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Literature / The Two Brothers

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"The Two Brothers" (Die zwei Brüder) is a Fairy Tale collected by The Brothers Grimm.

The version the Grimms included in Children's and Household Tales has two distinct sections, which may have originally been separate tales; they mention in an afterword having also collected stories that resemble the first section with a different ending or the second section with a different beginning. Other fairy tale collectors have had similar finds; for instance, Andrew Lang's Violet Fairy Book includes a Lithuanian tale called "The Three Princes and Their Beasts" which resembles the second section.

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The first section tells of two brothers, one a rich and wicked goldsmith and the other a poor and humble broom-maker. The broom-maker discovers a rare golden bird, which the goldsmith buys off him. The bird is magical, and whoever cooks and eats its heart and liver will find a gold coin under his pillow each morning. The goldsmith sets his wife to cooking the bird, but due to a mishap, the bird's heart and liver are eaten by the two starving sons of the broom-maker. The broom-maker is astonished when his sons start finding gold under their pillows, and asks his brother for advice. The goldsmith vindictively claims they've fallen in with the devil, and must be driven out. After wandering for a while, the two boys are taken in by a huntsman, who raises them as his own sons.

In the second section, the two boys (who incidentally are identical twins) are young men and set out to seek their fortunes. First they travel together, and acquire a matching set of faithful animal companions: in order they are hares, foxes, wolves, bears, and lions (all of which are also twins, or at least littermates). Then they go their separate ways, and the story follows the younger brother, who saves a princess from a dragon and wins her hand. They live happily for a while until the young man goes hunting in a mysterious forest, where a witch turns him to stone. The elder brother, having received a portent that his sibling is in trouble, comes to visit and is mistaken for his twin. He lets the mistake stand so he can borrow his brother's authority to find out what's going on, then goes out to the forest and rescues his younger brother from the witch. The brother who is married to the princess, though grateful to be rescued and glad to be reunited with his sibling, has an attack of jealousy when he learns that his elder brother has been living his life, but is reassured when he gets home and his wife asks him why he has been behaving strangely distant and sleeping separately from her for the last few days. The end.

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This story contains examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Funnily enough, the younger brother's lion is this. It often gets intoxicated and oddly, it is for this exact reason that the lion was sent to fetch some king's wine from the palace. To ensure it got the right wine for its master, the lion kept tasting some of the wine offered and ended up slightly inebriated on the way back!
  • Always Identical Twins: The broom-maker's sons, "who were twin brothers and as like each other as two drops of water."
  • Androcles' Lion: The brothers acquire their loyal and helpful animal companions by sparing the lives of the creatures' parents. Of note is that their sparing lives comes five times, and includes a literal lion.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: The magic root in the second section, used to cheapen death.
  • Back from the Dead:
    • After the younger brother defeats the dragon, he is decapitated in his sleep by the marshal, who steals the credit. His animal companions restore him to life using a rare plant the hare knows how to find. This happens to him again when the lion put his head on backwards the first time, which necessitated yet another round of decapitation-and-resurrection.
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    • This also happens to the older brother, who was decapitated by the younger brother out of a fit of jealous rage. It played out the exact same, with the older brother none the worse for wear afterwards.
  • Bears Are Bad News: They certainly are for the poor guards of the old king! When the younger brother's bear tried to enter the palace, it swiped its paws on a couple of guards to break their ranks and gain entrance. Averted generally for the brothers, each of whom has a loyal bear companion.
  • The Beastmaster: The two brothers become hunters and collect a train of animal companions—a lion, a bear, a wolf, a fox, and a hare—each.
  • The Bet: The younger brother had bets with his innkeeper that he could obtain foods and drinks that the King ate and drank. The innkeeper naturally disbelieved him, and so the younger brother sent each of his animal companions to fetch these items for him. It eventually escalated from betting money to the innkeeper's house and yard against the brother's thousand gold coins, the wager resting on whether the brother can marry the princess or not. Of course, the brother wins that bet too (although he allowed the innkeeper to keep his property as well as the gold coins).
  • Chekhov's Gun: The seven dragon tongues that the younger brother cuts and keeps in the princess's handkerchief becomes a crucial plot point in proving he was the one who slew the dragon and not the marshal.
  • Cool Sword: The younger brother picks up a sword from a church, which can only be lifted by the World's Strongest Man.
  • Damsel in Distress: The younger brother saves a princess who was to be sacrificed to a dragon.
  • Death Is Cheap: After establishing that the animals know a way to resurrect someone from the dead, the story includes a couple of incidents where one or other of the brothers is killed and then immediately revived.
  • Dragons Are Demonic: It eats virgins and is slain by a sword that was found on church grounds.
  • Dragons Prefer Princesses: The princess is about to be sacrificed to a dragon when the younger brother rescues her. It's mentioned that it's actually virgins the dragon prefers, but all the other virgins in the kingdom have been eaten already.
  • Dragons Versus Knights: The dragon is noted to have killed many a knight before the younger brother came along.
  • Evil Uncle: The goldsmith to the two boys, although really he's evil to everyone and the fact that he has nephews is an incidental detail.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: A couple of instances.
    • After the younger brother kills the dragon, the marshal cuts his head off while he sleeps. Fortunately, his Talking Animals save him.
    • Later on, the treacherous marshal is executed by having four bulls dismember his body.
  • Fetch Quest: The younger brother sends each of his animal companions to the palace to fetch him various foods or drinks that the King consumes, in order to win The Bet.
  • Flower from the Mountaintop: The hare's journey to fetch the magic root from a distant mountain to save the huntsman.
  • Forgotten Phlebotinum: In the second section, which may have originally been a separate story, there's no mention of gold coins magically appearing under pillows. Possibly subverted, however, in that it explains how the younger twin can easily come up with a thousand gold pieces to cover The Bet he makes with an innkeeper when he returns to marry the princess. (It's also completely averted with the healing herb the younger twin's hare brings to resurrect his master; once they've got it, they use it again every time they need someone resurrected.)
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Upon hearing that his older brother had been sleeping in the same bed as his wife (although with a sword between them so that nothing intimate would happen), the younger brother quickly decapitated him out of a fit of jealous rage. To his credit, he immediately reversed course upon him realizing he had just killed his brother and savior. Death Is Cheap is invoked soon after and all is back to normal.
  • Head Turned Backwards: The younger brother is beheaded in his sleep by a wicked marshal. When the hero's train of animal companions find him, they send the hare to fetch a magic root that can restore people back to life. It works, but the not-too-bright animals have put his head on the wrong way. The hero does not immediately realize this due to being lovesick, and only when he tries to eat lunch he notices there is something amiss. The animals fess up to their mistake, and the lion mends the damage by ripping the head off, then putting it back on the right way with the magic root.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: The younger brother finds and picks up a special sword to slay the dragon with.
  • Immune to Bullets: The elder brother tries to shoot the witch, but she's immune to bullets — at least, to lead bullets.
  • Kill It with Fire: The dragon's preferred method of killing its enemies: breathe fire to light the dry grass and suffocate them in heat and smoke. Much later on, this is also how the brothers killed the witch.
  • The Lost Woods: The sinister forest where the witch lives. It becomes a lot less sinister the moment she's killed.
  • Loyal Animal Companion: The brothers each have a lion, a bear, a wolf, a fox, and a hare for companions.
  • Magic Wand: The witch's wand, unique in that it works not by waving it and verbalizing a spell, but by tapping it on other people (and animals!) to turn them to stone.
  • The Marvelous Deer: Following one is how the younger brother gets into trouble when he goes hunting in The Lost Woods.
  • Mighty Roar: The lion gains entrance to the palace simply by roaring at the guards, who promptly scurried away.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The younger brother once he realized that he had beheaded his brother and savior in a green-eyed moment of monstrosity. Fortunately for him, Death Is Cheap!
  • Nameless Narrative: Nobody in the story has a name.
  • Off with His Head!: The younger brother (twice, thanks to a case of Head Turned Backwards) and the older brother. Both of them get better.
    • The dragon also gets beheaded multiple times, though it's because there were seven heads. Later on these seven heads are brought to the king's palace on his daughter's wedding day as trophies, which also helps the younger brother fire Chekhov's Gun.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: This one has—had—seven heads.
  • Pet the Dog: Although he won The Bet, the younger brother allowed the innkeeper to keep his property and even the thousand gold coins that was wagered against it. Presumably this was because the brother was moving up to royalty anyway, but it's still a show of generosity, or as the story puts it, "it [was] done according to mercy."
    • In a Blink-and-You-Miss-It example during the same scene, the younger brother had both his father and his foster-father (the huntsman) at his wedding and loaded them both with treasures.
  • Rags to Royalty: The younger son of a poor broom-maker marries a princess and becomes viceroy of a kingdom.
  • Rescue Romance: The princess falls in love with the younger brother as soon as he rescues her from the dragon.
  • Rule of Three: Several times.
    • In the first section, the poor broom-maker brings gold from the golden bird three times to his brother. (The third time was the bird itself.)
    • A bumblebee lands three times on the hare's nose before it awoke.
    • Speaking of the hare, it scratches on the princess's leg three times before she pays attention to it.
    • The lion meanwhile tasted three wines on its Fetch Quest, the third being the one it was sent for.
    • The magic root is used to reverse a beheading and bring someone back to life three times. Although unlike the other uses of this trope in the story, they were not three recurring attempts in one scene.
  • Silver Bullet: After discovering that the witch is Immune to Bullets, the elder brother fashions silver bullets out of his coat buttons, which are much more effective.
  • Spot the Imposter: After the brothers are reunited at the end, they decide just for fun to challenge the court to tell which is the princess's husband. Even the princess can't tell the men apart, but she identifies her husband after taking a close look at the animals. (Her husband's animals are wearing neck decorations she gave them after they helped kill the dragon.)
  • Super Speed: The hare says that the magic root lies two hundred hours away from where the story takes place. The lion tells it to retrieve the root in twenty-four hours and actually gets it done!
  • Standard Hero Reward: The king has promised that the man who saves his daughter will get her hand in marriage and inherit the kingdom.
  • Stealing the Credit: While the hunter and his animals are resting after killing the dragon, the marshal kills him and takes credit for the dragon's death. (The princess knows the truth, but he extorts a promise of silence which she's too frightened of him to break until the hunter turns up again.)
  • Sweet Tooth: The younger brother's bear turns out to be this, because it likes licking sweet things. It is for this exact reason it was sent to fetch some of the king's confectionery.
  • Taken for Granite: The witch's victims.
  • Tongue Trauma: The younger brother removes a tongue from each of the slain dragon's seven heads as proof of his victory. It later acts as a Chekhov's Gun.
    • In the same scene, he also says (in response to the marshal's lie about dragons not having tongues) that "liars ought to have none."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The younger brother's aforementioned Cool Sword. There was a whole thing about emptying cups just for him to be able to wield it. Wield it he does and the dragon is slain, and then... no further mention of it.
  • Wicked Witch: She lives in the forest and turns everyone she meets into stone.
  • World's Strongest Man: A surprisingly irrelevant plot point, but the inscription at the church where the younger brother finds the Cool Sword says "Whosoever empties the cups will become the strongest man on earth, and will be able to wield the sword which is buried before the threshold of the door."
  • Youngest Child Wins: A minor example, in that it's the younger of the twins who marries the princess while the elder wanders around and fails to find adventure. On the other hand, it's averted with the witch, where the younger brother tries first and fails, then the elder brother tries and succeeds.
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