German Fairy Tales: Fundevogel – Female Stars, Shapeshifting and Growing Up

Ferdinand Fellner (1799–1859), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

FEMALE STARS AND SHAPESHIFTING

There are many heroes in folk and fairy tales but not so many heroines. Nevertheless, they are often intense, bold, or intelligent characters or have magical qualities when they do appear. The German fairy tale “Fundevogel,” also known as “Foundling-Bird,” has one such female star playing an essential role in the development and dénouement of the adventure. Presented here is a retelling of tale 51, “Foundling-Bird (Fundevogel)” from, “Household Tales,” translated by Margaret Hunt and compiled by the Grimm Brothers, followed by a brief discussion of the heroine and the magical shapeshifting acts by the children in their attempts to escape.

THE STORY OF FUNDEVOGEL, OR FOUNDLING BIRD

One day a poor woman carrying her baby son went out foraging for food in the forest. She had found a few nuts, berries, and mushrooms, and because she was also carrying her baby boy, she grew tired and sat down for rest and refreshment. She soon began to feel sleepy, so she lay down under a tree and fell asleep, leaving the child resting beside her. An eagle seeing the baby, swooped down and carried him far away and placed him on the highest branch of a tall tree.

Otto Ubbelohde, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A forester who lived in the woods, on hearing a child crying, was concerned and following the sound came to a tall tree. Looking up to its topmost branches, he saw a young boy. The poor boy was sobbing and wailing and terrified of falling. So, the forester, being kind-hearted, climbed up the tree and carried him down to safety.

There was no sign of a parent, guardian, or companion of any kind. Knowing the perils of the woods, he feared to leave the little boy alone with so many dangerous animals around. Furthermore, he had a young daughter named Lina, about the same age as the boy. Her mother had passed away when she was very young, and living deep in the forest, she rarely saw other children. Therefore, he decided to take him home as a companion and playmate for his daughter and bring them up together. He did not know the boy’s name and called him “Fundevogel,” which means “foundling bird” in his language.   The two children soon made friends and grew up happily together, becoming very close and attached, and when apart, even for a short time, they became sad, pining badly for one another.

OLD SANNA

The forester had no wife but employed an elderly woman named Old Sanna to cook meals, keep house and supervise the servants. One day Old Sanna spent a lot of time going in and out to the kitchen fetching and carrying water to fill a vast pot she had hanging over the fire. Seeing this, Lina asked her what she was doing.

Old Sanna replied she would tell her if she promised never to reveal the answer to anyone. Lina, being very curious, agreed. The old cook replied she would light a fire under the pot very early in the morning while the forester was hunting in the forest. Then, as soon as the water was bubbling hot, she would throw Fundevogel in the pot, boiling him alive.  That night Lina lay in bed horrified at the thought of poor Fundevogel, her best friend, being boiled alive. She decided she could not keep such a terrible secret despite her promise.

The forester got up very early the following day and left the house while the Old Sanna was still asleep. Lina had not slept all night worrying about what to do. She knew that she would be devastated if anything happened to her beloved Fundevogel and miss him terribly. Then, finally, it dawned on her that the old cook wanted to cook him for a meal and was appalled at the thought.   She wondered how he felt about her and decided she would try and save him but give him a little test.

LINA

Quietly rousing him, she whispered in his ear that she had something of the utmost importance to tell him. “Be sure I will never leave you if you will never leave me!

Fundevogel replied sleepily, “Be sure I will never leave you, now or ever!

So, Lina told him, “Last night, Old Sanna carried many buckets of water into the house, much more than usual. Being curious, I asked why she needed so much water. Sanna made me promise not to pass it on and told me that early tomorrow morning, when father was out hunting, a fire would be lit under the pot and heat it until the water boiled. Then she would throw you in and boil you alive. We cannot let her do this. Therefore, we must quickly dress and run away together before she awakens.”

Quickly and quietly, they dressed, and while the old cook was still snoring, quietly tiptoed from the house and ran into the forest.

As soon as Old Sanna awoke and had dressed, she kindled a fire under the pot, and while it was heating up, she made herself breakfast. By this time, the two children were long gone and far away. After a while, the water boiled, and she went into the children’s bedroom intending to catch hold of Fundevogel and throw him in the pot. On discovering both children gone, she flew into a rage and grew afraid.

She feared when the forester returned, she would have to explain their absence, and her wicked plot to boil Fundevogel revealed. She decided the children must be brought back and ordered three servants to find them and bring them back without delay. Unfortunately, the servants were all fast runners, and as the two children were resting just outside the forest, thinking it safe, they saw them fast approaching.

THE ROSE TREE AND THE ROSE

The children were horrified, and Lina turned to Fundevogel and said, “Be sure I will never leave you if you will never leave me!”

Fundevogel replied, “Be sure I will never leave you now or ever!”

So, Lina said, “You become a rose tree, and I will become the rose that grows upon it!”

When the servants arrived at where the children had been sitting, they saw a rose tree with a single rose upon it. They looked all around, but there was no sign of the children. Thinking they had escaped and not knowing what direction to go, they decided to return to the forester’s house.

Seeing they had not brought the children back, the old cook furiously demanded to know why. The servants told her they had run to the forest edge fast and seen the children a little way off resting. However, when they arrived in that place, only a rose tree with a single rose growing upon it could be seen.

THE CHURCH AND THE CHANDELIER

The old cook was livid and told them they should have cut down the rose tree, cut the rose from it, and brought them both back to her. Then, angrily, she ordered the three servants to go back and find the children carrying them straight back to her.

Meanwhile, the children had put further distance between them and the forest and stopped to rest. The servants returned to where they had seen the rose upon the bush, but it was gone. Then, finding the children’s trail, they quickly began to gain upon them. 

As they were resting, the children saw the servants coming, and Lina turned to Fundevogel and said,

“Be sure I will never leave you if you will never leave me!”

Fundevogel replied, “Be sure I will never leave you, now or ever!”

Otto Ubbelohde, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

So, Lina said,  “Then become a church, and I’ll become the chandelier within it.”

When the servants arrived expecting to find the children, they found a church with a chandelier inside and nothing else. Having found no sign of the children and not knowing what else to do, they returned to face the wrath of the old cook.

She was livid and demanded to know what they had seen. They told her that they had almost caught up with the children and had seen them in the distance. However, when they came to the place, they had seen them; all they saw was a church with a single chandelier inside but could find no sign of the children and so returned home.

The old cook was furious, telling them they should have taken the church down and brought that and the chandelier back to her. Then, angrily, she told them they were too stupid to be trusted and would accompany them, ordering them to take her to the place of the church and chandelier. 

THE POND AND THE DUCK

By this time, the children had moved on and were some distance away. However, their pursuers picked up their trail, and looking over their shoulders, the children saw them coming after them and were terrified to see the wicked old cook among them. The children were growing tired and realized they could not outrun them. Lina turned to Fundevogel and said, “Be sure I will never leave you if you will never leave me!”

Fundevogel replied, “Be sure I will never leave you now or ever!”

So Lina said, “Become a pond, and I will become a duck upon it.”

Their pursuers arrived and saw nothing but a pond with a duck upon it, but the old cook was with them this time. Lying down before the pond, she began to drink the pond dry. But the duck seized her head in its beak and dragged her into the water drowning her. In fright, the servants ran off, and the children skipped home hand in hand as happy as any children could be, and to this day, they are still alive and living if they have not yet passed away.

The End

DISCUSSION

Central to the action in these tale types are a series of shapeshifting transformations proposed by the heroine over the need to escape capture.  In other tales the pursuers responds by transforming themselves into something more powerful than what their quarry transforms into each time. In the case of the Fundevogel tale, it is just the children who change. In this case, instead of a contest of power, their transformations appear innocuous, simply throwing their pursuers off their trail, at least until the final change.

Old Sanna, the cook’s evil designs on the boy, is the catalyst for the beginning of the transformation of the children. She makes them bring forth their magic and transform themselves to deal with the situation.  Through the threat of Old Sanna and the prompting of Lina into different transformations, Fundevogel learns how to use his inner power, or magic for his benefit.

The story shows the maturation of Fundevogel from when he had been weak, vulnerable, and powerless into someone who, through adversity and a good mentor, has learned how to use his inner power. Through this process, he has learned evil exists in the world and overcome it with his power and it was Lina who teaches him to use his personal power to counter the evil intentions of those who would hurt him. Athough the children defeat their adversary, in killing her they lose a certain part of their innocence yet gain much in personal power, and in life many ways, that is what happens as we grow up.

© 09/02/2022 zteve t evans


References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright February 9th, 2022 zteve t evans


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