The Wild Swans (Marcia Brown)

The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Andersen, illustrated by Marcia Brown.
Charles Scribner's Sons, 1963.

It's true.  Of all the weird and wonderful fairy tales, for some reason, my favorite has always been "The Wild Swans."  I don't remember where I first read it.  I know I was in elementary school.  I had an old book of Andersen fairy tales (and a matching one for the Brothers Grimm), but I seem to think I first read it in my school library.  I do know the Andersen version is the one I knew first.  In the Andersen tale, the princess is named Elisa.  She has eleven brothers.  The story is one Andersen has adapted into his own.  Whenever I read a collection of the Grimms, I always look for their variant, "The Six Swans."  The stories are very similar, but while the Grimms were folk tale collectors, Andersen was a real writer.  His version is so strange and beautiful, and it remains my favorite.

You can find texts of both versions online.  The main plot is this:  a wicked stepmother transforms the princes into swans.  The princess discovers them years later, as they land near a lake.  At night, they become men again.  She dreams that in order to transform them into men permanently, she must gather some nettles and sew the nettles into shirts.  She is not allowed to utter a sound.  As she sets about her difficult task, a king sees her and falls in love with her, despite her silence.  He proposes to her, and preparations are made for their wedding.  However, unkind people believe the silent girl who is sewing shirts from nettles is a witch.  After "proving" it to the king, the girl is sentenced to be burned.  All the while, she sews shirts like mad.  Just as the fire is to be lit, the swans descend and she throws the shirts on them.  The swans become human again, although one prince is left with a wing for an arm, because the princess was unable to gather more nettles.  Finally, the princess can explain herself.  The king is overjoyed and they are married.  (And yes, you really should hunt down a decent translation, because I am a reader, not a writer.)

So in playing around on the internet, I found a listing for a book of the tale illustrated by Marcia Brown.  Brown won a Caldecott Medal for her 1954 Cinderella, which is beautiful.   (She also won for two other books, the only illustrator to win three Caldecott Medals besides David Wiesner.)  I checked the library, only to find that The Wild Swans was unavailable.  (I checked out her well-loved version of Stone Soup instead.)  I was lucky to find an old library copy on the Better World Books website instead, just in time to grab it in one of their bargain bin sales.  Enjoy a few pictures!


















I always wondered about the last brother.  Was he happy enough to just be a man again?  Was he jealous of his brothers for having two arms?

One final note:  It's sad to see such a lovely book stamped with the word "Discarded" repeatedly.



Edit:  I have added a few videos!  I do love this story.




And just for fun...

There are also lots of clips and parts of different animated versions on YouTube that I'm not including here.  Enjoy!


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Comments

  1. I love this story ♥ I have not read this particular book you are showing but the illustrations are beautiful!

    I remember seeing two versions cartoon movies based on this story. Don't even know from what year but it was quite a long time ago. Will need to hunt it down to show the kids one day :D

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    1. I just added a couple of videos! There are a ton more on YouTube, but they're either broken up or just clips.

      This book is lovely! It may not be my favorite, nor is it my favorite by this illustrator, but I'm always on the lookout!

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  2. You are my favorite and my best. Can't wait to watch these videos with Julia. Oh this story. It's so INTENSE, this one. All that shirt sewing! I have a version on CD which is reeally dark! she married the king, and has a baby and then the baby is stolen b/c some wicked person frames her by snatching the kid and smearing her room and her, with blodd, making it look like she ate her baby or something. SO she's about to be burned up and she's still making her shirts, and then she saves her brothers and blah blah. Crazy!

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    1. Oh, goodness! I wonder if I would have loved the story so much if that had been the first version I read? (Probably.) That's up there with "The Juniper Tree," although I doubt there is any fairy tale as gruesome as "The Juniper Tree."

      I put up the Hello Kitty one just for you!!!

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  3. Beautiful fairy tale and book. I wasn't familiar with this story, thanks a lot for showing it to me! So dark and strange, really. I'll watch the videos now...

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    1. The videos are okay... I love the actual story, though! :o)

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  4. It really is such a great and magical tale. I've read several different versions of it too (including a novel that I loved (Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier... it has similar elements for sure) Anyway! Very cool story and very cool book find!

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    1. Robyn, I recognize the book from work! But the library doesn't have that one. The rest of the series, yes, the first book, no. Doesn't it figure...

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  5. Oh thank you, thank you! I've been looking for this book everywhere. This is the version I loved as a little girl. The illustrations are exquisite.

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    1. Oh, yay, I'm so glad you found this! Marcia Brown was a marvelous illustrator. This is my favorite fairy tale anyway, but I do love this version. Hope you find one for yourself! :) xoxo

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  6. Andersen's stories are the MOST. I'll love them until the end of my life, and once (I'm pretty sure) I'll visit the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, because that's how it should be. :) Thank you so much for sharing this book. I've seen the cover, and fell in love with it...

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    1. I want to see the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, too! I love Andersen.

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