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1001 Stories Collection

The Twelve Brothers

Video and Learning Resource
1001 twelvebrothers tylerquiring
Added on 06th October 2020

Oral tradition Folktale from Germany

Europe Family Folk and fairy tales Magic

A Brothers Grimm story about twelve brothers who are turned into birds.


There was once a king and queen with twelve sons, but when the queen became pregnant, the king rashly claimed that he would kill each and every one of them if the baby was a girl, and give everything they had to her instead. He even had twelve coffins prepared for his sons. When the girl was born, the boys fled to the woods, where they hid for many years, until one day their sister, the princess, came to look for them…

Why we chose it

This is not one of the better known Grimm stories but it is full of fairy tale themes – brothers transformed to birds, a sister who must show remarkable courage, a magical old woman, a king who falls in love with a stranger and his mother who does what she can to thwart him….

Where it came from

The Brothers Grimm were German folklorists and linguists, whose most well-known work Kinder – und Hausmärchen (1812 -22), or Grimm’s Fairy Tales, was phenomenally influential on the modern study of folklore. The tales were taken largely from oral sources, though some from printed. The Twelve Brothers first appeared in this collection, alongside 200 other stories, though it was rewritten in the second edition. It is one of many stories of the ‘Brothers Who Were Turned Into Birds’ type, which is found across Europe.

Where it went next

Grimm’s Fairy Tales was widely distributed across Germany and the globe, and to this day remains in print as one of the most enduringly popular collections of fairy tales. The brothers also created a model for collecting folktales and a foundation for the science of folklore. The stories they recorded have been adapted for page, stage, and screen countless times.

The story was one of those retold by Philip Pullman in his Grimm Tales.

Associated stories

Many of the other stories in Grimm’s Fairy Tales have become an indelible part of modern literary and popular culture, including Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty and Rumpelstiltskin.

Variants on the brothers who turn into birds tale include The Wild Swans, retold by Hans Christian Andersen in 1838.

Added on 06th October 2020

Oral tradition Folktale from Germany

Europe Family Folk and fairy tales Magic

Learning resources

  • 1001 The Twelve Brothers Resourcepack PDF (728.71 KB)