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Illustration by Hermann Vogel

Mary's Child, also known as Our Lady's Child, is a German folktale collected by the brothers Grimm from Margaret Marianne Wild, first published in the first volumen of the first edition of Children and Household's Tales in 1812.

Origin[]

Like with Snow White, there aren't many variants of this tale before the brothers Grimm published theirs, but several elements present in the tale can still be found in tales from collections published centuries ago. First is the story of a father so poor he can’t provide for his family, that in the forest meets a woman of supernatural nature, who offers herself to take care of the man’s daughter. Soon after the girl commits some grievance against her benefactor, and as a result she’s punished by her, although by the end of the tale they make amends. That’s the case in the tale Goat-Face, first published in 1634 in the first volume of Il Pentamerone, a collection of fairy tales written by Neapolitan writer Giambattista Basile. Then is the episode of the female heroine being left alone with all of the household keys, allowed to open every single door but one. Initially the heroine manages to resist temptation distracting herself with what she finds inside the other chambers, but when the forbidden one is the only left she gives up to her curiosity and opens it. After that incident some physical proof is left of her disobedience, and no matter how hard the heroine tries, she can’t remove the evidence. This is the main plot of Bluebeard, the tale by French writer Charles Perrault, first published in 1697, but the motif of the forbidden chambers and the heroine being expelled from a place for looking inside it can also be found in another tale by Basile, The Three Crowns.

Finally there’s the episode of a young queen being framed for her children’s disappearance or murder, being sentenced to die in most cases because she’s unable to speak. In the collection The Facetious Nights, by Lombardian writer Gianfrancesco Straparola, we find the tale of Doralice, daughter of prince Tebaldo of Salermo, who’s framed by her father for her children’s slaughter because she ran away from home to prevent an incestuous with her own father, although here Doralice can speak, but her father used her own dagger to kill the babies, which many think is evidence enough to prove she’s the murder. In Bearskin, a tale first published in 1773 in the revised edition of Henriette-Julie de Murat’s novel Les Lutins du château de Kernosy, we also have a heroine framed for the murder of her own children by an unwanted suitor, only in this case is an ogre instead of an incestuous father.

Synopsis[]

A woodcutter is so poor that he can’t provide for his family, consisting of his wife and his three-year old daughter. One day when he’s in the woods working suddenly he sees a tall lady wearing a crown of stars on her head standing right in front of him, saying she’s the Virgin Mary and ordering the man to give her his daughter, because she could raise her providing her everything he can’t. The woodcutter does as told, and the Virgin Mary takes the girl to heaven, where she’s raised like a princess. One day, when the girl is fourteen years old, she’s told by the Virgin Mary that he has to leave to go on a journey, and that she gives her the thirteen doors of heaven, telling her she can open all of them but one, which is the one to whom the smallest key belongs to. The girl promises to behave well and not open the forbidden door, and after the Virgin leaves she opens one door each day, finding each one of the Apostles inside, until only the thirteenth door remains unopened. The girl tells the little angels accompanying her her wish to open the door just a little to see through the crack, only for the angels to warn her not to do it, but instead of making her lose interest in the thirteenth room that only increases her desire to see what’s inside. So when she thinks she’s completely alone she opens the door, which springs open showing the Holy Trinity inside. Astonished the girl raises her arm a little, and the moment one of her fingers is touched by the light it turns golden. When she realises it she panics, shuts the door and runs away. Fearing the Virgin Mary will find out the girl tries to wash the gold away from her finger, but it doesn’t disappear no matter how much she rubs and scrubs it. Soon after the Virgin Mary returns and summons the girl to give her back the keys of heaven. While the girl is giving back the keys, the Virgin asks her if she has opened the thirteenth door, and the girl lies saying she hasn’t. Then the Virgin Mary puts her hand over the girl’s chest and notices how fast her heart beats, so she asks the girl again, who lies again. After the Virgin finally notices that the girl’s finger has turned golden she asks her for the third time, but the girl keeps saying she hasn’t looked inside the forbidden chamber. Because of this the Virgin tells the girl she knows she’s lying to her, and that she has become no longer worthy to be in heaven. Right after hearing these words the girl falls into a deep sleep.

When she wakes up she finds herself in the middle of the wild. After crying about her situation the girl tries to get out of there, but no matter where she turns she always finds a thornbush that doesn’t allow her to go any further. Forced to live in the wild the girl makes a hollow tree her new home, feeding herself only with the roots and wild berries she can gather during the summer and the nuts she can gather during the winter. Years pass and gradually the girl’s dress is torn to shreds until she has nothing else to cover her body but her long hair, until one day the king of that land, who went out hunting, finds the girl inside the hollow tree after following a deer, and astonished with her beauty asks her what she’s doing there. The girl wants to answer, but she’s no longer able to speak. Despite that the king asks her if she wants to go to his castle with him, and the girl nods her head to say yes. The king takes her to his castle, where he treats her like a queen and soon after marries her. A year later the young queen gives birth to her first son, and one night the Virgin Mary appears telling the girl that if she confesses she opened the thirteenth door she would be able to speak again, but if she denies it she will take her child away from her. Because the queen keeps denying it, the Virgin steals the baby away, and the next day everyone blames the queen for the prince’s disappearance, saying the queen is a cannibal who has eaten her own child. Because the queen can’t talk she can defend herself and tell anyone what actually happened, but the king wants to believe her innocence. A year later the queen has another kid, and one night the Virgin Mary appears again promising to give the queen back her speech and her first child if she confesses, but threatening to take her second child away too if she keeps denying it. Because the queen denies it once again the Virgin steals the second boy away, and the accusations against the queen only increase. The third time the queen gives birth, this time to a girl, the Virgin takes the queen to heaven and shows to her that her two eldest sons are alive and well, promising to give them back to her if she just confesses, as well as restoring her ability to talk, but threatening to take her daughter away if she lies again. The queen still lies once again, the Virgin steals her daughter away, and the next day when people hear about another child disappearing without a trace they demand enraged that the queen must be brought to justice. This time the king is powerless to stop his councilors, who sentence the queen to die burned at the stake. Just when the queen is already tied to the stake and the fire is approaching her she finally wishes to confess, and second later her voice comes back and she admits she opened the thirteenth door. That same instant rain starts to fall, putting out the fire, and right after it the Virgin descends from heaven with the queen’s children. The Virgin gives the queen her children back and proves her innocence.

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