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Brothers Grimm and their collection of Fairy Tales

Updated on February 13, 2017
Grimm National Monument in Hanau
Grimm National Monument in Hanau | Source

The most popular collection of fairy tales in the world

Fairy Tales by brothers Grimm in not only well-known but probably one of the most influential books in human history.

Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Frog Prince, Cinderella, Town Musicians of Bremen and others are among the most popular stories in the world.

While the values defined in their fairy tales are today considered slightly outdated, fairy tales too brutal, we still can't deny their charm, the reason they belong to the classical education.

The book originally titled Children and Household Tales is considered as one of the cornerstones of Western civilisation and since 2005, it is also on the list of world cultural heritage of UNESCO. Reasons for that are not educational only. The morals of this book are so deeply ingrained in our society, they can't be separated from our ethics, law and other areas of life and society which in the end of the day define our civilisation.

Why is this book of fairy tales so popular? Why is it so special?

(Image credit: Wikipedia.org, PD license, all used graphics are in public domain)

Once upon a time...

This is where the personal story of brothers Grimm started - Philippsruhe Palace of Hanau, the birth town of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm
This is where the personal story of brothers Grimm started - Philippsruhe Palace of Hanau, the birth town of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm | Source

Jacob and William were born in Hanau, one of the bigger cities in Germany. It is located about 30 kilometers from Frankfurt and it was almost completely destroyed only a few weeks before the end of the World War 2. After the war, there was an important US military base which was closed in 2008.

But we have to go more than two centuries back in time. This photo is here just for the better feeling of the place where the magic was born.

The family house where eight brothers and one sister Grimm were born
The family house where eight brothers and one sister Grimm were born

Brothers (and a sister) Grimm

Jacob and Willam Grimm were the eldest surviving of eight brothers and a sister, all children of Philipp and Dorothea Grimm.

Philipp Wilhelm Grimm was a lawyer by education and employed as a state officer in Steinau. His wife Dorothea was a daughter of the city councilman.

The family Grimm belonged to the respected members of the community, living in a large house with several servants. They could to afford private tutors for their kids. But three of their nine children died before they reached the age of two years.

Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm was born on 4th January 1785 and Wilhelm Carl Grimm was born on 24th February 1786. Being less than 15 months apart they spent childhood and most of their lives strongly connected, in many aspects almost as twins.

There were five surviving brothers and a sister altogether in the family and this pattern of many brothers and only one girl is just one of many important facts from their life reflected in their most popular book: Children and Household Stories, more known as The Fairy Tales of brothers Grimm.

The absent father

Jacob's and William's father died of pneumonia when boys were about ten-year-old. Their life changed for worse very fast. The family could not afford any luxury anymore.

The Goose Girl by Paul Meyerheim, PD license
The Goose Girl by Paul Meyerheim, PD license

They have to move into a smaller house, dismiss private tutors and go to public schools.

Grandfather had to take care of the family and only two years later he died.

Jacob and Wilhelm were forced to assume responsibilities of grown-ups.

The loss of the father took a great toll and we can feel that in many of Grimm's fairy tales.

If we explore the history of some more known, we can soon find out the father in some older versions is not nearly often dead, absent, uninterested or helpless as in Grimm's book of fairy tales.

Just think about the role of the father in The Snow White (always away from home), The Sleeping Beauty (very distant), The Cinderella (always on the way) or The Little Red Riding-Hood (not mentioned at all)!

Similarities with their real life are obvious, right?

Many children grew up with so called sanitised fairy tales, where the bloody details, cannibalism, and other inappropriate themes were erased from the stories. Well, it takes a whole article to debate if this is really good for their development or not, but the fact is a good number of the fairy tales in the collection was initially written for parents, not their kids.

Only after the publication of the first book of the tales several readers suggested they (Jacob and William) should offer the book to the growing market of children book. Successful TV series capitalises on their initial collection. A fantasy police drama simply named Grimm is built on the darkest tones of the famous collection. Grown-ups love it... Again!

The ugly truth behind Grimms' Fairy Tales

Some really shocking peeks into the most popular stories by brothers Grimm can be read in brilliantly presented thoughts of Maria Tatar, one of the leading experts in the evasive field of fairy tales.

Maria Tatar goes behind the scenes of the stories and explores many hidden meanings in their history.

Classic Tales of Brothers Grimm

The Grimm Reader: The Classic Tales of the Brothers Grimm
The Grimm Reader: The Classic Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Fairy Tales written by brothers Grimm are really special.

They were never simply a collection of folktales because the Grimms rewrote them so many times it is impossible to say what was the original version.

They were more a document about a state of mind in a society where the values were changing very fast and now they are considered as one of the most important books ever.

If we are looking to understand the values of today's Western civilisation, how right and wrong are defined, why we do things as we are, how are major decisions about careers, relationships and other important areas of out lives are made, this is very likely the best place to start.

 

Especially punishments of villains can be really cruel ...

Wolf from Red Riding Hood by Walter Crane, PD license
Wolf from Red Riding Hood by Walter Crane, PD license

But it looks kids can handle unpleasant scenes in fairy tales pretty good, probably much better than scenes on TV news.

Somehow their imaginary world deal with problems differently than the reality. What do you think?

Do you (or did you) read Grimm's fairy tales to your kids?

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They have been rewriting collected fairy tales for the rest of their lives

Justice should be equal for all!

Fairy tales are supposed to promote values of society!
Fairy tales are supposed to promote values of society! | Source

Brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm only collected fairy tales at the beginning but soon realised a lot of fairy tales didn't match the values of society from the beginning of 19th century and their own (both were raised in strict Calvinistic doctrine) values either.

Violence apparently didn't bother them, but they were much more strict when unmarried couples were in questions. So they rewrote every single sentence to be more appropriate to the audience.

If we just look at the first fairy tale in their first collection: Frog Prince (also known as Frog King), the story is all about finding a mate. There were no promises about eating or playing together, frog in the first version wants only to sleep with the princess. In the end they slept together in her bed, what was out of the question for brothers Grimm, so they diluted a story with additional requests and they even deleted the mere mention of bed in later versions.

Did you know Rapunzel was pregnant in the first edition of Grimm's Children and Household Fairy Tales? Through their numerous editions brothers systematically erased everything they believed may install wrong values into their readers, no matter how different were 'their' fairy tales from the 'originals'.

It's interesting to note the violent scenes were not among their major concerns. In The Sleeping Beauty they even added some gore.

Do you think, fairy tales are great way to teach children what is right and wrong?

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In a modern society Grimm's Fairy Tales are not considered as appropriate for children. Please, share your opinion with other readers!

Have you read Grimm's Fairy Tales? - If yes, what is the most powerful memory related to this book?

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    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Charito1962: This is interesting choice. Most people don't know them, but they probably should. Thanks for reminder.

    • Charito1962 profile image

      Charito Maranan-Montecillo 3 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      My favorite Grimm's fairy tales are "The Queen Bee" and "Sweetheart Roland".

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 3 years ago from Ljubljana

      @tonyleather: Thank you for your kind words:)

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      tonyleather 3 years ago

      These are THE iconic fairy tales of all time, and make a great introduction for kids to the world of creative thinking and writing!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: I appreciate it!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      I so love your work. Pinned.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anne mohanraj: Thanks!

    • anne mohanraj profile image

      anne mohanraj 4 years ago

      Informative and interesting!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @kathysart: Maybe. But on the other hand I have seen much younger children perfectly o.k. with pretty bloody details and being aware what is a tale and what is reality and how to handle both. i believe only a parent can tell when (if at all) his/her kid is capable to digest this kind of fairy tale. Of course a parent should know his/her kid well enough for that!

    • kathysart profile image

      kathysart 4 years ago

      I've read a lot of them. I think they are fine for kids a bit older... say like 10. Younger ones no.

    • kabbalah lm profile image

      kabbalah lm 4 years ago

      Another one of your mind expanding lenses. Thanks

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: You are right, adults understand fairy tales differently than kids, but we can both profit from fairy tales. And by 'profit' I am not talking about money.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I have read Grimm's Fairy Tales countless time growing up. What I had no idea about were the author's. Thank you for an excellent lens with great insight. As for modern society and Grimm's Fairy Tales, I think they should be more directed at adults. One of the most powerful explanations I have ever encountered is in the form of "fairy tales" or make-believe. (Allegories may be another word.) Sometimes to get a story across, it's easier to use animals that display the character you need. Other times, it's better to personify it. But, in my opinion, only adults have the capacity to handle the concept (to be able to separate what's real and what's not).

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Felicitas: Well, every parent should be able to judge how much of anything his kid can handle. It is up to parents to decide who will make those kind of decisions - them, kids, media or anybody else. But never think about anything just by default.

    • Felicitas profile image

      Felicitas 4 years ago

      Until I read your lens, I believed that Grimm's fairy tales were too violent for children. The funny thing is that children don't seem to be disturbed by them. It's only as adults that we analyze them and make those kind of determinations.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Michael Oksa: Yes, I suppose we, in Europe, have more chances to hear the darker ones...

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      Michael Oksa 4 years ago

      I remember hearing some of them as a kid, but usually in a cleaned up version.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: :)

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Another fascinating look at a branch of fiction with very strong links to cultural development. Really didn't know much about the brothers Grimm until I read you lens. As always, superb work.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: It's foggy here too:)

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      @TolovajWordsmith: Ah, good for you! Now I was able to take the quiz, so that must be new....I often have a little brain fog.

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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Michey LM: Yes, Disney was the master of the business. He actually created it!

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      reasonablerobby 4 years ago

      Brilliant. The Grimm brothers are also famous linguists pointing out amongst other things the consonantal shift between German and English I believe, e.g. d for the - Mund - Mouth, Dorf - Thorpe. and shifting vowels Bein - Bone Leg

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 4 years ago

      I grow up with: Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella... and I a, glad that Grimm's Fairy Tales inspire the talented Walt Disney.... In his time they where public domain... so Disney packaging them in beautiful animated movies which will live forever.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @reasonablerobby: Yes, you are right, it is still called the Grimm's law and it was Jacob who wrote it down.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: Grimms are my favorites. Thanks for your kind words!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Ah! As I was scrolling your lenses, I was hoping to come across Grimm's Fairy Tales! Big fan! Thanks so much for making this lens! Excellent Job!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: Well, it is never too late!

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Never heard of the Grimm brothers before... a few tales sound familiar though!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 4 years ago from Ljubljana

      @captainj88: Thanks for highlighting this. We too often forget the importance of guidance of the parents.

    • captainj88 profile image

      Leah J. Hileman 4 years ago from East Berlin, PA, USA

      Yes, I grew up reading Fairy Tales by the Grimm brothers and others. I think children are actually more savvy and worldly today (which is unfortunate in many ways) and can handle the fairy tales if an adult guides them through thinking about and understanding the message held within.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: Thank you very much!

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      Back to bless this.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @anonymous: Nope, you have been at one other lens which has been locked and taken down. Still don't know why, but I have build bigger and improved one:)

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      I grew up hearing a Grimm's Fairy Tale one night and maybe a Bible story the next and loved both. I don't remember such dark portions but these are days of political correctness in children's literature....read them a cleaned up version of a Grimm's Fairy Tale and then they go off to their violent video games and children's programming and in the USA, the show that are now in what used to be considered the family hour have way too much content that is inappropriate for little ones. I thought I had been here before and see that you have redone it, that was a lot of work!

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @WriterJanis2: Times are changing and standards for children literature are changing too.

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      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      Some of these tales are so dark, but have been turned into versions children can enjoy.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Deadicated LM: Thank you:)

    • Deadicated LM profile image

      Deadicated LM 5 years ago

      I really enjoyed your Lens; I love folklore and fairy tales (they inspired many of Disney's cartoons)..

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Sher Ritchie: I don't think i can add something to this comment. Well said, SRitchieable:)

    • Sher Ritchie profile image

      Sher Ritchie 5 years ago

      After "Hunger Games," "Dark Materials," "Harry Potter," it is EXTREMELY difficult to say "Grimms' are too grim for child readers"! I suspect that people try to say Grimms are not appropriate for children because those stories DO carry the message: Good is rewarded, evil is punished.

      I have a collection of Grimm's Fairy Tales - a translation of the original - but I grew up with shortened/slightly toned-down versions of their stories. I love both! And I believe that children, today, do not want 'just the prettised side of things'. They know that life has dangers (etc), and they don't respect adults who 'try to hide all that from them'. Fairytales, including Grimms', are great because they talk about ALL sides of life, but in a story-form that makes their message both universal and easy to understand.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @alidabdul: I hope you learned something interesting:)

    • alidabdul profile image

      alidabdul 5 years ago

      I must say I dunno about this fairy tales

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @piedromolinero: They are really ageless, right?

    • piedromolinero profile image

      piedromolinero 5 years ago

      My parents read Grimm's Fairy Tales to me, then I read them myself, a short while ago I read them to my daughter and meanwhile she reads them herself.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Hypersapien2: Yes, fairy tales were actually more like side J or K... They were not real bestsellers in their lifetime, but from year after year they became more and more recognized and here we are... I hope you'll take some time to read the originals because some of them can offer WAY more than Disney adaptations.

    • Hypersapien2 profile image

      Hypersapien2 5 years ago from U.S.

      Thanks to Disney, these are some of the most well-known and best-loved stories in the world. However, I think I read once that the brothers were originally known for their grammar books and the fairy tales were more like a Side B record that became a hit.

    • TolovajWordsmith profile image
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      Tolovaj Publishing House 5 years ago from Ljubljana

      @Ajeet: So, what you are waiting for?

      ;)

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      Ajeet 5 years ago

      No, but I would like to.