Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Rose Elf by Veronica Dye Johnson

Illustrator Veronica Dye Johnson, recently sent me an image of one of her latest personal works and has kindly given me permission to share it with you all, it being inspired by a fairy tale.

Have you heard of this one, The Rose Elf? It's another Hans Christian Andersen one and used to be much better known.

The tale has always struck me as being a little bit of a split personality. As you can see from the above, beautifully rendered image, it has quite the dark side to it. This is of a girl holding her lover's head, after she dug it up out of the snowy wood, where her brother had buried it (after he'd cut it off). Sounds a little soap opera-ish in many ways but it actually has a lot of tragic romance to it.

(Note: Forgive me if I get the details wrong - I'm going from memory here.)

The girl, having just found out who killed her love, secretly takes the head home and buries it in a flower pot, over which she weeps every day. Her brother, who lives in the same house (and whom she keeps it for) has no idea why she's so sad but at least he doesn't have to worry about her taking off and getting married anymore.

Rose Elf in progress
She grieves greatly, pines, dies, and is reunited with her love in heaven BUT her brother, seeing this amazing plant that she's been keeping in her bedroom, decides all that was hers is now his, and he takes it to his room and puts it beside his bed. The plant, having grown on tears of anguish and with a wish for revenge, plunges poisoned barbs into the man while he sleeps, killing him rather painfully. His body is discovered shortly after and in the horror of the scene, the flower pot is knocked onto the bed and breaks, where the skull inside is revealed and so is the brother's secret. I believe he's then buried in an unmarked grave.. (it's been a while).

But I haven't told you the weirdest part.

How does the girl find out in the first place? Because of a 'rose elf'. He lived in a rose that wouldn't open and let him in due to the cold one night, so he went seeking shelter, finding some blooms near these lovers meeting where he overhears their love, their story and their trials. He finds that sweet but then through some slip or accident, ends up in the man's pocket. He's with the lover when he's murdered, escaping by holding onto a dead leaf that's floating through the air in the ruckus, only to land back on the hat of the brother-murderer and end up back at the girl's house. He whispers in her ear what happened when she's asleep, citing that she'll know this is true by the proof of a dead leaf on her chest when she wakes. She wakes, there's a dead leaf, she goes and finds the head, you know the rest now.

Rose Elf early color test
Isn't that just the oddest juxtaposition? You have this happy little elf looking for flowers, floating around so small he's undetected on one side (and there's a whole bit about him going to find the Queen Bee to tell her what happened too) and this macabre plant growing out of a lover's skull on the other.

It just doesn't feel to me like it was constructed by the same person (and when you read it, the language is bizarrely different too). I always felt I had heard the part about the head in the pot with the plant before somewhere - that feels really familiar to me and sort of Slavic too. The Rose Elf character just sounds.. like a construct.

I haven't researched it but it's like someone edited together part of a Disney film and part of an adult epic. Perhaps I'm wrong but in a weird way, it's the plant that feels most fairy tale like to me. The elf just kind of gives me the creeps.. I presume he ends up OK though? I can't remember.

Let me go find a link for you, so you can read the proper tale... HERE.

Anyway, I can see why such a tale inspired illustrators though I don't think I've seen an image of the girl holding her lover's head quite like this before. Thanks Veronica! There's a lot of interesting stuff about this tale that it's definitely worth remembering for.

Veronica Dye Johnson is a working and published illustrator who specializes in narrative images that showcase the human figure. You can find Veronica's website HERE, see more about her process of creating the illustration HERE and follow her and her work on Twitter HERE.


  1. Yes, there is a similar tale from Decameron, re-told (sung?) by Keats, and drawn by several Pre-Raphaelites. I remember first hearing it in my CompLit class. Here's the Wiki entry:,_or_the_Pot_of_Basil

    1. Yes! That's it! Isabella and the Pot of Basil is where I'd heard the story before. Thank you for the link. I always worry about a post I do quickly when I don't have time to research but then awesome readers like you help fill in the blanks and answer questions. Thank you so much!

  2. now that is one creepy tale! even for faerie tales. brrrrrr....

    thank you for the link, but I don't think I can face reading all of it, now...

    but again, thank you. I am happy that I found your blog...


    1. Thanks Tessa. I try to post a range of things for different tastes so there's plenty of other stuff to read. Don't worry too much about reading the tale. It's Hans Andersen and very heavy on the elf point of view which I find weird but it also doesn't have a ton of gory detail as a result either. I promise to put up something pretty soon. ;)