with all his might. When the fox felt the first string, hestarted so that he one leg, from pain, but he bore it, andstill kept his tail high in the air; at the second sting, he wasforced to put it down for a moment; at the third, he could hold out nolonger, screamed, and put his tail between his legs. When the animalssaw that, they thought all was lost, and began to flee, each into hishole, and the birds had won the battle.

Then the King and Queen flew home to their children and cried:‘Children, rejoice, eat and drink to your heart’s content, we have wonthe battle!’ But the young wrens said: ‘We will not eat yet, the bearmust come to the nest, and beg for pardon and say that we arehonourable children, before we will do that.’ Then the willow-wrenflew to the bear’s hole and cried: ‘Growler, you are to come to thenest to my children, and beg their pardon, or else every rib of yourbody shall be broken.’ So the bear crept thither in the greatest fear,and begged their pardon. And now at last the young wrens weresatisfied, and sat down together and ate and drank, and made merrytill quite late into the night.