Mary's Child Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“Mary’s Child” has three levels operating in perfect harmony. One is the story surface, the actual events and language; another is symbolic, with parallels in everyone’s life; and the third is the spiritual level, eternity revealed through time.

Mary takes a starving woodcutter’s baby girl to heaven to rear as her own. The infant is given the best of care and has angels for playmates. When the girl is fourteen, Mary goes on a long trip and leaves the keys to thirteen rooms in heaven with the girl, telling her that she may open every door but the thirteenth, which is forbidden. The girl opens a new door every day to find an apostle. On the thirteenth day, devoured by curiosity, she opens the forbidden door and sees the Trinity blazing in fire and glory. She gazes in awe and puts out her finger, which turns to gold. Suddenly, she is seized by panic, closes the door, and rushes to Mary, who knows immediately what has happened. Three times Mary asks the girl if she opened the forbidden door, and three times the girl denies it. Mary has no choice but to send her to earth. It is Original Sin repeated, but it is also the way that adolescence is experienced, as a loss of innocence and being cared for by adults. It marks the beginning of suffering as a constant part of the human makeup and the point at which one must accept the consequences of one’s actions.

The girl is isolated from all human contact in a part of the forest surrounded by thorns. She...

(The entire section is 606 words.)

Mary's Child Bibliography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976.

Bottigheimer, Ruth B. Grimms’ Bad Girls and Bold Boys: The Moral and Social Vision of the Tales. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987.

Campbell, Joseph. “Folkloristic Commentary.” In The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales, by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. New York: Pantheon Books, 1944.

Ellis, John M. One Fairy Story Too Many: The Brothers Grimm and Their Tales. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

Kudszus, W. G. Terrors of Childhood in Grimms’ Fairy Tales. New York: P. Lang, 2005.

McGlathery, James M., ed. The Brothers Grimm and Folktale. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

Murphy, G. Ronald. The Owl, the Raven, and the Dove: The Religious Meaning of the Grimms’ Magic Fairy Tales. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Sutherland, Zena, and May Hill Arbuthnot. Children and Books. 7th ed. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1986.

Tatar, Maria. The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales. 1987. Reprint. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Zipes, Jack David. The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World. New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, 1988. Reprint. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.