Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm 1785-1863; 1786-1859

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Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
1785-1863; 1786-1859


(Full names Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm and Wilhelm Carl Grimm; also known as The Brothers Grimm or Brüder Grimm) German folklorists, editors, and compilers of fairy tales.

The following entry presents an overview of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's careers through 2005.


The fairy tales of brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are among the most widely read and beloved works of literature in the world. The result of the Grimms' expansive studies in German folklore and philology, their Kinder- und Hausmärchen (1812–15; variously translated as Children's and Household Tales, German Popular Stories, or Grimms' Fairy Tales) has gone through numerous German editions, including seven that were extensively revised or edited by the Grimms themselves. The volume has also been translated into a vast number of foreign languages—a testament to the tales' longevity and universal appeal. Many of the classic fables from the Germanic oral tradition—such as "Cinderella," "Snow White," "Little Red Riding Hood," and "Hansel and Gretel," among others—were first made available to children in print through the various editions of the Grimms' Household Tales. Although the violence in certain stories and the German nationalism of the Grimms' prose has inspired some scholarly debate, Kinder- und Hausmärchen has endured both early critical indifference and modern skepticism to become part of the Western collective consciousness.


Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm was born January 4, 1785, and his brother, Wilhelm Carl Grimm, was born February 24, 1786, both in Hanau, Hesse-Kassel, a region that is now part of Germany. Jacob and Wilhelm were the two eldest of six children. Close friends from an early age, the brothers attended school in Kassel, where both studied diligently and graduated at the top of their respective classes. They went on to study law and philology at the University of Marburg. Under the influence of their professors, they began to take an interest in medieval German folk legends. The brothers studied closely with Roman law scholar Friedrich Karl von Savigny, from whom they learned the value of the historic method in their literary studies. Their first of many editions of Kinder- und Hausmärchen was published in two volumes in 1812 and 1815. Wilhelm obtained a position in the library at Kassel in 1814, where Jacob was also hired in 1816. Soon after, the brothers published Deutsche Sagen (1816–18; German Legends). Jacob, the more scholarly of the brothers, published Deutsche Grammatik (1819–37; German Grammar), a work that proved highly influential in the fields of linguistics and philology. In 1825 Wilhelm married Dortchen Wild, with whom he had three children. Jacob, who never married, continued to live in the household as an integral member of the family and beloved uncle to his nieces and nephews. In 1830 the family moved to Gottingen in Hanover, where both brothers eventually obtained appointments as professors and librarians at the University of Gottingen. In addition to their teaching and scholarly research, the Brothers Grimm were committed to fostering German national identity and promoting liberal democratic reforms in government. In 1837 they were expelled from the University of Gottingen after joining a small group of faculty—known as the "Gottingen Seven"—who protested the political policies of King Ernest Augustus. Forced to leave the city, the Grimms moved back to Kassel. In 1841 the brothers were appointed by the king of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm IV, to the prestigious Academy of Sciences at the University of Berlin, where they lectured and wrote on the subjects of folklore, linguistics, philology, translation, literature, jurisprudence, religion, history, ethnology, and lexicography. The brothers began compiling an authoritative multi-volume German dictionary, Deutsches Wörterbuch (1854–1961; German Dictionary), which ultimately comprised thirtytwo volumes, requiring several generations of scholars and over a century to complete. The first volume, covering the letters A and B, was published in 1854. By the time of Wilhelm's death, the dictionary has been completed up to the letter D, reaching the letter F in the seventh volume by the time Jacob died. The dictionary was not ultimately finished until 1961. Wilhelm Grimm died on December 16, 1859, and Jacob followed some four years later, on September 20, 1863.


Until relatively recently, it was believed that the fairy tales in Kinder- und Hausmärchen were collected primarily from the oral traditions of German peasants, mainly in Hesse and in the Main and Kinzing regions in the country of Hansau. However, according to several modern critics, including folk tale scholar Jack Zipes, most of the tales were collected not from illiterate peasants and simple townspeople—as the Grimms suggested—but rather from educated members of the bourgeoise. Moreover, the reported primary source for the majority of tales in the second volume—a peasant woman named Frau Katherina Viehmännin—was later revealed to be the widow of a tailor. Although the brothers originally offered the tales as an accurate reproduction of authentic German folklore, the revisions that the stories endured over time, including substantial changes in plot and character, suggest that the Grimms' tales were not as close to their original oral ancestors as is often believed. Scholars have also found evidence of the Grimms' tendency to combine different versions of the same story in order to produce the "best" account. The first seven editions of Kinder- und Hausmärchen are each textually significant, bearing the stamp of their editor, Wilhelm Grimm, and reflecting both the Grimms' intent in publishing the tales and the reception said tales received. The first volume of Hausmärchen was criticized for too accurately reproducing the vocabulary, loose narratives, and tone of the tales' allegedly proletarian roots. Both the second (1819) and third (1837) editions include considerable textual alterations that appear to address the problem; more poetic descriptions are added, and some previously unnamed characters are given monikers. The seventh edition, called "Grosse Ausgabe" ("definitive edition") was published in 1857.

The great variety of characters and stories contained within the fairy tales reprinted in Kinder- und Hausmärchen is immense and almost impossible to survey fully. Among the best known and best loved of the 211 tales are "Cinderella," "Little Red Riding-Hood," "The Bremen-Town Musicians," "Snow White," "Hansel and Gretel," "Rumpelstiltskin," and "Sleeping Beauty." The stories are not populated by fairies and elves—as their titles suggest—but rather, they tell tales of foolish younger brothers, wicked witches, beautiful and virtuous maidens, stolid kings, vain queens, and anthropomorphized roosters, mice, frogs, geese, and cats. Many of the Grimms' fables feature trickster characters who embody both evil and the path to wisdom; heroes and heroines must often solve a puzzle or fool the trickster in order to fulfill their destinies. A number of the legends are written as coming-of-age narratives—young girls must grow up and leave their parents behind for their husbands, young boys must prove themselves against the forces of nature or their overbearing older siblings. Often the tales suggest some notion of how a proper lady or gentleman should behave, emphasizing decorum, responsibility, and—especially—respect for and obedience to superiors. Closely related to this motif of obedience are the Grimms' recurring themes of love and reverence for the king and the honor connected with serving him in the military. Loyalty to one's ruler and protection of one's community also appears frequently throughout Kinder- und Hausmärchen, stressing the role of strangers as a force dangerous to the nationalistic spirit. However, the stories were not written specifically for young audiences. Particularly in light of the French occupation of German territory during the nineteenth century, the Grimms intended their work to function as a cultural archive of German philology and mythology that would ideally serve as a resource for the study of German literature and history. While there have been many modern retellings and revisions of the Grimms' Kinder- und Hausmärchen—for example, in 2004, Maria Tatar published The Annotated Brothers Grimm—there have also been numerous adaptations of the individual fairy tales from the original collection. Some of the more significant editions include Wanda Gág's Tales from Grimm (1936), Maurice Sendak and Lore Segal's The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm (1973), Ralph Manheim and Maurice Sendak's Dear Mili: An Old Tale by Wilhelm Grimm (1988), and Doris Orgel and Bert Kitchen's The Bremen Town Musicians and Other Animal Tales from Grimm (2004).


Among modern critics of Kinder- und Hausmärchen, a dominant theme of their scholarship has been the extent to which the Grimms altered their source material and the effect of these editorial alterations. While the Grimms labelled themselves as "collectors" of fairy tales, several have argued that the brothers are more accurately described as "authors" or "adaptors," due to their often significant revisions of traditional Germanic legends. One of the Grimms' more vocal detractors, John M. Ellis, has asserted that, "the changes introduced by the Grimms were far more than mere stylistic matters, and that the facts of their editorial procedure, taken together with the evidence as to their sources, are sufficient completely to undermine any notion that the Grimms' fairy tales are of folk, or peasant, or even German origin." Other critics have reacted more favorably toward the Grimms' editorial changes, with Bettina Hurlimann complimenting how the Grimms "managed to find the precise combination of respect for tradition and free personal expression which was necessary to give their collection its freshness, redolent of neither the study nor the glass-case and timeless as only a few works of great literature." Grimm scholars have additionally emphasized the social messages implicit in the plots of the fairy tales in Kinder- und Hausmärchen, often finding the brothers to be socially conservative and advocates of traditional class and gender hierarchies. However, despite the continuing debate surrounding the cultural authenticity of the folklore collected in Kinder- und Hausmärchen, most scholars have acknowledged that Grimms have emerged as the most popular and iconic folklorists in literary history, with the one possible exception of Hans Christian Andersen. Alfred David and Mary Elizabeth David have observed that, "[t]he Grimms' achievement was to present [the stories] in such a way that their humanity could be recognized by everyone—by children, by adults, and especially by later writers for whom, as the Grimms had hoped, the marchen served as an inspiration." Jack Zipes has claimed that the Grimms' "major accomplishment … was to create an ideal type for the literary fairy tale, one that sought to be as close to the oral tradition as possible, while incorporating stylistic, formal, and substantial thematic changes to appeal to a growing middle-class audience."


German Editions

Kinder- und Hausmärchen. 2 vols. (fairy tales) 1812–1815; translated by Edgar Taylor as German Popular Stories: Translated from the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, 1823–1826
Deutsche Sagen [German Legends.] 2 vols. (folklore) 1816–1818; edited and translated by Donald Ward as The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm, 1981
Deutsches Wörterbuch. 32 vols. [compiled by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and others] (dictionary) 1854–1961
Die Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm in ihrer Urgestalt. 2 vols. [edited by Friedrich Panzer] (fairy tales) 1913
Märchen der Brüder Grimm. Urfassung nach der Originalhandschrift der Abtei Ölenberg im Elsaß [edited by Joseph Lefftz] (fairy tales) 1927
Kinder- und Hausmärchen: Ausgabe letzter Hand mit den Originalanmerkungen der Brüder Grimm. 3 vols. [edited by Heinz Rölleke] (fairy tales) 1980

English Translations

Household Stories from the Collection of the Brothers Grimm [translated by Lucy Crane; illustrations by Walter Crane] 1882; reissued, 1954
Grimm's Household Tales, with the Author's Notes [edited and translated by Margaret Hunt; introduction by Andrew Lang] (fairy tales) 1884; reissued, 1910
Grimm's Fairy Tales [edited by A. T. Martin] (fairy tales) 1908
Tales from Grimm [translated and illustrated by Wanda Gág] (fairy tales) 1936; revised and republished as More Tales from Grimm, 1947
The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales [edited by James Stern; translated by Margaret Hunt and James Stern; illustrations by Josef Scharl] (fairy tales) 1944
Grimms' Fairy Tales [illustrations by Jean O'Neill] (fairy tales) 1946
Grimms' Fairy Tales [translated by A. A. Dent; illustrations by Charles Folkard] (fairy tales) 1951
The Grimm's German Folk Tales [translated by Francis P. Magoun, Jr. and Alexander H. Krappe] (fairy tales) 1960
The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm [edited by Maurice Sendak and Lore Segal; illustrations by Sendak] (picture book) 1973
The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm [edited and translated by Jack Zipes; illustrations by John B. Gruelle] (fairy tales) 1987
Dear Mili: An Old Tale by Wilhelm Grimm [translated by Ralph Manheim; illustrations by Maurice Sendak] (picture book) 1988
The Six Swans [translated by Anthea Bell; illustrations by Dorothée Duntze] (picture book) 1998
Hansel and Gretel [translated by Anthea Bell; illustrations by Dorothée Duntze] (picture book) 2001
The Rabbit's Bride [adaptation and illustrations by Holly Meade] (picture book) 2001
The Three Spinning Fairies: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm [adaptation and illustrations by Lisa Campbell Ernst] (picture book) 2002
The Annotated Brothers Grimm [edited by Maria Tatar] (fairy tales and criticism) 2004
The Bremen Town Musicians and Other Animal Tales from Grimm [adaptation by Doris Orgel; illustrations by Bert Kitchen] (picture book) 2004

∗The original edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen was revised and enlarged seven times between 1819 and 1857.


Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm (essay date 1816)

SOURCE: Grimm, Jacob, and Wilhelm Grimm. "Foreword." In The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm, Volume I, edited and translated by Donald Ward, pp. 1-11. Philadelphia, Penn.: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1981.

[In the following foreword, originally written in 1816, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm provide an overview of their methodology in gathering, adapting, and organizing their collections of fairy and folk tales. The Grimms argue that, "[t]he first and foremost requirement of a collection of legends, and one we never lost sight of, is truth and reliability."]

1. The Essence of the Legend

Every time a man journeys out into life he is accompanied by a good angel who has been bestowed upon him in the name of his homeland, and who accompanies him in the guise of an intimate companion. He who does not sense the good fortune that this companion brings him will nevertheless feel a sore loss the minute he crosses the border leading from his fatherland, where the angel will then forsake him. This benevolent companion is none other than the inexhaustible store of tales, legends, and history, all of which coexist and strive to bring us closer to the refreshing and invigorating spirit of earlier ages.

Each of them has its own realm. The fairy tale is more poetic, the legend is more historical; the former exists securely almost in and of itself in its innate blossoming and consummation. The legend, by contrast, is characterized by a lesser variety of colors, yet it represents something special in that it adheres always to that which we are conscious of and know well, such as a locale or a name that has been secured through history. Because of this local confinement, it follows that the legend cannot, like the fairy tale, find its home anywhere. Instead the legend demands certain conditions without which it either cannot exist at all, or can only exist in less perfect form.

There is scarcely a spot in all of Germany where one cannot hear elaborate fairy tales, locales on which legends are usually sown only quite sparsely. This apparent inadequacy and insignificance is conceded, but in compensation we find legends far more intimately representative. They are like the dialects of language, in which time and again one encounters the strangest words and images that have survived from ancient times; while the fairy tales, by contrast, transport a complete piece of ancient poetry to us from the past in a single breath.

Curiously, narrative folk songs resemble the legends considerably more than they do the fairy tales, which again have preserved the tendencies of the earliest poetry in their content more purely and more vigorously than even the surviving great songs of ancient times have been able to do. Because of this, one can explain without any difficulty whatsoever why the fairy tale, almost alone, has preserved portions of proto-Germanic heroic material, without names to be sure (except in cases where the names themselves have acquired significance in their fixed form, as is true for example, of "Old Hildebrand" ), whereas so many individual, almost withered names, locales, and customs have tenaciously held on from the earliest of times in the songs and legends of our people.

The fairy tales are thus destined, partly because of their external distribution and partly because of their innermost essences, to capture the pure thoughts of a childlike world view. They nourish us directly like milk, mild and delicate, or like honey, sweet and satisfying, but without the burden of earthly gravity. The legends, by contrast, serve as a far richer diet, bearing simpler yet therefore more pronounced colors, and demanding more serious contemplations and reflection.

To try to debate the advantages of both genres would be crude and awkward, and even in this discussion of their differences one should neither overlook nor deny their common properties, nor the fact that they intermingle with one another in infinite combinations and intertwinings, often resembling one another to a greater or lesser degree. Both forms, the fairy tale and the legend, set themselves up in opposition to history inasmuch as they constantly combine the perceptible and conceivable natural world with the inconceivable, uncanny world. History does not, as appears commensurate with our education, tolerate the incredible in its presentations; but it is able, in its own way and in its observance of the totality, to seek it out and to honor it.

While it is the children alone who believe in the reality of fairy tales, the folk have not yet stopped believing in their legends; and the collective understanding does not attempt to differentiate between the real and the unreal. The reality of the wondrous is established sufficiently for the folk by the details that accompany narration, that is, the undeniable familiarity with the nearby events and the visible existence of the site together outweigh any doubts about the wondrous events associated with the location. It follows that it is this very "cooperative union" of the legend that is its true characteristic. There is actually nothing that the folk can gain from what is called "true history" (lingering as it does behind certain contemporary circles and behind that which every royal family has lived through) that has not already been conveyed to them by means of the legend. The people will either remain alienated from an historic event that has been transported through time and space if it does not fulfill this condition, or they will simply ignore it.

Yet how unswerving is their allegiance to the legacy of the legends that tradition has given them, that follow them from remote times, and that have become attached to their most intimate concerns. They are never bored by them, for they do not perceive them as mere idle play to be cast aside when they are through with them. Instead the legends are considered a necessary part of their households, to be discussed on the proper occasion with all the reverence that is inevitably accorded all righteous things.

When we consider the matter carefully, we can determine that the constant motion and lasting security of folk legends represent the most reassuring and most refreshing of God's gifts to man. Around everything that appears extraordinary to the human senses—existing either as part of nature's possessions in a given landscape, or as something that history calls to man's attention—there gathers the scent of song and legend, much the way the distant heavens appear to be blue, or the way an aura of fine, delicate dust surrounds fruit and blossoms. From the coexistence and cohabitation with rocky crags, lakes, ruins of castles, and with trees and plants there soon emerges a kind of union founded upon the features peculiar to each of these objects, and at certain hours, one is permitted to hear of their wonders. The power of this bond is felt in the heart-rending homesickness known to all normal people. Without this poetry that is their companion whole peoples would have languished and faded into oblivion, for language, customs, and habits would have become empty and meaningless to them. Indeed, without the poetic element, all a people's possessions would exist without firm borders to enclose them.

Thus, we can understand the essence and the virtue of the German folk legend that proffers fear and warnings of evil together with a joyous appreciation of the good from the same hands. It ventures into places and locales that have long since become inaccessible to our official history. But for the most part, history and legend flow together, intermingling with one another as in rivers where the greener waters of a tributary stream can long be discerned after the two rivers have joined together.

2. The Truth and Reliability of the Collection

The first and foremost requirement of a collection of legends, and one we never lost sight of, is truth and reliability. The need has always been recognized as the most important element in all histories. But we also demand the truth of poetry, and we recognize it in its pure form in all true poetry. Lies are false and evil, as is all that comes from lies. However, we have never encountered any lies in the songs and legends of the folk. They leave the contents of these tales just as they found them and have always known them.

On the other hand, certain elements will drop off in the course of time, much in the same way otherwise healthy trees will slough off dead branches. For with legends, too, nature protects the organism with eternal, self-generating renewals. No single human hand is capable of feigning the fundament and workings of a poem. The individual who attempted to do so would be expending the same fruitless energy as if he were seeking to devise a new language (even one consisting of small simple words) or to establish a new law or custom, or to have a deed that never occurred entered into history.

Poetry can only be composed from that which the poet feels and experiences truthfully within his heart, whereby the language will reveal the words to him half consciously and half unconsciously. But where the poet, who works alone, can easily—and almost always does—go astray is in the sense of the right proportion of all the elements. This sense of proportion is, however, instilled by itself in all folk poetry. Over-refined foods are repugnant to the members of the folk, who are considered unpoetic because they are fortunately not consciously aware of their own quiet poetry. Educated people who are never satisfied have sought not only to mix untruths with history, they have also sought to do the same with the inviolable store of legends, overstuffing it with untruths in the attempt to pass it off for something it is not. Yet the appeal of indomitable truth remains infinitely more powerful and longer lasting than all fabrication because it never compromises itself and it remains undaunted.

There is such a refreshing power of surprise inherent in these folk legends that the most extravagant power of an individual's imagination would ultimately be put to shame by it. And a comparison of the two would produce a difference as pronounced as comparing two plants, one thought up and designed by an individual, and a newly found real one not yet observed by botanists, but one that could justify itself by producing the most singular borders, petals, and pistula, or that could confirm what had already been observed in other plants. The legends offer an abundance of similar comparisons among themselves and with others that have been preserved by ancient writers. For this reason their innermost essence must never be violated, not even in trivial details, and all material and all circumstances must be faithfully recorded. It has thus been our task to follow the exact words as faithfully as was feasible, but not necessarily to adhere slavishly to them.

3. The Diversity of the Collection

The second main requirement, and one that was already included in the first in regard to a collection of legends, consists of guaranteeing both the diversity and the characteristic nature of the materials. For the depth and breadth of the collection are based thereon, and from this alone will the investigator be able to probe its very nature.

In epics, in the folk song, and in language itself the same elements recur incessantly; sometimes an epic and a song will share an entire sentence in common, other times it will be individual lines and expressions. Sometimes the opening lines, and other times the closing lines, will be different, paving the way for new measures and transitions. No matter how great the similarity may be, in no case is one totally identical to another. In one case the song will be fully developed and long, in another it will be shorter and exist in under-developed poverty. Yet this very poverty—since it is innocent—always finds compensation in its own distinctiveness, and it becomes a blissful poverty.

If we observe language closely, we see that it is graduated in infinite, immeasurable rows and series, revealing extinct roots alongside prospering ones. Language also shows us compounded words next to simple ones and others that have acquired new meanings as well as those that have yielded their place to words with related meanings. This dynamic quality of language can be traced down to the tone and color of individual syllables and sounds.

Which elements among this great diversity are better or more to the point can scarcely be determined, and any attempt to do so may be impossible, and even sinful, inasmuch as we do not wish to lose sight of the fact that the source from which they have all flowed is none other than the divine spring, beyond comprehension in its dimensions, infinite in its emanations. And since the sunlight shines upon the great and the small, helping all as much as is fitting, then the strong and the weak, the sprouts and buds, ruin and decay exist alongside of and intermingled with each other. It is therefore of no particular import that one encounters similarities and repetitions in our book, for the idea that an imperfect diversity could have worked its way free from complete perfection seems to us extremely reprehensible as that kind of perfection does not belong to this world, but must necessarily be God himself from whom, flowing, everything returns.

Had we not rescued these legends that were similar to others, their special nature and their very lives would have been lost. Nor have we attempted to make the poor legends rich—neither by joining several short ones together, which to be sure, would have preserved the contents but lost all the tailoring and the coloring, nor by illicit garnishing, which can neither be justified nor excused—and which will necessarily remain forever alienated from that inscrutable idea of the complete original form from which these fragments have come.

This collection is not intended to be a reading text in the sense that one might sit down and read it from cover to cover. Rather, each of the legends is an entity unto itself and has no actual connection with those preceding and following it. He who seeks out and selects materials from the collection will find both satisfaction and pleasure. Incidentally, it hardly need be said that—as much as we sought to preserve the living diversity of the collection—the rendering of a complete legend from several versions by eliminating all nonessential varying forms was left to the unerring critical sense that became instilled in us automatically.

4. The Arrangement of the Collection

In the arrangement of the individual legends of the collection, we would once again have preferred to follow in the footsteps of Nature herself, who never marks off rigid and easily recognizable borders. In the realm of poesie there are only a few general categories; all others are simply wrong and forced, and even those main categories touch upon and overlap one another. The separation of history, legends, and fairy tales is obviously justified and necessary. Yet, there are times when one cannot determine to which of these categories a given narrative belongs, as for example, when Mother Holla appears in both legends and fairy tales, or when a legendary circumstance might also have actually occurred in history.

In the legends themselves, only one criterion—one that would have to be taken into consideration in any superficial classification of legends—was considered. It involved separating those legends associated more with history from those associated more with specific locales. The former we have set aside to be included in the second volume of our collection. The local legends, however, could have been further divided along the lines of regions, periods, or content. A classification by regions would have formed groups of legends classified by landscape, which in turn would have called attention to the migration that some kinds of legends have undergone. Yet in this procedure it is evident that one would at least have had to rely upon the present-day division of Germany. According to this, for example, Meißen would now be considered part of Saxony, whereas a large portion of the actual Saxony—now called Hannover—is all jumbled into smaller individual units.

We also would have liked to base a regional classification not on mountain ranges and rivers, but according to the regions inhabited by the various branches of the Teutonic peoples, regardless of political boundaries. In this regard, however, there has been so little solid and reliable study carried out that one would first have to help pave the way for such an undertaking with a far more careful investigation of regional dialects and legends, which until now have, for similar reasons, been so maligned and neglected. That which might ultimately result from this kind of investigation obviously cannot be used at this time to determine its direction.

Furthermore, the attempt to attribute a greater antiquity to some legends over others would be very difficult and would, for the most part, lead to misconceptions since legends are constantly being reborn. The Dwarf legends and the Giant legends, for example, clearly have the tinge of a heathen past. However, in the many legends about structures built by the Devil, one merely need substitute the word Thurst or Giant for Devil in order to bestow upon such tales the status of great antiquity.

In actuality this antiquity is determined by features other than names. The same can also be said of the feminine personal name Jette, reminiscent of the older form Jöten, or Giants. By the same token, the legends of witches and spooks could be labeled the most recent since they are the ones that are most frequently brought up to date, and when observed locally, appear to be less fixed in form than others. In actuality, however, they are basically the most ineradicable of all legends because of their constant and close relationship with the activities of humans. This factor can in no way serve as proof of their recent origin. It would merely prove that these legends will outlast all others, chiefly because of the superstitious proclivity of human nature which expects more in the way of good and evil from witches and sorcerers than from Dwarfs and Giants. But it is precisely these legends, almost alone, that have found their way from the folk to educated classes. These examples suffice to show why it would be untenable to attempt a chronological classification of legends.

There is, moreover, the difficulty occasioned by the fact that, in each legend, the most diverse elements have grown together organically, and it would take continuing investigation to sort them out. This kind of study would not merely conclude with the differentiation of individual legends but would, in turn, have to concern itself with the details within the legends to cast true light upon the problem.

Finally, this last reason also speaks out decisively against a classification based on content, according to which, for example, one would list all the Dwarf legends, or all the legends about sunken cities, etc., under individual headings. Obviously, only a very few of the legends are concerned with just one of these themes. In actuality, each legend shows manifold relationships and connections with others. Therefore the arrangement of legends that seemed to us the most natural and advantageous was one that would, while providing the requisite freedom and alleviating the need to grope around, lead one unaware to those obscure yet strangely prevailing transitions.

The classification scheme is also entirely in character with the necessarily incomplete nature of the collection. Thus, one will frequently encounter a legend that has either a distinct or a faint allusion to the preceding one, and those that bear a superficial resemblance will be grouped together. Yet, a grouping will also come to a sudden halt, only to re-emerge, for various reasons, elsewhere in the volume.

Many other arrangements of the same body of tales could have been attempted without hesitation, if other relationships had been taken into account. All of them, however, would yield only a few examples of that inexhaustible force which shapes and differs one legend from another, one trait from another, as organically as Nature herself.

5. Explanatory Commentary

We have chosen to dispense with an addendum of commentary of the kind that we provided for the two volumes of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Household Tales) because our space was too limited, and also because a number of the relationships will not be immediately and easily discernible until we have reached a tentative conclusion to our collecting activity. An exhaustive treatise on German legendry, as much as will remain within our powers, will be reserved for the future and for the publication of a separate volume. It is our plan not only to attempt a comprehensive survey of all of German legendry in the three unities of time, place, and action but also to pursue our analysis in other directions as well.

6. The Sources of the Collection

It has been ten years since we laid the groundwork for this collection (see Zeitung für Einsiedler oder Trösteinsamkeit, 19-20, Heidelberg, 1808), and we have worked incessantly ever since. We have collected from written sources, excerpting materials from books of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—many of which have since become exceedingly rare—and, above all, from oral sources as well, where we acquired living narrative traditions.

Among the written sources, the most significant for us were the works of Johannes Prätorius, who wrote in the second half of the seventeenth century. With tasteless yet perspicacious erudition, he was able to combine his sense for legends and for superstitions, which led him to draw materials directly from bourgeois life itself. Indeed, without the legends and superstitions—and he was certainly never aware of this fact—his countless works would have seemed barren and worthless to later generations. To him we owe our knowledge of many of the interrelated legends that follow the course of the Saale River to the shores of the Elbe, where the rivers join, and of those legends that were extant among the folk of the regions of Magdeburg and the Altmark. Many later writers have copied material right out of Prätorius without bothering to mention his name, and only rarely do we find someone achieving similar distinction by gathering his own materials from the oral tradition.

In the long period between Prätorius and the collection by Otmar (1800), for example, there appeared not a single significant book with folk legends, and only occasionally do we find an individual item here or there. A few years before Otmar, we do find Musäus and Lady Naubert at least drawing attention to a few basic legends in their literary treatment of material that came in part from written sources and in part from oral tradition.

Otmar certainly deserves much praise for the refreshing and reliable quality of his collection of legends from the Harz Mountains. His accomplishment most certainly outweighs the chidings he received for hav-ing added unnecessary trimmings and stylistic adornments. Many of his legends are—even in the details of wording—beyond reproach, and one may place one's full trust in them.

Ever since Otmar published his collection, interest in legends has been fermenting, and on occasion, demands for collecting activity have been sounded. But nothing of significance has been collected until now—disregarding the quite recent (1815) publication of a dozen Swiss legends by Wyß, who wove the narratives skillfully into longer poems. Despite the talent he revealed in so doing, we nevertheless discern a dulling effect on what was once exquisitely simple poetry that was in no way in need of this kind of help.

In accordance with our own objectives, we have endeavored to deliver these legends from their new costumes and to return them to their naked truth and innocence, a task made considerably easier by the commentary that Wyß appended. These legends, together with an equal number—or even a few more—that we extracted from the Otmar collection, proved to be indispensable for our objective and our ideal of completeness. Some, however, had to be compared with legends from other sources and corrected and returned to their original, simple style.

There are, in addition, two new collections to be mentioned, one by Büsching (1812) and one by Gottschalk (1814). The former has been extended to cover foreign legends as well as indigenous fairy tales, saints' legends, songs, and even some speculations about other legends, such as the one about Spangenberg. It thus covers a very broad and ill-defined expanse.

Taken together, both collections owe no more than twelve legends, not previously known, to oral sources. These would have been worked into our collection if the collecting activity for both works were not still in progress, and if plans did not already exist for continuing work on both editions. We thus have kept our hands off of both collections. However, in cases where we had already copied legends from the same sources that both men used, or the same legends from other sources, we certainly did not want to discard these excerpts.

After giving the matter sincere consideration, we found that we had collected with greater rigor and with greater care than had they. Both of them, moreover, have presented historical legends mixed in with local legends, whereas we have set aside several hundred of the former for publication in the next volume. We have no intention of interfering in or of disturbing other people's work and instead wish them both fruitful continuation of their efforts. But we also wish them—especially Gottschalk—greater critical facility for deleting false and counterfeit items. The treatise by Dobeneck (1815) on superstition in the Middle Ages, which covers all of Europe, generally has objectives different from our own. Moreover, it restricts itself—much to its own detriment—to so-called superstitions. In summary, one can say the work is a significant, if immature, survey of folk poetry and is only incidentally a collection. We have not rejected any of those items excerpted from Prätorius that happen to overlap with those published by Dobeneck. In the meantime the work will suffice to inspire and recommend others to study this poetry.

Finally, we wish to state expressly that we intentionally did not make use of the many legends of the mountain spirit Rübezahl, which we felt could be more suitably published in a separate work. We furthermore decided not to publish a large body of Rhine River legends in our collection after we received word from Voigt that he was planning to publish an edition of such materials in Frankfurt during the current year.

7. Hopes and Objectives

We recommend our book to devotees of German poesie, history, and language and hope that it will be welcome to all as purely German fare. For it is our firm belief that nothing is as edifying or as likely to bring more joy than the products of the Fatherland. Indeed, an apparently insignificant, self-occasioning discovery and endeavor in the study of our own indigenous culture can in the end bring more fruit than the most brilliant discovery and cultivation of foreign fields. In the latter case, there is always an element of uncertainty in the harvest that tends to become intensified and that is cold to human embrace. We feel that now is the time for us to step forth with our collection and to adjudge it to be sufficiently complete and diverse, first, to excuse any unavoidable deficiencies; second, to awaken in our readers an awareness of the degree to which we need their assistance in finishing our work; and third, to assure them that we will not abuse their trust.

All beginnings are difficult, and we feel that our collection is indeed quite deficient in a significant portion of German legends. And even among those we have included, many would have been better and more precisely recorded from the mouths of the folk. We may also have missed some important materials scattered in travel journals of the preceding century. Our experience has also shown us that the attempt to gather materials through letters and circulars yields little or nothing until we can show through the example of a published collection the kinds of apparently trivial things, formerly held in contempt, with which we are concerned.

But the business of collecting, as soon as one has acquired the sincere desire to engage in it, is soon worth the effort. And the discoveries border on the innocent joy of childhood, surprising a bird brooding on its nest amid moss and shrubbery.

In regard to our legends, here too one must quietly lift the leaves and carefully bend back the bough so as not to disturb the folk, if one wishes to steal a furtive glance into the strange yet modest world of nature, nestled into itself, and smelling of fallen leaves, meadow grass, and fresh-fallen rain. We will be grateful for any communication in this regard, and take this opportunity to publicly thank our brother, Ferdinand Grimm, as well as our friends August von Haxthausen and Carove, for supporting us so diligently.


Alfred David and Mary Elizabeth David (essay date December 1964)

SOURCE: David, Alfred, and Mary Elizabeth David. "A Literary Approach to the Brothers Grimm." Journal of the Folklore Institute 1, no. 3 (December 1964): 180-96.

[In the following essay, David and David examine the theoretical impetus that determined the Grimms' methodology of collecting and adapting fairy tales, asserting that the Grimms were primarily motivated by the influence of German literary romanticism.]

Upon the hundredth anniversary of the death of Jacob Grimm, folklorists the world over have united to pay tribute to the memory of the Brothers Grimm.1 The Institute for Central European Folklife Research at Marburg has brought out a memorial volume of essays entitled Brüder Grimm Gedenken 19632—a reminder not simply of the closeness of the brothers but of the ideals of brotherhood that their lives represent and that their works have done much to promote.

The astonishing thing about Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm is the sweep of their learning in many related fields. Although they made enormous contributions to the study of folklore, philology, and literary history, they transcend the boundaries of academic disciplines. "To see European literature as a whole," wrote Ernst Curtius, another great German scholar on the model of the Grimms, "is possible only after one has acquired citizenship in every period from Homer to Goethe."3 The brothers achieved this difficult citizenship and a view of European literature as a whole that has left its mark on all of their achievements. It is fitting, then, to approach the most universal of their works—the Kinder- und Hausmärchen —as a great monument of European literature.

When the Grimms entitled their collection of folktales Kinder- und Hausmärchen, they did not mean to imply that they had compiled a volume of stories for the nursery. It was in part their purpose that, as has actually happened, generations of children should read their book and that it should become a household work. But the title implies primarily an idea of the fairy tale, not an audience for which fairy tales are destined. For the Grimms it meant that the stories preserved the simplicity and innocence that their generation—the first generation of romantic writers—associated with childhood and the family hearth. In the foreword to the first volume Wilhelm Grimm wrote: "These stories are pervaded by the same purity that makes children appear so marvelous and blessed to us."4 In other words, it is not that the stories are primarily for children (though most children enjoy them), but the stories are like children, have lived among children, and have been treasured and preserved within the family.

This childlike sense of wonder and the moral simplicity that the Grimms saw in fairy tales were also qualities that they attributed to the earlier literature of the Germanic peoples, and it was primarily for what remained in them of the spiritual heritage of the past that the Grimms collected folktales. In the study and preservation of the literature of the past the Grimms had a cultural and moral aim: they were striving to make their own generation and future generations conscious of the national soul that, so they believed, had lived on subconsciously in the traditional stories of the folk.

The Grimms came to folklore through literature, specifically through the literature of the Middle Ages. Before they had published their first volume of fairy tales in 1812, the brothers had already brought out, individually or together, Über den altdeutschen Meistergesang (1811), Altdänische Heldenlieder, Balladen und Märchen (1811), and an edition of the Old High German Hildebrandtslied (1812). Their interest was drawn to folk literature by the poets Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano with whom they collaborated on the third volume of Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1808). In the course of this collaboration and in their subsequent correspondence with von Arnim5 they began to develop their own ideas about folk literature, which differed essentially from those of Brentano and von Arnim, who looked upon folk songs and ballads chiefly as raw material for original poetry.

The Grimms' interest in fairy tales was, therefore, literary and historical and was just one aspect of their broader interest in ancient Germanic languages and literature. In order to understand why they began collecting folktales and how they went about recording and, in many instances, reworking the stories they had collected, it is necessary to see the märchen as part of their life work—the restoration of the German literary past.

Although the Grimms were the first to collect folktales at all systematically and to make some effort to preserve the stories in their oral form, they also reworked their material considerably. The final result is a subtle blending of folklore and literary craftsmanship, and it is of interest both to the folklorist and to the student of literary history to obtain some insight into the growth and development of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen into their present form.6

The Grimms published seven major editions in their lifetime. The first edition consists of two volumes (1812 and 1815), each with a short foreword by Wilhelm Grimm. These were revised and combined as the foreword to the second edition (1819), which also contains two longer essays, "Über das Wesen der Märchen" and "Kinderwesen und Kindersitten." All but the last of these contain important statements about the Grimms' concept of the folktale and all, with the exception of the revised 1819 foreword, are reprinted in Wilhelm Grimm's Kleinere Schriften. The 1819 foreword is available in most modern editions of the so-called Grosse Ausgabe, 7 and it is from this that Margaret Hunt translated several excerpts in the preface to her translation of 1884.8 Unfortunately these excerpts, unless they are read very carefully, are apt to give a misleading impression of the Grimms' method of collecting. They would seem to have misled Mrs. Hunt, for she comments:

They wrote down every story exactly as they heard it, and if some of its details chanced to be somewhat worse, or if sacred persons were occasionally introduced with a daring familiarity, which to us seems almost to amount to profanity, they did not soften or omit these passages, for with them fidelity to tradition was a duty which admitted no compromise—they were not providing amusement for children, but storing up material for students of folklore.9

This statement contains a half-truth and does not really represent what the Grimms themselves said they were doing. It is perfectly evident that in fact the Grimms changed and added a great deal—how much one comes to realize only after comparing the various editions and the few manuscripts that have survived.

Margaret Hunt certainly did not mean to misrepresent the Grimms. She seems to have sincerely believed that, wherever possible, they had taken down their stories almost word for word. The misunderstanding is possible because the true picture is very much confused for a number of reasons. For one thing, the Grimms' attitude toward the tales and their methods of recording them developed gradually over a period of years, and they have left behind a number of statements, written at different times and on different occasions, that do not always seem consistent. The brothers themselves differed about method, at times even heatedly; Jacob, as one would expect, was the more scholarly and more insistent upon faithfulness to oral tradition. Finally, there is the prose style of Wilhelm's prefaces. They are written in a lyrical and highly metaphorical language, as obscure and as intricate as only German romantic prose can be. All the same, a more or less coherent theory does emerge from the various forewords and statements, which goes far to explain the Grimms' method of collecting and the changes they made in their material. The theory is not argued with scientific consistency, but it can be extracted, much in the same way that Coleridge's critical doctrines may be extracted from his scattered writings.

All the labors of the Grimms, whether in philology or in folklore, stem from a basic premise that they share with most of the major figures of the romantic movement: there is a spiritual force in nature that finds expression in literature. Nature means not only external nature—mountains, forests, lakes—but human nature which responds to these things. One may call this force God, or the Immanent Will, or the Over-Soul. Wordsworth captures the essence of the faith when he writes in "Tintern Abbey" of

      A presence that disturbs me with the joy
      Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
      Of something far more deeply interfused,
      Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
      And the round ocean and the living air,
      And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;
      A motion and a spirit, that impels
      All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
      And rolls through all things.

The ancient poets, the Grimms and their fellow romantics felt, had lived closer to nature, and their works were therefore imbued with fundamental truths and values. These truths and values had been given their noblest embodiment in the ancient epic poetry, much of it lost, but they still survived in the humbler form of the folktale. Wilhelm Grimm compares the old poetry to a field of grain that has been beaten down by a storm; in a few sheltered places, by shrubs and hedges, isolated ears have remained standing; these continue to grow, solitary and unnoticed; and at harvest time they are gathered by the pious hands of poor gleaners to provide nourishment for the winter and seed for the future harvest.10 (The image itself is characteristically romantic.) The folktales are of course the solitary ears of grain; the pious hands are those of collectors like the Brothers Grimm; the future harvest is no doubt the future greatness of German literature that they foresaw springing from the native soil. Ideas such as these are recurrent themes in the forewords. In justifying the time and labor they bestowed on these simple stories, Wilhelm Grimm wrote in the foreword to the 1812 volume:

… their very existence is sufficient to defend them. Something that has pleased, moved, and instructed in such variety and with perpetual freshness contains within itself the necessity for its being and surely comes from that eternal fountain that quickens all living things with its dew, even if it be but a single drop, clinging to a small tightly-folded leaf, sparkling, nevertheless, in the first light of the dawn.11

Translation cannot render the double sense of "first" in this sentence. The drop of dew not only sparkles in the early light of the dawn, but it still reflects the glory of the first dawn, that primal creative dawn in which the older literature had flourished.

The "eternal fountain" was for the Grimms the mystical power of nature, the source of all good. Anything partaking of nature must be good, and so the Grimms saw a natural morality in stories that told of "faithful servants and honest craftsmen,… fishermen, millers, charcoal burners, and shepherds who live close to nature."12 One is again reminded of Wordsworth who in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads declared that he had chosen "incidents and situations from common life" because "in that condition the passions of men are incorporated with the beautiful and permanent forms of nature."

In fairy tales the cycle of human life is intimately related to the cycle of nature, as in the beautiful passage at the beginning of "The Juniper Tree" where the mother's pregnancy is described in terms of the fruitfulness of nature, specifically of the juniper itself:

In front of the house was a yard in which there stood a juniper tree. Once in wintertime the woman was standing under it peeling an apple, and as she was peeling the apple, she cut her finger, and the blood fell upon the snow. "Oh," said the woman, sighing from the bottom of her heart, and she looked at the blood in front of her and was very sad. "If only I had a child as red as blood and as white as snow." And as she said this, she felt quite cheerful; she had a feeling that something would come of it.

She went back into the house, and a month passed and the snow melted; and two months, and things were green; and three months, and the flowers came out of the ground; and four months, and all the trees in the wood put out leaves and their green branches became entangled with each other—there the little birds sang so that the whole wood echoed and the blossoms fell from the trees. Then the fifth month was gone, and she stood under the juniper tree, which smelled so sweet, and her heart leaped and she fell on her knees and was carried away by joy. And when the sixth month had passed, the fruit got thick and heavy, and she became completely calm. And the seventh month, and she snatched at the juniper berries and ate them very greedily, and she became sad and sick. Then the eighth month passed, and she called her husband and wept and said, "If I should die, bury me under the juniper tree." Then she was consoled and was glad until the ninth month had passed; then she bore a child as white as snow and as red as blood; and when she saw it she was so happy that she died.13

In both "The Juniper Tree" and "Cinderella" the guardian spirit of the dead mother passes into a tree that magically protects her children. In "Briar Rose" the briar hedge is the symbol of nature guarding her rose: the princess who sleeps inside the castle. When the right prince comes along, the briars turn into flowers that separate of their own accord to let him pass. On the other hand, nature punishes whatever is unnatural and evil. The doves who help Cinderella, peck out the eyes of her wicked sisters, and the two older brothers in "The Water of Life" are imprisoned by the mountains, as hard and unyielding as their own pride.

In the many parallels between the fairy tales and Germanic mythology and legend the Grimms thought that they detected the traces of a primitive natural religion. The sleeping Briar Rose surrounded by the hedge of thorns is like the sleeping Brunhild surrounded by the ring of flames; the three spinners are the Norns; the boy who goes to Hell to bring back the Devil's three golden hairs is like all the legendary heroes who travel to the Underworld. Even ostensibly Christian figures like God and Saint Peter wander over the earth as Odin did. Such parallels suggested to the Grimms that the fairy tales were not merely delightful stories but had a deeper religious significance:

They preserve thoughts about the divine and spiritual in life: ancient beliefs and doctrine are submerged and given living substance in the epic element, which develops along with the history of a people.14

Thus the Grimms applied romantic theories of nature and art to the folktale. Wilhelm's prefaces reflect a strain of romantic primitivism that has been attributed to Rousseau. Although the Grimms themselves did not point this out, the folktales are a perfect example of "naive" poetry, in the sense of Schiller's essay On Naive and Sentimental Poetry; they are the unreflecting art of men moved directly by nature itself instead of self-conscious contemplation of nature. The folktale might well be added to the list of things in nature that Schiller, at the beginning of the essay, says have a power to move us in a particular way:

There are moments in our lives when we respond to nature—in plants, minerals, animals, and landscapes, as well as in human nature, in children and in the customs of country folk and primitive peoples—with a kind of love and affectionate regard, not because it pleases our senses, nor because it satisfies our reason or our taste … but simply because it is nature.

In such a view, folklore, the literature of "common folk" and "primitive peoples," appeared as something that had been produced, as it were, by nature itself working through human instruments, and romantic writers everywhere turned eagerly to folk literature for inspiration. Moreover, the emergent sense of nationalism gave men a further reason to cherish not only what grew from the soil but especially what grew from the soil of their native land. Thus Sir Walter Scott collected the ballads of the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, and in America Washington Irving attempted to celebrate the legendary past of a country that had barely had time to acquire one.

The Grimms, then, shared a widespread interest in the preservation and use of native culture. The originality of their contribution lay in the care with which they collected folk materials and in their respect for oral tradition. Collections of folktales had been made before, but the earlier collectors had relied primarily on literary sources and had not scrupled to change the stories in whatever manner suited their fancy. The Grimms, too, occasionally went back to literary versions, but it was their aim to preserve the märchen, as far as possible, in the form in which they were still being told in the German provinces.

But exactly what does this mean in 1812 when it comes to the actual matter of preparing stories received from oral tradition for publication? It may be demonstrated that the Grimms' genuine desire to preserve oral tradition was consistent, at least in their eyes, with a considerable amount of changing and adding. It certainly did not mean that they felt obliged to transmit every story word for word. The fact that, as a rule, they did not take the stories down from dictation is evident in the well-known passage describing the exceptional instance when they did. This is the description of their most interesting contributor, Frau Katherina Viehman, the famous Märchenfrau of Niederzwehren. The Grimms had already published their first volume when they discovered Frau Katherina. Wilhelm wrote of her in the foreword to the 1815 volume:

This woman is still vigorous and not much over fifty … she has firm, pleasant features and a clear, sharp expression in her eyes; in her youth she must have been beautiful. She retains these old legends firmly in her memory—a gift that she says is not granted to everyone, for some people cannot remember anything. She tells a story with care, assurance, and extraordinary vividness and with a personal satisfaction—at first with complete spontaneity, but then, if one requests it, a second time, slowly, so that with a little practice one can take down her words.15

There is no evidence here that the stories in the 1812 volume, or for that matter the stories of the other contributors to the 1815 volume, were ever recorded in this way; in fact, the implication is strong that they were not.

Unfortunately all but a handful of the manuscripts from which the Grimms worked were lost. But through a lucky accident of literary history we do have a considerable number of the stories that went into the first volume in an Urfassung that makes it possible to get some notion of what sort of material the Grimms started with. In 1809 their good friend Clemens Brentano asked the brothers for copies of tales in their collection for use in a volume of fairy tales that Brentano himself was contemplating. They generously made a copy for him of practically everything in their possession at the time. Nothing ever came of Brentano's own project, but the manuscripts sent to him by the Grimms have survived among his literary remains. They are preserved today in a Trappist monastery in Alsace and were brought out in 1927 in a handsome edition by Professor Joseph Lefftz.16

The tales in this interesting volume are often little more than plot summaries. Numerous motifs, later to be added, are not yet present. Some of the stories have alternate beginnings and endings. There is no question that any of these stories was a direct transcript from oral delivery. They seem to have been sketched out from memory with the aid of notes. They are clearly meant to be reworked, and this is exactly what Wilhelm Grimm tells us in one of the passages translated by Margaret Hunt, referred to above: "As for our method of collecting, our primary concern has been for accuracy and truth. We have added nothing of our own, nor have we embellished any incident or feature of the tale, but we have rendered the content just as we received it."17 The key word here is content. Wilhelm is careful to distinguish this aspect of the collection from the question of style, and continues:

That the mode of expression and execution of particular details is in large measure our own is self-evident; nevertheless, we have tried to preserve every characteristic turn that came to our attention, so that in this respect, too, we might let the collection retain the diversified forms of nature. Moreover, anyone who has engaged in similar work will realize that this cannot be regarded as a careless and mechanical sort of collecting; on the contrary, care and discrimination, which can be acquired only with time, are necessary in order to distinguish whatever is simpler, purer, and yet more perfect in itself from that which has been distorted. We have combined different versions as one, wherever they completed each other and where their joining together left no contradictory parts to be cut out; but when they differed from each other and each preserved individual features, we have given preference to the best and have retained the other for the notes.

From this description of their method it can be seen that the Grimms did not make free use of their materials as had been the practice of Brentano and von Arnim in Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The Grimms felt that such reworking would destroy not only the historical value of their collection but the inner "truth" of the stories. However, this did not mean that they felt obliged to retell the stories exactly as they had heard them or that they might not combine different versions of a story (or to introduce motifs from other stories) in an attempt to arrive at the "best" form. They consciously strove in their retellings to retain the flavor of oral narrative and, indeed, felt that it was their duty to purify the stories of any corruptions or artificialities that might have crept in in the process of oral transmission. They were thus not inventing details but simply drawing, like the original storytellers, on the vast stockpile of traditional material in an effort to approach the ideal form of a story, a form that might never have existed in fact but that was nonetheless "present and inexhaustible in the soul."18 This is to say that they had no hope of getting back to some ultimate, uncorrupted Urform of a story. Instead they aimed at a version such as might have been told by some gifted storyteller like Frau Katherina, some Homer of the fairy tale. In selecting the best among several variants or in combining details from different sources, the basis of their choice was stylistic. It becomes important, therefore, to establish what they took to be the genuine "folk style"—for the changes they made in the stories are to some extent influenced by their romantic concept of the folk. Their ideas about nature and history turn out to have a direct influence on the literary style of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen.

Wilhelm Grimm had stated that the ability to distinguish the true folk material from the false was a gradually acquired skill, and it was natural that as he heard and recorded more and more stories, especially those told by Frau Katherina, he should have become conscious of a definite fairy-tale style and attempted to imitate it. This style became, especially for Wilhelm, an intrinsic part of the value of the märchen and an objective test for what in a story was "true" or "false." This gradually developing sense of style was applied not only to new stories, but many of the older ones, already printed in the first volume, were revised in the light of it. The history of the seven editions of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen is a constant polishing and refinement of the style.19 Some of the favorite stories like "Snow White," "The Wolf and the Seven Kids," and "The Brave Little Tailor," were revised in almost every edition. The difference may be seen by comparing any of these tales with a story like "Jorinda and Joringel," which has hardly undergone any change since the 1812 volume and seems mysterious, choppy, incomplete, and yet strangely powerful.

In the first volume the tales had already been polished considerably, but not enough to suit the Grimms' friends von Arnim and Brentano. "If one wants to exhibit a child's garment," Brentano wrote to von Arnim, "it can be done in all honesty without displaying one that has all the buttons missing, that is covered with mud, and that has the shirt sticking out of the breeches."20 The brothers were deeply concerned about the genuineness of their stories, and Jacob defended their method vigorously in a series of letters to von Arnim.21 He admitted that some changes were inevitable in printing the tales. However, he drew an analogy between collecting folktales and breaking open an egg. Even if it is done very carefully, some of the white of the egg will run out, but the yolk remains intact; the yolk of the stories, he staunchly maintained, they had preserved.22 Yet who was to say what in a fairy tale constituted the white and what the yolk? Jacob and Wilhelm themselves differed on this score, and on one occasion Jacob took his brother severely to task for what he regarded as unwarranted changes. Eventually, perhaps realizing more and more the subjective element in their procedure, he abandoned the märchen to Wilhelm and concentrated on his philological studies. Von Arnim was much better pleased with the second volume of tales, and he wrote Wilhelm: "You have been fortunate in your collecting, and occasionally you have been quite fortunate in lending a helping hand—naturally you do not tell Jacob about this. You should have done this oftener and many of the endings of the fairy tales would have been more satisfactory."23 Wilhelm did, in fact, do this oftener. It is obvious today that the style of the Grimm fairy tales is in large measure the creation of Wilhelm Grimm. Even in the Urfassung, the stories in his handwriting are more finished and literary. If perhaps he has received more than his due as a folklorist, he has never received sufficient recognition as an artist—except for the tribute of being universally read.

For the most part the changes and additions are those that might be made by any good storyteller to make his narrative more coherent, more dramatic, and more vivid. This particular aspect of the märchen has been thoroughly treated by Ernest Tonnelat.24 Tonnelat expressed his admiration for the trouble the Grimms took to polish the style of their narrative, a practice that he noted was not common among their compatriots. He lists some twenty kinds of stylistic changes made in the märchen, only a few of which need be mentioned here.

The Grimms supplied motivation where it was lacking. For example, in the first edition of "Rumpelstiltskin" the miller simply tells the king that he has a daughter who can spin straw into gold. In the sixth edition we are told that he said it "to give himself an air of importance." In the first edition the king merely summons the girl. In the second we are informed that he loved gold. In the first edition he tells the miller's daughter that he will marry her if she succeeds in spinning the straw into gold. In the second edition he thinks to himself, "I won't find a richer woman in the world." In the final edition he thinks, "Even if she is only a miller's daughter, I won't find a richer woman in the world." As one can see, the king's character is steadily developed.25

As in the examples just cited, indirect discourse and statements about what the characters thought and did are replaced by dialogue, and thus the stories acquire a dramatic quality. The character of the wicked queen in "Snow White" is made blacker through her reactions when she thinks that she has succeeded in poisoning the heroine. In the Urfassung her reactions are not even mentioned. In the first edition we are told that she "was satisfied," that "her heart felt light," and that "she was glad." In the final version she gloats, "Now you were the most beautiful," "You paragon of beauty … now it's all over with you," and the third time, "White as snow, red as blood, black as ebony! This time the dwarfs can't revive you again."26 Details are made more concrete and vivid, often through the use of simile. "Snow White" originally began, "The snow was falling from the sky"; this becomes, "The snowflakes were falling like feathers from the sky."

Many phrases and expressions are added to give the stories a homely, colloquial flavor. When the seven kids are cut out of the wolf's belly, they hop around their mother "like a tailor at his wedding." Rumpelstiltskin's little house stands "where the fox and the hare say goodnight to each other." The father of Hansel and Gretel is forced to abandon his children a second time because "Whoever says 'A' has to say 'B.'" Animals are given humorous nicknames; for example, the princess calls the frog king "alter Wasserpatscher."

In the case of these last-mentioned additions, the aim is evidently not just to make a better story but to create the atmosphere of a particular kind of story. Many of the homely touches that charm the reader with the naiveté of these tales were added in a very sophisticated way to have precisely this naive effect. They were put in to suggest the folk origin of the stories. Indeed, some of the characteristics that one would surely expect to have come from oral tradition are often the result of skilful retouching. Asides to the audience, closing formulas, and many of the verses have been inserted. Everyone knows that in fairy tales things happen in threes. So did the Grimms, and if their sources were content with only one or two occurrences from an obvious sequence, they occasionally made up the deficiency.

Thus many of the changes they introduced were meant to make the stories conform more closely to their notion of what a folktale should ideally be like. Their ideas on this subject, as has been said, were influenced by their romantic theories of nature and literature. Tonnelat also calls attention to the place of the Grimms in the Romantic Movement,27 but he does not show how profoundly romantic theory affected the style of the märchen.

The most interesting changes are those in which the Grimms, no doubt quite unconsciously, modified the stories to conform with their idea of nature. Snow White's wicked stepmother was originally her own mother. The Grimms would have felt justified in such a change because of the wicked stepmothers in other stories; in any case, a mother's jealousy of her daughter would have clashed with their romantic belief in the purity of the love that mothers in folk literature ought to show for their own children. (Even the stepmothers love their own daughters!) Similar revisions in other stories have resulted in occasional inconsistencies so that the same character may be called "the mother" on one page and "the stepmother" on another.28

Some of the most characteristic changes emphasize the role of nature in the tales. Snow White's coffin was at one time kept in the dwarfs' cottage and lit by candles; later it was transferred to the mountainside where Snow White is mourned by the owl, the raven, and the dove. The Grimms had a lot of trouble finding a satisfactory ending for "Snow White." In the first edition one of the prince's servants, who gets tired of having to carry the coffin around from place to place for the prince, thumps Snow White on the back like a petulant child punishing a doll, and thus the piece of poisoned apple is ejected. The ending is actually comic. In the final version the servants carrying the coffin trip over a bush, almost as if nature itself were taking a hand in restoring Snow White to life and marrying her to the prince. In the manuscript version of "Briar Rose" when the princess pricks her finger, we are told that everything went to sleep "down to the flies on the wall." In the first edition the horses go to sleep in the stable, the doves on the roof, the dogs in the courtyard, and even the fire on the hearth. The fourth edition adds the final magic touch: "The wind dropped, and not a leaf stirred on the trees in front of the castle." Thus all of nature is made to fall asleep in sympathy with the sleeping princess.

Family relationships are emphasized everywhere. The opening of "The Wolf and the Seven Kids" is an excellent example. In the Urfassung the tale begins: "Once upon a time there was a goat who had seven kids." The first edition adds: "whom she loved dearly." The second edition makes it: "whom she loved like a mother." In the fifth it reads: "Once upon a time there was an old goat who had seven young kids, and she loved them the way a mother loves her children." One should note, incidentally, the artistic contrast in this last version between the old goat and her young kids.

The Grimms believed that the stories contained a natural morality, but they often pointed the moral for the reader. Thus when the queen at last feels at peace after she has poisoned Snow White with the apple, they later added, "so far as a jealous heart can ever be at peace." Because they found deeper spiritual meaning expressed with childlike purity in the fairy tales, they believed that their collection could serve "as a book of education,"29 a book that would develop the moral character of children. Consequently they were sensitive to objections raised by von Arnim and others against the first volume that certain details and stories were unsuitable for children. To these criticisms Wilhelm replied in the foreword to the second volume with the argument that what was natural could not be harmful. He compared the stories to flowers that might, for exceptional reasons, give offense to a few: such a one "who cannot enjoy their benefit, may pass them by, but he cannot ask that they be given a different color or shape."30

Yet the Grimms themselves must have felt a few colors were too strong to be natural. The first volume had contained two stories in which children play "butcher" and one child slaughters another. These tales were suppressed in the second edition. In the original version of "The Twelve Brothers," the brothers actually carry out their vow to kill every girl that they meet, and when their sister comes to the house in the forest, her youngest brother orders her to kneel: "Your red blood must be shed this instant!" It is not that the Grimms objected to the horror of such scenes—there is nothing here to match the horror in "The Juniper Tree." But the action of the twelve brothers, who are intimately associated with nature in their forest retreat, would tend to contradict the Grimms' idea of nature whereas "The Juniper Tree" perfectly confirms it. The tree is the symbol of nature, and through it the murdered boy is brought back to life and his unnatural stepmother is destroyed. More than any other story, this mysterious and primitive tale reveals the connection that the Grimms perceived between fairy tales and ancient mythology and religion.

Fundamentally the Grimms were right—fairy tales derive from nature, although to a post-Darwinian and post-Freudian generation nature may not always appear as the pure moral force the Grimms thought it to be. The children's "butcher" game may seem more like nature to readers of The Lord of the Flies than the affection of Hansel and Gretel for each other did to the Brothers Grimm. We may, if we like, see all of the stepmother figures as symbolic substitutions for the mother figure, as was really the case in "Snow White." No doubt there is a symbolic significance that the Grimms failed to recognize in the many situations where a princess is locked in a tower or where the hero must perform impossible tasks to win her from a jealous father or mother. Their own intimacy gave them no reason to suspect that the hatred of older for younger brothers is by no means abnormal.

This is not to say that they were wrong. The truth that they saw in fairy tales is also valid. The mother and stepmother, the good and the wicked brothers in fairy tales are, after all, dual aspects of complex human relationships that are made pure and simple in fairy tales where good and evil are given separate identities instead of remaining closely knit parts of a single psyche. What matters is that these stories present recognizable patterns of human behavior. The Grimms' achievement was to present them in such a way that their humanity could be recognized by everyone—by children, by adults, and especially by later writers for whom, as the Grimms had hoped, the märchen served as inspiration.

Although with their collection the Grimms made an invaluable contribution to the study of folklore, still their final achievement was in literature. The literary influence of the märchen began to be felt almost at once, not only in Germany in writers like E. T. A. Hoffmann, but in other European countries where translations soon began to appear. Andersen is the most brilliant example. In England Dickens, Thackeray, and Ruskin all tried their hands at writing fairy tales that in their self-consciousness are a far cry from the simplicity and artlessness the Grimms were striving for.

But the influence of the Grimms is perhaps not limited to literary imitations of the märchen form. Many nineteenth-century novelists have what may be called a fairy-tale imagination. Objects in the novels of Dickens, like Mrs. Gamp's umbrella, have a life of their own as they do in fairy tales. Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Great Expectations all have typical fairy-tale plots in which an abused child must overcome obstacles in a quest for security. Aunt Betsy Trotwood performs the function of a wise woman who gives good gifts; Abel Magwitch is like the wild Iron Hans, both in his savage nature and in the magical way in which he repays and tests the young hero who has been kind to him. Jane Eyre is both a Cinderella figure and the girl whose love releases a beast-bridegroom from his spell. In the twentieth century the tradition remains vital. James Thurber has written excellent literary fairy tales. F. Scott Fitzgerald created a fairy-tale world in which the kings and princesses are all beautiful but damned.

All this is a way of saying that fairy tales today still speak to us and tell us about ourselves—about our hopes and dreams as well as about our fears and anxieties. They are inspired by nature, then, as the Grimms would have us believe, and they have not lost their power to please, move, and instruct. What Wilhelm Grimm said of them in 1812 can still be said today: their very existence justifies them.


1. Parts of this essay are taken from The Frog King and Other Tales of the Brothers Grimm by Alfred and Mary Elizabeth David (New York, 1964). Published by arrangement with the New American Library of World Literature, Inc., New York.

2. Brüder Grimm Gedenken 1963: Gedenkschrift zur hundertsten Wiederkehr des Todestags von Jacob Grimm (= Hessische Blätter für Volkskunde, LIV), ed. Gerhard Heilfurth, Ludwig Denecke, and Ina-Maria Greverus.

3. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, tr. Willard Trask (New York, 1953), p. 12.

4. Kleinere Schriften, ed. Gustav Hinrichs (Berlin, 1881), I, 322. Translations of all quotations from German texts are our own unless otherwise indicated.

5. See Reinhold Steig, Achim von Arnim und Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm (Stuttgart and Berlin, 1904), pp. 213-273, passim.

6. The story of the circumstances surrounding the publication of the numerous editions of the märchen is told in a series of very informative articles by T. F. Crane, "The External History of the Grimm Fairy Tales," Modern Philology, XIV (1917), 577-610, XV (1917), 65-77, 355-383.

7. See Crane, XIV, 601 and XV, 75. An attractive edition published by Winkler-Verlag (Munich, 1955) contains the 1819 foreword, a memoir by Herman Grimm, drawings by Ludwig Grimm, and an afterword by Herta Klepl.

8. Grimm's Household Tales, tr. and ed. by Margaret Hunt with an introduction by Andrew Lang (London, 1884).

9. Ibid., I, p. v.

10. Kleinere Schriften, I, 320.

11. Ibid., pp. 321-322.

12. Ibid., pp. 322-323.

13. The translation of this and other passages from the märchen is from The Frog King and Other Tales of the Brothers Grimm.

14. Kleinere Schriften, I, 338.

15. Ibid., p. 329.

16. Märchen der Brüder Grimm: Urfassung nach der Original-handschrift der Abtei Ölenberg im Elsass (Heidelberg, 1927).

17. The translation of this and the passage immediately following is our own, not Mrs. Hunt's. Taken from "Vorrede der Brüder Grimm," Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Munich, Winkler-Verlag, 1955), pp. 34-35.

18. Kleinere Schriften, I, 332.

19. See Kurt Schmidt, Die Entwicklung der Grimmschen Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Halle, 1932). Schmidt prints the text of the Urfassung, after Lefftz, with all subsequent variants and additions, line by line on top of one another, so that one can follow the process of revision in minute detail over a period of almost fifty years.

20. Reinhold Steig, Achim von Arnim und Clemens Brentano (Stuttgart, 1894), p. 309.

21. Steig, Achim von Arnim und Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm, pp. 213-273, passim.

22. Ibid., p. 255.

23. Ibid., p. 319.

24. Les contes des frères Grimm (Paris, 1912).

25. Variants are taken and translated from Schmidt.

26. Translations of the Urfassung and the first edition version of "Snow White" are given in an appendix to The Frog King.

27. Les frères Grimm, leur œuvre de jeunesse (Paris, 1912), especially Chapters I, II, and V.

28. E.g. in "Hansel and Gretel." In "The Twelve Brothers" a wicked mother-in-law turns into a "stepmother."

29. Kleinere Schriften, I, 331.

30. Ibid.

Bettina Hurlimann (essay date 1967)

SOURCE: Hurlimann, Bettina. "Once upon a Time: Some Notes on Fairy Stories and How They Have Come Down to Us." In Three Centuries of Children's Books in Europe, edited and translated by Brian W. Alderson, pp. 21-41. New York, N.Y.: World Publishing Company, 1967.

[In the following essay, Hurlimann provides an overview of modern collections of fairy tales and legends from various geographical regions, including the German fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.]

Fairy stories are something of a peculiarity. 'That's how the story goes' is what people used to say, and from this sentence, which suggests movement, follows the idea that we are not dealing here with something printed and stable, but with something passing along by word of mouth and changing as it goes. And that is just how it is. The emergence of the same elements in fairy tales the world over, from Japan to Norway, does not make the investigation of the origins of fairy stories any easier, and the European fairy stories which must occupy us here for a short while are not by any means purely European products.

The fairy story is the only form of children's entertainment which has long been the subject of distinguished research. The reason for this may well be found in the fact that it was not originally children's entertainment at all but that it is primarily a kind of great-grandparent of narrative literature and thus belongs to the field of literary history. Moreover, since information about age-old folk-customs and yet older relationships between peoples can be gathered from the fairy tale, it becomes thereby an important subject for the investigation of facts about the history of nations and peoples.

So far as we can take it in at a glance, probably the strongest roots lie in the Middle East. There is a perfection in the way the young and beautiful Scheherazade in The Thousand and One Nights tells the stories which purchase her her life. This is the high peak of an ancient oral tradition revealed to the European who can enrich his own world of fairy stories with those from this new and unfamiliar one. On the other hand, however, for all their adventurousness, how little these intricate and, in part, darkly tragic tales have to do with our own children's fairy stories. Similarly, with the complexity of a novel, we find the vigorous tales of Giambattista Basile which appeared in Naples in the sixteen-thirties. The Cinderella or indeed The Sleeping Beauty of the Italian writer (to select two well-known fairy stories) are tales of some intensity in which fearful murder, plain but strangely committed marital infidelity, and horrible—but ultimately thwarted—child murder all play a considerable part. (Cinderella is induced to kill her first stepmother by her second, and even more evil one; while the Sleeping Beauty is seduced in her sleep by a king who is already married. She gives birth to twins and is finally woken up through their hungry nuzzling for food.)

Even Charles Perrault, who was the first to tell fairy stories to children themselves, cannot quite shake off an inclination towards the courtly novel wrapped up with political ethics.

And yet The Thousand and One Nights and Charles Perrault are the most distinguished ancestors of the fairy story as it was created by the nineteenth century—and created then indeed for children. With the flowering of the novel in the nineteenth century it was natural that the fairy story should increasingly become reading-matter for children only, in spite of the great artistic impetus given by Romanticism to fairy-tale literature, which got so full of wit, satire, poetry, and fantasy that only very clever adults could fully grasp its merit. Indeed, with the growth of the children's book of today, where boys and girls are told stories of events which could actually happen to them, the fairy story has been relegated to those young children who have stories read to them or who battle their way painfully through the undergrowth of the printed page. This age group is designated by teachers and librarians the 'fairy-story age' and by this means, especially in German-speaking areas, a limitation is imposed which has an impoverishing effect throughout the whole of children's literature. People forget that often older children, particularly girls, take a natural delight in fairy stories and that they only fully appreciate the richness of certain stories, for example those of Andersen, when they have outgrown the so-called 'fairy-story age'.

The chief point of difference between fairy stories and other tales is to be found in their apparatus of fantastic happenings such as marvels, spells, and strange transmogrifications, all of which give rise to boundless possibilities. Why should these be confined to the world of little children and cease to exist in that of the nine- or ten-year-old, giving way to the stories of everyday reality? Heidi was one of the first and most famous books of this latter kind, a combination of human and poetic insight which was written in so simple and homely a style that it conquered the hearts of children immediately. If only it had not found so many imitators! Once the way had been paved the German-speaking peoples could not get away from it, although in more northerly countries, particularly England and Scandinavia, the lore of fairy tale with its daring possibilities penetrated the whole of children's literature, even in those age groups for whom claims to higher stylistic and intellectual appreciation are made.

Now what are the characteristic features of the fairy tale? One of its fundamental qualities is its narrative flow, which stems from its very origin in the spoken word.

A second quality is that these tales for telling must be both true and not true at the same time. They must contain an inner truth which keeps them viable even though the path of the story can be anything but true, which is to say that magic and mystery are midwives to the impossible. The difficulties of ordinary life can be overcome by extraordinary means and through improbable powers, such as seven-league boots, prophetic insight (or cunning), escape into invisibility, or else through the helpful support of such spirits as dwarfs, elves, and giants. That witches, man-eaters, and evil stepmothers also belong to the powerful forces who keep the action of fairy stories on the move has brought the genre into disrepute among the modern educationists and has tempted the psychologists into many curious speculations. But obviously the normal child needs this supernatural presentation of evil as the Church needs the Devil; how would it otherwise be possible that in Germany, for example, Hänsel and Gretel should be among the most read and most loved fairy tales? For the brief span of this tale contains perfect specimens not only of an inhuman stepmother and a wicked witch but even, for fattened-up Hänsel, of a situation where he will be gobbled up whole. But at the same time it contains other elements which appeal deeply to the hearts of children: the feeble father's hidden love for his children, their own affection for each other, even in the extremities of starvation, the solitude of the wood at night, and the allurement of the gingerbread house.

Such verses as:

     Knuper, Knuper, Knäuschen,
     wer knupert an mein Häuschen

and the answer:

     Der Wind, der Wind,
     das himmlische Kind

reach out to the deepest feelings of which a child is capable.

This is not the place to investigate whether Little Red Riding Hood, Snow-White, the Sleeping Beauty, or Hop o' my Thumb are of German or French origin. The wonderful thing about them is that they express so perfectly every nation's feeling for fairy stories. Fairy stories truly embody an 'international' European literature such as is only possible in other branches of writing through the increased activities of translators. That this should be so may be accounted for by the great power of conviction which fairy-tale figures carry with them and by their ancient principles of action, which express the primitive and unconscious needs of the human heart.

As a rule it is the prospect of saving something from extinction which inspires the activity of collectors. This is the case with fairy stories to a high degree, for the spread of printing and the recession of illiteracy in Europe increasingly brought about the disappearance of story-tellers, who gained their living from the demands made upon their traditional function.

This was the situation which confronted Charles Perrault and, a hundred years later, the Brothers Grimm. Today, 150 years on from them, story-tellers still miraculously exist in lonely mountain valleys, in iso-lated villages of Yugoslavia, Greece, or Asia Minor, even though to a growing extent they mingle elements of modern life with their ancient traditional tales.

The great collections of folk-tales which are now being established in almost every country are mostly museums of fairy-lore. Not so the stories of the Brothers Grimm, however. For reasons which it is almost impossible to explain, they managed to find the precise combination of respect for tradition and free personal expression which was necessary to give their collection its freshness, redolent of neither the study nor the glass-case and timeless as only a few works of great literature.

The enormous importance of this collection, however, did not reside solely in the consequences which followed upon its rediscovery of an ancient national heritage. It also immeasurably furthered the influence which the common elements of the fairy tale would have on the whole of children's literature from this time forward.

At this stage it is probably worth while to describe briefly those few cornerstones which support the superstructure of the European fairy tale—a meeting-place where you will find witches, dwarfs and elves, princes and princesses, kings and magicians, wood-cutters and ragged children, sympathetic doves and talking storks, good and even wicked fairies, all together in a peaceable assembly.

The Thousand and One Nights

The Thousand and One Nights or The Arabian Nights' Entertainments arrived in Europe at the end of the seventeenth century through a young French diplomat and scholar, Antoine Galland, who was born in Picardy in 1646. In this book we have to deal with a long series of fairy stories which, so far as we know, found their way into manuscript in Arabia round about 1545. The provenance of some stories, however, leads back to Persia and even to India. Furthermore, the theme of the princess saving herself by telling stories existed for so long in this form that The Thousand and One Nights takes its place within a long written tradition. Thus, so far as the older civilization of the East was concerned, the committing of these stories to writing was an act corresponding to our own in the nineteenth century, when writers settled the form of fairy-tale literature for those who should succeed them. In this way we received the ancient and mighty narrative traditions of the East, with all their overtones of oriental manners and contemplativeness.

Galland's first translation was followed by countless others in almost every country in Europe. In passing, we should note the strong supposition that the Italians knew of the stories beforehand, since Basile's fairy tales, whose basic material came from the common people, nevertheless show some astonishing similarities.

Often many of those who retold the stories sought to suppress the more racy passages, inseparable from descriptions of harem life, but deemed unsuitable for European sensibilities. On the other hand, some editions turned these into the big attraction. But none of them could eradicate entirely the scent of eastern musk, the unbridled passion, the delicate and intricate filigree of the stories' construction, and thereby many of their other oriental charms. Many great illustrators of the last two hundred years down to the immediate present have made their attempts on these stories and have served to formulate our ideas of the East more than any of the other volumes of travellers' tales.

Among the German writers of fairy stories it is quite impossible to think of, say, Hauff without this literary inheritance. One has only to think of Die Geschichte von dem kleinen Muck or Kalif Storch to realize this. But even Andersen, as a small boy in his father's cobbler's shop, had these stories read to him as part of a common inheritance. Later he was to follow the attraction which had been aroused by this childhood experience and take a journey to the Near East. Whoever reads his diaries of this journey, his fairy stories or his Picture-book without pictures will find in the work of this northern story-teller astonishing echoes of the oriental themes which he first heard in The Thousand and One Nights.

Italian Fairy Stories

Europe's earliest fairy stories to be set down on paper are without doubt the Piacevoli notti (1550) of Giovan Francesco Straparola, in which recognizable fairy-story themes appear for the first time. The Italian folk-story, however, reveals itself in all its abundance in the book by Giambattista Basile—Lo cunto de li cunti—which first appeared in the Neapolitan dialect in five parts between 1634 and 1636.

Basile, who was born around 1575, was a soldier of fortune who occupied himself at the courts of various Italian princes in some very varied roles. He wrote odes, eclogues, and all kinds of courtly poetry in the affected manner of his times. He was a member of numerous academies, among which was one of the largest in his native Naples: the Otiosi or 'Lazybones' Academy, and he named himself 'Pigro'—the sloth. But he also possessed something rare among the courtiers of his time: a sense of justice, an integrity and a feeling for the needs and the dignity of the Neapolitan people. In order to give expression to this he recited and wrote down his fairy stories in his native dialect. As Grimm and Perrault were to do later, he used for his foundation the, in parts, very primitive and entirely oral traditional tales which the women of the district told to their children. These fairy stories were only printed after Basile's death in 1632, a good sixty years before Perrault's collection.

As with Perrault's tales, these also are in no way a collection of items of folk-lore copied down straight from the mouths of the story-tellers. They are rather an expression of the powerful Baroque Age, which still lives for us in its marvellous pictures and which cannot see the sun rise without personifying it and having it sweep out the morning sky with a golden broom. Basile's portrayals of nature are always full of this kind of personal life, even where they stand as allegories or as symbols, while the action is dramatic, often bloody or full of complicated intrigue, but always reaching its climax in the triumph of right. Unnecessary decorative details are rarely found, but on the other hand, the dialogue is witty, full of allusion, and without concessions to the prudish. This above all is Basile's instrument for conveying the truth to his age.

While it cannot be denied that Basile obtained the framework of his stories from the women of his immediate locality, just as Perrault and the Grimms were to do in their time, the audience for the humane and humorous 'Pigro' of the Lazybones' Academy was composed of intelligent men—'all fellows at the same club', as we might say today. Certainly, therefore, he did not tell them fairy stories, although he wove in many threads from these. Even so we already find noted down here such tales as Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty, just as there are clues pointing to sources in the Near East. Especially notable among these is the way the stories are arranged within a story about a treacherous Moorish slave-girl, whose wickedness is finally revealed so that the virtuous and patient princess finally gains her rightful reward. This firm framework holding the book together is found neither in Perrault nor in Grimm, but Jakob Grimm saw in Basile over the gulf of two hundred years a comrade of similar aims and helped him to his delayed fame in Northern Europe, writing an introduction to the first edition of his works in German in 1846.

In Italy itself the finest translation of the book into modern Italian was by Benedetto Croce, who saw in it not just a collection of popular tales but 'the finest book of the Italian baroque'. It has, in common with the two most famous fairy-tale collections which followed it, a naturalness and freshness which have lasted to our own times. Where wit and effervescent imagination are concerned, Basile's tales are inexhaustible and contain some ingredients so bizarre as to be seldom found elsewhere. Perhaps the most felicitous of these occurs in the scene in the bedroom when the heart of a sea-dragon is brought to the boil and the steam spreads pregnancy throughout the room; not only for the cook but also for the utensils and the furniture, so that the bedstead acquires a baby bed, the big chairs little chairs, and the chamber-pot a baby chamber-pot. Such an ingenious animation of lifeless objects is only found again in Andersen.

Perrault and the French Fairy Story

Charles Perrault (1628–1703) may not have been the first to write down fairy tales but he was the first writer of consequence to recognize that they belonged to the world of children. The whole of the vivid, power-flaunting seventeenth century was not unsympathetic to simplicity and straightforwardness, which were precisely the qualities of fairy tales. Telling them, however, was the occupation of women. It is said of Le Roi Soleil that when he was a little boy in the forties of that century he could not go to sleep without the fairy tales which the ladies-in-waiting used to tell him. At the end of the century such tales, racily adapted by the ladies who told them, were paraded in the elegant salons of the Parisian aristocracy. Particular delight, however, was brought to these salons by Perrault's versification of Peau d'âne—one of the most popular and typically French fairy stories.

With the publication soon after of his Histoires ou contes du temps passé avec des moralités (1697), in a delectable prose and patently intended for children, this same Perrault seems to have caused himself some embarrassment. For in doing such a thing he was likely to have become very conspicuous. Retiringly, therefore, he had the book registered for privilege under the name of his son, Pierre d'Armancour, a fact which the most recent research has converted into a suspicion that the seventeen-year-old boy could have been the actual author. This would provide an explanation for the extraordinarily youthful freshness of the book which conquered in a trice the world of children who had never before possessed anything so much their own.

Charles Perrault was a gifted member of the Académie Française, but no poet. A literary historian of our own times, Paul Hazard in Les livres, les enfants et les hommes, finds it completely natural that such a prominent member of the Académie should veil behind a youthful pseudonym the fact that he writes fairy stories. After all, were not the Grimms, with their passion for collecting such stories, regarded as very singular gentlemen a hundred years later still? Even so, the assertions of an English authority on this matter (Percy Muir in English Children's Books, 1600–1900) cannot be rejected. He establishes that no edition in the father's lifetime bore the name Charles Perrault and that at the time of their publication the son Pierre was generally thought to be the author, having had the opportunity of getting the stories straight from his nurse. In this case it is fascinating to think that the first book of fairy stories for children in Europe could itself have been written by a very young man.

This emphasis on children marks the decisive difference between Perrault and Basile, with whom he has a number of things in common. Like his Italian predecessor, Perrault is a member of learned societies and to some extent a moralist. Both seek in the unsullied fairy-lore of the people a curative for the luxury, corruption, and self-satisfaction rampant in their own stratum of society.

Basile proffers his prescription straight to the men around him, but Perrault has a premonition of the ascendancy of the younger generation. He offers his discovery to children, who are to be the future lords and ladies of the land, but he could not know that it was to become the intellectual sustenance of so many of their heirs. And a full-blooded and to some extent frightening fare it was to be too, a thing which one only realizes when one compares it with the wordy, moralizing tales of Perrault's contemporaries and successors, who were almost all of them women.

Perrault's language is concise but lucid. Next to beauty and wealth, the most important attributes of his heroines are courage and a healthy understanding of humanity. Blood flows plentifully while romantic charm does not even get started, as, for example, in such a story as Little Red Riding Hood, which, when told by the Brothers Grimm, possesses a sweetness (in spite of the fearful scene in the bedroom) which persuades even little children to swallow the whole thing as a wonderful joke. Here, however, Little Red Riding Hood pays the penalty for her disobedience; the wolf begs her to come to him at Grandmother's bedside, and after all too short a conversation, Little Red Riding Hood follows the old lady down his gullet, never to be seen again. There is no romantic huntsman, no paying out the wolf, no happy ending with cakes and ale.

In Germany readers are, as a rule, surprised when they meet stories like this, which they had believed to be typically German, in such an early version. But the children of those days did not demand a lot of consideration for their delicate nerves. The language was direct and forceful and had not yet learned to adopt that consciously condescending tone which goes out of date so rapidly. Perrault's fairy tales have therefore kept their youthfulness to this very day and they belong to the 'daily bread' of the French nursery.

The Brothers Grimm and Their Times

Throughout its first half, the eighteenth century was once again the province of the grown-ups. With the exception of Perrault, fairy stories remained, like the old folk-tales, at most an extensively popular form of oral entertainment, even though they could now to some extent be come by in print. Goethe, who as a boy knew scarcely any children's books except for the so-called 'Robinsonaden', discovered for himself the cheap Volksbücher which were as little suited to the salon and the nursery as most fairy stories, but which fascinated children and the common people alike.

They represented a truly popular formulation of the old legends, and when Goethe later encouraged the Grimms and Arnim and Brentano in their efforts to reach the natural sources of poetry, he was but keeping faith with the secret love of his own childhood. Furthermore, his childish experiences with these books may well have provided the first impetus for his reworking into High German hexameters of the allegorical Low German beast epic Reineke Fuchs.

The older the century grew, the less was children's inclination to this kind of reading matter concealed. Between the years 1782–86 the poverty-stricken schoolmaster I. K. A. Musäus (born Jena, 1735, died Weimar, 1787) was publishing the volumes of his collection Die Volksmärchen der Deutschen. He himself wrote of this: 'Fairies seem to be coming quite back into fashion; the very Reverend Voss and the very respectable Bürger are vying with each other in the modernizing of The Thousand and One Nights and even fairy stories have been published afresh this year in Jena and again at Nuremberg. I am going to jump on the band-wagon myself and turn out some-thing in this line, with the title of Volksmärchen; ein Lesebuch für grosse und kleine Kinder ("Folktales, a story-book for children great and small"). I am collecting the most trivial old wives' tales, trimming them up and making them ten times more marvellous than they originally were. My wife hopes that the whole thing will turn out to be a most lucrative piece of work.'

The poor poet outlived his lucrative success by only one year. From this extremely interesting letter, from which I have quoted only a short extract, we can grasp almost everything that is worth knowing about our subject. At the same time, however, the jokingly modest reference to 'something in this line' betrays the fact that a preoccupation with fairy stories was not yet taken entirely seriously. Further, the observation that he was 'trimming up' the fairy stories and 'making them ten times more marvellous' indicates that we are not yet in the exclusive circle of the Brothers Grimm, pursuing the purity and plainness of folk-poetry. And yet it was Herder, the creator of the Stimmen der Völker, who delivered a memorial speech on Musäus in the Weimar Grammar School soon after his death. In this he portrayed the fairytale writer: 'agreeable and comradely, of great simplicity of character and goodness of heart—a man who bore the heavy burden of his days with cheerfulness and equanimity, merriment and robust good humour.' And his fairy stories are still alive today. In my own childhood they were the ones I loved the best. The legendary world of the Middle Ages comes alive in them and their plots are decked out in the brightest colours, such as were never seen in the stories of Perrault nor would be in the stories of Grimm. Their images already foreshadow Romanticism, but at the same time the stories are extraordinarily compelling. Such titles as Stumme Liebe (Mute Love), Der geraubte Schleier (The Stolen Veil), Richilde (Richilda), Dämon Amor (Demon Love), Die Nymphe des Brunnens (The Nymph of the Well) hold promise of whole novels. 'Rübezahl' is also to be found in this book—one of the most interesting characters on that border line between legend and fairy tale.

In style these tales stand closer to the Volksbuch in the respectable form given to it by Schwab and Simrock than to the folk-tale as the nineteenth century and we today understand it. But we are made to feel this difference only on the arrival of the Brothers Grimm and Ludwig Bechstein who drew the dividing line so sharply between these two worlds. Just how ripe the time was for this kind of thing shows, for example, in the fact that in 1786–88 Herder published Die Palmblätter, a selection of Eastern tales of great beauty.

Twenty-five years after Musäus' Volksmärchen had appeared, the inseparable Brothers Grimm brought out the first volume of their Kinder- und Hausmärchen (1812). The French literary historian, Paul Hazard, describes their activity at that time as that of butterfly-catching, an occupation where it is all important to capture the specimens alive. And in a later simile he likens the result to home-made bread. Perhaps only a sympathetic foreign critic can express himself so clearly and simply—but how right he is in both his opinions.

'To catch alive' indeed meant much to the Brothers. They brought in much of their 'living' harvest of fairy tales from the home of the busy farmer's wife of the village of Zwehr bei Kassel, who went by the charming name of 'Viehmännin' (literally 'cattle woman'). The precise words of her stories, and those of other story-tellers, they got to some extent by heart, although it would be a wrongful underestimation of these worthy brothers to regard their merit as residing only in their activity as collectors.

For adult readers the versions of the fairy tales given in the original edition are especially valuable, for they reproduce most strongly the verbal rendering of the original source. There is not a single superfluous word in this first edition; everything stands clearly delineated as in a woodcut with only the meagrest of necessary detail. Indeed, returning to Hazard, this is the toughest of home-baked bread, with all its aromatic flavour. But if they had continued to present their stories in this way the brothers would never have made their total conquest of the world of children. Only with the second compilation (1814) does one get the feeling that the narrators are really thinking of children as they write. Only now are those small, delightful details added which turn this home-baked bread into the most inviting of the world's delicacies without taking away any of its nutriment. The result is that Hänsel and Gretel, Brother and Sister, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow-White and Rose-Red, and so many others have all found their way into the family circle of countless generations of children. Indeed, we grown-ups can never entirely forget these characters who are for ever young. They cannot outgrow us like our own children. Scarcely have these last got on to their feet than we must start telling them about Little Red Riding Hood. The gin-gerbread house which hides the cage where Hänsel is to be fattened up becomes at the same time the centre-piece of an incomparable woodland idyll. While, in earlier fairy stories, the world still belonged to princes, princesses, and kings, and exceptional cunning or beauty were the least that was required to distinguish the heroes, we now find, in this Age of Revolution, that a poor miller's lad, a simple servantgirl, or a woodcutter can move the heart as much as the banished princesses and valiant knights of old. 'Hans in luck' comes to value the poverty that enables him to travel light, a typically Romantic concept. On the other hand, in Starsilver, it is demonstrated with contrasting logic that gold and riches are a quite proper reward for those who are pure in heart.

This story of the poor naked little girl in the forest on whom the stardust falls moves us in just the same remarkable way as the story thirty years later of 'the little match-girl', whose soul soars to heaven in the warmth and brightness of a blazing bundle of matches.

The two brothers, to whom the children of their own and following generations are so much in debt, were neither of them family men at the time of the first publication of their Household Stories. Born in 1785 (Jakob) and 1786 (Wilhelm) they spent much of their lives in the ducal library at Kassel, foraging into German antiquity, German philology, and German literature. Having grown up in an occupied Germany, they experienced in these years (the years of the War of Liberation from 1814 onward) the freeing of their country from the French. The patriotic fervour which reigned at that time was marvelously transmuted by the two brothers into an intellectual quest for the purest and freshest springs of their nation's linguistic heritage.

The wonderful fairy-story figures who were brought to life in this way have been for many of us companions throughout the years of childhood. More than all our other education they have opened our hearts, extended our sensibilities, and acquainted us even at first reading with a prose style of exemplary simplicity. And children have shown their gratitude for this gift with a century and a half of loyalty, so that today the stories are more popular than ever. But they are threatened. In this age of ours, with its return to visual communication, they, too, have been taken over by pictures. Extravagant, all too emphatic illustrations have strangled their delicate but so much more unpretentious language, while on film Snow-White and so many other figures have been turned into goggling Hollywood stars. But even this debasement finally bears witness to the continuing power and the profound inner life of the fairy stories.

Before and after the Brothers Grimm

To be completely just it must be said that copying out fairy stories, whether their own or foreign ones, was not a sole privilege of the Brothers Grimm at this time. The great and justifiable success of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, which brought a quantity of fairy stories into the consciousness of whole sections of society, caused at the same time a certain impoverishment, in so far as the stories which were not included in even the later editions of the Grimms' collection disappeared into oblivion. And even down to the present day the predominant popularity of some, but not all, of Grimms' fairy tales has somewhat mitigated against the spread of other fairy stories.

The fairy stories which at the end of the eighteenth century were already circulating in Germany were little more than the simplest of popular fare. They were not preserved in libraries or in middle-class homes and they underwent continual changes through their mode of oral transmission. Take, for example, the fairy story "Das Erdkühlein" which comes first in an excellent collection: Deutsche Märchen vor Grimm, edited by Albert Wesselsky and illustrated by Fritz Kredel (1938). This fairy story, of which the first printed version appeared around 1560, and at Strassburg be it noted, is interesting because it contains for the first time in print two entirely typical fairy-story themes: first, the child who has been sent out scattering pebbles to ensure his return (as it were the Ariadne's thread of fairy tales, later to reappear in Hänsel and Gretel); and second, the theme of the magic tree which reappears in an astonishingly similar guise in Basile's Cinderella story of 1634. Perrault, remarkably, leaves this theme out of his Cendrillon, but with the Grimm version it returns in incomparable manner:

    Bäumchen rüttel dich und schüttel dich,
    wirf Gold und Silber über mich
    Wave tree, shake tree,
    Shed gold and silver over me.

Goethe, who was a student at Strassburg, must have taken this captivating story to his heart, for he uses the name 'Erdkülin' with a tender connotation at the end of a letter to Frau von Stein. This example of the now almost completely vanished 'Erdkühlein' is but one among many to show that from 1800 onwards the recording of texts by true writers had become necessary in order to preserve the fairy stories for the reading public and not just for the students of folklore. In any event, the magical 'Erdkühlein' who puts in an appearance here disappeared entirely from the fairy tales of the nineteenth century. Her place in otherwise very similar stories is filled by fairies imported from France.

Among the successors to the Brothers Grimm our gratitude must go chiefly to Ludwig Bechstein. This writer, born in Weimar in 1801, published in 1845 and 1856 two volumes of fairy stories. Here to some extent the already well-known tales came creeping back in slightly altered guise, but Bechstein's chief merit lies in the way that he has noted down fairy tales from all parts of Germany with their special regional characteristics, while investigating in detail the rich territory of his particular locality, the Thuringian Forest. (Deutsches Märchenbuch, 1845, and Neues deutsches Märchenbuch, 1856.)

Like the Grimms, Bechstein belongs among those who used their gifts as writers to set down serviceable versions of the existing heritage of fairy tales. In contrast to him are those writers who use the fairy story as an art-form, without feeling themselves thereby committed to the old, traditional themes, even though they bring them in here and there, consciously or unconsciously. Foremost among these are Ludwig Tieck, Justinus Kerner, E. T. A. Hoffmann, and W. Hauff. In yet another direction there is Clemens Brentano who, with his incredibly sure instinct for the genuine, combines in the most exquisite way his own imagination with ancient popular themes, some of which he has taken over from the Italian.

Among those named above, only Hauff has proved an outstanding success with children. Born in Stuttgart in 1802, he wrote his fairy tales in 1826 to aid him in his work as a family tutor. His stories combine in an extraordinary way the richness and intensity of the world of Eastern tales with a Romantic and peculiarly Swabian style of recounting them. Without doubt they will long survive his other writings such as his novel in the manner of Scott, Lichtenstein. Zwerg Nase (Dwarf Long-nose), Kalif Storch (Caliph Stork), Das Wirtshaus im Spessart (The inn in Spessart), and Das kalte Herz (The Frozen Heart) are titles which can match some of our present gaudy literature, but which nevertheless came from a world of true literary sensibility.

One book of fairy tales which did gain a legitimate success was the Träumereien am Französischen Kamin (Dreams by French Firesides) (1871) which a German officer, Richard von Volkmann-Leander, set down during the siege of Paris, when he had to spend long evenings in one of the chambers of a deserted château.

Nor should we pass over here a famous collection of fairy stories from Scandinavia, which appeared within a generation of those of the Brothers Grimm and in a similar way. This has found its way into many countries, often under its English title East of the Sun and West of the Moon, and in England it gained an independent life through the adaptation by Sir George Webbe Dasent, himself an authority on fairy stories and a pupil of Jakob Grimm.

The two authors of this Norwegian classic were Peter Christian Asbjörnsen (1812–85) and Jörgen E. Moe (1803–82), and they proceeded in much the same way as the Brothers Grimm. Asbjörnsen was a zoologist and collected the stories on his scientific expeditions, and his friend Moe, a theologian and a poet, also spent much of his spare time in collecting. Like those of their famous German counterparts, these stories are pervaded by a toughness and an unspoilt freshness; magical happenings, trolls, giants, witches all play a more important part than such things as fairies, while the heroes are blessed with at least as much good humour as courage.

Later on, English fairy stories were collected by Joseph Jacobs (1854–1916), but he took them from forgotten books and not direct from the oral tradition.

The Folk-Tale Today

The wave of fairy stories which broke over the heads of children with the Brothers Grimm, if not with Perrault, would surely have completely swamped their sensitivity and their capacity to read, did not the history of children's literature, just as that of adult literature, display a principle of natural selection which for ever ensures that only the fittest of the books of fairy stories survive. Decades of mawkish variations all beginning with the words 'Once upon a time …' usually have nothing else in common with genuine fairy tales but the fact that what is being told is not 'true'.

The most wholesome reaction to the degeneration of the fairy story was the emergence of the realistic children's story already mentioned. But our century has seen a return to the study of genuine folk-tales, which are being collected the world over. On the threshold of our age Tolstoy came to join the group of master story-tellers: Basile (300 years ago), Perrault (250 years ago), and the Brothers Grimm (150 years ago), bringing with him the new and distinctive features of the Russian fairy tale.

But this is not sufficient for our cosmopolitan age. The students of folk-lore have brought together such collections from all round the world that the child of today can be encouraged and stimulated to reach for any fruit from the world's great tree of fairy tales. And he may reach for it with pleasure. The most beautiful and exceptional of all such collections is surely Lisa Tetzner's Die schönsten Märchen der Welt für 365 und einen Tag, which has become known far beyond the German-speaking territories.

This outstanding teller of tales (for she has the story-telling tradition in her blood) is apparently as much at home among the fairy stories of India as those of Italy. Naturally her knowledge of German tales is thorough, but when she writes for German-speaking children she takes care to avoid the well-trodden paths. We find all the themes and all the folk-wisdom of the world in these books, which even adults have found illuminating. The strangest and most familiar things are set down in a uniformly plain German, which contains enough personal style to give confidence to the young German reader, but never so much that it makes the frequently exotic contents impossible to understand.

I do not like to close this chapter on fairy tales without some mention of the genuine story-tellers who, even today, still exist among the common people. We find them chiefly in mountain districts and usually, when instances come to light among the inhabitants of the more civilized regions, nothing is spared to enable us to record these last expressions of an age-old popular wisdom.

The last case of this kind known to me was the cobbler Barba Plasch from the Swiss Engadin who died in 1945. His father had been a celebrated story-teller before him and Barba Plasch continued his tradition, plying his cobbler's trade from house to house. He told fairy stories in accordance with all the rules of the art, full of the old, well-known themes, but laced with the special characteristics of his mountainous locality on the one hand, and characteristics of the modern world on the other. Leza Uffer, who recorded his fairy stories for us, had heard the cobbler's tales in his childhood and was later to hear them once again from the lips of the old man (Leza Uffer: Die Märchen des Barba Plasch, Zürich, 1956).

There are still such story-tellers to be found, especially in villages where the radio and the cinema have not yet penetrated. These two technical marvels are the murderers of all the primitive creative impulses of the people, which find expression in dancing, music, acting, and story-telling. The only comfort that remains to us is that by virtue of this same technical progress we are able to record on tape and preserve things of this kind which still exist. There are now gramophone records as well—vicarious story-tellers—producing with a flick of the switch the voice of well-known actresses reading a story from Grimm. It is even possible to dial a number on the telephone and get your fairy story for the day. Where is it all leading us? Away from real story-telling—the intimate contact between teller and hearer? Away from books themselves? It is impossible to know.


The first appearance in English of The Arabian Nights' Entertainments (1704–17), Perrault (Mother Goose's Tales, 1729), and Grimm (German Popular Stories: 2 vols, 1823 and 1826) are dealt with in detail in the books by Darton, Muir and Thwaite noted in the final bibliography. The nineteenth century also saw translations into English of all the German fairytale writers mentioned in this chapter, but few are available in separate volumes today.

There is also no current English edition for children of Giambattista Basile, although several of his tales appear in the Andrew Lang collections noted below. The first serious attempt to turn his difficult Neapolitan into English was made by John Edward Taylor, a relative of the Edgar Taylor who first translated Grimm. This book, The Pentamerone, was published in 1848 with illustrations by Cruikshank but the translator deprecated 'the gross license in which Basile allowed his humour to indulge'. The 'moral sense' of the Victorians was 'happily too refined and elevated to tolerate indelicacy' and Taylor therefore gave only thirty of the fifty stories and some of these, too, had matter of offence removed from them.

It was the resulting volume that formed the basis for an edition by Helen Zimmern in The Children's Library (T. Fisher Unwin, 1893), but even then she was 'obliged to revise many pages, omitting offensive words and expressions and adapting the stories to juvenile ears'. All this watering-down was characteristically remedied by Sir Richard Burton in a complete translation issued in two volumes in 1893, itself used for a one-volume edition of the work in 1952 published by William Kimber. The definitive English translation, however, is that by Benedetto Croce, edited with a full introduction and comprehensive notes by N. M. Penzer (John Lane, London, 1932).

There are, of course, a great many children's editions of the well-known European fairy stories currently available and in the following book-list I have confined myself to carefully prepared versions and have noted any features of particular interest.


1. The generally accepted pantomime version in Great Britain also leaves out the magic tree. For a useful discussion of the variants in the story, see Geoffrey Brereton's introduction to Perrault's Fairy Tales (Penguin, 1957). (B. A.)

Works Cited
The Arabian Nights

The Arabian Nights, edited by Amabel Williams-Ellis, illustrated by Pauline Baynes. Criterion Books, 1957.

A translation based on the main English editions giving admirable versions of nineteen tales. Mrs. Williams-Ellis also copes cleverly with the framework of the book and adds some very useful notes for adults.

Arabian Nights, collected and edited by Andrew Lang, illustrated by Vera Bock. Longmans, 1951.

First published 1898. Translated by Mr. and Mrs. Lang from the French of Galland, shortened and with the omission 'of pieces suitable for Arabs and old gentlemen'. Contains nineteen tales in a rather sketchy framework.

Arabian Nights, selected by Dr. Hedwig Smola, adapted by Charlotte Dixon, illustrated by Janusz Grabianski. Duell, 1964.

Fairy Tales from the Arabian Nights, edited and arranged by E. Dixon, illustrated by Joan Kiddell-Monroe. Dutton, 1952.

Tales from the Arabian Nights, illustrated by Brian Wildsmith. Walck, 1962 (text, 1946).

Introduction by E. O. Lorimer gives the framework of the stories. This and the two editions above are less satisfactory to read than the others, but have enjoyable illustrations.

Charles Perrault

The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, translated by Geoffrey Brereton. Penguin, 1957.

Illustrated with cuts from the earliest English edition. Includes also prose paraphrases of three verse tales, including Peau d'âne and a valuable introduction by the translator.

Perrault's Complete Fairy Tales, translated by A. E. Johnson and others, with illustrations by W. Heath Robinson. Dodd, 1961.

Originally published as Old Time Stories, Constable (London), 1921.

The Brothers Grimm

Grimms' Fairy Tales, translated and edited by Margaret Hunt, revised by James Stern, Illustrated by Josef Scharl. Pantheon, 1944.

Based on the 'almost complete edition' in Bohn's Library (1884). Contains 210 tales and a folkloristic commentary by Joseph Campbell.

Tales from Grimm, translated and illustrated by Wanda Gág. Coward, 1936.

The seventeen tales in this volume represent the ideal presentation of the stories for young children. The short introduction on the principles of selection and the problems of adaptation is excellent. In 1947 Wanda Gág added thirty-two more tales in More Tales from Grimm (also Coward).

Grimms' Fairy Tales, illustrated by Charles Folkard. Dutton, 1951.

Forty-seven tales based on a selection from the original translation revised by A. A. Dent.

Grimms' Fairy Tales, illustrated by Ulrik Schramm. Walck., 1962 (text 1946).

Grimms' Fairy Tales, illustrated by Jean O'Neill. World, 1946.

Other Authors

Aulnoy, Marie, Comtesse d'. The Hind in the Forest and Other Tales, retold by Hilda McGill. New edition. Roger Ingram (London), 1965.

Sé Gur, Sophie, Comtesse de. Blondine and Bearcub, translated by Roland Gant, illustrated by Roland Pym. Heinemann (London), 1957.

Hauff, W. Hauff's Fairy Tales, translated by Jean Rosemary Edwards, illustrated by Jiři Trnka. Hamlyn (London), 1961.

Hoffmann, E. T. A. The Fairy Tales of Hoffmann, retold by Marjorie R. Watson, illustrated by W. F. Phillipps. Dutton, 1964.

Asbjörnsen, P. C., and Moe, J. East of the Sun and West of the Moon, translated by Sir George Webbe Dasent, illustrated by Hedvig Collin. Macmillan, 1963.

Asbjörnsen, P. C., and Moe, J. Norwegian Folk-Tales, translated by Pat Shaw Iversen and Carl Norman, illustrated by Erik Werenskiold and Theodor Kittelsen. Viking, 1961.

Thirty-five tales in a new translation but illustrated with drawings used by Asbjörnsen in early Norwegian editions.


There are a great many collections of fairy tales now available either in single volumes or in series. The following is only a small selection:

Ellis, Amabel Williams-. Round the World Fairy Tales, edited by Amabel Williams-Ellis, illustrated by William Stobbs. Warne, 1963.

Thirty-six tales with notes on sources.

McNeill, James. The Sunken City and Other Tales from Round the World, illustrated by Theo Dimson. Walck, 1959.

The Double Knights: More Tales from Round the World, illustrated by Theo Dimson. Walck, 1965.

Lang, Andrew. The Colour Fairy Books. Longmans.

With the publication in 1899 of The Blue Fairy Book, Andrew Lang commenced his 'supervision' of this famous series. For the history of the series, which today numbers nine volumes, see Andrew Lang by Roger Lancelyn Green (Walck, 1962). Photo-lithographic reprints of the original volumes have recently been issued in paperback by Dover Books.

The Oxford Myths and Legends, illustrated by Joan Kiddell-Monroe. Walck.

A collection of the folk-lore from countries all round the world, at present numbering fifteen volumes.

The Favorite Fairy Tales Series, retold by Virginia Haviland.

Four volumes devoted to Italy, Poland, Scotland and Spain have so far appeared in the United States (Little, Brown, 1965).

Donald Haase (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Haase, Donald. "Response and Responsibility in Reading Grimms' Fairy Tales." In The Reception of Grimms' Fairy Tales: Responses, Reactions, Revisions, edited by Donald Haase, pp. 230-49. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1993.

[In the following essay, Haase analyzes the "central place of reader response in studying Grimms' fairy tales."]

The engraver responsible for the title page of the nineteenth-century American edition of Grimms' tales translated by Edgar Taylor evidently was given the original German text to work from. And he evidently had some trouble deciphering the German typeface he encountered. Little did he know it was the Kinder- und Hausmärchen he had before him and not—as we read on the American title page—the Rinder und Hans Märchen (Alderson n2). Fortunately, the error did no lasting damage, and the Grimms' Children's and Household Tales did not become known to Americans as the Cattle and Hans Tales. But the error is worth noting, not simply for its humor but also for what it suggests about responsibility in reading Grimms' fairy tales. The engraver responsible was in one sense not responsible enough. Without the necessary information, experience, and context, he understandably took the Fraktur K for an R, and the u for an n. Irresponsible? Well, yes, in that this constitutes an inappropriate response to the foreign lettering. But certainly he had no reason to assume the letters were any others than those he perceived them to be. In fact, he made sense of an otherwise unintelligible language in the best way he could—by responding to the individual letters as shapes resembling those he knew. Responding to the text, he distorted it in one sense; yet in another sense he gave what might have seemed to him a distorted text shape and meaning.

Our engraver is not so different from Katy in Grimms' tale of "Freddy and Katy" (No. 59). Unable to make sense of her husband's idiomatic and metaphoric language except on a literal level, she carries out his instructions in ways that seem bizarre and irresponsible to him but appear perfectly sensible and logical to her. If we were to level charges of irresponsibility at the engraver—or the reader—who responds to a text without the requisite context, then we might expect a reply echoing Katy's: "I didn't know that. You should have told me" (Complete Fairy Tales 226).

This is precisely what contemporary Grimm scholars have undertaken to do: to tell the uninformed what it is they need to know in order to respond responsibly to the Kinder- und Hausmärchen. Weary of psychotherapists, spiritualists, astrologers, and other assorted interpreters reading Grimms' tales with the same blind spot as our nineteenth-century engraver, informed Grimm scholars have begun a process of reeducation by defining what a responsible reading is and what a reader needs to know to arrive at one. Here I want to review this critical reception of the Grimms' tales and explore the implications for reading, understanding, and responding to them.

Heinz Rölleke has led the way in laying out the ground rules for an informed understanding of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen. His meticulous philological-historical studies and text-editions have illuminated the genesis, development, and nature of the Grimms' collection; and he has persuasively argued that a responsible interpretation of any single tale must be based on a thorough philological and text-historical analysis.1 His point is lucidly made in a discussion of "Brier Rose" (No. 50) in his 1985 introduction to the Grimms' tales:

One would hope that philological-literary and folkloric research would offer in the future a more solid foundation for fairy-tale interpretation, which is running wild everywhere. The make up of texts and appropriate textual understanding should become indispensable prerequisites for every fairy-tale interpretation; otherwise the way is open for sheer caprice. Only when the textual history of Grimms' tale of "Brier Rose" [for example] has been illuminated as much as possible, when the historical and cultural, as well as the generic prerequisites are generally recognized, can a sound interpretation be generated by any of the variously emphasized positions of those disciplines that have in the meantime turned their attention to the fairy tale—whether the text is analyzed from theological, mythological, psychoanalytic, anthroposophic, pedagogical, or literary perspectives.

                                  (Die Märchen 97)

Rölleke has no sympathy for interpretations that have not considered a specific tale's textual ancestry. While he allows that fairy tales are "rich enough … to permit" private and undisciplined readings, he insists that "serious" scholarly commentary must take into account facts surrounding the origin and development of the texts (Die wahren Märchen 315). Not only the Grimms' editorial revisions must be taken into account, including those in both the seven Large Editions and the ten Small Editions of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, but also the identity of their informants and/or the written sources, insofar as these can be established. Such "filters"2 have all shaped the content, style, and meaning of the text in some way, so that any more or less definitive statements about the text's significance must be based on an accurate recognition and understanding of these. For example, Rölleke has repeatedly corrected Helmut Brackert's claim to see sociohistorical significance in "Hansel and Gretel" (No. 15), particularly in the tale's introductory reference to "a great famine." This "große Teuerung," Rölleke cautions, could not be taken as evidence that the tale reflects "social conditions and problems of earliest times" if readers like Brackert knew that the motif was first inserted into the story by Wilhelm Grimm in 1843, when he borrowed it from a version of the tale published by August Stöber in 1842.3

But the actual extent and implications of Rölleke's well-founded scholarly position on responsibility become most evident in his contention that before we can make any interpretive claims about the nature and significance of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen as a whole, we need "some 240 individual studies" of the tales the Grimms published in, deleted from, or used to compile and annotate their collection throughout its publishing history:

For each text, one would need to describe its history before the Grimms; to uncover the form in which the Grimms became familiar with the tale, through hearing or reading it; and to document and interpret the changes made, whether as a result of a misunderstanding, for reasons of stylistic improvement, motivation, embellishment, or abridgement, or above all as the result of manifold contamination. And this must be done not only for the first edition of 1812–15, but for all seventeen editions of the collection,… taking into account, of course, the manuscript material in the form of inscribed notations and textual changes.

                          ("New Results" 101-2)

Only after putting all these pieces of an enormous jigsaw puzzle together can we begin to understand and interpret the Grimms' stories and their collection responsibly. Until then, Rölleke warns, "all wholesale judgments … must remain unprovable" (102). In fact, from this perspective, responsible—let alone definitive—interpretation appears to be indefinitely deferred. Given the likely impossibility of fully reconstructing the complete heritage of every Grimm text and pre-text, as well as the fact that "one does not find, either, in direct testimony or statements by the Grimm brothers or their contributors, so much as a hint that would render permissible such deductive conclusions," we might well ask whether responsible interpretation and understanding are possible at all under the circumstances Rölleke describes.

Rölleke's formidable view of the reader's responsibility is clearly informed by his philological orientation and expertise. The American folklorist Alan Dundes, on the other hand, offers an equally demanding prescription for responsible fairy-tale interpretation that reflects his specific folkloric interests and expertise. Dundes has emphasized the inadequacy both of folkloristic investigations that collect variants of a tale type without interpretive effort and literary interpretations that fail to consider a tale's "full panoply of oral texts" (41). Literary critics who privilege a specific text—and it is normally the Grimm version of a tale—too quickly deduce its meaning and make interpretive or cultural generalizations on the basis of this single variant alone. Only when the full stock of variants is considered and understood as manifestations of a single tale type can a reader responsibly propose an interpretation and draw broader conclusions.

Like Rölleke, Dundes insists on a textual reconstruction undertaken by viewing the tale in a context of multiple texts. But unlike Rölleke, Dundes, as a folklorist, seeks not to reconstruct the textual history of a tale philologically and to use earlier texts to understand a specific Grimm tale or even the collection as a whole; rather, he uses variants—which may be philologically unrelated—to reconstruct a generally representative and hypothetical text that implicitly becomes the object of interpretation.

Dundes's position raises significant questions about the ontology of the interpreted fairy-tale text that go beyond the scope of my arguments here. More pertinent is the notion that responsible readings of Grimms' tales involve more than the reader and the specific Grimm texts, and even more than their immediate contexts. In fact, Dundes's responsible interpretation emerges from multiple readings of multiple texts and is, in the final analysis, a reading of a hypothetical composite text that transcends the actual, individual texts considered. "There is no one single text in folklore," writes Dundes, "there are only texts" (16). In this interpretive scenario, responsibility is not dictated by the reader's response to a text, but by his or her attention to a full (but necessarily incomplete) complement of international variants.

From a sociohistorical perspective, Jack Zipes articulates yet another view of the fairy tale that places specific demands on the reader to adopt a multidimensional view of any text. Eschewing a one-dimensional view, Zipes emphasizes the multiple layers of sociohistorical references and values that inform Grimms' tales—strata of significance that reflect the perspectives of the various tellers who have helped give any specific tale its current shape (The Brothers Grimm 43-61, 135-46). These are basically the filters of which Rölleke writes. But Zipes goes a step beyond Rölleke and speculates not only about the Grimms' contributions to a tale, about the traces of their informants and sources, but also about the unspecified yet inevitably present tellers of the tale from even further back in history and the chain of storytellers. In any given Grimm text we might find the voice of the Grimms' informant, the voice of either Jacob or Wilhelm himself, the voice of the tale's "submerged creator," and the voices of the "intervening tale tellers who pass on the narrative from author to listeners and future tellers" (50). So Zipes is more likely to attribute certain motifs in "Cinderella" (No. 21) to storytellers from a past and unspecified matriarchal society than is Rölleke, whose philological orientation is not conducive to such speculation, and who would thus focus only on what he knows about the identifiable sources and informants (137-38; Rölleke, "Die Frau").

Furthermore, because fairy tales consist of multiple layers of often contradictory values, Zipes recommends that readers begin "exploring historical paths" in the tales (The Brothers Grimm 43-61). In other words, the reader's responsibility is to tease apart the layers of sociohistorical evidence in the tales so as to understand better each story's historical development and reception, and to understand our own responses to the meanings and values discovered in the tales (46). This procedure becomes crucial if we are to comprehend the often contradictory values that fairy tales seem to contain and the contradictory reception they receive. And it is crucial if we are to grasp both the hazardous and liberating potential of fairy tales as agents of socialization (27).

All these positions usefully clarify the problem of critical responsibility in fairy-tale interpretation. The parade of filters, variants, and voices makes one thing evident: the Grimm fairy tale is not necessarily an integrated symbolic gesture with an inherent, immutable, and clearly defined meaning. I contest Maria Tatar's assertion that "the symbolic codes woven into fairy tales are relatively easy to decipher" (92). Rather, I would make two arguments: (1) fairy tales consist of chaotic symbolic codes that have become highly ambiguous and invite quite diverse responses; and (2) these responses will reflect a recipient's experience, perspective, or predisposition.

Despite the various methodological stipulations that seek to reconstruct a tale's "actual" meaning and to control the outcome of fairy-tale interpretation, there is a growing consensus that the significance of a fairy-tale text frequently remains elusive. Gerhard Haas's remarks are representative of this consensus:

What fairy tales originally and actually meant can hardly ever be determined with any certainty…. The European folktales that have been fixed in literary form were, over centuries, composed of so many narrative layers, different perspectives, experiences, and forms of sensibility that it is just inconceivable that these texts could have preserved a unified—as is generally presumed—statement about the nature of human beings. Any other assumption is pure wishful thinking.4

There is compelling evidence for the ambiguous nature of fairy tales and the limitations of responsible fairy-tale interpretation. In the first place, the longevity of the fairy tale—its reception by diverse societies in diverse contexts—attests to its broad interpretive potential and its apparent flexibility (Dégh 76-77). Grimms' tales have served the needs of the Nazis, Freudian psychoanalysts, theologians, feminists, and the Waldorf schools—to name just a few of the diverse groups who have utilized them—and this wide applicability implies that instability in the tales' symbolic associations and core values accounts for their stability in the world-wide canon.

Similarly, the diversity of critical fairy-tale interpretations encourages sober consideration of the genre's remarkable potential for meaning. With similar ideological premises, some feminists berate Grimms' "Cinderella" and tales of its type for the heroine's passivity and dependency, while others praise the story for its positive depiction of female independence.5 In the case of "Little Red Riding Hood" (No. 26), Erich Fromm interprets the tale as the product of men-hating women, while Jack Zipes, discussing the Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood, sees the story as a projection of misogynous males. For Bruno Bettelheim the tale focuses on adolescence and genital obsessions (166-83), while for Alan Dundes it revolves around orality and infantile fantasies (43).

How is it that so many reasonable people reach so many diverse and often contradictory conclusions about the same texts? One answer, of course, is that many readers have been operating irresponsibly—like the engraver of the "Cattle and Hans Tales." Bruno Bettelheim, for example, can make universal psychotherapeutic claims for Grimms' tales because he is almost thoroughly uninformed. He ignores diverse variants of the tales; he falsely assumes that the stories accurately reflect ancient oral narratives; and he neglects the sociohistorical setting in which they were revised and edited. Beyond such scholarly irresponsibility, however, the motley history of fairy-tale interpretation finds an explanation in the scholarly rediscovery of the complex editorial history surrounding Grimms' tales. Over the last fifteen years, Grimm scholarship has been dominated by Heinz Rölleke's philological investigation of Grimms' informants and variants, and by the search for multiple historical voices speaking simultaneously in the tales. These complementary research projects, which identify diverse narrators and layers of sociohistorical reality, have exposed the palimpsest-like nature of Grimms' texts and undercut the idea of one-dimensional meaning.

The feminist critic Karen Rowe, for example, uses the bifocal vision of a fairy tale's significance to explain how contradictory interpretations are equally legitimate. Noting the coexistence of repressive, misogynistic elements and an overall message of rebirth, coming of age, or liberation, she discerns two voices in the classical fairy tales: a patriarchal voice speaking to and for a male-dominated society, and a submerged female voice speaking a code of liberation. As she puts it, a fairy tale is "speaking at one level to a total culture, but at another to a sisterhood of readers who will understand the hidden language, the secret revelations of the tale" (15). Rowe's notion of a hidden language speaking to a sisterhood of readers suggests not only the double potential in responding to fairy tales, but also the potential problems in undertaking a responsible reading of fairy tales, in particular the difficulty for male readers who may be deaf to the sister's voice.6 In this case we could ask whether responses and responsibility to fairy tales differ by gender.

Wolfgang Mieder puts a more general twist on this double potential of the fairy tale and the reader's response when he comments on the role of the reader's perspective in contemporary fairy-tale reception: "The moment one ceases to look at a fairy tale as a symbolic expression of the idea and belief that everything will work out in the end, the cathartic nature of the tale vanishes. Rather than enjoying the final happy state of the fairy tale heroes and heroines at the very end of the fairy tale, modern adults tend to concentrate on the specific problems of the fairy tales, since they reflect today's social reality in a striking fashion" (6). In other words, focusing macroscopically on the utopian plot of fairy tales gives us one view of its significance, while attending microscopically to the details of specific characters and motifs—such as the passivity of classic heroines—gives us a quite different understanding and evokes a different response. So the reader's focus or perspective determines his or her understanding of a tale.

But why should the reader's own perspective override that of the tale itself? Ostensibly a product of "low" or popular culture, the fairy tale, with its simple structures and language, might be thought more singly denotative and resistant to such caprice and ambiguity. Richly connotative structures and discourse, after all, are traditionally characteristic of "high" or literary culture. The Grimm fairy tale, however, is—despite its apparent simplicity—an institutionalized literary genre. And while its language is apparently simple, it is one-dimensional and denotative only in terms of the fictional and generically determined world it represents. The absence of an identifiable narrator (indeed the presence of multiple, incomplete, and conflicting narrative voices) gives little direction as the reader fills out the details of the story. In this way, the reader—like the storyteller who retells a fairy tale—is invited into the re-creative process and made responsible for concretizing the characterizations, settings, motivations, and valuations that the text itself has not specified. So, the reader's understanding of the text and response to it are potentially wide open, making the structures and language of the fairy tale richly multivalent and dependent on the reader's own projections. Whether those projections reflect an institutionalized understanding of the fairy tale or an idiosyncratic response depends on the experience of the reader and the circumstances of reception.

In dealing with the Grimms' tales we have ambiguous texts that belong to both the classical canon and the popular canon. Because of their surface simplicity, Grimms' tales are not only fully accessible to but also produced and marketed for a "lay" audience outside the interpretive institutions. Accordingly, the recipients of fairy tales are overwhelmingly not scholars. Instead, the fairy-tale audience comprises a wide spectrum of readers and auditors, but in particular children. And there is "a necessary difference" between these recipients and the "licensed practitioners" of institutional interpretation (Kermode 73). Lacking a sense of critical responsibility, these recipients possess a response-ability—an ability to respond that will not wait for and could not use the 240 dissertations that scholars need to understand Grimms' collection definitively.

The responses of popular fairy-tale recipients occur not only in ignorance of scholarly data and in reaction to ambiguous texts; they also occur to some extent outside the constraints imposed by a public context. While traditional storytelling was a public event that to some degree controlled the individual response, the printing of texts has increasingly privatized fairy-tale reception (Schenda 85), which increases individual control over the text. Kay Stone has argued that "told stories have more possibilities for openness than do those in printed and filmed media," but she ultimately acknowledges the freedom of the individual recipient to respond outside the interpretive limits imposed by each medium ("Three Transformations" 54). Moreover, because some traditional folkloric symbols have lost their original significance for new generations or foreign cultures, they are now "empty" and are no longer interpreted by readers but used to conform to the individual's own frame of reference. The fairy-tale recipient, in the words of Hermann Bausinger, is limited by an individual "horizon of symbolic understanding" ("Aschenputtel" 147-50). Irresponsible readings may ensue, but they nonetheless reflect the actual conditions of most fairy-tale reception.

Try as we will, and should, to stress responsible historical readings, to publicize the facts of Grimms' fairy tales and the complexities of fairy-tale interpretation, we cannot ignore the recipients and their irresponsible responses. By attending to their responses, we can learn a great deal about how fairy tales generate meaning and function in contemporary society. As an illustration, allow me a personal and admittedly anecdotal example. Once, when reading "Rumpelstiltskin" (No. 55) to my six-year-old daughter for what I believe was the first time, I casually experimented to gauge whether she had already developed a sense of common fairy-tale vocabulary, motifs, and style. While reading (from Zipes's translation The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm ), I would pause at certain points and ask her to guess the next word. Generally, the results were predictable. For example, "Once upon a—there was a miller who was poor, but he had a beautiful—" elicited correctly from her the words "time" and "daughter" (209). The most interesting responses, however, were the following concerning the trials of the miller's daughter. In the first trial, the king locks the maiden in a room with the straw and commands, "Now get to work! If you don't spin this straw into gold by morning, then you must—." "Die" was my daughter's correct response. The second trial also involves the threat of death. In the third trial, there is a shift. Here the king offers not a threat but a reward. When the king states, "You must spin all this into gold tonight. If you succeed, you shall become my—," my daughter hesitated and came forth not with the actual word "wife" (211), but instead with a word revealing her own interpretation of the events: "slave."

This response illuminates the story's "meaning"—its potential for reception. While opposing critical camps may argue whether the tale is misogynistic or not, whether it depicts a woman's oppression by men or her ultimate achievement of autonomy and power over men, this naive response cuts to the core of the issue and vividly displays not only the tale's potential significance, but also precisely how fairy tales appear to function in the socialization process. The child's choice of the word "slave" for the text's own use of "wife" reveals the tale's ability literally to define social roles. The response effectively exposes the tale's equation of domestic exploitation—that is, slavery—with the concept of marriage. It is thus not only a legitimate response that can be confirmed by more scholarly analysis, but it is also and more importantly a response that illuminates the meaningful operation of fairy tales in a contemporary social context. It opens a window on the generation of meaning in fairy tales and on the significance of fairy-tale language in a communicative context. In other words, the study of response productively shifts the emphasis from what fairy tales mean or meant historically to the question of how fairy tales mean in a given context.

For all the debate and controversy over the meaning of Grimms' tales in society, there have been in fact few studies of a practical or experimental nature that attempt to determine how fairy tales are actually received in diverse contexts. The focus of research on Grimm reception has been for the most part on more or less conventional literary-historical questions of influence, adaptation, and what used to be called in comparative literary scholarship "fortune studies." While such studies do elucidate important forms of public response, other equally significant manifestations of private response are only beginning to receive attention. The problem, of course, is in part one of accessibility. While the documentation and analysis of editions, translations, adaptations, and other published responses to Grimms' tales are relatively easy to undertake, the reliable documentation of individual subjective responses is much more difficult. As a consequence, most of the scholarship on the reception of Grimms' tales by children, for example, does not actually examine children's responses. Instead, like Bruno Bettelheim's influential work, it interprets tales abstractly according to a specific theory of reception. Unlike Jack Zipes, who also proposes a theory of fairy-tale reception, few in the debate over the Grimms have actually recognized that the reader's response to a fairy tale is "difficult to interpret, since the reception of an individual tale varies ac cording to the background and experience of the reader" (Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion 174).

The relatively few studies that have attempted to understand individual responses to Grimms' tales have approached the problem with varying perspectives and diverse methods. While psychologists such as Anne-Marie Tausch have experimentally studied responses to Grimms' tales in order to gauge their emotional and ethical effects on children, Rudolf Messner has interviewed children more informally to try to understand what makes fairy tales appropriate or inappropriate at different times. Pedagogues, on the other hand, have been concerned with what children's responses to fairy tales can tell us about the effects of reading in a didactic context. Michael Sahr's experiments with children's responses to Grimms' "Old Sultan" (No. 48), for example, were devised to determine the long- and short-term effects of hearing a fairy tale on children's attitudes and to discern the pedagogical implications of various media adaptations ("Zur experimentellen Erschließung"; "Zur Wirkung"). Similarly concerned with the process of reading and the effects of media on understanding, Helge Weinrebe has studied children's responses to investigate how verbal texts and illustrations influence personal responses to fairy tales.

While these studies reach general conclusions about the operation of specific texts and the effects of their content or form, others have asked how particular groups of recipients respond to Grimms' stories. Jessica Schmitz and Renate Meyer zur Capellen have collaborated to study the responses of kindergartners from five different German schools, including the children of foreign workers and affluent German families. Schmitz's transcripts of discussions with the children about "The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids" (No. 5) have been analyzed from a psychoanalytic perspective by Meyer zur Capellen against the socioeconomic background of each group. Focusing on another class of readers entirely—sick children—Gisela Haas has examined the fairy-tale drawings of hospitalized children and concluded that their diverse responses are shaped by the unique problems and desires of the individual.

The few studies that intentionally set out to examine the responses of children as individuals have been done by parents using their own children as subjects, much like early studies of childhood language acquisition conducted by linguists. That can be both an advantage and disadvantage depending on the methods employed. Ben Rubenstein's study of his daughter's responses to "Cinderella" is not so much a study of a child's response as it is his own Freudian reading of the tale and of his daughter's relationship to himself. Eugen Mahler's informal reports on conver sations with his two children about Andersen's "The Ugly Duckling" and Grimm Nos. 4 and 6 are openly characterized as the "observations and thoughts of a father." Unfortunately, his observations remain ulti mately inconclusive and do not give us a useful model for eliciting responses. Nina Mikkelsen, on the other hand, attempts a somewhat more methodical study of her daughter's responses to versions of "Snow White" (No. 53) during her third and fourth years. Especially interested in how preliterate children "read" and create meaning, Mikkelsen provides an illuminating analysis of her daughter's changing responses to the different Snow White texts over time.

Despite the diverse perspectives, experimental rigor, and methods of these studies, some conclusions indicate how the study of response illuminates significant issues in fairy-tale scholarship. Three examples are particularly revealing. The first involves two psychological experiments that have tested Bettelheim's assertion that fairy tales have therapeutic effects on children. While psychological testing of children by William C. Crain et al. appears to support Bettel heim's contention that children find fairy tales meaningful and thought-provoking, there is only speculation about how this might be the case. When Patricia Guérin Thomas studied the responses of kindergarten and third-grade pupils to "Brother and Sister" (No. 11) and "The Queen Bee" (No. 62), she found that their responses do depend on the children's developmentally determined inner conflicts and cognitive understanding of moral themes. Neither study, however, found evidence in the children's responses that would confirm Bettelheim's thesis that fairy tales actually help children resolve psychological conflicts.

The study of response has also shed light on the question of sexism in Grimms' tales. Like Bettelheim's assertions about the therapeutic role of fairy tales, discussions of sexism and its effect on readers rarely rely on the responses of real people. Instead, pro nouncements about the influence of fairy tales on perceptions of gender roles normally revolve around a critic's own interpretation and the theoretical effects of fairy tales on recipients. Recognizing that scholars often presume to speak for readers, Kay Stone has undertaken to restore the reader's voice and to "describe actual rather than theoretical connections between fairy tales and their readers" ("Misuses of Enchantment" 126). She has done this by conducting formal interviews about the Cinderella story and analyzing "the reactions of readers of various ages and backgrounds, both male and female" (130). Stone's study of readers' reactions to "Cinderella" leads to two important conclusions. First, because the story elicits diverse responses among readers, she concludes that there is no single truth about the meaning and impact of fairy tales, especially when it comes to the question of sexism. Second, despite the diversity of responses, Stone identifies patterns that indicate women read and respond to tales differently from men. Women in particular may continue to perceive the female models found in fairy tales as prob lematic, and may interpret and reinterpret them as they struggle with their own identity. So by turning to the reactions of actual readers, Stone cuts through the unresolved theoretical speculation and delivers concrete insights into the tale's actual reception. In doing so she clarifies the issue of sexist content in fairy tales, the genre's impact on readers' perceptions of gender, and the role of gender itself in reading the tales.

A final example of how the study of readers' reactions can illuminate larger issues is provided by Kristin Wardetzky. Like Stone, Wardetzky advocates an empirical investigation to bring credibility to the abstract theoretical debates about the effects of fairy tales on children. Whereas Stone used interviews with North American subjects of diverse ages, Wardetzky (as part of a larger study) asked 1,577 children between eight and ten years of age in former East Germany to invent fairy tales stimulated by given story openers. Wardetzky's discovery that the children's tales differ in significant ways from the Grimms' leads her to reject the conventional wisdom that Grimms' stories exert a paradigmatic influence on children's understanding of fairy tales. In fact, Wardetzky's study suggests that far from being controlled by traditional fairy tales and preoccupied through them with social or moral issues, children may adapt tales to serve their own imaginative needs for heroic status (172). Like the experimental studies of psychologists testing Bettelheim's therapeutic theories and like Stone's investigation of sexism in fairy tales, Wardetzky's empirical study of children's fairy tales represents a serious challenge to conventional theories about the psychosocial function of Grimms' tales.

Despite my focus on subjective responses to Grimms' fairy tales, it should be clear that I am not arguing that we abandon responsible readings of the kind prescribed in the first part of this essay. Nor am I proposing that we discontinue reeducating readers about the facts of Grimms' fairy tales and the implications of these facts for an understanding of the texts. After all, analyses informed by the important data resulting from the work of Heinz Rölleke, for example, demystify the genre and correct the pseudoscholarly interpretations that make unjustifiable historical claims or implications. But I am suggesting that private readings of fairy tales can be equally illuminating, even if the responses are irresponsible from a scholarly point of view. Both the private and public reception of fairy tales demand our attention because they tell us something about the living meaning of fairy tales and their role in society. As the history of fairy-tale interpretation and fairy-tale exploitation has shown, the recipient and context of reception are as much a determinant of meaning as the text itself. So I am arguing as well that there is as much danger in institutionalizing response as there is in institutionalizing the genre.

If, as Christa Bürger has claimed, the emancipatory potential of the fairy tale resides not in its content but in its reception (103), then institutionalizing interpretation betrays the genre's liberating function. When the Grimms appropriated the folktale in the nineteenth century for scientific purposes, they institutionalized the genre and gave scholars considerable authority over it. Scholars, along with editors and publishers, not only determined which tales would be privileged in print, which variants would be standardized and canonized, and what shape the published text would ultimately take; they also legitimized the text's interpretation. The chilling extent of that authority is evident when Bruno Jöckel, in a 1939 study written in fascist Germany, refers to "official fairy-tale research" (5), an expression that finds its ironic echo in 1980 when Hermann Bausinger knowingly refers to "Verwalter des Märchenerbes," or "custodians of the fairy-tale inheritance" ("Anmerkungen" 45). To insist too strongly on the scholar's custodial role denies the individual reader's power over fairy tales (Haase). The role of the scholar is not to be a ventriloquist for the reader. The scholar's burden of responsibility lies in reconstructing the meaning of a fairy tale not only by attending to the voices that speak through it, but also by acknowledging the diverse voices that speak in response to it.

"The Golden Key" —the last of Grimms' two hundred tales—is conventionally interpreted as a parable about the inexhaustible meaning of fairy tales.7 For me, however, the story goes even further and tells us that significance lies in reception. The Grimms—perhaps denying or camouflaging their own appropriation of the stories they edited—want us to believe that it is not scholars who hold the key to fairy tales, but a solitary child who accidentally finds one in the snow. The focus of the story is not on what the child finds, but on his process of discovery. Finding a key, he posits the existence of a lock. Finding a locked casket, he searches for a keyhole. Finding a keyhole, he inserts the key and begins turning it. The discovery of what lies in the casket, however, remains under his—not our—control, for "we must wait until he unlocks the casket and completely lifts the cover. That's when we'll learn what wonderful things he found" (Complete Fairy Tales 631). The "things" themselves remain undefined and indeterminate, not simply because fairy tales have an endless potential for meaning, but because they are the child's discovery, not ours. We cannot dictate what the child—or any other reader—will find; we must wait for him (or her) to show us what can be found. And so it is in recognizing the recipient's control over the text's meaning that we also recognize the central place of reader response in studying Grimms' fairy tales.


1. Rölleke's important essays are collected in "Nebeninschriften" and "Wo das Wünschen noch geholfen hat."

2. Rölleke, Die Märchen 84. See also Dollerup, Reventlow, and Hansen.

3. Rölleke chides Brackert in "August Stöbers Einfluß" 86; "Die Stellung" 128; "New Results" 108; and "Homo oeconomicus" 37-38.

4. Gerhard Haas 15. See also Bausinger, "Aschenputtel"; Holbek; Lange 84-85; Röhrich; Simonsen; Wolfersdorf 9. While all these writers ques tion whether the ultimate, original, or inherent significance of the fairy tale can be discerned, they do so with varying degrees of skepticism and from different points of view. Folklorist Holbek, for example, does not doubt "that tales do possess inherent cores of meaning," but he admits the possibility that these meanings "may … forever remain elusive" (27).

5. See, for example, Bernikow; Kavablum; Kolbenschlag 61-99; Lieberman 192-94; Lüthi 61; and Yolen. See also Vera Dika on Ericka Beckman's feminist revision of the Cinderella tale in her 1986 film.

6. See Jeannine Blackwell's description of the subversive female narrative voice speaking to daughters in fairy tales as told by nineteenth-century German women. The double voice of women narrators, albeit in a different cultural context, is also taken up by Bar-Itzhak and Shenhar in Jewish Moroccan Folk Narratives from Israel.

7. See Rölleke's commentary in Grimm, Kinder- und Hausmärchen: 1837 1265; and Kinder- und Hausmärchen: Ausgabe letzter Hand 3: 516.

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Kolbenschlag, Madonna. Kiss Sleeping Beauty Good-Bye: Breaking the Spell of Feminine Myths and Models. 1979. New York: Bantam, 1981.

Lange, Günter. "Grimms' Märchen aus der Sicht eines Religionspädagogen." Hanau 1985–1986: 200 Jahre Brüder Grimm. Ed. Stadt Hanau/Hauptamt. Hanau: Stadt Hanau, 1986. 73-90.

Lieberman, Marcia. "'Some Day My Prince Will Come': Female Acculturation through the Fairy Tale." College English 34 (1972): 383-95. Rpt. in Don't Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North America and England. Ed. Jack Zipes. New York: Methuen, 1986. 185-200.

Lüthi, Max. Once upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales. Trans. Lee Chadeayne and Paul Gottwald. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1976.

Mahler, Eugen. "Gespräche über Märchen: Beobachtungen und Gedanken eines Vaters." Garlichs 55-70, 110-11.

McGlathery, James M., ed. The Brothers Grimm and Folktale. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1988.

Messner, Rudolf. "Kinder und Märchen—was sie verbindet und was sie trennt." Garlichs 106-9.

Meyer zur Capellen, Renate. "Kinder hören ein Märchen, fürchten sich und wehren sich." Brackert, Und wenn sie nicht gestorben sind 210-22.

Mieder, Wolfgang. "Grimm Variations: From Fairy Tales to Modern Anti-Fairy Tales." Tradition and Innovation in Folk Literature. Hanover: UP of New England, 1987. 1-44.

Mikkelsen, Nina. "Sendak, Snow White, and the Child as Literary Critic." Language Arts 62 (1985): 362-73.

Röhrich, Lutz. "The Quest of Meaning in Folk Narrative Research." McGlathery 1-15.

Rölleke, Heinz. "August Stöbers Einfluß auf die Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm." Fabula 24 (1983): 11-20. Rpt. in Rölleke, "Wo das Wünschen noch geholfen hat" 75-87.

――――――. "Die Frau in den Märchen der Brüder Grimm." Die Frau im Märchen. Ed. Sigrid Früh and Rainer Wehse. Kassel: Röth, 1985. 72-88.

――――――. "Der Homo oeconomicus im Märchen." Der literarische Homo oeconomicus: Vom Märchenhelden zum Manager: Beiträge zum Ökonomieverständnis in der Literatur. Ed. Werner Wunderlich. Bern: Haupt, 1989. 23-40.

――――――. Die Märchen der Brüder Grimm: Eine Einführung. Munich: Artemis, 1985.

――――――. "Nebeninschriften": Brüder Grimm-Arnim und Brentano-Droste-Hülshoff: Literarhistorische Studien. Bonn: Bouvier, 1980.

――――――. "New Results of Research on Grimms' Fairy Tales." McGlathery 101-11. (Trans. of "Neue Ergebnisse zu den 'Kinder- und Hausmärchen' der Brüder Grimm." Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm: Vorträge und Ansprachen. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986. 39-48.)

――――――. "Die Stellung des Dornröschenmärchens zum Mythos und zur Heldensage." Antiker Mythos in unseren Märchen. Ed. Wolfdietrich Siegmund. Kassel: Röth, 1984. 125-37, 197-98.

――――――, ed. Die wahren Märchen der Brüder Grimm. Frankfurt a.M.: Fischer, 1989.

――――――. "Wo das Wünschen noch geholfen hat": Gesammelte Aufsätze zu den 'Kinder- und Hausmärchen' der Brüder Grimm. Bonn: Bouvier, 1985.

Rowe, Karen. "To Spin a Yarn: The Female Voice in Folklore and Fairy Tale." Bottigheimer 53-74.

Rubenstein, Ben. "The Meaning of the Cinderella Story in the Development of a Little Girl." American Imago 12 (1955): 197-205. Rpt. in Cinderella: A Casebook. Ed. Alan Dundes. 1982. New York: Wildman: 1983. 219-28.

Sahr, Michael. "Zur experimentellen Erschließung von Lesewirkungen: Eine empirische Studie zum Märchen 'Der alte Sultan.'" Zeitschrift für Pädagogik 26 (1980): 365-81.

――――――. "Zur Wirkung von Märchen: Eine medienvergleichende Betrachtung zum Grimmschen Märchen: Der alte Sultan." Das gute Jugendbuch 27 (1977): 67-75. Rpt. in Kinderliteratur und Rezeption: Beiträge der Kinderliteraturforschung zur literaturwissenschaftlichen Pragmatik. Ed. Bettina Hurrelmann. Baltmannsweiler: Schneider, 1980. 351-65.

Schenda, Rudolf. "Telling Tales—Spreading Tales: Changes in the Communicative Form of a Popular Genre." Bottigheimer 74-94.

Schmitz, Jessica. "Erfahrungen beim Erzählen eines Märchens im Kindergarten am Beispiel Der Wolf und die sieben jungen Geißlein." Brackert, Und wenn sie nicht gestorben sind 193-210.

Simonsen, Michèle. "Do Fairy Tales Make Sense?" Journal of Folklore Research 22 (1985): 29-36.

Stone, Kay F. "The Misuses of Enchantment: Controversies on the Significance of Fairy Tales." Women's Folklore, Women's Culture. Ed. Rosan A. Jordan and Susan J. Kalcik. Philadelphia: U of Philadelphia P, 1985. 125-45. (Rev. and trans. of "Mißbrauchte Verzauberung: Aschenputtel als Weiblichkeitsideal in Nordamerika." Über Märchen für Kinder von heute: Essays zu ihrem Wandel und ihrer Funktion. Ed. Klaus Doderer. Weinheim: Beltz, 1983. 78-93.)

――――――. "Three Transformations of Snow White." McGlathery 52-65.

Tatar, Maria. The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987.

Tausch, Anne-Marie. "Einige Auswirkungen von Märcheninhalten." Psychologische Rundschau 18 (1967): 104-16.

Thomas, Patricia Guérin. "Children's Responses to Fairy Tales: A Developmental Perspective." Diss. Adelphi U, 1983.

Wardetzky, Kristin. "The Structure and Interpretation of Fairy Tales Composed by Children." Journal of American Folklore 103 (1990): 157-76.

Weinrebe, Helge M. A. Märchen, Bilder, Wirkungen: Zur Wirkung und Rezeptionsgeschichte von illustrierten Märchen der Brüder Grimm nach 1945. Frankfurt a.M.: Lang, 1987.

Wolfersdorf, Peter. Märchen und Sage in Forschung, Schule und Jugendpflege. Braunschweig: Waisenhaus, 1958.

Yolen, Jane. "America's Cinderella." Children's Literature in Education 8 (1977): 21-29.

Zipes, Jack. The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World. New York: Routledge, 1988

――――――. Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and the Process of Civilization. New York: Wildman, 1983.

――――――. The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood: Versions of the Tale in Sociocultural Context. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey, 1983. 1-65.

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Siegfried Neumann (essay date 2001)

SOURCE: Neumann, Siegfried. "The Brothers Grimm as Collectors and Editors of German Folktales." In The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, edited and translated by Jack Zipes, pp. 969-79. New York, N.Y.: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001.

[In the following essay, Neumann evaluates the extent to which the Brothers Grimm "faithfully" preserved folk tales in keeping with the Germanic oral tradition, stating that, "storytellers of an impulsive or imaginative nature … break away from the original and endow the Grimms' tales with innovations in content and a different linguistic guise."]

The names of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm inevitably evoke thoughts of Grimms' Fairy Tales. In the form given them by Wilhelm in the last edition he produced in 1857, the Kinder- und Hausmärchen have been printed so often and become so widely known that this book constitutes in public consciousness the ultimate achievement linked with the name Grimm. In fact, none of their works occupied the brothers—at least Wilhelm—over so long a period as the collecting, editing, and annotating of the fairy tales. Spanning almost fifty years, this work represents in terms of duration alone the "work of a lifetime." And, indeed, fairy tale research seems to be the one area of their work in which the Grimms not only achieved the strongest resonance, but also in which they determined with particular clarity the course of future research.1 So in essence the Kinder- und Hausmärchen are still the standard source work on which our knowledge of the German folktale is based;2 and even in the folkloric research of other countries one can still find today traces of the Grimms' influence.3

Assessments of the Brothers Grimm as collectors and students of the fairy tale, however, run the risk of focusing on the final form of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen and its success. In doing so, one all too easily overlooks the fact that the collection represents basically an early work. When Jacob and Wilhelm began to devote themselves intensively to German folk literature in 1805, they were not yet scholars but only twenty-year-old university students who were reacting to newly experienced stimuli. Their teacher in Marburg, the legal historian Friedrich Karl von Savigny, had awakened their inclination for historical studies and steered their interest towards "Old Germanic" literature. And Clemens Brentano, one of the leaders of the Heidelberg Romantic circle, had won the brothers over and enlisted them in his search for surviving forms of traditional folk poetry, which he planned to publish.4

There were certainly models for these efforts, such as Johann Karl August Musäus—however problematic his Volksmährchen der Deutschen (1782–86) appeared even to his contemporaries. And above all there was the example of Johann Gottfried Herder, whose high assessment of the song (Lied) and fairy tale as the poetry of the folk was echoed by the Romantic movement.5 This echo is especially evident in Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim's folk song collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn (1806–08), to which the Brothers Grimm themselves had already contributed.

A corresponding fairy-tale collection was supposed to follow Des Knaben Wunderhorn, and the fairy-tale narratives that the Grimms excerpted from old books or transcribed from friends in the Wild and Hassenpflug families in Kassel during and after 1807 were intended solely for Brentano's projected publication. But already in a letter to Arnim on 19 October 1807, Brentano writes that he had found the brothers "after two years of long, diligent and very rigorous study, so erudite and so rich in notes, experiences, and the most varied perspectives regarding all romantic poetry" that he was "shocked" "at their modesty concerning the treasures" they possessed. They were working, he writes, "in order one day to write a proper history of German poetry" (Steig, Achim von Arnim und Clemens Brentano 224). Nonetheless in 1810 the Grimms sent Brentano their fairy-tale notes upon his request—but not, of course, without first having their own copies made. And in 1811, when Brentano still had made no arrangements for his projected fairy-tale book, they conceived the plan of preparing their own, for which the copies would serve as a starting point.

At this time, under the influence of Napoleon's foreign rule, the Brothers Grimm not only sought "in the history of German literature and language consolation and refreshment … from the enemy's high spirits," as Jacob formulated it retrospectively in 1841 (Kleinere Schriften 546); they also felt that by collecting and publishing surviving forms of "Old Germanic" literature and folk poetry they were fostering national self-reflection. Like Herder, from whom the Romantic movement borrowed the concept of natural poetry (Naturpoesie), the Grimms also saw in folk poetry—in the songs, fairy tales, and legends of the common people—the original source of poetry and the echo of ancient literature. And in this context they understood "folk poetry" largely in an ethnic sense—as the poetry of Germans, Poles, and so on (Geschichte der deutschen Volksdichtung 91). At the same time the Grimms viewed fairy tales as belonging "to those poetic works whose content had most purely and powerfully preserved the essence of early epic poetry" (Ginschel 250). As Wilhelm emphasized already in 1811: "These fairy tales deserve better attention than they have so far received, not only because of their poetry, which has its own loveliness and gives to everyone who heard them as a child a golden moral and a happy memory for life; but also because they belong to our national poetry, since it can be shown that they have lived throughout several centuries among the folk" (Altdänische Heidenlieder xxvi-xxvii). And writing of the fairy-tale book he had prepared in collaboration with Wilhelm, Jacob observed: "I would not have found any pleasure in working on it if I were not of the belief that it could become to the most serious and oldest people, as well as to me, important for poetry, mythology, and history."6 And in 1860 he emphasized explicitly that he had "immediately recognized the value of these traditional forms for mythology" and had therefore "insisted vigorously on the faithfulness of the collection and rejected embellishments."7

But what about this "faithfulness"? The fairy-tale manuscripts originally intended for Brentano, which were preserved among his unpublished papers, range from mere notes to relatively complete texts. And these exhibit certain individual differences. Fairy tales in the original manuscript taken down by Jacob are in most cases texts characterized by concise language and which in part only outline a tale's subject. Wilhelm's transcriptions, on the other hand, constitute tales with a more polished content and smoother narration. But for publication even these had to be shaped and polished as narratives. To what extent this was or was not also true of the subsequent sketches specifically intended for their own book of fairy tales we do not know, because these manuscripts were not preserved. However, the revision of the original manuscript for the first edition reveals that the Grimms, who were novices at such literary activity, largely followed their models, so that hardly any stylistic differences are discernible between texts edited by Jacob and Wilhelm (Rölleke; Ginschel 222-24). When the preface to the first volume of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen in 1812 states that "no details have been added or embellished or changed" (XVIII; trans. in Tatar 210), that applies only to the content, but not to the linguistic appearance of the printed fairy-tale texts.

Nevertheless, the brothers were in fact intent upon tales issuing genuinely from the oral folk tradition and considered it important that such tales be recorded in their own right. Consequently, they often provided the same tale type in two or three versions, sometimes even under the same heading, as with Nos. 20, 32, and 36. This alleged faithfulness to the sources (even if they were only limitedly accessible) constitutes for the brothers a primary scientific concern, as suggested in the quoted statements from Jacob. This is corroborated as well by the following facts: (1) the Grimms preferred stories from oral sources to texts with a literary character (so that part of their literary excerpts in the original manuscript were not printed along with the other pieces); (2) besides the most diverse kinds of fairy tales and comical tales (Schwänke), the brothers also included in their edition legends, tall tales, and horror stories, among which were thematically uninteresting or poorly told pieces;8 (3) the Grimms gave their book a programmatic preface and scholarly notes. At the same time, the Kinder- und Hausmärchen were naturally supposed to make these stories available to wider circles, as indicated already by the title. And here pedagogical factors played a role, for the book was supposed to become a "manual of education"—"ein eigentliches Erziehungsbuch" (Kinder- und Hausmärchen: 1812 und 1815 2: VIII). But because of the problematic content and awkward narrative style of certain texts, as critics noted, such an effect was apparently not possible. As a consequence the nine hundred copies of the first volume seemed for some years to be almost unmarketable.9

On the basis of the criticism their book received, against which the Grimms defended themselves and which they privately had to acknowledge, they apparently imposed a different standard for the selection and revision of tales for the projected second volume. This standard was defined by two widely praised tales from the first volume that had come from Philipp Otto Runge: "The Fisherman and His Wife" (No. 19) and "The Juniper Tree" (No. 47). With these texts as their models, the Grimms themselves developed an ideal fairy-tale form that in the end could be produced only by talented storytellers or retellers and could find its counterpart only in artistically shaped texts. They found both in the intellectually active bourgeois and aristocratic circles in which they moved. Particularly in enlisting the aristocratic Haxthausen family of Westphalia as tale collectors and informants, and in discovering the Märchenfrau Dorothea Viehmann from Niederzwehren near Kassel, the Grimms became the beneficiaries of a string of aesthetically pleasing fairy tales. Moreover, the tales in Westphalian dialect and those of Viehmann appear to be directly transcribed from the oral narration. That the tales in the second volume of 1815 (with thirty-three of seventy texts from the Haxthausen family and fifteen from Viehmann) were as a rule better told than those in the first volume was very substantially related to the greater storytelling talent of the new sources. But Wilhelm, who for the most part attended to the editing of the newly collected material, seems to have also exercised a stronger editorial hand wherever his experience with the first volume suggested it might be necessary. "You have," wrote Arnim to Wilhelm after receiving the second volume on 10 February 1815, "genially collected, and have sometimes right genially helped, which of course you don't mention to Jacob; but you should have done it even more often" (Steig, Achim von Arnim und Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm 319). The preface and notes demonstrate that the Grimms adhered to the scientific intentions they had applied to the first volume, but this time the emphasis lay visibly on the presentation of a more appealing text, which was aimed at larger groups of readers. Nonetheless, the second volume sold as poorly as the first (Schoof 27; Grimm, Kinder- und Hausmärchen: 1819 2: 541-43).

Therefore, in the course of being prepared for the second edition of 1819, Grimms' collection underwent an extensive revision. Twenty-seven of the texts contained in the first volume and seven of those in the second were deleted, either because they no longer met the aesthetic demands of the Grimms or because they were otherwise questionable (e.g., due to their cruelty). Eighteen texts of the first edition were merged with newly collected variants of specific tales or so substantially changed by other thematic or formal revisions that virtually new texts resulted. And forty-five texts, revised in varying degrees, were incorporated as new texts in the collection, which now grew to 170 tales.10 Thus resulted almost by half a new book of fairy tales; and in it Wilhelm Grimm's poetically atuned stylizing—his unique fairy-tale voice—became distinct for the first time. Consistent with this development, the heavily expanded annotations were relegated in 1822 to their own separate volume, which addressed itself especially to readers with a specialized scholarly interest (Grimm, Kinder- und Hausmärchen: 1819 2: 548, 556-64).

But popular success came first in 1825 with the Small Edition of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, which was conceived primarily for children and included fifty selected texts and seven engravings. This edition smoothed the way for the reception of the large edition, which Wilhelm sought continuously with every new edition to enrich through the addition of new or better fairy-tale texts. Up until the seventh and final edition of 1857, Wilhelm not only adopted new stories from other contemporary collections (e.g., Nos. 171-72 from Mecklenburg, Nos. 181 and 186 from Oberlausitz, Nos. 184-85 and 188-89 from Bavaria); he also replaced weak texts with better narrated variants of the same tales, which accordingly appeared under new titles (e.g., No. 101 "Der Bärenhäuter" instead of "Der Teufel Grünrock," No. 107 "Die beiden Wanderer" instead of "Die Krähen," No. 136 "Der Eisenhans" instead of "De wilde Mann," etc.).

Simultaneously Wilhelm further honed the texts stylistically from edition to edition. The opening lines of "The Frog King" (No. 1) serve as a good example. The first edition of 1812 reads:

Es war einmal eine Königstochter, die ging hinaus in den Wald und setzte sich an einen kühlen Brunnen. Sie hatte eine goldene Kugel, die war ihr liebstes Spielwerk, die warf sie in die Höhe und fing sie wieder in der Luft und hatte ihre Lust daran.

    (Kinder- und Hausmärchen: 1812 und 1815 1: 1)

Once upon a time there was a king's daughter who went into the forest and sat down at a cool well. She had a golden ball that was her favorite toy. She would throw it up and catch it in the air and was amused by this.

The second edition of 1819 already shows distinct changes, which aim at greater concreteness:

Es war einmal eine Königstochter, die wußte nicht was sie anfangen sollte vor langer Weile. Da nahm sie eine goldene Kugel, womit sie schon oft gespielt hatte und ging hinaus in den Wald. Mitten in dem Wald aber war ein reiner, kühler Brunnen, dabei seizte sie sich nieder, warf die Kugel in die Höhe, fing sie wieder, und das war ihr so ein Spielwerk.

             (Kinder- und Hausmärchen: 1819 1: 9)

Once upon a time there was a king's daughter who was so bored she didn't know what to do. So she took a golden ball that she often played with and went into the forest. Now in the middle of the forest there was a clear, cool well and she sat down next to it, threw the ball into the air, and she would play this way.

In the last edition edited by Wilhelm from 1857, the scene has been so thoroughly painted that it can nearly stand alone:

In den alten Zeiten, wo das Wünschen noch geholfen hat, lebte ein König, dessen Töchter waren alle schön, aber die jüngste war so schön, daß die Sonne selber, die doch so vieles gesehen hat, sich verwunderte, sooft sie ihr ins Gesicht schien. Nahe bei dem Schlosse des Königs lag ein großer dunkler Wald, und in dem Walde unter einer alten Linde war ein Brunnen; wenn nun der Tag recht heiß war, so ging das Königskind hinaus in den Wald und setzte sich an den Rand des kühlen Brunnens; und wenn sie Langeweile hatte, so nahm sie eine goldene Kugel, warf sie in die Höhe und fing siewieder; und das war ihr liebstes Spielwerk.

(Kinder- und Hausmärchen: Ausgabe letzter Hand 1: 29)

In olden times, when wishing still helped, there lived a king whose daughters were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun itself, which had seen so many things, was always filled with amazement each time it cast its rays upon her face. Now, there was a great dark forest near the king's castle, and in this forest, beneath an old linden tree, was a well. Whenever the days were very hot, the king's daughter would go into the forest and sit down by the edge of the cool well. If she became bored, she would take her golden ball, throw it into the air, and catch it. More than anything else she loved playing with this ball.

                              (Trans. in Zipes 2)

The Grimm fairy-tale style is fully developed here. But what also clearly emerges is Wilhelm's manner and art of narration, which seek—in this case to the extreme—to plumb the fairy-tale events down to their very details. One can respond to the result in two ways—by lamenting the loss of the folktale's simplicity, or by welcoming the poetic enrichment.11 In any case, these examples clearly demonstrate the growth of an aesthetically oriented attitude.

The orientation towards fairy tales as linguistic-artistic survivals is certainly also one of the reasons that the Grimms did not turn their attention more closely to those who told these fairy tales. Moreover, in viewing folk literature as natural poetry (Naturpoesie), the Grimms were inclined to view their informants less as individual storytellers than as oral sources. If they nonetheless described their best storyteller in the preface to the second volume, that was done largely from this very perspective. Dorothea Viehmann, a "peasant woman" who told "genuine Hessian tales," as the preface claims (in reality she was a tailor's wife from a Huguenot family), corresponded to the Grimms' image of an ideal tale teller from the simple folk, among whom they expected to find the guardians of the oral storytelling tradition: "Devotion to tradition is far stronger among people who always adhere to the same way of life than we (who tend to want to change) can understand" (Kinder- und Hausmärchen: 1812 und 1815 2: V-VI; trans. in Tatar 212). Also in the letters of the Haxthausen family there is talk of trips into the surrounding villages "to gather from the mouths of the old rural population the tales, folk songs, and children's songs that still live" (Schoof 38, 74, 81, 95). However, we know little about storytellers who came from the working classes of the population. On the other hand, the fact that Grimms' informants belonged above all to the educated classes and to the aristocracy does not at all mean that their tales reflect principally the tradition as it existed in these social circles. Yet vast areas of oral folktale tradition remained inevitably unknown to the Grimms; and vulgar stories, which even then made up a large part of the popular tradition, were very likely consciously overlooked in the course of collecting. Consequently, on the basis of sources alone, the popular tradition is only partially represented in Grimms' collection—even if one takes into account that the repertoire of oral tales established in the middle-class homes of Kassel or among the Haxthausens depended largely on the folk tradition or found its motifs reflected in it.12

The Brothers Grimm themselves apparently did not consider this manner of transmission to be a shortcoming. Already in the preface to the first volume we find the idea that although fairy tales are "never fixed and always changing from one region to another, from one teller to another, they still preserve a stable core" (Kinder- und Hausmärchen: 1812 und 1815 1: XIII; trans. in Tatar 208). In this respect the Grimms saw all their informants as well as themselves as links in a chain of storytellers, each having a certain right to retell the tales in his or her own way. At the same time, whenever faced with several versions of the same tale, Wilhelm endeavored in each case to give the best one in terms of content and narrative. And when he thought it possible to expand or to "improve" this version with another transmission, he would do it—convinced that in this way the "genuine" folktale could be reconstructed. In doing so—as the 1856 volume of annotations attests—he had no inhibitions about blending texts from Hesse, Westphalia, and Mecklenburg, or from an older written tradition and recent oral tradition. He was concerned above all with a text's inner coherence and the completeness of individual motifs. Further revision focused on conforming the tale's content to childlike understanding, portraying the tale's characters (they were supposed to be as vivid as possible), and attempting to animate the depictions through direct speech, linguistic expressions, verses, and so forth (Ginschel 215-17). All this spoke to a concern already expressed in the second volume of the first edition: "The aim of our collection was not just to serve the cause of the history of poetry: it was also our intention that the poetry living in it be effective" (Kinder- und Hausmärchen: 1812 und 1815 2: XIII; trans. in Tatar 214). Through his textual revisions, however, Wilhelm—despite all his efforts to reconstruct the "genuine" voice of the folk—increasingly endowed the fairy tales with a poetic art form of his own making. In other words, the Grimms' original striving to record the oral tradition was gradually replaced (at least from our contemporary perspective) by literary principles: "Despite loving fidelity towards the folk tradition, the Brothers Grimm created from it a work of literature" (Berendsohn 26).

Consequently, the final edition of 1857 can be used only in a limited way if one seeks to discover clues in the tales' content that point to their origin in the contemporary folk tradition. This edition contains in large measure very beautiful fairy tales, which are by the same token Grimms' own versions and in which some elements of social criticism have been deleted in order not to offend the groups of readers the Grimms were addressing. For example, in the first published version of the tale "Godfather Death" (1812, No. 44), the poor man answers the "good Lord" with these words: "'I don't want you to be godfather! You give to the rich and let the poor go hungry.' With that he left him standing there and went on" (Kinder- und Hausmärchen: 1812 und 1815 1: 193). In later editions, however, this commentary follows: "The man said that because he did not know how wisely God distributes wealth and poverty" (Kinder- und Hausmärchen: 1819 1: 153; trans. in Zipes 161). With that interpolation, the original message of this passage is fundamentally changed and turned into its opposite (Steinitz). On the other hand, a tale such as "The Tablecloth, the Knapsack, the Cannon Hat, and the Horn" (1812, No. 37), which was told to the Grimms by the retired dragoon Johann Friedrich Krause and in which the king and his royal household are ultimately massacred, was replaced in the second edition by a variant in which the same events are even more drastically depicted (No. 54).

To be sure, the tales printed in the first edition, which were repeatedly recorded at the beginning of the nineteenth century, clearly reveal that it was primarily young women of the bourgeoisie and aristocracy who supplied the Grimms with these stories. Their tales, especially those like "Cinderella" (No. 21), "Brier Rose" (No. 50), and "Snow White" (No. 53), which are favorites among later generations of children, depict the fate of young girls, whose lives are miraculously fulfilled through love for a prince. But in the case of the tailor's wife Dorothea Viehmann, it is not only an outstanding storyteller who speaks, but also a representative of the simple folk. One needs only to read her tale "The Clever Farmer's Daughter" (1815, No. 8),13 whose plot is embedded in critical depictions of the social milieu that show the feudal lords' oppression of peasants. Here, as in Viehmann's tale of the battle of the animals (1815, No. 16),14 the victory of the weak over the strong is painted with obvious engagement. And it is hardly coincidental that the impoverished old dragoon Krause should tell the tale of the faithful dog Old Sultan, whose master threatens to destroy him in his old age now that his useful days are over (1812, No. 48). So the Grimms' collection does contain features in which one can recognize directly the views of the oppressed, the "voice of the folk." And in some cases these traces survive even into the last edition of 1857.

In sum: With a remarkable feel for the nature of folk literature, the Brothers Grimm collected as much of the oral narrative tradition and documented it as "faithfully" and as comprehensively as was possible for them under the existing conditions. The Kinder- und Hausmärchen became a world-wide success "because here for the first time significant national and international traditions of the intellectual culture from the broadest spectrum of the folk appeared elevated to the level and clothed in the language of 'belles lettres,' without their content or message having been decisively altered" (Geschichte der deutschen Volksdichtung 90).

What distinguished the Grimm collection most clearly of all from its precursors was the wealth and diversity of the tales it presented.15 Even the first edition of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen of 1812–15 included nearly the complete stock of tale types that have been found subsequent to the Grimms in the folk traditions of the various German regions. That makes the Grimms' collection even to this day the book of German fairy tales. And the brothers were not content just to reproduce the texts; in the volumes of commentary published both in 1822 and 1856,16 they also attempted to place each fairy tale, comical tale (Schwank), and legend in the context of German and non-German oral narrative traditions.

From these volumes of commentary and the important work of Bolte and Polívka that they generated, there runs a straight line to the tale type and motif indices as well as to the comparative oral narrative research of recent decades.17 In this respect the Brothers Grimm can be regarded without question as the fathers of international folktale research. Even much of what they documented, as it were, in passing has had a stimulating effect. For example, the brief characterization of Dorothea Viehmann in the second volume of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen in 1815 became the starting point for world-wide narrator research (Dégh, Märchen 47-65; Lüthi 83-105).

But above all, ever since the Grimms folktales have been collected in nearly all regions of the earth. And for this purpose collectors have increasingly made use of tape recordings, which capture the exact wording of a spoken narration. Modern folk narrative research demands unconditional authenticity in recording from informants, whereas this was still not possible for the Grimms. Yet in their work one observes at least the demand for authenticity—for instance, in Jacob's Circular of 1815, where he writes: "It is above all important that these objects be recorded faithfully and accurately, without make-up or accessories, from the mouths of the tellers, when feasible in and with their very own words, with the greatest exactitude and detail; and whatever might be gotten in the living regional dialect would therefore be doubly valuable, although even sketchy fragments are not to be rejected." Whoever follows these principles in collecting oral materials circulating today is still well advised. Of course, narrative research is no longer just interested in the narrated material itself, but also in the narrator and audience, in the context and motivation of the narrative event, and in the role of storytelling in the intellectual and cultural life of people today.18 In this respect we have achieved so far only limited results that—in the distant wake of the Grimms—urgently need further study and elaboration.19

Whoever conducts oral narrative research today—especially in German-speaking regions—will repeatedly hear tales, particularly fairy tales, that directly or indirectly go back to the Grimms' collection. In those instances, good storytellers—even when they use dialect to retell what they have read—strive to stay as close as possible to the published model. For it is generally expected of contemporary storytellers to retell fairy tales "properly"—that is, in the "Grimm version." But one can readily observe that storytellers of an impulsive or imaginative nature, despite their acknowledged debt to this source, break away from the original and endow the Grimms' tales with innovations in content and a different linguistic guise.20 In both cases we are faced with the distinct reverse influence of the Grimms' collection on the oral folktale itself—in other words, the reception of Grimms' tales by the oral tradition. This is a phenomenon that deserves the special attention of scholars of oral narrative.21


From The Reception of Grimms' Fairy Tales: Responses, Reactions, Revisions, ed. Donald Haase (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1993) 24-40. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. This essay is based on the author's articles "Zur Entstehung und zum Charakter der Grimmschen 'Kinder- und Hausmärchen': Bemerkungen aus volkskundlicher Sicht," Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm: Vorträge anläßlich der 200. Wiederkehr ihrer Geburtstage, Sitzungsberichte der Akademie der Wissenschaften der DDR: Gesell-schaftswissenschaften, 1985, 6/G (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1986) 55-64; and "Die Brüder Grimm als Sammler und Herausgeber deutscher Volksmärchen," Die Brüder Grimm: Beiträge zu ihrem Schaffen, ed. Kreisheimatmuseum Haldensleben and Die Stadt-und Bezirksbibliothek "Wilhelm Weitling" (Magdeburg: Druckhaus Haldensleben, 1988) 36-45. Translated by Donald Haase.

1. Denecke 63-87; Woeller, "Die Bedeutung der Brüder Grimm"; and Bolte and Polívka. See also the bibliographical references that follow.

2. This is the case even though the folkloric content of the collection has been critically examined for years. See, for example, Schoof; Karl Schmidt; Woeller, "Der soziale Gehalt"; and Grimm, Kinder- und Hausmärchen: Ausgabe letzter Hand.

3. See Briggs; Gašpariková; Horák; Leitinger; Michaelis-Jena; Nișcov; Ortutay; Peeters; Pomeranceva; Pulmer; Leopold Schmidt; Ziel, "A.N. Afanas'evs Märchensammlung"; Ziel, "Wirkungen."

4. On the intellectual and ideological development of the Brothers Grimm, see Stern 4-14.

5. See Jahn; Arnold; and Benz.

6. Jacob's letter of 28 Jan. 1813 to Arnim (Steig, Achim von Arnim und Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm 271).

7. Jacob's letter of 18 Feb. 1860 to Franz Pfeiffer ("Zur Geschichte der deutschen Philologie" 249).

8. An itemized and somewhat original overview of the generic diversity is given by Berendsohn 33-127.

9. Lemmer 107-16; Grimm, Kinder- und Hausmärchen: 1819 2: 536; and Ginschel 230-31.

10. Here again twenty-nine contributions came from the Haxthausens and eighteen from Dorothea Viehmann.

11. See, respectively, Panzer 1: xlii-xlvii; and Grimm, Kinder- und Hausmärchen: 1819 2: 570.

12. See the overview of Grimm's contributors and informants compiled by Heinz Rölleke in Grimm, Kinder- und Hausmärchen: Ausgabe letzter Hand 3: 559-74.

13. In the second and subsequent editions this tale appeared, with few changes, as No. 94.

14. In the second and subsequent editions this tale appeared, with few changes, as No. 102.

15. See Wesselski; and Neumann, Es war einmal.

16. The 1856 volume is vol. 3 of Grimm, Kinder- und Hausmärchen: Ausgabe letzter Hand.

17. See the monographs published in the series Folklore Fellows Communications; and the progressively appearing volumes of the Enzyklopädie des Märchens. English-speaking readers can find more information about this important latter work in Uther.

18. See Strobach et al. 5-26; and Neumann, "Volkserzählung heute."

19. For the former German Democratic Republic see Neumann, "Volkserzähler unserer Tage in Mecklenburg"; Ein mecklenburgischer Volkserzähler; Eine mecklenburgische Märchenfrau; "Mecklenburgische Erzähler"; as well as Eichler.

20. See Neumann, Eine mecklenburgische Märchenfrau 31-40.

21. See Ranke; Dégh, "Grimm Brothers"; and Neumann, Mecklenburgische Volksmärchen 35.

Works Cited

Altdänische Heldenlieder, Balladen und Märchen. Trans. Wilhelm Grimm. Heidelberg: Mohr und Zimmer, 1811.

Arnold, Günter. "Herders Projekt einer Märchensammlung." Jahrbuch für Volkskunde und Kulturgeschichte 27 (1984): 99-106.

Benz, Richard. Märchen-Dichtung der Romantiker: Mil einer Vorgeschichte. Gotha: Perthes, 1908.

Berendsohn, Walter A. Grundformen volkstümlicher Erzählerkunst in den Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm. Hamburg: Gente, 1921.

Bolte, Johannes, and Georg Polívka. Anmerkungen zu den Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm. 5 vols. Leipzig: Dieterich, 1913–32.

Briggs, Katharine M. "The Influence of the Brothers Grimm in England." Brüder Grimm Gedenken 1 (1963): 511-24.

Dégh, Linda. Märchen, Erzähler und Erzählgemeinschaft. Trans. Johanna Till. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1962.

――――――. "What Did the Grimm Brothers Give to and Take from the Folk?" The Brothers Grimm and Folktale. Ed. James M. McGlathery. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1988. 66-90.

Denecke, Ludwig. Jacob Grimm und sein Bruder Wilheim. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1971.

Eichter, Ingrid. Sächsische Märchen und Geschichten—erzählt von Otto Vogel. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1971.

Enzyklopädie des Märchens. Ed. Kurt Ranke. Vols. 1 ff. Berlin: De Gruyter, 1975–.

Folklore Fellows Communications. Vols. 1 ff. Helsinki: Soumalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1910–.

Fraenger, Wilhelm, and Wolfgang Steinitz, eds. Jacob Grimm zur 100. Wiederkehr seines Todestages: Festschrift des Instituts für deutsche Volkskunde. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1963.

Gašparíková, Viera. "Die Folkloreprosa in der Slowakei im zweiten Drittel des 19. Jahrhunderts unter dem Blickwinkel des Werkes der Brüder Grimm." Brüder Grimm Gedenken 8 (1988): 240-50.

Geschichte der deutschen Volksdichtung. Ed. Hermann Strobach. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1981.

Ginschel, Gunhild. Der junge Jacob Grimm: 1805–1819. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1967.

Grimm, Brothers. Kinder- und Hausmärchen: Ausgabe letzter Hand mit den Originalanmerkungen der Brüder Grimm. Ed. Heinz Rölleke. 3 vols. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1980.

――――――. Kinder- und Hausmärchen gesammelt durch die Brüder Grimm: Vergrößerter Nachdruck der zweibändigen Erstausgabe von 1812 und 1815. Ed. Heinz Rölleke and Ulrike Marquardt. 2 vols. and suppl. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986.

――――――. Kinder- und Hausmärchen: Nach der 2. vermehrten und verbesserten Auflage von 1819. Ed. Heinz Rölleke. 2 vols. Cologne: Diederichs, 1982.

Grimm, Jacob. Circular wegen Aufsammlung der Volkspoesie. Wien, 1815. Ed. Ludwig Denecke. Afterword by Kurt Ranke. Kassel: Brüder Grimm-Museum, 1968.

――――――. Kleinere Schriften. Vol. 8. Ed. Eduard Ippel. Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1890.

Horák, Jiřií, "Jacob Grimm und die slawische Volkskunde." Fraenger and Steinitz 11-70.

Jahn, Erwin. "Die Volksmärchen der Deutschen von Johann Karl August Musäus." Diss. U of Leipzig, 1914.

Leitinger, Doris. "Die Wirkung von Jacob Grimm auf die Slaven, insbesondere auf die Russen." Brüder Grimm Gedenken 2 (1975): 66-130.

Lemmer, Manfred, ed. Grimms Märchen in ursprünglicher Gestalt. Leipzig: Insel, 1963.

Lüthi, Max. Märchen. 7th ed. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1979.

Michaelis-Jena, Ruth. "Die schottischen Beziehungen der Brüder Grimm." Brüder Grimm Gedenken 2 (1975): 334-42.

Neumann, Siegfried Armin. Es war einmal … Volksmärchen aus fünf Jahrhunderten. 2 vols. Rostock: Hinstorf, 1982.

――――――. "Mecklenburgische Erzähler der Gegenwart und ihre Märchen." Märchen in unserer Zeit: Zu Erscheinungsformen eines populären Erzählgenres. Ed. Hans-Jörg Uther. Munich: Diederichs, 1990. 102-14.

――――――. Eine mecklenburgische Märchenfrau: Bertha Peters erzählt Märchen, Schwänke und Geschichten. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1974.

――――――. Mecklenburgische Volksmärchen. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1971.

――――――. Ein mecklenburgischer Volkserzähler: Die Geschichten des August Rust. 2nd ed. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1970.

――――――. "Volkserzähler unserer Tage in Mecklenburg: Bemerkungen zur Erzähler-Forschung in der Gegenwart." Deutsches Jahrbuch für Volkskunde 15 (1969): 31-49.

――――――. "Volkserzählung heute: Bemerkungen zu Existenzbedingungen und Daseinsformen der Volksdichtung in der Gegenwart." Jahrbuch für Volkskunde und Kulturgeschichte 23 (1980): 92-102.

Nișcov, Viorica. "Über den Widerhall der volkskundlichen Beschäftigung der Brüder Grimm in Rumänien." Brüder Grimm Gedenken 2 (1975): 146-67.

Ortutay, Gyula. "Jacob Grimm und die ungarische Folkloristik." Fraenger and Steinitz 169-89.

Panzer, Friedrich, ed. Die Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm in ihrer Urgestalt. 2 vols. Munich: Beck, 1913.

Peeters, Karel C. "Der Einfluß der Brüder Grimm und ihrer Nachfolger auf die Volkskunde in Flandern." Brüder Grimm Gedenken 1 (1963): 405-20.

Pomeranceva, Erna. "A.N. Afanas'ev und die Brüder Grimm." Fraenger and Steinitz 94-103.

Pulmer, Karin. "Zur Rezeption der Grimmschen Märchen in Dänemark." Brüder Grimm Gedenken 8 (1988): 181-203.

Ranke, Kurt. "Der Einfluß der Grimmschen Kinder- und Hausmärchen auf das volkstümliche deutsche Erzählgut." Papers of the International Congress of European and Western Ethnology, Stockholm 1951. Ed. Sigurd Erixon. Stockholm: International Commission of Folk Arts and Folklore, 1956. 126-35.

Rölleke, Heinz, ed. Die älteste Märchensammlung der Brüder Grimm: Synopse der handschriftlichen Urfassung von 1810 und der Erstdrucke von 1812. Cologny/Geneva: Fondation Martin Bodmer, 1975.

Schmidt, Karl. Die Entwicklung der Grimmschen Kinder- und Hausmärchen seit der Urhandschrift. Halle: Niemeyer, 1932.

Schmidt, Leopold. "Die Brüder Grimm und der Entwicklungsgang der östereichischen Volkskunde." Brüder Grimm Gedenken 1 (1963): 309-31.

Schoof, Wilhelm. "Zur Entstehungsgeschichte der Grimmschen Märchen." Hessische Blätter für Volkskunde 29 (1930): 1-118.

Steig, Reinhold. Achim von Arnim und Clemens Brentano. Stuttgart: Cotta, 1894.

――――――. Achim von Arnim und Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm. Stuttgart: Cotta, 1904.

Steinitz, Wolfgang. "Lied und Märchen als Stimme des Volkes." Deutsches Jahrbuch für Volkskunde 2 (1956): 11-32.

Stern, Leo. Der geistige und politische Standort von Jacob Grimm in der deutschen Geschichte. Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1963.

Strobach, Hermann, et al. Deutsche Volksdichtung: Eine Einführung. Leipzig: Reclam, 1979.

Tatar, Maria. The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1987.

Uther, Hans-Jörg. "The Encyclopedia of the Folktale." Fairy Tales and Society: Illusion, Allusion, and Paradigm. Ed. Ruth B. Bottigheimer. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1986. 187-93.

Wesselski, Albert. Deutsche Märchen vor Grimm. 2 vols. 2nd ed. Brünn: Rohrer, 1942.

Woeller, Waltraud. "Die Bedeutung der Brüder Grimm für die Märchen- und Sagenforschung." Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Gesellschafts- und sprachwissenschaftliche Reihe 14 (1965): 507-14.

――――――. "Der soziale Gehalt und die soziale Funktion der deutschen Volksmärchen." Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Gesellschafts- und sprachwissenschaftliche Reihe 10 (1961): 395-459; 11 (1962): 281-307.

Ziel, Wulfhild. "A.N. Afanas'evs Märchensammlung 'Narodnye russkie skazki' (1855–1863)—geplant nach dem Vorbild der 'Kinder- und Hausmärchen' der Brüder Grimm: Beispiele ausführlicher Anmerkungen, in denen auf Jacob und Wilhelm Grimm verwiesen wird." Brüder Grimm Gedenken 8 (1988): 204-21.



P. L. Travers (review date 25 December 1944)

SOURCE: Travers, P. L. "Grimm's Fairy Tales." New Republic 3, no. 26 (25 December 1944): 873-74.

[In the following review, Travers—the author of Mary Poppins—assesses a 1944 edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen—translated as The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales, edited by James Stern.]

If you want a thing badly enough, the fairy tales tell us, you are quite certain to get it. That is—and of course there is a catch in it—if you want it to the point of being willing to work for it, to pay the cost in whatever coin is necessary—love, courage, sacrifice, money. The publication of the new complete Grimm's [The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales ] is a case in point. I wanted that book from the time when I was first able to read. I have sought it high and wide. Selections never satisfied me, nor the bowdlerized, squeamish versions. I wanted it whole and complete, the very thing in itself. At last, after much searching (and much growing up in the process), I discovered it in the British Museum. Later I reread it in the New York Public Library, taking down laborious notes from the little niggling print. Then one day, as I went up the steps to ask for it again, it occurred to me that I had served my wish well and now deserved a copy of my own. So I wrote an article into the air, to anyone it might concern, suggesting that the Margaret Hunt complete Grimm be immediately republished. And a year later—a split second in fairytale time—the Pantheon Press made my wish come true. Here it is, clear and fine and solid, beautifully and passionately illustrated by Josef Scharl, this one book—other than the Bible—that has truly made Western man. James Stern has revised the old translation, retaining from the original German certain essential earthy words and passages that were either omitted or glossed over for refined Victorian readers. We know now, for instance, why Thumbling had to get down from the Hat in such a tearing hurry!

Because of this book, the bitter end of this bitter year will leave a residual drop of sweetness for children and grown-ups. For, make no mistake, the fairy tales are not to be thought of simply as diversions for children. Since their primary concern is with good and evil and the nature of things, no one of us is too old to be involved. We are, whether we like it or not, what the old Märchen (tales) have made us and our only way to self-awareness lies in following the stony path the fairy tales reveal.

For some time now that curious activity unfortunately known as progressive education has proscribed the fairy tales. The librarian of a big children's library recently told me that Märchen were kept in a special room so that parents might not see them. "They don't want their children to read them and grow into wishful thinkers." Wishful thinkers—the irony of it! The "How to—" books, the "Poor Boy to President" books, might conceivably lead to wishful thinking, but the fairy tales never. They make most outrageous demands upon us. Their heroes must go through every hoop before they can kiss their desire. The price of an eye, which Odin willingly paid to Mimir in return for the gifts of Memory and Premonition, is an indication of the kind of sacrifice the fairy tale demands. Contrariwise, "The Fisherman and His Wife" is a perfect example of what can happen to a human being who becomes involved with a strand of luck and lives his life merely by wishing. From the ditch to the papal throne went Dame Alice—up, up the airy ladder of wishes, growing bolder at each rung. And where did she find herself at the top? Right home in the ditch again. Oh, black and white are the fairy tales; there is nothing of grayness or uncertainty in them. And no easy way out. In them the seeming may hide the true, but only for a moment. At length the course of magic is run and the miracle is revealed. The apparently stupid—as in "The Three Languages" —achieve the prize in the end. For they are humble. They are willing to learn the simple lessons—what the dog says when he howls at the moon and the bird's song on the bough. In the opposite and companion stories the clever ones always fail. Remember Elsie who, in spite of every lesson taught her, was still at the end asking herself, "Is it I or is it not?" It takes a formidably simple heroine to give a true answer to that one.

There is no element of life, no aspect of man's character that cannot be found in the fairy tale. "People," as Bernard Shaw has said, "will have their miracles, their stories, their heroes; saints, martyrs and divinities to exercise their gifts of affection, admiration, wonder and worship; and their Judases and devils to enable them to be angry and yet feel that they do well to be angry." The fairy tale is, as it were, the pattern of man or the chart of his voyage. Take the numerous recurrent stories of the three sons and the tasks assigned them. In every case it is the youngest-born who wins in the end and the elder ones who go empty. You may take the stories literally and look upon the brothers as three separate entities. But to me they are a composite picture of the human soul on its journey. The eldest is the natural man, greedy and living by instinct, essentially, in spite of his years, the youngest of the lot. The second is man in his stage of reason, following close at his brother's heels but without direction of his own or absolute conviction. The third son is perfected man, grown young in acceptance and submission, unashamed to cry Help! to the humblest creatures, and so achieving grace. And who is his princess—a mortal girl? To me she has a look of Beatrice, for their wedding takes place in the inmost heart.

It is fashionable, in an age infected with the virus of humanitarianism, to say that the Märchen are cruel. And so, indeed, some of them are. Fairy tales are not meant to be humane, neither are myths or legends. Their business, implicit in the meaning, is to tell the human story. To me Grimm's Märchen are far less cruel than the nostalgic, elegiac, artificial grievings of Hans Andersen and his kind. Better to suffer the blow direct than be reduced to a sort of yearning homesickness that inflicts no visible bloody wound yet completely devitalizes the heart. It should be remembered, too, that the Märchen were collected from simple people and told to their kind and to children—all of whom are Old Testament characters, with a bias towards elementary justice and a tooth for every tooth. As we grow we are eaten away by pity, our humanitarianism dims our human vision. Properly to appreciate the Märchen, we must go the road of the Third Son and move into the land of children to see the meaning clear. I remember one story, "The Juniper Tree," which has always hung in my mind like a light—the boy's head falling among the apples, cut off by the lid of the chest. When I read it again in this edition I wondered why I had not remembered the horror of the tale—the stepmother making the boy's body into a black-pudding and the father eating the food with relish. "Give me some more!" he says greedily. "It seems to me as if it were all mine." But on thinking it over I saw that once the essence of anything is understood we cannot be afraid. What more natural than that a father should take his son back into himself to keep him there in safety? When miracles are expected, miracles can happen. It was inevitable, after such cruelty, that the stepmother should be crushed by the millstone and the lad be born again. "And he took his father and Marlinchen by the hand, and all three were right glad, and they went into the house to dinner and ate." How logical, wise and exact that conclusion!

Oh, those stepmothers! What a gang of ugly animus figures! Yet how wilily their evil is used to accomplish the good of the stepchild. The Märchen seem to suggest in a sense that all mothers are stepmothers. For there is something in every one of us that looks beyond the parent of earth to happier beginnings. We all partake, in little, of Cleopatra's immortal longings. And the fairy-tale stepmother serves as the wound that enables the hero to string the bow. You find her at her best—or worst—in tales like "The Juniper Tree" ; in "Hansel and Gretel" and "Snow White" and in "One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes." It is typical of her that in the latter story she should dote on One-Eye and Three-Eyes, the gargoyle deflections from the norm; and spurn the simple stepchild, Two-Eyes, for being like everyone else. But (says the story's quiet warning) subhuman and superhuman are both monstrosities. Two-Eyes, content with her common humanity, is rewarded with a fairy feast by the little magic goat; for her alone the golden apples bend from the silver bough and "come into her hand of their own accord."

There is a terror here, indeed, but terror that cures and saves. Those who talk of the cruelty of the Märchen and their elements of danger should look within their own hearts to see what it is they fear. The knowledge of death and of stern fate cannot be kept from anyone and the sooner children come to grips with necessity the better for their futures. I know of no book more needed at the present time than this new edition of Grimm's; none better calculated to make us look at the face of things as they are. There is death and illusion in the world about us but here we may come to our real selves and wrestle with the angel and not loose him till he blesses. We all, no matter how we deny it, long to turn wishing into will and to find the way to the inner land known as Happy Ever After. Here, then, is the key to that kingdom.

John M. Ellis (essay date 1983)

SOURCE: Ellis, John M. "Introduction: The Problem of the Status of the Tales." In One Fairy Story Too Many: The Brothers Grimm and Their Tales, pp. 1-12. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

[In the following essay, Ellis argues that the Brothers Grimm "consciously and deliberately misrepresented what they had done" in their fairy tale collection Kinder- und Hausmärchen, in regards to their claims of preserving the original integrity of the classic Germanic fables.]

The Grimms' fairy tales—Kinder- und Hausmärchen (KHM) constitute one of the best-known and most loved books in the world; translated into dozens of languages, they are read by children and adults everywhere.1 There are perhaps two different kinds of contexts within which they are read and enjoyed: the first, that of world children's literature, the second that of the folklore and folk literature of Germany in particular and Europe in general. In both contexts, they are thought of as stories told by the simpler German people to their children, and passed on from one generation to the next in this way until recorded for all time by the brothers Grimm. But this widespread view, common to laymen and scholars alike, is in fact based on serious misconceptions, and in this book I want to set out a very different view of the status of the tales.

The first step in this reexamination of the status of the KHM must be to turn our attention away from the familiar kinds of present-day context in which we think of them—those of children's books, and German folklore—and back to the context in which they arose, the cultural scene of early nineteenth-century Germany; for the stresses and strains of that original context produced distortions and misconceptions that have been at work ever since.

The first volume of the KHM appeared in 1812, in an era extraordinarily rich in the great names of German literature and of German culture generally. The age of German romanticism had followed so quickly on the heels of German classicism that the two had overlapped in large measure; in 1812 writers alive and active included Goethe, Hölderlin, Tieck, Hoffmann, Brentano, Arnim, Eichendorff, the Schlegel brothers, and the Grimms; Kleist had died only the previous year, Schiller, Novalis, and Herder a few years previously. Similarly, German philosophy and music were both at a peak. But this cultural brilliance was a very recent phenomenon, and in fact the result of a drastic transformation: only a few decades before. Germany had been suffering from a cultural poverty which was just as remarkable as the soon-to-follow richness. So sudden a transformation inevitably brought strains and distortions, and those strains are very much involved in the outlook of the Grimms and therefore in the origins of the KHM.

Once before, around the year 1200, Germany had had a glorious period when half a dozen of the greatest figures in the history of German literature were active. But as those great writers died off, a long period of relative cultural poverty set in which lasted for many centuries; between the years 1200 and 1800 there is scarcely a writer who can stand with even the second rank of those who were active in these two great eras. While France, England, and Italy had long since developed brilliant literatures, the German renaissance had been almost barren. It is impossible completely to account for this strange phenomenon, but several historical circumstances clearly contributed to it. To begin with, Germany was unified very late in comparison to the other great European powers; until late in the nineteenth century, it remained a hodgepodge of small independent states. It lacked (and still lacks to this day) a single, dominant cultural center of the magnitude of Paris or London. Another important factor was linguistic: no standard language emerged until the end of the Middle Ages, and so for a long time there was no linguistic vehicle for the formation of a national literature. In fact, there was no single dialect with an unbroken literary tradition of any real length; in Old High German times, the leading literary dialect had been the dialect of the west central area close to the Rhine, but in the High Middle Ages (circa 1200) preeminence passed to the Upper German dialects of the south, and in the modern period leadership passed again to the east central district of Saxony, as a compromise standard language based on the dialect of that area slowly took hold. In each case, the tradition of former literary dialects was interrupted, and they were relegated to merely regional status. A third major factor was the repeated devastation of Germany during the Thirty Years' War (1618–48)—a crucial period in the development of modern Europe, during which cultural progress in Germany was held up. Almost every European power took part in the Thirty Years' War, but it was fought largely on German soil. The line of battle went up and down Germany and then back again, so that the same area was devastated again and again at intervals of a few years, as one side advanced and then retreated over it. These three decades might have been Germany's renaissance.

Whatever the reasons, however, Germany in the mid-eighteenth century was culturally backward compared to its neighbors, and consequently afflicted by a national cultural inferiority complex—a circumstance that was to shape and to some extent misshape the character of the great revival soon to come. Germany at this time looked enviously at the culture of its neighbors; even so great a German patriot and national hero as Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, despised the German language, spoke and wrote in French, and was so convinced of the great superiority of French literature and culture generally that even when Mozart and Goethe arrived on the scene, he thought little of them.

As the astonishing transformation began to take place between 1770 and 1780, with the appearance of Lessing, Herder, Goethe, Schiller, Haydn, Mozart, and Kant, to be followed by many more great figures in the next few decades, two paths seemed possible for German culture, and from the start there was ambivalence about the choice. The first was to look to European culture: to look, to learn, to some extent to emulate and to borrow, to come up to its standards, and in general to aim to become a worthy member of the family of European cultures. This became the predominant way of the great writers of German classicism. But there was another possibility: to stress the uniqueness of German culture, its specifically German character with its own laws and rules, its own standards and goals.

At the beginning, the resurgence of German culture had seemed to take the second path. The writers of the Sturm und Drang ("Storm and Stress") group, which included Herder and the young Goethe, firmly rejected the rather feeble neoclassicism which had prevailed in early eighteenth-century Germany and had advocated a literature based on Aristotle's theories as interpreted by the classic French writers. Instead, the Sturm und Drang took the position that Germany's art should be a reflection of its own culture, and express its own genius in its own unique way. Transcultural standards could not be used to judge any one culture's products; what was really important was the relationship of the whole people to those products. Such was the tenor of the 1773 manifesto of the movement, Blätter von deutscher Art und Kunst ("On the German way of life and German art"), to which Goethe contributed an essay on German architecture (praising the Gothic rather than classical style); Justus Möser one on German history, much concerned to argue for Germany as a nation, in spite of its weak and utterly fragmented state in 1773; and Herder essays on Shakespeare—whom he praised as an original and unique genius who broke all the narrow rules of neoclassicism (particularly French neoclassicism)—and on folk poetry, particularly Ossian as an expression of the spirit of an ancient people through its primitive poetry. In this last, it is already possible to see the setting emerge for the later activities of the brothers Grimm.

Yet the Sturm und Drang was soon over; Goethe and Schiller became the leading figures of German classicism, and the emphasis shifted to a broader concern with mankind and literature in general, rather than the narrower preoccupation with the characteristic quality of German culture. By 1795, it might have seemed that the Sturm und Drang had been largely an expression of the national cultural inferiority complex, and that a more mature and confident culture no longer needed to be so concerned to make a case for itself. But just as Germany seemed firmly to have chosen the one path over the other, there came a sudden reversal of direction: in the middle of the last decade of the century, the German romantics appeared on the scene, and the strong nationalism that predominated in this movement made that of the Sturm und Drang seem moderate by comparison. The earlier group was evidently arguing from a position of weakness the case for a culture that was then undeveloped; but the romantics appeared in the middle of a brilliant cultural scene, and their patriotism could hardly be so nervous in character. It was generally quite the reverse—exuberant and confident. To take one example: Möser's essay on German history had been a rational plea for Germany as a nation; but when the romantic Friedrich von Hardenberg wrote (under the pseudonym of Novalis) his essay on the history of Germany, Die Christenheit oder Europa ("Christendom, or Europe"), it expressed an almost mystic view of the medieval German nation of the Holy Roman Empire as a Christian utopia. Möser and his contemporaries were struggling to put a depressed Germany on the European map; but for Novalis, Germany dominated the European map. With the romantics came a sudden, heady sense of the brilliance of German culture; a nation which had been a poor relation in Europe suddenly reveled not in equality but in preeminence.

Enormously influential and long-lasting attitudes and directions in German culture and scholarship were formed at this time: many of these dominated the nineteenth century and reached into the twentieth. From this period dates the notion that Germany is the nation of music. Similarly, the common idea of Germany as the preeminent nation in philosophy arises from the domination of Europe by the philosophy of Hegel until the rise of the analytic movement in the twentieth century. German philological scholarship, initiated at this time, dominated European thinking on the study of language until structuralism began to make an impact toward the middle of the twentieth century. Indeed, German scholars like Jacob Grimm were the founders of the discipline of philology.

The romantics' concern with German culture led in many directions: to an interest in folksongs; to the study of Germanic legends and folklore; to a rediscovery of the national past, including particularly the glorious national literature of the Middle Ages; to the study of the national language and its place in the European family of languages; and so on. But in all of this, German nationalism was a major factor.

Jacob Grimm (1785–1863) and his brother Wilhelm (1786–1859) were very much part of this environment. Enormously active and productive scholars, they made many contributions to the study of German culture apart from their fairy tale collection: notably, a collection of German legends, their famous dictionary of the German language, and Jacob's historical work on the German language. "Grimm's law" is still a landmark in the explanation of how an Indo-European dialect developed into the Germanic group of languages. And all of this was done quite consciously in a spirit of devotion to their fatherland, as countless passages in the brothers' letters make clear.

Such, then, is the general cultural context in which the Grimms' Kinder- und Hausmärchen arose. Jacob and Wilhelm presented the KHM to their public essentially as a monument of national folklore. In so doing they were making claims about their sources and their treatment of those sources (a reasonably faithful recording of folk material, with little or no editorial contribution on their part) which, as we shall see in later chapters, were fraudulent. But this was not mere idiosyncratic behavior; there were strong contemporary currents moving the Grimms in this direction, and those currents are the ultimate source of the half-truths and untruths which have accompanied the KHM from that day to this. Having said this, however, I must add an important caveat: the mood of the times did not determine this situation to the extent that the Grimms innocently followed contemporary ideas without realizing they were themselves distorting the truth; it will become clear that they consciously and deliberately misrepresented what they had done, and deceived their public.

Before it is possible to appreciate what the Grimms really did in publishing their KHM, we must first consider what at the time they seemed to be doing, and what since that time they have generally been thought to have done; from this, the central issues and principles involved in the appearance of the KHM will emerge.

At the time of the first publication of the KHM, the Grimms appeared to be breaking new ground, and that impression has always remained, regardless of changes of emphasis caused by any of the evidence which appeared later on.

Johann Karl August Musäus had published Volksmärchen der Deutschen ("Popular fairy tales of the Germans," 1782–87) some thirty years before the brothers Grimm published their fairy tales (1812–15), but a crucial difference between the two seemed immediately visible; while Musäus's tales are simply announced as being by Musäus, the Grimms offered theirs as Kinder- und Hausmärchen, Gesammelt durch die Brüder Grimm (Children's and Household Fairytales, Collected by the Brothers Grimm.) Musäus wrote his tales, but the Grimms apparently collected theirs.

Herder's essay Ossian und die Lieder alter Völker ("Ossian and the songs of ancient peoples," 1773)2 had led the way toward an interest in folk culture in Germany, and in the following decades there was much collecting of folk material: folksongs, legends, folktales, and fairy tales. But while Herder began this movement, its manifestations were not always in the spirit he had intended. His interest was in the direct and natural expression of folk literature as an anti-dote to the pedantry of neoclassicism, and he therefore valued its unschooled quality and its direct and unreflective language as a vehicle of genuine feeling.

The contrast between the Grimms and Musäus appeared to exemplify a deep difference between those who preserved Herder's attitude to the integrity of the folk material, and those who simply wished to use it for their own purposes. Musäus considered the tales which formed the basis for his text as mere raw material, which had to be reworked by the artist before it achieved real value. In his prefatory essay, he appeals to his reader to decide whether he, Musäus, has been successful in creating from this raw material a real work of art: "whether, then, the author in reworking this raw material has succeeded as his neighbor the sculptor does, who with skillful hand produces, from a clumsy marble cube through the work of his hammer and chisel, now a god, now a demigod or spirit, which sits resplendently in the art galleries, while previously it was only a common piece of masonry."3 Evidently, Musäus lacked that respect for the inherent eloquence of folk material which made Herder write that "unspoiled children, women, people of good common sense, formed more by activity than by abstract philosophizing—these are, if what I was talking of is eloquence, in that case the sole and best orators of our time."4 Musäus's use of words like "common" or "clumsy" to refer to folk material would have been unthinkable for Herder.

Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano published a folk-song collection—Des Knaben Wunderhorn ("The boy's magic horn," 1805–8)—and Brentano by himself some volumes of Märchen, but their attitudes were much closer to those of Musäus than of Herder. "The credentials of folk-poetry as a source of new poetic vigour lay in its authenticity," writes a recent scholar, "yet Arnim and Brentano freely adapted, polished, archaized, rewrote, and even slipped in poems of their own with faked 'sources' (all to the deep chagrin of the Grimm brothers who were simultaneously collecting German folk-tale and legend …)."5

The Grimms, indeed, appeared to reach back to Herder for their attitudes. They announced themselves, on the title page of the KHM, as collectors rather than writers, and they too wrote disparagingly of the plainness of written language when contrasted with the vigor and color of the folk storyteller's expression. Or so it seemed.

Almost immediately, something happened which was an embarrassment to the position the Grimms had claimed for the KHM ; in 1819 the preface to the second edition of the KHM seemed to retreat from the position taken by those of the two first edition volumes of 1812 and 1815. And, indeed, this proved to be only the first of a long series of similar embarrassments, details of which I shall consider in later chapters. But these embarrassments had remarkably little effect, and even today their importance is not fully grasped either in popular opinion or in the scholarship on the KHM. The reason for this is obvious enough. Very soon after their publication, the KHM became one of the most loved books in the world. A standard view of the provenance of the tales emerged, which itself became a story as charming and as loved as any of the tales themselves; and, more importantly, it was just as durable, and like any fairy story just as immune to subversion by any consciousness of the facts of the real world. Here is a typical and recent formulation of that tale: the Grimms, we are told, "spent much of their time wandering about the country, gleaning from peasants and the simpler townspeople a rich harvest of legends, which they wrote down as nearly as possible in the words in which they were told."6

Now this is, just like the other tales, a fairy story without a word of truth in it—but one with an irresistible appeal both in popular belief and even in scholarly opinion. For what is truly remarkable here is not just that it can be shown to be quite false, but that the evidence of easily available published sources made a large part of this general view dubious more than a hundred and fifty years ago, and all of the rest of it completely untenable more than fifty years ago—long before Heinz Rölleke's republication of some of the most important of this evidence, valuable though Rölleke's editions have been in spreading an awareness that all was not well with the popular view.7 Yet it survives though all indications have long been to the contrary; and it is possible to see at work a determination that it should survive. When, for example, scholars have come across individual facts that were inconsistent with the popular view, we shall see that they have commonly either ignored them or tried to explain them away and draw the narrowest possible conclusions from them. As a result, many opportunities for a complete reevaluation have been avoided.

There has even been a striking reluctance on the part of those who have known most about the relevant sources either to see the force of any new evidence they brought to light or, at least, to communicate any awareness of possible significance. A particularly striking demonstration of this reluctance could be seen in the years 1970–71, when no less than four full-length biographies of the brothers appeared—by Michaelis-Jena, Gerstner, Peppard, and Denecke.8 Even at this late date, not one of these scholars offered any serious challenge to the basic outline of the popular view, though mention is made of individual pieces of evidence which should have led in that direction; and often, as we shall see, they resorted to highly implausible ideas in order to avoid the impact of the evidence. Clearly, the general mood of scholarship has been a remarkably inhibited one. Perhaps the most important consequence of this climate was that the discovery of any one discrepancy between the facts and the popular view was able to remain an isolated discovery instead of serving as a warning to scholars that others might also exist. Yet the strangest aspect of all in this situation is that the popular misconception has its origin not in faulty scholarship or careless scholars but, rather, in deception by the Grimms themselves.

It is as well to be aware at the outset of some important corollaries to and extensions of the popular view which show that a good deal is at stake in its being upheld as true, or even more or less true. A number of scholars, for example—justifiably enough, if the facts indeed are as they have assumed them to be—have attributed to the KHM and to the Grimms a considerable importance in the general history of folklore studies. And, again, these views continue to be heard today, long after it should be obvious that the facts will not support them. Joseph Campbell is a typical example:

The special distinction of the work of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm was its scholarly regard for the sources. Earlier collectors had felt free to manipulate folk materials; the Grimms were concerned to let the speech of the people break directly into print … No one before the Grimms had readily acquiesced to the irregularities, the boorishness, the simplicity of the folk tale. Anthologists had arranged, restored, and tempered; poets had built new masterpieces out of the rich raw material. But an essentially ethnographical approach, no one had so much as conceived.9

Even as late as 1974, the well-known scholars Iona and Peter Opie concurred in this view: "The Grimms were … the first to write the tales down in the way ordinary people told them, and not attempt to improve them; and they were the first to realize that everything about the tales was of interest, even includ-ing the identity of the person who told the tale."10 This leads to an important conclusion about the Grimms; they are, if all this is true, the founders of the "scientific study of folklore and folk literature."11 Ruth Michaelis-Jena, writing recently in the journal Folklore, took essentially the same view, seeing the Grimms as "the true begetters of Märchenforschung (fairy tale research), pioneers and unique seen in the context of their time"; and she too praised the Grimms' "scientific method," and their "emphasis on the story-teller."12 To the reader of the most recent published commentary on the Grimms, it must seem that such views are ineradicable, for even writers who have been exposed to and shaken by some of the strong contrary evidence republished during the 1970s continue almost mechanically to express them once more. Linda Dégh, for example, writing in 1979, after expressing surprise at what had recently appeared in print—though nobody who had kept up with the record of what had been in print a quarter of a century earlier should have been surprised—still goes on to tell us, as so many previous writers have done, that the Grimms "established a new discipline: the science of folklore. Their example of collecting oral literature launched general fieldwork."13

More indicative still of the continuing currency of this view is an article in the very latest edition of that repository of received opinion, the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The author of the article is Ludwig Denecke, former head of the Brothers Grimm Museum in Kassel and author of many books on the Grimms, who maintains that the KHM "became and remains a model for the collecting of folktales everywhere," and that it is still "the earliest 'scientific' collection of folktales" having aimed at "a genuine reproduction of the teller's words and ways."14

One consequence of the popular view, then, would be a unique importance for the Grimms as folklorists. Another consequence would be a very special status for the tales within German culture. For if it is true, as the best-selling history of German literature puts it, that the Grimms "collected them from the mouth of the common people"15—then it would seem also to be true that, as J. G. Robertson says, the tales reflect "the mind of the German Volk,"16 providing a key to some of its characteristic attitudes and feelings.17

Historians of folklore commonly see matters in the same way; Giuseppe Cocchiara, in his The History of Folklore in Europe, thinks the KHM important because "it preserves the beliefs of ancient Germanic peoples."18

It is important to understand why the Grimms' alleged emphasis on the identity and voice of the "storyteller" is so important a part of the basis of these judgments. Many if not most fairy tales are either international in their scope or at least incorporate figures, motifs, or situations which can be found in the tales of many countries. Versions of many of the tales in the KHM, for example, can be found in the Histoire ou Contes du temps passé avec des moralités (1697) of Charles Perrault and Il Pentamerone (1634–36) of Gianbattista Basile.

What is specifically German in the character of the KHM would have to reside precisely in the particular version or flavor of a given tale, and this is why the actual expression of the version told in Germany is so important; it is the specific form, more than the story outline itself, that will be of value for the study of German folklore.

There is much at stake in the popular view, therefore, and this surely gives us another reason for the reluctance of scholars to question it. Even when contrary evidence was becoming well known, and had to be dealt with, it was minimized with formulations such as that of the Opies: "They did not always adhere to the high standards they set themselves"; or Michaelis-Jena: "The brothers had taken it upon themselves to make slight, and what they considered justified, changes."19 Gerstner brushed the troublesome facts aside with evident impatience. The Grimms, he said, did not want "to change anything essential, or to falsify anything"; nevertheless, "they did not want a slavish reproduction of what they had heard from this or that woman."20 To question the Grimms' procedure was, for him, simply unreasonable quibbling. To be sure, the odd lapse here or there, or fairly unimportant stylistic changes, need not undermine the general validity of the popular view; we might even, with Kurt Schmidt, excuse it by reminding ourselves of the great difference between modern ethnographic standards and those of the early nineteenth century: "Present-day thinking about the recording of folk traditions is stricter, and it could see the Grimms' conception (actually Wilhelm's) almost as falsification. For the Grimms' era, however, it meant a significant step forwards in the conceptual framework of the discipline."21 Gerstner developed this point further: "For those born later, it would have been an easy thing to capture the story-telling in shorthand or on tape."22 If we accept this reassurance, we can go back to enjoying our fairy tale.

Yet the evidence is of far more radical import than this would imply; during the course of this study it will become evident that the changes introduced by the Grimms were far more than mere stylistic matters, and that the facts of their editorial procedure, taken together with the evidence as to their sources, are sufficient completely to undermine any notion that the Grimms' fairy tales are of folk, or peasant, or even German origin. And the facts also show the Grimms' attempts to foster these illusions. I turn in my next chapter to the origin and development of the popular view of the KHM, including some ingenious attempts to rescue it from destruction by the facts as they emerged.23


1. Kinder- und Hausmärchen, Gesammelt durch die Brüder Grimm, 2 vols. (Berlin, 1812 and 1815). The six subsequent editions of the Grimms' collection supervised by them were published in 1819, 1837, 1840, 1843, 1850 and 1857 respectively. The second and third editions (1819 and 1837) contained a third volume in addition to the two volumes of all the other editions; this third volume contains notes to the tales, and the dates of these volumes are 1822 (second edition) and 1856 (third edition) respectively. In the first edition, much briefer notes had been included at the end of each of the two volumes. Because of the long delay in the issue of the third edition's third volume, it became virtually a part of the seventh edition. In the course of this study, I cite the text of the first edition of the KHM as reprinted in Die Kinder- und Hausmürchen der Brüder Grimm. Vollständige Ausgabe in der Urfassung, edited by Friedrich Panzer (Wiesbaden, 1953), itself virtually a reprint of his earlier edition in two volumes (Munich, 1913), apart from new material in the introduction. A thorough and detailed analysis of the differences in the gross contents of the various editions (stories added or subtracted; different prefaces, etc.) can be found in Crane 1917.

2. Johann Gottfried Herder, "Auszug aus einem Briefwechsel über Ossian und die Lieder alter Völker," in Herder 1773. I cite this essay in the edition by Heinz Kindermann, in the series Deutsche Literatur: Reihe Irrationalismus, 6 (Darmstadt, 1968), 149-89.

3. I cite Musäus's Volksmärchen der Deutschen in the edition of the Winkler-Verlag (Munich, 1961), here p. 13. This edition erroneously gives the dates of Musäus's Volksmärchen as 1782–86, probably because Musäus published the tales in five volumes at the rate of one a year, and that would seem to indicate 1782–86 as the correct dates. However, Musäus missed a year (1785); the dates of the five volumes were 1782, 1783, 1784, 1786 and 1787.

4. "Über Ossian," Herder 1773, p. 168.

5. Reed 1972, p. 520.

6. From the anonymous preface of the Grimm's Fairy Tales (Anon. 1968).

7. Rölleke 1975b. See also Rölleke 1977. See chapters 3 and 4 of the present work for discussion of this material.

8. Michaelis-Jena 1970; Gerstner 1970; Peppard 1971; Denecke 1971. The justification for the summary statements on these works and others made in this introductory chapter will emerge during the rest of my study.

9. Campbell 1944, pp. 834-35. In her original translator's preface to the 1901 edition, Margaret Hunt had written that "they wrote down every story exactly as they heard it."

10. Opie and Opie 1974, p. 26.

11. Ibid., p. 27.

12. Michaelis-Jena 1971, pp. 265, 268.

13. Dégh 1979, p. 87.

14. Ludwig Denecke, "Grimm Brothers," in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed., Macropaedia 8 (1980): 427-29.

15. Martini 1955, p. 322.

16. Robertson 1953, p. 457.

17. Louis L. Snyder (1951) proceeded to investigate their significance, given this assumption. He found in them "many sentiments typical of German nationalism … which … existed among the old peasants, nurses, and workers from whom the Grimms obtained their material" (p. 216). This conclusion, too, is based on misconception; in chapter 6 I consider the conclusions Snyder draws from his analysis of the KHM.

18. Cocchiara 1981, p. 231.

19. Opie and Opie 1974, p. 26; Michaelis-Jena 1971, p. 266. See also Michaelis-Jena 1970, p. 52: "They wrote down the stories as close to the original as possible, including peculiarities of the teller's turn of phrase and speech."

20. Gerstner 1970, p. 92.

21. Schmidt 1931, p. 81. For a similar view, see Panzer 1953, p. 50. Also Michaelis-Jena 1970, p. 52: they were "purely scientific within the limits of their time."

22. Gerstner 1970, p. 92.

23. The account of the development of German literature given at the beginning of this chapter is unavoidably brief and schematic; the reader should be mindful of the fact that the generalizations offered there, while justified as such, have the limitations of all generalizations. A fuller account would have to deal with exceptions and special cases, but for such a treatment the reader is referred to the standard histories of German literature.

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Martini, Fritz. 1955. Deutsche Literaturgeschichte. 7th ed. Stuttgart.

McGlathery, James. 1977. Review of Heinz Rölleke, ed., Die älteste Märchensammlung der Brüder Grimm. In Journal of English and Germanic Philology 76:93-96.

Michaelis-Jena, Ruth. 1970. The Brothers Grimm. London.

――――――. 1971. "Oral Tradition and the Brothers Grimm." Folklore 82:265-75.

Musäus, Johann Karl August. 1782–87. Volksmärchen der Deutschen. 5 vols. Berlin.

Opie, Iona, and Peter Opie, eds. 1974. The Classic Fairy Tales. London.

Panzer, Friedrich. 1913a. "Die Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm." Zeitschrift für den deutschen Unterricht 27:481-503.

――――――, ed. 1913b. Die Kinder- und Hausmürchen der Brüder Grimm in ihrer Urgestalt. 2 vols. Munich.

――――――, ed. 1953. Die Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm. Vollständige Ausgabe in der Urfassung. Wiesbaden.

Peppard, Murray. 1971. Paths through the Forest: A Biography of the Brothers Grimm. New York, Chicago, San Francisco.

Perrault, Charles. 1897. Histoires ou Contes du temps passé avec des moralités. Paris.

Reed, T. J. 1972. "The 'Goethezeit.'" In Germany: A Companion to German Studies. Edited by Malcolm Pasley. London.

Rieman, Alfred. 1977. Review of Heinz Rölleke, Die älteste Märchensammlung der Brüder Grimm, in Aurora 37:192-96.

Robertson, J. G. 1953. A History of German Literature. New and revised edition. Edinburgh and London.

Rölleke, Heinz. 1974a. "Die Marburger Märchenfrau." Fabula 15:87-94.

――――――. 1974b. "Die Urfassung der Grimmschen Märchensammlung von 1810. Eine Rekonstruktion ihres tatsächlichen Bestandes." Euphorion 68:331-36.

――――――. 1975a. "Die 'stockhessischen' Märchen der 'alten Marie.'" Das Ende eines Mythos um die frühesten KHM-Aufzeichnungen der Brüder Grimm." Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift, N.F. 25:74-86.

――――――. 1975b. Die älteste Märchensammlung der Brüder Grimm. Synopse der handschriftlichen Urfassung von 1810 und der Erstdrucke von 1812. Herausgegeben und erläutert von Heinz Rölleke. Collogny-Genève.

――――――, ed. 1977. Märchen aus dem Nachlaß der Brüder Grimm. Herausgegeben und erläutert von Heinz Rölleke. Bonn.

――――――. 1978. "Zur Vorgeschichte der Kinder- und Hausmärchen: Bislang unbekannte Materialien im Nachlaß der Brüder Grimm." Euphorion 72:102-5.

――――――. 1980. Kinder- und Hausmärchen. Ausgabe letzter Hand mit den Originalanmerkungen der Brüder Grimm. 3 vols. Stuttgart.

Schmidt, Kurt. 1931. Die Entwicklung der Grimmschen Kinder- und Hausmärchen seit der Urhandschrift nebst einem kritischen Texte der in die Drucke übergegangenen Stücke. Dissertation: Halle-Wittenberg.

Schoof, Wilhelm. 1930. "Zur Entstehungsgeschichte der Grimm'schen Märchen." Hessische Blätter für Volkskunde 29:1-118.

――――――. 1941. "Schneewittchen. Ein Beitrag zur deutschen Stilkunde." Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift 29:190-201.

――――――. 1953. "Neue Urfassungen Grimmscher Märchen." Hessische Blätter für Volkskunde 44:65-88.

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――――――. 1959. Zur Entstehungsgeschichte der Grimmschen Märchen. Bearbeitet unter Benutzung des Nachlaßes der Brüder Grimm. Hamburg.

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――――――. 1965. "Die Märchenfrau von Niederzwehren," Heimatbrief. Heimatverein Dorothea Viehmann Kassel-Niederzwehren 9:4-19.

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Tonnelat, Ernest. 1912a. Les Contes des Frères Grimm. Paris.

――――――. 1912b. Les Frères Grimm. Leur oeuvre de jeunesse. Paris.

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Kay Stone (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: Stone, Kay. "The Transformations of Snow White." In The Brothers Grimm and Folktale, edited by James M. McGlathery, Larry W. Danielson, Ruth E. Lorbe, and Selma K. Richardson, pp. 52-65. Chicago, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

[In the following essay, Stone examines transformations of the traditional "Snow White" fable throughout several modes of storytelling—the oral tradition, the print version of the tale that appeared in the Grimms' Kinder- und Hausmärchen, and the Walt Disney film adaptation.]

The story of Snow White became popular with readers at the first publication of tales by the Grimm brothers [Kinder- und Hausmärchen ], and retained its favored position as the German tales were translated into other languages. Thus it was already an obvious choice for the Disney brothers (Walter and Roy) when they created their first feature-length cartoon in the early 1930s. The story is now so widely known in North America that we tend to forget that it did not originate with either the Grimms or the Disneys, but in oral tradition.

The intention here is to examine the necessary transformations of a story—in this case Snow White—in the differing media of oral composition, print, and film. My emphasis is on process rather than on content, as I wish to show as objectively as possible how alterations are a natural result of transformation from one medium to another. While it may seem obvious that contextual change results in content modification, both the Grimms and the Disneys have been castigated for altering this tale in order to meet the needs of new expressive forms intended for new audiences. The Grimms, for example, reworked traditional stories for an urbane audience of readers unfamiliar with oral material. Scholars have criticized their modifications as inappropriate and also as dishonest, since they claimed to be offering genuine traditional tales "straight from the lips of the peasants."1

The Disney brothers also intended to reach a new audience with the now-familiar Grimm material by reinterpreting the story from print into film. While they made no false claims as to their source, the final film carried Walt Disney's name in place of the Grimms' (Walt Disney Presents Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs).

The apparent dishonesty of both Grimm and Disney brothers has fascinated scholars and popular writers for decades. It is popularly known and accepted that the Disneys fundamentally altered the sense of the Grimm tale,2 but only recently have the Grimms' modifications and misrepresentations become known beyond the narrow walls of academe.3 Alan Dundes frankly identifies the Grimm tale collection as "fakelore," a concept originated by Richard M. Dorson to distinguish material falsely claiming origins in genuine folk tradition. According to Dundes: "It does seem sacrilegious to label the Grimms' celebrated Kinder- und Hausmärchen as fakelore, but to the extent that oral materials are rewritten, embellished and elaborated, and then presented as if they were pure, authentic oral tradition, we do indeed have a prima facie case of fakelore."4

Dundes goes on to urge folklorists not to reject fakelore as unworthy of serious attention but instead to "study it as folklorists, using the tools of folkloristics."5 I accept this challenge. Including the Disneys in such an approach allows me to compare the final Grimm and Disney versions of Snow White as well as examples of oral variants.

In recent years folklorists have attempted to clarify the vibrant relations between text, texture, and context, thus providing a useful framework in which to survey variations of Snow White.6 The text is the basic story of Snow White; its texture is the specific language (visualization in the case of film) of a particular story; context is any relevant personal, social, historical, and other influences. There might be countless oral texts of Snow White, each with its own texture and context. The storytelling event, or actual verbal composition of a story, is extremely sensitive to immediate contexts that might motivate changes in texture. Thus Snow White in oral tradition is multitextural and multicontextual. There is no single "original" or "authentic" oral text. The story would never be told in precisely the same words even by the same person. A unique context for each telling produces different textures, and thus a variety of oral texts.

Print and film, on the contrary, take on a final form combining text and texture in an unchanging unity. Also, the contexts of creating and of receiving are separated so that the readers of the story and the viewers of the film did not share directly and simultaneously in the creation of these versions of Snow White. Thus this particular story in print and film is rigid in text and texture and has no inherent context except when actually created and then received. Unlike oral variants, the printed and filmed tale of Snow White can exist indefinitely in storage, quite free of direct human context.

In considering content I find the literary concept of open and closed texts valuable in exploring Snow White variations.7 A closed text is one that carefully develops details and connections, leaving readers or viewers little chance for active participation and interpretation. An open text, on the other hand, presents itself in such a way that a full story is told without elaborating every detail of plot, character, or motivation. Thus receivers can take a more active role by making their own connections, by "filling in the gaps." The open or closed nature of the text is influenced by the medium in which it exists. In general, told stories have more possibility for openness than do those in printed and filmed media.

It seems to be current folk wisdom that "the medium is the message." This oft-quoted observation by Marshall McCluhan emphasizes the critical role any medium plays in determining the message of its content.8 While his own message is not always clearly expressed, he does articulate his basic concept in terms that folklorists can easily comprehend. He explains that his observation that the medium is the message "can, perhaps, be clarified by pointing out that any new technology gradually creates a totally new human environment. Environments are not passive wrappings but active processes."9 In other words he is not looking at a medium as a product but rather as a process. McCluhan meant to challenge interpreters who rely on content alone to discover the "message" of a story. Like folklorists who see context as a critical creative force, McCluhan insists that the message or meaning can be found in the actual process of creation and dissemination rather than in its textural content.

The story of Snow White would naturally be altered as it passed from one medium to another. The Grimms could not have furnished an esthetically powerful printed version of the oral tale any more than the Disneys could have produced an exact filmed version of the printed Grimm story. The difficulties of accurate translation can be felt in films which have laboriously attempted to reproduce a complex novel, or in careful transcripts of oral texts recorded by professional folklorists. This problem of shifting artistic products from one medium to another has bedeviled folklorists for generations. In maintaining accuracy of transcription from oral to printed forms, textural and contextual impact must often be sacrificed.10

The basic story of a girl's blossoming, apparent death, and miraculous rebirth may persist no matter how it is expressed, but its particular concrete manifestations must vary according to the medium of its expression.

Snow White in Oral, Printed, and Filmed Media

If we consider any medium of narrative creativity as a bridge of communication between creators and receivers, and understand that the structure of any bridge determines the traffic it can bear, then the dynamic concept of "message" or meaning can be seen to extend well beyond content. Each medium has its own requirements and potential for communication, and each—as McCluhan observes—creates a new environment in which the communication takes place.

The fullest and most direct bridge of communication would be the orally composed story of Snow White. In this context both creators and receivers participate simultaneously in the storytelling event,11 while print and film split the experience of artists and audiences. The oral bridge allows a constant flow of two-way traffic while the bridges of print and film permit only separated flows of traffic, first one way and then the other. In other words, the audience has a far greater opportunity to take part in the telling of a story than is possible while reading a book or viewing a film. This alone could not help but influence the formation of a story in any particular medium.

Since both Grimm and Disney versions could not have come into being without orally composed interpretations of Snow White, let us begin with a consideration of verbal creativity.

Snow White in Oral Tradition

Stories created verbally are continually fluid and adaptable according to time and place, tellers and listeners, and other contextual factors. Some folklorists describe this vibrancy as "emergent quality," meaning that the precise text of any story emerges at the actual event of its telling.12 At the same time these stories maintain a firm stability that has allowed them to exist for uncountable years of ongoing narration and recreation. Narrated tales balance between traditional stability and individual innovation so long as they remain in oral currency. No one story can be considered original in the sense of either primacy or individual innovation. Every traditional teller of Snow White is as original as any other. The concept of original and authoritative texts is applicable only to print or film.

The oral story of Snow White has been examined by Steven Swann Jones, who searched through more than one hundred traditional texts from printed collections of European, African, Asian, and New World tales.13 He chose to focus on twenty-four representative texts in order to demonstrate precisely how Snow White manages to exhibit both stability and variability. As he observes: "It is remarkable that a story should travel such great distances, be told by many different peoples, and undergo apparent changes and yet remain recognizably the same tale. I suggest that folktales such as "Snow White" are not simply muddied or muddled up the more they are retold by subsequent tellers."14 He identifies distinctive formalistic elements that provide the unique pattern of Snow White. To simplify his detailed enumeration: these begin with the heroine's expulsion from home, the various threats on her life culminating with apparent death, and her rescue and reawakening.

Jones finds this elemental narrative pattern in all the texts he surveys, though of course the exact expression or texture varies from story to story. For example, a Norwegian variant has a giant's daughter prick her finger and, inspired by red blood on white snow, wish for a daughter with pure white skin and red lips; a Celtic tale features a jealously beautiful queen named Silver-Tree, who threatens the young heroine, Gold-Tree; an Icelandic heroine named Vildridr Fairer-than-Vala escapes to a small house carved of stone and inhabited by only two dwarfs. Each of these texts is equally authentic in terms of its contribution to the larger generalized story type of Snow White (AT 709).15 It matters not a bit if the French-Canadian "Le Miroir Qui Parle" (The Speaking Mirror) is different in detail from the Louisiana story of "King Peacock." They are both authentic and easily recognizable variants of Snow White.

Unfortunately we do not know, since the Grimms do not tell us, how many oral texts might have been available in Germanic oral tradition at the time of their collecting activities. We can only assume that the potential variety of details would have provided them with a wealth of material for their single printed text, "Snow White."

The oral medium, then, provides a potentially direct bridge between tellers and listeners that encourages the ongoing re-creation of the story in an infinite variety of emergent texts, each with unique texture and context.

Snow White in the Printed Medium

Stories composed in writing tend to become fixed and unchanging, and authors and readers no longer share simultaneously in the creative event. When texts become attached to specific creators, the notion of originality in the dual senses of primacy and uniqueness come into play. Because a single text entitled "Snow White" was included in the Grimm collections, and because the collection itself was origi-nal in both meanings of the word, we arrive at the concept of "the Grimm version" as the "authentic" variant of Snow White (excluding oral sources).

If the Grimms had either drawn directly from oral tradition (as they claimed) or completely fabricated their tales, then we might indeed expect to find only one authoritative text for this story. However, the brothers combined both oral and written traditions to produce a new literary form. Apparently they were sincerely committed to re-creating what they conceived as a pre-Christian Teutonic literature. Alan Dundes's article on "fakelore," cited earlier, suggests that countries with a weak sense of nationhood, like Germany in the early nineteenth century, sometimes produced a consciously composed literature deliberately passed on as genuine "folklore."16

The Grimms responded to the forces of romantic nationalism by fashioning a unique genre. Interestingly, they offer several variant texts of their "Snow White," altering the story somewhat in each of their seventeen editions from 1812 to 1856. The earliest known text is in a manuscript of 1810, sent to Clemens Brentano but never published.17 Here the hand-some queen is the girl's natural mother, who first wishes for her and is then dismayed by her ever-increasing beauty. It is the mother herself who takes Snow White to the forest on the pretext of picking flowers, and abandons her there. Except for some changes of wording the basic story is the one already familiar to us, until we reach the death-rebirth motif at the conclusion. Here it is Snow White's father who finds and removes the coffin, and then orders his royal physicians to revive her by tying her body to ropes connected to the four corners of a room. After this surprising climax we find the more familiar marriage to a prince and the queen's dance of death in heated iron shoes.

In the first published edition of 1812 the natural mother is still the villain, but this time she orders her huntsman to destroy Snow White in the forest, and to return with her lungs and liver as proof. The escape to the dwarfs' house and the three attempts on her life are unchanged, but this time the prince himself carries away the coffin. Two of his disgruntled servants accidentally revive Snow White when they strike her in anger, thus dislodging the apple.

With each edition other minor changes were made, until the final text, which became the "authoritative" version, separated the good and bad aspects of the queen into independent characters. Since the wording of the various texts is much the same, we cannot assume that different oral sources are represented, since these would employ variant wording. Instead it is clear that literary editing is at work. Thus the Grimms have not actually provided the variety of texts that might exist in actual oral tradition, but offer only revisions of one basic text. It is possible that some of the revisions were inspired by additional oral sources encountered over their decades of work, but we cannot know this because none of their original manuscripts before 1809 remain in existence.

The Grimms unknowingly demonstrate the communication problems that can arise when we have only a printed document removed from the context of its creation. As the story was increasingly edited by a single writer it became more his story and less the people's story. And we, long trained to accept only one text as "original," consider the Grimm version of Snow White as authoritative. We have no prior printed text that challenges it. But in its transformation from oral to printed media it has lost its emergent quality, despite the appearance of variety in the Grimm editions. Separated from the actual context of composition—here in time as well as in space—we no longer experience the multitextural advantages of narration. Snow White in print becomes frozen into the wording of the 1857 edition.

The medium of print offers a narrower bridge of communication than does narration. Artistic traffic moves in two separate streams, from the authors to the book and then from the book to the readers. There can be no direct interchange, but only subordinate reactions.

Snow White in the Filmed Medium

Films create an even greater separation of makers and viewers, giving the latter even less possibility for interaction. Both story-listening and story-reading give us the opportunity to provide our own visual, oral, emotional, and other elaborations, but film provides these all ready-made for our consumption.

The Disney film in particular is exquisitely explicit in its visualization, as well as in its aurally and emotionally manipulative aspects. My own childhood memories are still clear, all the more so since this was my first "moving picture." My aunt Val took me and my younger sister Janet to a downtown theater in Detroit in 1944; in my memory Snow White is still scrubbing the palace steps and singing sweetly about her dream-prince; then she is dashing in terror through the dark forest to escape from her stepmother; and at last she finds the dwarfs' house with its wonderful child-sized furniture and exquisite background details. Even sharper in my mind is the dramatic transformation of the handsome queen into a hideous hag, one of the Disneys' stunning elaborations on the Grimm tale. At this point Janet's four-year-old voice still echoes in my ears as she yells "I want to go home!" But we remained to the melodramatic end.

Many years later I found myself in the small archives of Walt Disney Productions in Burbank, California, exploring file folders full of planning transcripts and preliminary sketches from the three years of production (from 1934 to 1937).18 It is now commonly known and proudly acknowledged by the Disney studio that the film was initially dubbed "Disney's Folly" even by some of those close to the Disney Brothers. People simply could not believe that adults, who formed the large majority of film audiences, would pay to see a long cartoon based on a children's fairy tale. But because of the careful and explicitly detailed work that went into all aspects of the film, it became an overnight success that is rereleased every few years.

The very first transcript I explored was a list of suggestions for characterizations.19 Snow White was to resemble actress Janet Gaynor, while Douglas Fair-banks was suggested as the model for the prince. Interestingly the Queen had no living models, but was to be a "mixture of Lady Macbeth and the Big Bad Wolf." She is finally developed as "a very majestic, cold, tiger-lady type."20 The individualized dwarfs were also a challenge to the filmmakers, who swung between extremes of buffoonery and sentimentality, eventually arriving at a compromise. By the end of the first year of planning all the major characterizations were well established, and the seven dwarfs had become central characters.

The only significant changes between 1934 and 1937 were with important secondary characters like the queen's mirror, her huntsman, and the prince. The mirror and the huntsman were shifted between unwilling complicity in the queen's evil plots to acquiescent conspiracy with her, until the former attitude was finally chosen. The prince was even more intriguing in his various manifestations. Initially Walt Disney suggested a key role for him and his horse, who were to be imprisoned in the queen's dungeon and rescued by birds and animals. These sequences eventually disappeared from organizational sessions, only to resurface two decades later in the Disney Sleeping Beauty.

The final film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs closely follows the general pattern of the Grimm tale, despite the various changes motivated by visualization. For example, two significant scenes featuring the queen were modified for increased visual impact: the transformation from a beauty to a hag (in the Grimm tale she merely disguises herself as a peasant) and her fatal plunge over the cliff (instead of dancing to her death in heated iron shoes). These modifications would not exclude the filmed tale from Jones's list of Snow White texts described earlier.

The years of preparatory conferences contributed a number of alternate texts for the filmed rendition of Snow White, each a very faint echo of the variability found in oral tradition. And while an actual audience did not contribute to these preparations, the film was undoubtedly successful because the Disneys had come to know their potential audience from past animated successes. Herbert Gans reminds us that such a projected, ideal audience plays an important though indirect role in such variability: "Every creator is engaged to some extent in a process of communication between himself and his audience, that is, he is creating something for somebody. This somebody may be the creator himself, other people, or even a nonexistent stereotype, but it becomes an image of an audience which the creator develops as part of every creative process."21

But of course film viewers see only the final "text" agreed upon by the Disneys and their co-workers; they do not experience textural variability. Like the Grimms' tale, the Disneys' film has no serious challengers to its status as the authoritative film version of the story. (An intriguing but dated parody entitled Coal Black and the Seben Dwarfs is known only to film historians.)22

In summary, the Disney film isolates creators and receivers, and offers them even less possibility of interaction since it furnishes sights, sounds, and motivations. The filmed text thus provides the narrowest bridge of all, with the most closed text and context. There is only one Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

As we have seen, the conceptual bridge of creative communication narrows progressively from oral to printed to filmed versions of Snow White. As well, the openness of text and texture also becomes more confined. Yet even the film, the most rigid and manipulative interpretation of Snow White, does not prevent viewers from interacting in one way or another. The traffic is always two-way, even when the creative and receptive streams are separate. Because readers and viewers do indeed respond, the neatly drawn lines between the three media considered above lose the sharp definition delineated here.

My son was five years of age when he saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs while we were visiting Madrid.23 He understood not a word of the Spanish dialogue, nor was he familiar with the story in any form, yet he followed the action with complete accuracy due to Disney's explicit visualization. He was disturbed by the wicked queen's death, however, and insisted that we sit through the film again, hoping (though as an experienced moviegoer he knew it was futile) that the story would end differently. It did not, of course, so we had to find a printed text of "that story." The best we could do in Madrid was a simplified picture book with no clear treatment of the queen.

When we returned home I found and read him the Grimm tale, but this was no more satisfactory. I was then asked to tell him the story in my own words, which I did for the next several nights. Finally he informed me that when I told "that story" I was to have the queen fall asleep for one hundred years and then "wake up a nice lady."

By working through all three media and their possibilities he created his own version of the story. He was responding not only to the explicit and implicit content of the story, but also to the differing means in which this content was expressed through film, books, and narration. He created his own multitextual and multitextural tale by experiencing it through a variety of contexts. His text is worthy of the same consideration as those we have surveyed here.

If the medium is the message, the reaction to that message is still in the minds of individual receivers.24 As we have seen, each of the means of textual formulation has inherent possibilities and limitations for inviting creative participation. The oral tale, and particularly a Märchen like Snow White, has the greatest potential for attracting such a response, not only because of its emergent quality and the immediacy of its continual re-creation, but also because of its abstract nature. As with abstract, nonrepresentational art, the Märchen implies its message rather than explicity revealing itself. Max Lüthi speaks eloquently about this "open text" aspect of traditional oral tales: "Any attempt at a detailed description gives rise to the feeling that only a fraction of all that could be said has in fact been told. A detailed description lures us into the infinite and shows us the elusive depth of things. Mere naming, on the other hand, automatically transforms things into simple, motionless images. The world is captured in a word; there is no tentative amplification that would make us feel that something has been left out."25

For the Märchen, more is less. Lüthi reproaches the Grimms for the literary embellishments that pushed them away from the genuine, unselfconscious folk tradition: "they speak of the red eyes and wagging head of the witch and of her long bespectacled nose ([Kinder- und Hausmärchen, KHM ] Nos. 15, 69, 193). Genuine folktales speak only of an 'ugly old hag,' an 'old witch,' an 'evil witch,' or simply an 'old woman.'"26 The more detail put in by a creator, the less abstract and open the story. The Disney film, of course, is even more elaborately representational than was the Grimm tale. Yet, as my son has illustrated, the power of the Märchen can still be felt, even in an explicit movie like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

When I began formulating this paper, the content of the story of Snow White as interpreted by the Grimms and Disneys was central to my thinking. As I tried to understand more fully how their respective interpretations came into being, the critical impact of the particular medium of presentation became increasingly obvious. Exploring the process of translating Snow White from oral telling to print to film allows us to see the dynamics of human creativity from a wider perspective than that inspired by content analysis alone.

It is not useful to think of the Grimm and Disney versions in terms of faithfulness to any particular sources. More valuable, and considerably more interesting, is a broad conception of human expressive creativity. Both filmed and printed versions of Snow White take on their specific characters as influenced by the interplay of text, texture, and context, and by the dynamics of medium and message.

Linda Dégh reminds us of Lüthi's observation that Märchen have survived exploitations and intrusions of all kinds (including those of the Grimms and Disneys) without losing the powerful essence of the ancient oral tales that inspired them: "The common knowledge of the tales is so profound, so deeply ingrained, that, even without the story being told in full, a reference or casual hint is enough to communicate the meaning of the essential message of the tale."27 She suggests that even an amusing television commercial in which the jealous queen consults her mirror to see the effects of her new beauty soap can call back the powerful death/rebirth principle of the whole of Snow White.28 Thus any "text" of Snow White, whether full or partial, serious or humorous, contributes to the continued life of this seemingly simple story.

Certainly the context in which Snow White is created affects the texture of its content in oral, printed, and filmed "texts." Still, neither the medium nor the content can fully define the message of Snow White for any active receiver. Each new context simply adds another text for consideration. And this of course includes the medium of the academic essay.29


The comments of L. Danielson, J. Harrell, N. Dancis, and D. Stone have aided greatly in enriching this brief essay.

1. Linda Dégh, for example, specifies their "embellishments and elaboration of details …, polishing of rough edges …," and the composition "of one perfect tale out of several less complete variants." See Linda Dégh, "Grimm's Household Tales and Its Place in the Household: The Social Relevance of a Controversial Classic," Western Folklore, 38 (April, 1979), 83-103; also, John M. Ellis, One Fairy Story Too Many: The Brothers Grimm and Their Tales (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985); Heinz Rölleke, "Die 'stockhessischen' Märchen der 'alten Marie': Das Ende eines Mythos um die frühesten KHM-Aufzeichnungen der Brüder Grimm," Germanisch-Romanische Monatschrift, n.s. 25 (1975), 74-86.

2. See, for example, Richard Schickel, The Disney Version: The Life, Times, Art, and Commerce of Walt Disney (New York: Avon, 1968).

3. See in particular Ellis, One Fairy Story Too Many for an enthusiastic attack on the Grimms for their alterations and false claims.

4. Alan Dundes, "Nationalistic Inferiority Complexes and the Fabrication of Fakelore: A Reconsideration of Ossian, the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, the Kalevala, and Paul Bunyan," Journal of Folklore Research, 22 (1985), 9.

5. Ibid., pp. 15-16.

6. For a clear explanation of these terms see Alan Dundes, "Text, Texture, and Context," Southern Folklore Quarterly, 28 (1964), 251-65.

7. In particular see Umberto Eco, The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979).

8. See in particular Marshall McCluhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964). Here he states: "In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium—that is, of any extension of ourselves—results from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology" (p. 7).

9. Ibid., p. vi.

10. For an eloquent exploration of the problem of intermedia translation, see (among others): Dennis Tedlock, The Spoken Word and the Work of Interpretation (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983), and Dell Hymes, "In Vain I Tried to Tell You": Essays in Native American Ethnopoetics (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981).

11. Much recent folklore scholarship focuses on the importance of examining stories in their full oral context. See in particular Richard Bauman, Verbal Art as Performance (Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland, 1984). Originally published in 1977.

12. For example see ibid., pp. 37-46.

13. Steven Swann Jones, "The Construction of the Folktale: Snow White" (Diss., University of California at Davis, 1979).

14. Ibid., p. 218.

15. Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson, The Types of the Folktale: A Classification and Bibliography (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1961), p. 245.

16. Dundes, "Nationalistic Inferiority Complexes and the Fabrication of Fakelore." For a more general examination see also Eric J. Hobsbawm and Terence O. Ranger (eds.), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).

17. For complete English texts of both the 1810 and the 1812 variants of "Snow White" see Alfred David and Mary Elizabeth David, The Frog King and Other Tales of the Brothers Grimm (New York: Signet Classics, New American Library of World Literature, 1964), pp. 303-15.

18. A small grant from the University of Winnipeg allowed me to spend several days in 1978 in the archives of Walt Disney Productions in Burbank, California. I am grateful to archivists Paula Sigman and David R. Smith.

19. From a one-page outline dated Oct. 22, 1934.

20. Document entitled: SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, Transcribed from verbatum [sic] notes on General Continuity as talked by Walt, 12/22/36, p. 1.

21. Herbert J. Gans, "The Creator-Audience Relationship in the Mass Media: An Analysis of Movie Making," in Bernard Rosenberg and David Manning White (eds.), Mass Culture: The Popular Arts in America (New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1957), pp. 315-24.

22. I am grateful to Richard J. Leskosky, assistant professor of Cinema Studies at the University of Illinois, for allowing me to view this 1942 Warner Brothers parody in April, 1986.

23. Viewed in Madrid in April of 1976.

24. McCluhan seems to be far less interested in active responses of viewers, regarding them in the main as placid consumers of any media expressions.

25. Max Lüthi, The European Folktale: Form and Nature, translated by John D. Niles (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1982), p. 25.

26. Ibid., pp. 25-26.

27. Dégh, "Grimm's Household Tales," p. 102.

28. Ibid., p. 102. She further develops the relation of Märchen and advertising in "The Magic Tale and Its Magic," in Michael M. Metzger and Katharina Mommsen (eds.), Fairy Tales as Ways of Knowing (Berne: Peter Lang, 1981), pp. 54-68 (esp. pp. 66-68).

29. Claude Lévi-Strauss develops this challenging concept in all of his writing. See in particular Structural Anthropology, trans. C. Jacobson and B. G. Schoepf (London: Allen Lane, 1968), esp. chaps. 2 and 11.


Publishers Weekly (review date 12 October 1998)

SOURCE: Review of The Six Swans, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, translated by Anthea Bell, illustrated by Dorothée Duntze. Publishers Weekly 245, no. 41 (12 October 1998): 77.

In this faithful translation of the Brothers Grimm, [The Six Swans, ] Duntze (The Twelve Dancing Princesses) explores themes of fear and silence with a somber palette and refined, elongated figures. Lost deep in a forest, a king promises a witch that he will marry her daughter in exchange for a way out. Fearing that his new wife will harm his children (from a previous marriage), he conceals them in a lone castle in the thick of the woods. However, she discovers their hiding place and sews shirts with a spell that turns his six sons into swans. The daughter escapes, vowing to free her brothers by sewing them shirts of starflowers and by keeping silent for six years. She marries, remains mute and, wrongly accused of the murder of her own children, stands at the stake about to be burned when the swan brothers arrive, the six years of silence ended. They take from her the starflower shirts and turn back into men. Duntze's drawings are architectural in their composition, each serving to convey the silent woman's isolation-dwarfing tree limbs in forest scenes and interiors sectioned in grids. Startling images of animals, whether hybrid decorations on the evil queen's mantelpiece (birds with human faces, a mermaid) or the six swooping swans, underscore the magical world in which humans and nonhumans inextricably intertwine. Duntze succeeds in depicting the darkness of human experience without shielding children from strong emotion. Ages 5-8.


Hazel Rochman (review date 15 September 2001)

SOURCE: Rochman, Hazel. Review of Hansel and Gretel, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, translated by Anthea Bell, illustrated by Dorothée Duntze. Booklist 98, no. 2 (15 September 2001): 226.

Gr. 3-6—Hansel and Gretel is perhaps the most terrifying fairy tale of all, and this book [Hansel and Gretel ] doesn't cover up the universal nightmare: that a parent would deliberately abandon a child. In Bell's clear, lengthy drama, translated from the German, there's no "stepmother" evasion. It's the mother who persuades the weak, reluctant dad to leave the children in the forest. Duntze's large, beautiful, stylized pictures show the children huddled in their home, hearing their wild monster parent shout, "We must get rid of the children." Then Hansel and Gretel are two small figures lost in the dark, terrifying forest. The gingerbread house, in garish candy colors, traps them. The witch is huge and horrible. Bell spells out exactly what the oven is for ("The witch planned to get Gretel inside it and then close the over door, roast her and eat her"), and the demonic illustration gives the oven a ferocious face. Words and pictures show that Hansel is the protective older sibling at first, but when the witch locks him up, it's Gretel's courage (as well as Hansel's cunning) that saves them. They return to an idyllic home—Mom and witch are both dead: is there a connection? This is not a book for the very young, but it will lead to some great discussions among older kids studying heroes and monsters.

Joanna Rudge Long (review date January-February 2002)

SOURCE: Long, Joanna Rudge. Review of Hansel and Gretel, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, translated by Anthea Bell, illustrated by Dorothée Duntze. Horn Book Magazine 78, no. 1 (January-February 2002): 88.

This handsome picture book [Hansel and Gretel ] offers the Grimms' text with only minor abridgments of the dialogue and of Hansel and Gretel's wanderings in the wood. The mother's betrayal of her own children—despite their father's feeble protests—and Hansel and Gretel's escape after Gretel shoves the witch into the oven to be "burn[ed] to death, screaming and howling miserably" are intact. Duntze's stylized art enhances the tale's nightmare quality and psychological depth, particularly in a family portrait centered on an uncompromisingly monumental mother holding four doll-sized coffins while her despairing husband protectively encircles tiny images of Hansel and Gretel, menaced by miniature wolves; the real children are pushed to the page's margins by their parents' gigantic forms. The yellow hair of the innocent children and the garish candy house shine dramatically in an otherwise subdued palette that's keyed to the somber night scenes; the bread whose lack precipitates the events lurks everywhere, looming in the dreamlike landscape like a surreal antithesis to the witch's candy. Bell's translation is clean and well paced, though it doesn't have the energy, the lyricism, or the engaging informality of Lore Segal and Randall Jarrell's rendition in The Juniper Tree (rev. 3/74). Still, this is the real story, in a format appropriate for readers old enough to appreciate its darker meanings.


School Library Journal (review date May 2001)

SOURCE: Review of The Rabbit's Bride, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, adapted and illustrated by Holly Meade. School Library Journal 47, no. 5 (May 2001): 142.

K-Gr. 2—[In The Rabbit's Bride, a] young girl is instructed by her mother to chase away the rabbit that is eating their cabbage. Each time she does, the rabbit asks, "Come, maiden … sit on my tail and go with me to my rabbit hutch." Acquiescing on the third request, the child finds herself carried away and betrothed to this now dictatorial creature. She manages to trick him, and runs back to her mother. Brooding and dark in nature, the folktale loses its effect here, for Meade has changed the ending. Instead of concluding with the rabbit's sadness over his loss (he thought that he had killed her), the reteller adds, "Back in the beautiful cabbage garden, the maiden's mother was happy. And so was the maiden." With these seemingly minor changes, the entire story loses the folktale flavor and raison d'être. The artwork, done in vibrant watercolors, effectively illustrates the rabbit's changing personality from harmless to demonic, but the effect may be too scary for young readers, and they will not be prepared for this sudden turnaround. Maurice Sendak's somber and intricate drawings for The Juniper Tree (Farrar, 1973) embody the essence of the Grimm tales; before readers open the pages, they know that this tale has a dark undercurrent. While Meade's whimsical and effervescent artwork is highly laudable, it is not suited for this folktale. This story may take some explaining for young listeners and leave them confused.


Publishers Weekly (review date 14 January 2002)

SOURCE: Review of The Three Spinning Fairies: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, adapted and illustrated by Lisa Campbell Ernst. Publishers Weekly 249, no. 2 (14 January 2002): 59.

Ernst's (Goldilocks Returns) wry text and busy pictures contribute equally to the humor of this rollicking retelling [The Three Spinning Fairies: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm ]. Sporting three pigtails that stick straight up from her head, Zelda, daughter of the Royal Baker, looks every bit as foolish as she is made out to be. Since she "fancied herself much too special for work of any kind," the girl loafs around while her mother frantically bakes for the fussy queen. In an attempt to hide her daughter's slothfulness, the mother tells the queen that Zelda is such a hard worker that she refuses to stop spinning yarn. Delighted, the royal brings her to a tower, announcing that Zelda can marry the prince as soon as she finishes spinning the flax that fills the tower's three rooms. Enter the title characters, who up to this point have been hovering watchfully from outside the frames of the illustrations. With physical abnormalities that enable them to spin masterfully, fairies Anita, Benita and Bob (the last a paunchy bald man in a vest and bow tie) cheerfully complete Zelda's task. Ernst cleverly capitalizes on the story's inherent ironics as she reveals how her colorful characters get their just deserts—especially Zelda, who inherits her mother's demanding job. A felicitously fractured fairy tale.


Neil Gaiman (review date 5 December 2004)

SOURCE: Gaiman, Neil. "Grimmer Than You Thought." New York Times Book Review (5 December 2004): 64.

[In the following review, Gaiman lauds the wealth of "fascinating" historical annotations in editor Maria Tatar's The Annotated Brothers Grimm.]

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm did not set out to entertain children, not at first. They were primarily collectors and philologists, who almost two centuries ago assembled German fairy tales as part of a life's work that included, Maria Tatar points out, "massive volumes with such titles as German Legends, German Grammar, Ancient German Law and German Heroic Legends. " ("Jacob Grimm's German Grammar alone," we are told helpfully, "took up 3,854 pages.") They published their first collection of Märchen, Children's Stories and Household Tales, in 1812, with a second volume in 1815 and an expanded and revised edition in 1819; folklorists who became, of necessity, storytellers, they reworked the tales for years, smoothing them while removing material they considered unsuitable for children.

The Grimms' fairy tales are inescapably, well, grimmer than the courtly, sparkling 17th-century "Cinderella" and "Tales of Mother Goose" of Charles Perrault. The Brothers Grimm toned down bawdier content—in their first edition, Rapunzel's question to the enchantress was why, after the Prince's visits, her belly had begun to swell—but not much of the violence and bloodshed. Occasionally they were even heightened. "The Juniper Tree" is a treatment of death and rebirth, just deserts and restoration, that feels almost sacred, but the child murder and cannibalism make it untellable today as children's fiction.

The Annotated Brothers Grimm gives us a sample of the 210 tales in the authoritative version of the seventh and final edition of 1857. Tatar, dean of humanities and professor of Germanic languages and literature at Harvard University, has newly translated 37 of the 210, as well as nine tales for adults, and annotated them, drawing on the commentary of the Grimms themselves and of writers who have reused the Grimms' material, from Jane Yolen and Peter Straub to Terry Pratchett.

Annotating fairy tales must be different in kind from the task of annotating, say, a Sherlock Holmes story or Lewis Carroll's "Hunting of the Snark." Sherlock Holmes stories don't have a multiplicity of variants from different cultures and times; Red Riding Hood exists in versions in which, before she clambers into bed with the wolf, she first eats her grandmother's flesh and drinks her blood; in which she strips for the wolf; in which, naked, she excuses herself to use the privy and escapes; in which she is first devoured, then cut from the wolf's stomach by a huntsman; in which….

Tatar's book, with its annotations, explanations, front matter and end matter, illustrations and biographical essay and further-reading section, is difficult to overpraise. A volume for parents, for scholars, for readers, it never overloads the stories or, worse, reduces them to curiosities. And as an object, it's a chocolate-box feast of multicolored inks and design.

The annotations are fascinating. Tatar points out things so plain that commentators sometimes miss them (for example, that "Hansel and Gretel" is a tale driven by food and hunger from a time when, for the peasantry, eating until you were full was a pipe dream). In the introduction to "Snow White," we learn that "the Grimms, in an effort to preserve the sanctity of motherhood, were forever turning biological mothers into stepmothers," while an annotation tells us that in the 1810 manuscript version "there is only one queen, and she is both biological mother and persecutor."

Only rarely does Tatar note the blindingly obvious. When the heroine of "The Singing Soaring Lark" (the Grimms' "Beauty and the Beast") sits down and cries, we're told that characters often cry when things are going badly: "The weeping is emblematic of the grief and sadness they feel, and it gives the character an opportunity to pause before moving on to a new phase of action." Well, quite.

The assemblage of stories—Germanic tales that have become part of world culture—parades an array of nameless youngest sons and intelligent and noble girls. As both A. S. Byatt (who wrote the introduction) and Tatar point out, the heroes and heroines triumph not because they have good hearts or are purer or nobler than others (indeed, most of the young men are foolish, and some are downright lazy) but because they are the central characters, and the story will take care of them, as stories do.

The "adult" section contains several murderous cautionary tales, along with the nightmare of "The Jew in the Brambles," a story not much reprinted since 1945, in which the hero tortures a Jewish peddler using a magic fiddle, making him dance in brambles; at the end the peddler is hanged. Three of the Grimms' tales contain Jewish figures; "the two that feature anti-Semitism in its most virulent form were included in the Compact Edition designed for young readers" (1825), Tatar tells us. "The Jew in the Brambles" casts a long shadow back through the book, leaving one wondering whether the ashes Cinderella slept in would one day become the ashes of Auschwitz.

And yet most of the stories, no matter how murderous, exude comfort. Rereading them feels like coming home. Tatar's translation is comfortable and familiar (the occasional verse translations are slightly less felicitous); several times I found myself reading right through an unfamiliar or forgotten tale to find out what happened next, ignoring the annotations completely.

Illustrations are an important ingredient of fairy tales. The variety and choice here are beyond reproach: among them, Arthur Rackham, with his polled trees that gesture and bend like old men and his adults all gnarled and twisted like trees; the elegance of Kay Nielsen; the lush draperies and delicate fancies of Warwick Goble.

The Annotated Brothers Grimm treats the stories as something important—not, in the end, because of what they tell us of the buried roots of Germanic myth, or because of the often contradictory and intermittently fashionable psychoanalytic interpretations, or for any other reason than that they are part of the way we see the world, because they should be told. That's what I took from it, anyway. But fairy tales are magic mirrors: they show you what you wish to see.


Gillian Engberg (review date 1-15 January 2005)

SOURCE: Engberg, Gillian. Review of The Bremen Town Musicians and Other Animal Tales from Grimm, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, retold by Doris Orgel, illustrated by Bert Kitchen. Booklist 101, nos. 9-10 (1-15 January 2005): 866.

PreS-Gr. 2—The creators of The Lion and the Mouse and Other Aesop's Fables (2000) offer another beautifully illustrated collection of tales, [The Bremen Town Musicians and Other Animal Tales from Grimm, ] this time from the Brothers Grimm. Orgel has selected a group of animal stories, including "The Hare and the Hedgehog," "King of the Birds," and, of course, "The Bremen Town Musicians." Austrian by birth, Orgel translated the stories herself from German texts, and she retells them in the lively language and expert pacing of an experienced story-teller, following each selection with a short note about changes she made to the original. Kitchen contributes exquisitely detailed scenes in soft, muted colors and minute, feathery strokes, rendering remarkably expressive animals and atmospheric landscapes. A fine read-aloud for large or small groups, this will make an excellent addition to elementary classroom units about the Grimms.



Peppard, Murray B. Paths through the Forest: A Biography of the Brothers Grimm. New York, N.Y.: Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston, 1971, 266 p.

Biography of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.


Bettelheim, Bruno. "Little Red Riding Hood." In The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, pp. 166-83. New York, N.Y.: Knopf, 1976.

Provides a psychoanalytic interpretation of the Grimms' version of "Little Red Cap" in Kinder- und Hausmärchen.

Haase, Donald, editor. The Reception of Grimms' Fairy Tales: Responses, Reactions, Revisions. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1993, 347 p.

Selection of scholarly essays on the Brothers Grimm by such critics as Jack Zipes, Jane Yolen, and Margaret Atwood.

Kamenetsky, Christa. The Brothers Grimm and Their Critics: Folktales and the Quest for Meaning. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1992, 377 p.

Analytical discussion of various critical reactions to the works of the Brothers Grimm.

McGlathery, James M. Grimm's Fairy Tales: A History of Criticism on a Popular Classic. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1993, 135 p.

Collection of critical responses to Kinder- und Hausmärchen and the Grimms' other works of folklore.

Murphy, G. Ronald. The Owl, the Raven, and the Dove: The Religious Meaning of the Grimms' Magic Fairy Tales. New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 2000, 189 p.

Explores the various religious references and allusions in the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Ohles, Frederik. Germany's Rude Awakening: Censorship in the Land of the Brothers Grimm. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1992, 227 p.

Discussion of the impact of censorship in nineteenth-century Germany on the publication of the Grimms' Kinder- und Hausmärchen.

Smith, Mary Morgan. Review of The Annotated Brothers Grimm, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, edited by Maria Tatar. Library Journal 129, no. 14 (1 September 2004): 149.

Calls The Annotated Brothers Grimm an "outstanding addition to folklore, children's literature, and Germanic studies collections."

Tatar, Maria. The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987, 277 p.

Critical assessment of the methods of collection and adaptation employed by the Brothers Grimm in compiling their volumes of folk and fairy tales.

Additional coverage of the Brothers Grimm's lives and careers is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Concise Dictionary of World Literary Biography, Vol. 2; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 90; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds. 1, 2; Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism, Vols. 3, 77; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2; Reference Guide to World Literature, Eds. 2, 3; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 36; Something about the Author, Vol. 22; and Writers for Children.

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Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm 1785-1863; 1786-1859

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