The Golden Bird


This text copyright © 2008 Dr Anne Wilson


Please do not copy or quote from this text without acknowledging the author.

‘The Golden Bird’, a story from the Grimm collection, became my second model for the strategic pair of moves. Originally, the story attracted my attention because the hero’s triumphant exploits with the fox are suddenly followed by the fox’s request to be killed and mutilated. This is explained in the story by his being a prince changed into a fox, but the alteration in pace and mood of the story invited investigation. The plot turned out to have a structure I have frequently found in medieval texts. Like the Horn plot it has a pair of moves using a surrogate situation and then the exact one, but it places them both together at the end, after the hero’s expedition organised by the fox which gains him the golden bird, the golden horse and the princess. This is a plot where the winning comes first, followed by moves to deal with guilt.


The Ritual Plot in ‘The Golden Bird’



Outline of the Narrative  The Moves



A gardener’s son sees the golden bird stealing the golden apples from the king’s garden. His elder brothers, who also keep watch, fail to see it. When he shows the king a feather from the bird, the king wants the bird.

Move 1


The hero has a vision of a golden thief in a king’s garden.







The elder brothers also fail to search for the bird, even though a fox gives advice. But the youngest son listens to the fox and rides off to find the bird, sitting on the fox’s tail. He has an adventure organised by the fox in which he passes from king to king, failing to steal the golden bird but being promised the bird if he brings the king the golden horse, and then failing to steal the horse but being promised it if he brings the beautiful princess. He fails to steal the princess but is promised her if he removes a huge hill blocking the king’s view and the fox accomplishes this for him. Then returning to the king who asked for the princess, he delivers her and receives the horse, and then manages to take the princess too before galloping off. Finally, arriving to exchange the horse for the bird, he tricks that king out of both too.

Move 2


The hero steals sovereignty from the king figure, in a swift, flowing act of trickery, riding on the craft of a fox. The princess represents sovereignty.


















The fox says suddenly, ‘Pray kill me, and cut off my head and my feet’. The young man refuses to do so, and the fox advises him to ransom no one from the gallows and to sit by no river. The young man rides on with the princess and comes upon his two brothers, who are about to be hanged for theft. He buys their liberty, and then sits down by a river where the brothers can throw him down the bank and steal all his winnings. The fox arrives and pulls him out of the river, and the young man returns to the king his master to tell him what has happened. The brothers are seized and punished and the young man has the princess returned to him. After the king’s death he becomes heir to the kingdom.

Move 3


The first of a pair of moves for the removal of guilt.

The device used is ritual punishment.


The need for punishment is abruptly introduced by the fox, which represents the crime, but the hero’s two brothers are set up as the thieves, stealing the winnings, and are punished instead. The king gives the princess to the hero, and the hero becomes his heir.









A long while after, the young man goes for a walk in the woods and meets the fox, who begs him with tears in his eyes to kill him and cut off his head and his feet. At last he does so and the fox turns out to be the brother of the princess.

Move 4


The ritual punishment requested by the fox is now performed and it brings about the happy ending.







These last scenes might seem to have nothing to do with those leading up to the gaining of the golden bird, the horse and the princess, but they are about punishment. The fox asks to be killed and mutilated and this initiates the two-fold action commonly found in these plots. First, the brothers are condemned as the thieves, while the king gives the hero the stolen princess, making him his heir.  Then, finally, the fox repeats his request to be killed and mutilated, and the hero consents, bringing about a happy ending.


I see these last scenes as two moves dealing with the guilt in the plot, both using ritual punishment. Like Moves 3 and 6 in the King Horn plot, they relate to each other as steps to a solution, the first using surrogates (the brothers, set up by the narrative as thieves while the hero is good) and the second using the fox, which organised the hero’s exploits in the narrative and represents his thefts. The hero represents anyone identified with the plot.

This text copyright © 2008 Dr Anne Wilson


Please do not copy or quote from this text without acknowledging the author.