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'Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary'-Pamela Dean novel

29 Jul 99 - 03:26 PM (#100531)
Subject: 'Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary'

This is the title of a recent book by Pamela Dean. Cover blurb says it's based on a traditional ballad, but unlike her novel TAM LIN (highly recommended!), it doesn't include the text of the ballad or any kind of explanatory foreword or afterword. Does anyone know what ballad this might be? I haven't read far enough into the novel to find out what the plot is actually about (the supernatural element hasn't entered the story yet, although there is a distinct oddness about the new house that "suddenly sprang up," as it were, next door). I can't find anything in the database using either "juniper" or "gentian" as keyword.

29 Jul 99 - 03:57 PM (#100549)
Subject: RE: 'Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary'
From: katlaughing

According to a website I found for the book and author you mentioned, it is based on Child Ballad No. 1, which is called Riddles Wisely Expounded, but for the life of me, I cannot find that Child Ballad at any of the sites I know of.

If someone doesn't wander in here and know it, you might want to start a new thread with the title of the ballad and/ Child Ballad No. 1, in the title of the thread.

I'll keep looking, too.


29 Jul 99 - 04:02 PM (#100553)
Subject: RE: 'Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary'
From: MMario

KatL - fershame! Have you been in the Tavern a wee bit too much lately?

Search the DT using #1;

multiple versions derived from Child #1

AND I do believe there was a thread about this a while back.


29 Jul 99 - 04:08 PM (#100554)
Subject: RE: 'Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary'
From: MMario

One of the versions is "Jennifer Gentle"

I have seen confusion before between Jennifer/Geniver/Juniper.


Rose Marie becomes Rosemary?


29 Jul 99 - 04:10 PM (#100556)
Subject: RE: 'Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary'
From: katlaughing

MMario, just found it. I didn't use the #1 and it didn't come up, for me, under just CHild Ballads. Go figure!

Anyhow, there are two versions of Riddles Wisely Expounded in the database and it didn't come up under that name, either! Unless it was my typing???**BG** Either that of the fumes from the Tavern are doing me in; I've been teetotalling for a day or two!

Oh and I did do a forum search but none of the threads which came up mentioned this one.

Just type in Child #1 and go to the 6) and 7) versions.

There, MMario, see, I am purrfectly shober....uh, zzzzoburr, oh, well, ya know what I mean!


29 Jul 99 - 10:01 PM (#100672)
From: Art Thieme

from Bertrand Bronson---__The Singing Tradition of Child's Popular Ballads__---1975


There were 3 sisters fair and bright,
Jennifer gentle and Rosemarie,
And they 3 loved one valiant knight,
As the dew flies over the mulberry tree.

The eldest sister let him in,
And barred the door with a silver pin.

The second sister made his bed,
And placed soft pillows under his head.

The youngest sister fair and bright,
Was resolved to wed with this valiant knight.

And if you can answer questions 3,
Then fair maid, I will marry thee.

What is louder than a horn,
And what is sharper than a thorn.

Thunder is louder than a horn,
And hunger is sharper than a thorn.

What is broader than the way,
And what is deeper than the sea.


And now fair maid I will marry thee.

Art Thieme

29 Jul 99 - 10:04 PM (#100674)
Subject: RE: 'Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary'
From: Art Thieme

In my mind I can almost hear Ed Tricket singing lead on this ballad with Gordon Bok and Anne Mayo Muir. It's on Folk Legacy.


30 Jul 99 - 09:09 AM (#100786)
Subject: RE: 'Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary'
From: MMario

With most humble apologies to the feline-fem; I did a forum search as well and couldn't raise anything, though I am SURE I remember seeing it discussed. It could have been somewhere else though.....

Actually, there are THREE versions of riddles wisely expounded in the database, and they will come up if you search on RIDDLE....

sometimes I just don't understand computers. But that's what keeps me employed, so I shouldn't complain.


30 Jul 99 - 03:12 PM (#100966)
Subject: RE: 'Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary'

Thanks for satisfying my curiosity by posting the words of the ballad. It's clear how some of it relates directly to the plot of Pamela Dean's novel. ALthough the middle sister (Gentian) is the protagonist, it is indeed the eldest (Juniper, in the novel) who "lets him in." The boy next door is clearly non-ordinary in some way, probably supernatural, and, one suspects, dangerous. How closely the ending will relate to the riddle ballad, I don't know, but I'm almost there. Readers' opinions of this book on Amazon vary widely; some loved it, others thought it was far below Dean's other work in quality. I stand with those who find it enthralling. I enjoy her portrayal of gifted, literate young people and find it as fascinating here as I did in her TAM LIN. (One of the commentators said the characters reminded him/her of those in "a bad Madeleine L'Engle novel," a clear sign that I can discount this person's opinion. As far as I'm concerned, there IS no such thing as a bad L'Engle novel.) However, several people who liked the book overall found the ending rushed, incomplete, and unconvincing. So I am bracing myself to be let down .

30 Jul 99 - 11:14 PM (#101055)
Subject: RE: 'Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary'
From: Art Thieme

Another version is "The Devils Nine Questions". It's definitely dangerous and supernatural. It ends with

You have answered my questions nine,
Sing 99 & 90,
You're one of God's, you're not of mine,
And you are the weaver's bonny.

Burl Ives did it and it's also in Bronson in a collected traditional version.

31 Jul 99 - 12:56 AM (#101070)
Subject: RE: 'Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary'
From: katlaughing

According to my Burl Ives Songbook, the Devil's Nine Questions is an example of a singing dialogue which mummers danced to when picturing the devil trying to win a soul.

If they aren't in the DT and somebody wants the lyrics, I'll post them sometime this weekend.


31 Jul 99 - 03:53 AM (#101087)
Subject: RE: 'Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary'

A very good version of the song n°1 in Child collection is by Jean Redpath, in "Lowlands", Rounder/Philo I think, with text: it is sung on the tune the Pentangle used for their version of "The Cruel Sister". But a refrain of this type is common in the Elfin Knight/Scarborough Fair versions(Child n° 2).Bye. Roberto.

25 Jan 01 - 10:33 AM (#382137)
Subject: Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary
From: GUEST,Bethwaltn

I just read a book with this name that is supposed to be based on a folksog; about three sisters and the devil? I don't recognize the song and wondered if anyone else did. Thanks!

25 Jan 01 - 12:27 PM (#382247)
Subject: RE: Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary
From: Sorcha

This rings a vague bell with me, and one of the reviews said "based on an old Scottish ballad" so it almost has to be Child, but I can't find which one. Bruce O, this one's for you.

25 Jan 01 - 12:42 PM (#382256)
Subject: RE: Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary
From: GUEST,Becky

There are others who will give more complete answers with lots of lovely blue clickies (links) to specific examples and sundry references, but here's a start.

It looks to me like the author was thinking of some version of Child Ballad #1, "Riddles Wisely Expounded," wherein the devil (possibly in disguise) or a lover quizzes one or more persons (and sometimes they quiz each other) with riddles such as "what is taller than a tree? What is wider than the sea?" having answers like "Heaven is higher than a tree. Hell is deeper than the sea." The reward for answering correctly is either escaping the devil or getting the knight. In 3 sisters versions, the eldest and middle sisters don't know the answers, but the youngest answers correctly and wins the handsome knight. The American Appalachian song "I Gave My Love a Cherry" is a fragment of this ballad group, with the riddles and answers, but without the introduction and conclusion about who's asking and who's answering.

Some of these songs have refrains with floral or herbal references, like the familiar "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" (Although the "Scarborough Fair" you know this from is in a different song family -- the elfin knight or lover asks not riddles but for impossible tasks). Flowers and herbs often have (or used to have) various symbolic meanings. As the songs migrated, sometimes local flora got substituted for the symbolic flora, so there's a lot of variation. "Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary" sure sounds like it fits in there.

In the Ballad Index, here's the start:

~ Becky in Tucson

25 Jan 01 - 01:10 PM (#382281)
Subject: RE: Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary
From: Hollowfox

It is based (verry loosely) on a version of Child #1. I've only read the version with Jennifer, etc. , so I can't point you to a performer or tune. Jean Redpath (among others) does a lovely job with a version called "Lay the Bent to the Bonney Broom" which has the supernatural riddler contending with three (unnamed) sisters, rather than a schoolboy, only one lady, etc.
Pamela Dean really disappointed me with this book. I kept slogging through, hoping to find something more than a tenuous connecion to the ballad. Her treatment of Tam Lin (same title for the book) was better. I liked other books in the Faery Tale series, though.

25 Jan 01 - 01:20 PM (#382291)
Subject: RE: Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary
From: Malcolm Douglas

There have been two earlier discussions of this song here, brought up by the book's title, which may easily be found by entering juniper gentian and rosemary in the "Digitrad and Forum Search" box on the main Forum page.  They are:

Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary
Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary

Entering child #1 will get you a list of references in the Database and the Forum.


25 Jan 01 - 11:08 PM (#382784)
Subject: RE: Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary
From: Nynia

Becky that was a great link thank you very much. Here's the link to the main page it's worth a look for the folklore too. Click here

26 Jan 01 - 01:13 AM (#382834)
Subject: RE: Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary
From: Sorcha

Becky, I am glad you knew which one it was. I am just not that familiar witht the plots yet.

13 Feb 02 - 11:22 PM (#649678)
Subject: RE: Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary
From: harpgirl


14 Feb 02 - 09:47 AM (#649900)
Subject: RE: Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary
From: Hollowfox


14 Feb 02 - 11:38 AM (#649955)
Subject: RE: Juniper, Gentian and Rosemary
From: Mrrzy


24 Apr 04 - 05:01 AM (#1169563)
Subject: RE: 'Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary'
From: The Borchester Echo

I first came across this as 'Jennifer Gentle and Rosemary' when trawling Cornish libraries as a teenager. I did it to death 40 years ago under the misapprehension that I'd made a great discovery until I realised that Francis James Child had in fact got there first.

A really excellent version by Magpie Lane under the title 'Juniper Gentle and Rosemary' appears on their CD 'Six For Gold' BEJOCD-42.