The Green Ribbon

For today’s post I would like to discuss the short story The Green Ribbon, which is found in the children’s story collection In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories.   The Green Ribbon is the only truly scary tale in the whole collection, which was written by the same author of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books.   The Green Ribbon is based upon the Washington Irving short tale The Adventure of the German Student.   

In The Green Ribbon a young girl named Jenny meets a young boy named Alfred.   Jenny always wore a green ribbon about her neck, which gives the tale its title.   Alfred and Jenny become childhood sweethearts, and Alfred repeatedly asked her about why she always wore the ribbon.   Jenny always said she would not tell him yet.   As time goes by, they grow up, and fall deeply in love.   Alfred eventually married Jenny, and she still wore the green ribbon about her neck.

They grow old together, and one day when Jenny is very ill and knows she is dying, she tells Alfred he can remove the green ribbon finally.    When he removed the ribbon Jenny’s head fell to the floor!    It seemed that all this time Jenny had been not truly alive, having been beheaded many years ago.    There is no explanation as to why or how Jenny came to live out a life from childhood, to adulthood, to old age with only a ribbon holding her head on!

Maybe Jenny was a zombie, or a ghostly apparition.    No matter what this is a story that terrified me as a child!   It has always in some way stuck with me, although I no longer fear it.   When I was six and first read the story I would be so scared of it, and of having nightmares, that I would have to tell my mother “I am not afraid of that story.” each night before bed.    I guess my childhood self was trying to force herself to believe that she no longer feared the story.    I suppose it worked, because by the time I was about eight I no longer felt the need to say that each night!    I still remember the story and how it has always struck a nerve in me!

I credit this story, along with early reading of the classics, for my obsession with the Romantics and Gothic Literature.    I also think that this is what led me to my love of horror films and literature as I got into junior high school!    I am also not the only one not over this story as I found out in this article (   

In the Washington Irving story that inspired this one, the German Student meets and falls in love with a woman who unbeknownst to him had been beheaded during the Reign of Terror earlier that day.   She was a French noblewoman he had met sitting at the foot of the guillotine, and being she was alone in the world her took her back to his apartment.    In the morning he awoke to find his new lover dead, and when the police came they told him she had been beheaded the previous day!   When he removed the choker she wore at her neck, her head fell off (just like Jenny’s would)!    It was a much faster paced story than The Green Ribbon, but just as powerful!

I hope you have enjoyed my opening up about this terrifying tale!    Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and if you are also still impacted by this tale!

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is the cover of the book this story is found in.   I found the image on

Further Reading