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Grimm Brothers: Grimm's Fairy Tales

Updated on June 9, 2015
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

The Grimm Brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, are known for their collection of fairy tales known as the Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

The older Jacob was born on January 4, 1785 while Wilhelm was born on February 24, 1786 in Hanau, Germany. They became German academics, cultural researchers, lexicographers, linguists and authors. They studied German folklore and together, they collected and published a collection of popular stories, such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, The Frog Prince, The Goose Girl, and Rumpelstiltskin.

Their first collection of folk tales, Children’s and Household Tales, was published in 1812 with 86 stories. A second volume was published in 1814, adding 70 tales in it. Their work had six more editions with its final version containing 200 stories plus 10 Children’s Legends. Their collection of stories was eventually known in English as Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

The first volumes were criticized because they were deemed not suitable for children, though they were called Children’s Tales. The criticisms resulted from the stories’ sexual content and references, like in Rapunzel when she is impregnated by the prince who visits her. The brothers edited the offensive contents in the subsequent editions. Also in the stories of Snow White and Hansel and Gretel, the wicked biological mothers were turned into wicked stepmothers to make the stories more suitable to children.

The violence in the stories was not edited out but retained and even increased especially when it was for the purpose of punishing the villains.

As the years passed, the stories came under heavy criticisms from academic and religious groups, so Wilhelm cleaned up the tales. He deleted the violent, scandalous, and macabre subject matters, and produced what is now known as the fairy tales mostly read to children.

Actually, the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales were not for children. That is why, the stories contain incest, violence, sex, and copious footnotes. They had dark elements and did not even have illustrations because they were meant for adults. Cinderella had gory scenes, such as the stepsisters cutting off their toes and heels to fit into the slipper, and the doves pecking out their eyes to blind them. These scenes could frighten children, so they were revised and sanitized.

Even if the Grimm brothers are associated with Snow White and Rapunzel, they did not write these stories which existed long before they were born. Rapunzel and Snow White were part of an oral tradition passed down from generation to generation. Thanks to Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the stories were saved from extinction, and published as part of their collection, now known as Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The Grimm Brothers published more than their fairy tales collection. They published scholarly works on medieval studies and wrote about mythology.

Wilhelm died in December 16, 1859, at the age of 73. Jacob died September 20, 1863, at the age of 78.

Popular Grimm Fairy Tales

Many of the stories in Grimm’s Fairy Tales describe the path of blameless protagonists, mostly ladies. Almost half of the stories start with the phrase “once upon a time” and some of the most popular stories have the name of the female character as the title.

Little Red Riding Hood

Story of a little girl who was tricked by the wolf she encountered in the forest. The wolf successfully devoured her grandmother and Little Red Riding Hood herself.

Sleeping Beauty

The story of a beautiful princess who was put under a spell and slept for a hundred years.

Snow White

Story of a young girl whom the stepmother wanted to be killed because she became the “fairest of them all” as declared by the stepmother’s magic mirror. She survived the first attempt on her life and lived with the seven dwarves.


Story of a young, beautiful, and kind girl maltreated by her stepmother and stepsisters but finally found love in the arms of her dream prince.

Hansel and Gretel

Story of two siblings who were taken to the forest, got lost and almost made into dinner by a witch. Thanks to quick thinking, Gretel tricked the witch into the oven and the witch burned to death.

These are just five of the 210 stories published by the Grimm Brothers. Their stories were already popular in their lifetime but they became the basis for books and movies in our modern times.

Which of these is your favorite fairy tale?

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