Rossdavidh's Reviews > The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm

The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm by Jacob Grimm
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So, we probably all have read (or heard, or seen) at least one of the tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. Rapunzel, or Little Red Riding Hood, or Hansel and Gretel, or something. We may vaguely be aware, that the versions we are aware of have been toned down somewhat from the "original" Brothers Grimm, usually by removing a good bit of the violence of the originals. If you go back to find an actual, made-for-adults-to-read version, you find that there are a lot of nasty deaths for the villains, for example.

What you may not have been aware of, though, is that the Brothers Grimm did the same thing. The versions we read as the "originals", are translations of later editions. The Brothers Grimm originally collected these tales, not necessarily just for children, but more generally as a cultural and even nationalist act. The nation of Germany did not yet exist, but the Grimms were claiming by the act of collecting folktales that its culture existed. Other linguistic communities were collecting folktales in Italian, French, and other languages for not entirely dissimilar purposes. When the Grimms realized that their collected stories were going to be widely read to children, and were subject to some critical backlash that they were too violent (or in some cases sexually explicit), they began revising them. It is these later, revised versions that were translated into English. Until now.

This is the first edition. Here, Rapunzel does not betray to her fairy captor that she has been secretly visited by a prince, by asking what men were like. Instead, Rapunzel asks, "why are my clothes becoming too tight? They don't fit me any more." Some of the stories with wicked stepmothers who want to sell their stepchildren or abandon them in the forest because food is scarce, are instead just wicked mothers. There are also a lot of very short stories; Rumpelstiltskin is less than two pages long. Some of them have inscrutable or senseless endings. It is the furthest thing from a Disney-fied, hour-and-a-half tale of good triumphing over evil but not being too grisly about it. In the original tales, sometimes the protagonist triumphs, and sometimes the protagonist is good, and sometimes for that matter there is a coherent ending at all, but very often you do not get any of those three. This is storytelling of an extraordinarily unpolished sort, and told by people who lived in a much more violent time than our own.

I read these tales one or two at a time, at the coffeeshop in the morning, and often ended them with a baffled shake of my head. It must be said, though, that in our entirely-too-polished-and-curated world, there is something bracing and refreshing about reading tales that have not had their rough edges sanded off, not at all. Andrea Dezsö has illustrated this version in a style much like shadowpuppetry, and it is a good match for the material. Living in the 21st century, the 19th century of the Brothers Grimm is as distant from us as the world of peasant folktales was from the university-educated urban linguists who collected them, and reading a translation of the 1st edition brings us closer to both.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
October 23, 2018 – Shelved
October 23, 2018 – Shelved as: white

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