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The charm of fairy tales: an introduction to the Brother Grimm's work

Updated on April 10, 2010

I've grown old but I've never forget the exquisite taste of the fairy tales. There are many motives, hear some of them...The mystery that accompanies the fairy tale, its origins, and the invariability of functions (such mystery that still exists today despite a very thorough study), enhances, in my opinion, the charm of fairy tales, perhaps especially for the adult reader, who is aware of the stratification that shines through these simple stories and is able to capture all the nuances of these narratives. A child can learn moral values, can get inspiration for his own imagination and have great fun rediscovering an old pleasure, to hear the elders of the family to tell these stories. An adult reader can instead focus on symbolic and hidden meanings of fairy tales, and so reclaim the baggage of ancient legends, common to all humanity. This is actually the most striking thing in the comparison between the collections of folk tales: the extraordinary similarity of issues and actions, as if the fairy tales were created at a time when geographical distances and national borders or ethnic groups did not exist. As everyone knows, the brothers Grimm (to whom we owe one of the finest collections of fairy tales of the eight hundred century), were, first of all, two extremely precise and noticed philologists. To proceed to the transcription of the stories, they had to visit the farthest corners of the German countryside, trying to be told by the elders, the only repositories of an ancient memory and a knowledge exclusively oral, these tales, commonly called fairy tales. In fact, originally, these were not stories for children, but the misunderstanding arose from the fact that these stories were told by the elders around the fire on winter nights, and the listeners were mostly children. The Brothers  Grimm were impressed by the fact that the elderly narrators repeated their tales always with the same words, idioms, expressions and even gestures, like in a ritual, that the sacredness of the text not allowed to alter. This makes us understand how, for these elders, who told their stories to the two philologists brothers in order to transform such knowledge from oral to written, these tales and legends were as the basis of the human memory. The mere fact that, in the nineteenth century, still existed in the civilized Germany, the cradle of Romanticism (very important factor), an exclusively oral culture, never written down and never appeared in written texts, but handed down from generation to generation, is a fact worthy of great consideration. In fact, even today, I think that my grandmother knew the same stories that I know and the same fairy tales that my grandchildren in turn will listen: is inherent in the profound nature of the fairy tale's character to be as a chain to tie together the memory of the past and future generations, by means of undying and magic symbols.

 Another particularly interesting thing, as reported by two brothers, is that very often, even the elderly narrators did not understood, sometimes, the deep meaning of what they were telling. This, together with the constant repetition and precise details and forms of the tales, leads to the conclusion that the origin of the tale is ancient and mysterious, that the magical tales, whose heroes are princes and princesses, but also animals and fairies or witches or ogres, all having supernatural powers, are a phenomenon that dates back to the prehistory of mankind. The word "fairy tale" (from the Latin "fabula") conjures a magical and mysterious world, where spells and magic are common, everyday, and that almost always means that you accept the strangest things that happen, without asking why or without being verily surprised by them. A fairy tale is a complete unit, with a hero and a happy ending: these are the universal characters, common to all the tales of the Brothers Grimm's collection. The evolving story of the hero follows a trend opposite to that of the tragic hero: in the beginning, the protagonist has a very low social status, is despised by all and mocked for his lack of skills and talent, or it is a princess very unhappy and solitary, unloved by their parents or targeting ominous wedding. In any case, the protagonist, at the beginning of the tale, is always in very disadvantageous conditions and everyone expects that his/her destiny is already sealed or expects his/her complete failure or even a terrible death.

Though in the end the hero always triumphs, his route to complete victory is not without struggles, in which is always questioned his final success, as are opposed to him, not only natural difficulties (such as icebergs or barriers of flames), but also supernatural powers, like witches and wizards, evil men and ultimately human characters who hate him or threaten him, as stepmothers, jealous brothers etc. In many cases it is certain that the hero would fail the test, but he is helped by good and very great powers, which give instructions to him on how to resolve his tests or even they carry out actions that the protagonist would not be able to do by his only efforts. In addition to his own ability, then the hero always needs the help of luck. This aid, however, is not accidental nor fortuitous: it depends on his good character and his actions. The tale ends with the triumph of justice, the so-called happy ending: not only the good ones are rewarded, but also the bad ones suffer just punishment for their misdeeds. Surely, this is one of the features that make these stories popular among children: even though the fascination of fear plays an important role, the children are aware that in every story, at the end, the good fairy will help the princess, the young hero will defeat all his enemies and all will live happily forever. Probably this is also one of the reasons why adults do not get tired reading stories to their children: after all, it's nice to imagine a world where justice will prevail and the good is always victorious. This constant "happy ending" that characterizes all of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales is, in a sense, the common basis of all folktales, worldwide. In all, the main character, good and helpless, after being the victim of a  stronger and more fierce opponent, often with great magical powers, escapes the dangers and oppression of his pursuer and won the prize of his nobility, generosity, truthfulness and justice. Above all, the clearest proof of how the fairy tales have ancient origins, it is the brief analysis of a famous fairy tale from the collection by the Brothers Grimm. There is certainly a deep relationship that binds the narrative of fairy tales with epic and chivalrous poems, and this relationship is still very mysterious, for the moment, one cannot say for sure that fairy tales are derived from the chivalric epic and medieval courts, but one can certainly assert their undoubted kinship. This, to me, is one of the most fascinating aspects of fairy tales, that provide endless material for thought for the scholars and, at the same time, entertain adults and children.


Submit a Comment

  • Varenya profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago

    Thanks for your nice comment!

    Really, fairy tales bring us back again to the roots of the folk history of a country, whatever it is; moreover, they bring us back to the very core of human memory...and they are also so nice! :)

  • Trish_M profile image

    Tricia Mason 

    8 years ago from The English Midlands

    Yes, I agree ~ fairy tales are a very special part of our folk history. Thank you. Lovely hub :)


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