The Grimm brothers were German philologists and famous collectors of
fairy tales. Jakob Grimm, born Hanau, Germany, Jan. 4, 1785; died
Berlin, Germany, Sept. 20, 1863. Wilhelm Grimm, born Hanau, Feb. 24,
1786; died Berlin, Dec. 16, 1859.
The Grimm brothers compiled what is probably the most famous collection of traditional fairy tales in the world. They recorded the ancient folktales of the German people and retold them in three volumes, commonly known as Grimm's Fairy Tales (Kinder- und Hausmdrchen, 1812-1822). Their dramatic rendering of the stories and their beautiful and simple prose have placed the Tales among the literary masterpieces in the German language and among the most universally beloved children's books in literature. The many familiar characters in their fairy tales include Cinderella, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, and Rumpelstiltskin.
Working closely together throughout their lives, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm first became interested in folk literature while studying law at the University of Marburg. They began to collect folktales and were among the first to make a scientific study of them. Their joint work included Deutsche Sagen ("German Legends," 1816-1818). In 1835, Jakob Grimm published his book German Mythology (Deutsche Mythol-ogie), a study of ancient Germanic law and religion. Because of the importance of this work to later students of folk literature, he has been called the father of the science of folklore.
In addition to folk materials, the Grimm brothers were interested in the development of the German language and literature. Wilhelm translated and edited many early German texts. Jakob, one of the first great scholars of comparative philology, tried to determine the relationship among the various Germanic languages. He formulated the principle, known as Grimm's law, which showed the pattern of consonant changes in the Germanic languages as they evolved from their Indo-European source. Grimm's law and his view of language as a vital and changing force revolutionized language study and laid the basis for modern German philology.
The major joint linguistic undertaking of the Grimm brothers was the planning of the first comprehensive German dictionary. They published the first volume in 1852, and after they died, the work was completed by other scholars.