The Books Time Forgot #2: Grimm's Fairy Tales
In this article, I'll discuss the history of the Grimm Brothers and their intentions behind their gruesome tales, as well as view some highly underrated works of theirs that Disney has yet to snatch up and turn into more money.
The Fairy Tale Franchise
As most people well know, the Disney movies and franchises of today do not follow the original stories from which their ideas come from. After all, most parents don't want their children to read about a fox being murdered by wasps (The Wren and the Bear) or of selfish princesses condemning multiple princes to their deaths simply to avoid being caught dancing (The Twelve Dancing Princesses).
Though Disney has made millions off of the softened versions of these tales, many have wondered how--and why-- a pair of gentlemen from Germany could have written such dark and gory tales for parents to read to their children.
The solution is that they didn't.
Where it Started
The Grimm brothers did not write the original tales in order to frighten children, as some people believe, or instill in them the obedience which many parents so desire. The original tales had nothing to do with children, in fact.
Traditional story telling as had been so popular in Germany was beginning to fade out when 'technology' started to overshadow it. The Grimm brothers were determined to hold onto the concept of genuine, oral story-telling and so, during their schooling, set about gathering stories from story-tellers, most of whom are said to be women of varying age.
Once the stories were collected the brothers, of course, embellished and revised and compiled them into a book, the original Grimm's Tales titled Children and Household Tales. Of course, the name is a little misleading. It caused outrage among parents when they picked it up to read to their kids thinking it would be full of nice bedtime stories, but instead was full of dreadful allegories.
In the original collection, there were 210 stories including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Little Red, Rapunzel, Rumplestiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, among many others. The first seven editions were published in 1812.
The Brothers Grimm
Wilhelm Grimm was among the oldest of 9 total children, born in Hanau, Germany, on February 24, 1786. When he was young, he had health issues which postponed him beginning work until 1814 when he started as a secretary. Seeming to be the more laid-back of the two, Wilhelm married to Dortchen Wild, who gave birth to four children, while Wilhelm's brother, Jacob, stayed single. He studied German folklore along with his brother but also helped rewrite later editions angled more at children, softening the stories to make them appropriate for a young audience.
Wilhelm authored and co-authored nearly two dozen books in his lifetime. (x)
Jacob Grimm was the serious type and followed Wilhelm to become a secretary two years after his brother. Born January 4 1785, just a year before his brother, Jacob later took an interest in language and even created what is known as Grimm's Law. In 1819, he published Deutsche Grammatik, (German Grammar). Before he died in 1863, he wrote 29 books (8 of which along with his brother). (x)
When they were younger, their father died and their family fell into poverty. Despite this, they went to the University of Marburg to become lawyers, after their father. Instead, they were caught up in gathering stories and publishing them, calling themselves "patriotic folklorists" (x), with no thought that they would catch the attention of children and parents alike--in both good ways and bad.
As said before, they did not originally intention their books to entertain children but to salvage the tradition of oral story telling in Germany by presenting the stories told to them by others on a printed page to large audiences.
They originally did not use illustrations in their volumes. After being banished by the king of Hanover for protesting his changes to the region's constitution, the brothers settled in Berlin, University to become lecturers at university. Other than their dark fairy tales, they also compiled a German dictionary, which Wilhelm did not see finished until he died December 16, 1859.
A Closer Look: The Twelve Dancing Princesses
Not only did I want to shed some light on the Grimm Brothers' facts to dispel some of the myths surrounding them, but I also wanted to take a peek at some of the stories they told that haven't been featured in the big franchises, perhaps because they couldn't think of a way to soften the story any more to fit small children without changing the plot completely.
The first story read was the Twelve Dancing Princesses. It seems extremely silly upon a brief glance; the king's daughters sneak out at night to dance and rip their shoes apart, and the king offers to reward any young lad with the marriage of the princess of his choice and the kingdom when the king dies if he can find out where the princesses are dancing. If not, it's literally off with their heads.
Sure, it's strange that the king bolts his daughters in their room every night to prevent them from leaving, and that (spoiler) the daughters have somehow found (or made--which is even weirder) a secret underground tunnel that drives into a hidden palace to dance. But then, an old soldier comes along and decides to give it a shot, and he finds out why none of the princes are having any luck; it's because the oldest, when the prince is just about to sleep, brings in a cup of wine with a drug that lures them to sleep. For three nights she does this, and at the end of three nights, when the prince has no idea where the princesses have been dancing because he's been falling asleep inexplicably, the king chops off his head.
It seems really harsh, but then you think about it more and it just turns disgusting. The princesses literally condemn man after man to his death just so they can keep dancing, and they show absolutely no remorse for doing so.
Those aren't exactly role models that Disney can give little girls to look up to. Nonetheless, it's a pretty entertaining story. At least it's better than Frozen. There apparently is a movie of this, however I have not seen it. If anyone has, I'd like to hear what they thought of it and know how different it was from the original tale.
Their stories caught the attention of people who read into them as allegories, comparing the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood to the Jews during the second World War, and spinning the tale into a twisted vision of Germany (Little Red) being saved from the Big Bad Wolf (the Jewish people). Whether this was actually intentional is unclear, but the argument was enough to the extent that the books were banned from printing by Allied commanders for promoting Nazism.
Some people even took the stories into their own hands and decided to rewrite them to fit their own political angle (x).
Favorite Grimm Tale?
Grimm's Stories: The Legacy
Though during their lifetime the Grimm's tales only sold a few hundred copies per year, the softened versions have turned Disney into a titan, and the amount of published versions competes with the Bible. They have been translated into more than 160 languages across the world (120 editions can be found for purchase in the US).
Grimm's research carved the path for many other writers of the genre, including Hans Christian Anderson.
From Cinderella to The Frog King, these stories have spawned movies, television shows, costumes, storybooks, merchandise, and even theme parks, and it all started from a few, unknown people who decided to share their tales with a couple of German boys with an interest in folklore.
Not enough information on the unknown stories? Hoping for more reviews on some of the hilarious and gruesome tales which the Grimm Brothers placed in their collection? Find me on Tumblr under shaksepearesucks.tumblr.com where I will be sharing this link plus additional reviews on some of their underrated tales under the tag mygrimmstales.
Feel free to leave a review and vote on the poll. If you have any questions or additional information, please send it to me in the comments, or even, if you have a Tumblr, feel free to message me on there and I will answer.