"The Singing Bone" (German: "Der singende Knochen") is a German fairy tale. It is included in Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales), the 1812 anthology of German folktales compiled by the Brothers Grimm.
The story concerns two brothers who volunteer to kill a dangerous wild boar that has been menacing the kingdom. Whoever succeeds in killing the boar will be given the princess' hand in marriage. The younger brother kills the boar. His jealous older brother, however, murders him and claims the reward for himself. The older brother's crime goes undetected for a long time, until a shepherd finds one of the younger brother's bones and makes it into a musical instrument.
Stories similar to "The Singing Bone" also exist in Danish, English, Hungarian, Icelandic, Norwegian, Slovenian and Swedish folklore. In most of those variants, the two siblings are sisters rather than brothers. "The Singing Bone" may also be related to the ancient Greek myth of Meleager and the Calydonian Boar.
Many modern parents are likely to consider "The Singing Bone" to be unsuitable reading for their children.
In a forest lives a dangerous wild boar that destroys farmers' fields, kills farm animals, and sometimes even kills people. The king offers a generous reward to anyone who can kill the beast. Nobody, however, takes him up on that offer. The king then declares that his daughter will marry whoever kills the boar.
two brothers volunteer to slay the boar. The older brother is devious and cunning. He wants to kill the boar because of the prestige that doing so will bring. The younger brother is kind-hearted and naive. He wants to kill the boar in order to help the people of the kingdom.
So that they have a better chance of meeting the boar, the king tells the two brothers to enter the forest from opposite directions. The older brother enters the forest from the west and the younger one goes into it from the east. The younger brother has not gone very far when a dwarf appears to him. The dwarf says that he can see that the younger brother has a good and innocent heart. He gives the younger brother a spear and explains that the boar cannot harm him if he carries that weapon. Soon afterwards, the boar starts running towards the younger brother. The younger brother holds the spear in front of him. The wild boar runs straight into it and is killed.
On his way out of the forest with the dead boar's body, the younger brother passes a house where a party is being held. The older brother is there. he had decided to get drunk in order to feel braver before going off to face the boar. The older brother invites the younger brother into the house and keeps him there for several hours.
At night, the two brothers leave the house. They walk across a bridge over a brook. The younger brother goes first. The older brother strikes him from behind and kills him. The older brother buries the younger brother's body under the bridge. He takes the boar's body to the king and claims to have killed it. He is allowed to marry the princess. When his younger brother does not return, the older brother says that the boar probably killed him.
Many years later, a shepherd crosses the bridge and sees a small white bone lying beneath it. He takes the bone because he thinks that he can make a crude musical instrument out of it. He cuts a hole into the bone and blows into it. At that moment, a singing voice comes from the bone. The voice sings, "My brother killed me. And buried me beneath the bridge. To get the wild boar. For the daughter of the king." The shepherd is amazed by this. He thinks that he should take the remarkable bone to the king.
The king immediately understands what the bone's song means. The entire skeleton of the younger brother is found under the bridge. The older brother admits to his crime. He is put to death by being sewn into a sack and then drowned. The younger brother is buried again in a beautiful tomb.
The cantata Das klagende Lied (Song of Lamentation ) by Gustav Mahler, composed between 1878 and 1880 and first performed in 1901, is inspired by "The Singing Bone". In the version of the story presented in the cantata, the two brothers are knights. They are told by the queen that she will marry whoever brings back a certain red flower from the forest first.
"The Singing Bone" is one of three of Grimms' fairy tales that are loosely adapted as segments in the 1962 American movie The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. In the version of the story presented in the film, the monstrous creature that threatens the kingdom is not a wild boar but a dragon. A knight named Sir Ludwig (played by Terry-Thomas) and his ill-treated servant Hans (played by Buddy Hackett) enter the cave that is the dragon's lair and find it apparently empty. When the dragon reveals itself, the cowardly Sir Ludwig flees in terror, leaving the brave Hans to fight and kill the dragon alone. Ludwig kills Hans so that he can take the credit for slaying the dragon himself. A shepherd later makes one of Hans' bones into a flute that sings about how he was murdered. Sir Ludwig is put on trial for Hans' murder. He admits his guilt but begs for forgiveness. At that moment, the bone flute jumps out of the shepherd's hand. The rest of Hans' skeleton appears before Hans miraculously comes back to life. Hans is knighted and becomes known as Sir Hans the Dragon Killer. Sir Ludwig escapes execution but, as punishment for his crime, he is ordered to spend the rest of his life as a servant to Hans.
In spite of its title, the 2016 suspense novel The Singing Bone by Beth Hahn is not a direct adaptation of the Brothers Grimm's "The Singing Bone". It is instead an adaptation of "The Twa Sisters" ("twa" being a dialect word for "two"), a ballad from the northeast of England, which first appeared in print in 1656, that tells a similar story to the Brothers Grimm's fairy tale.