The Fairy Tales by Brothers Grimm
The most popular collection of fairy tales in the world
Fairy Tales by Brothers Grimm is not only well-known but probably one of the most influential books in human history.
While the values defined in their fairy tales are today considered slightly outdated, fairy tales too brutal, we still can’t deny their charm, the reason they belong to classical education.
The book originally titled Children and Household Tales is considered one of the cornerstones of Western civilization and since 2005, it is also on the list of world cultural heritage of UNESCO. Reasons for that are not educational only. The morals of this book are so deeply ingrained in our society, they can’t be separated from our ethics, law and other areas of life and society which at the end of the day define our civilization.
Why is this book of fairy tales so popular? Why is it so special?
Once upon a time…
Jacob and William were born in Hanau, one of the bigger cities in Germany. It is located about 30 kilometers from Frankfurt and it was almost completely destroyed only a few weeks before the end of World War 2. After the war, there was an important US military base which was closed in 2008.
But we have to go more than two centuries back in time. This photo is here just for the better feeling of the place where the magic was born.
Jacob and William Grimm were the eldest surviving of eight brothers and a sister, all children of Philipp and Dorothea Grimm.
Philipp Wilhelm Grimm was a lawyer by education and employed as a state officer in Steinau. His wife Dorothea was the daughter of the city councilman.
The family Grimm belonged to the respected members of the community, living in a large house with several servants. They could afford private tutors for their kids. But three of their nine children died before they reached the age of two years.
Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm was born on 4th January 1785 and Wilhelm Carl Grimm was born on 24th February 1786. Being less than 15 months apart they spent childhood and most of their lives strongly connected, in many aspects almost as twins.
There were five surviving brothers and a sister altogether in the family and this pattern of many brothers and only one girl is just one of many important facts from their life reflected in their most popular book: Children and Household Stories, more known as The Fairy Tales of Brothers Grimm.
The absent father
Jacob’s and William’s father died of pneumonia when boys were about ten-year-old. Their life changed for worse very fast. The family could not afford any luxury anymore.
They have to move into a smaller house, dismiss private tutors and go to public schools.
Grandfather had to take care of the family and only two years later he died.
Jacob and Wilhelm were forced to assume the responsibilities of grown-ups.
The loss of the father took a great toll and we can feel that in many of Grimm’s fairy tales.
If we explore the history of some more known, we can soon find out the father in some older versions is not nearly often dead, absent, uninterested or helpless as in Grimm’s book of fairy tales.
Just think about the role of the father in The Snow White (always away from home), The Sleeping Beauty (very distant), The Cinderella (always on the way) or The Little Red Riding-Hood (not mentioned at all)!
Similarities with their real-life are obvious, right?
Many children grew up with so-called sanitized fairy tales, where the bloody details, cannibalism, and other inappropriate themes were erased from the stories. Well, it takes a whole article to debate if this is really good for their development or not, but the fact is a good number of the fairy tales in the collection was initially written for parents, not their kids.
Only after the publication of the first book of the tales several readers suggested they (Jacob and William) should offer the book to the growing market of children’s books. Successful TV series capitalizes on their initial collection. A fantasy police drama simply named Grimm is built on the darkest tones of the famous collection. Grown-ups love it… Again!
Fairy Tales written by brothers Grimm are really special
They were never simply a collection of folktales because the Grimms rewrote them so many times it is impossible to say what was the original version.
They were more a document about a state of mind in a society where the values were changing very fast and now they are considered as one of the most important books ever.
If we are looking to understand the values of today’s Western civilization, how right and wrong are defined, why we do things as we are, how are major decisions about careers, relationships and other important areas of our lives are made, this is very likely the best place to start.
But it looks kids can handle unpleasant scenes in fairy tales pretty good, probably much better than scenes on TV news.
They have been rewriting collected fairy tales for the rest of their lives
Brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm not only collected fairy tales at the beginning but soon realized a lot of fairy tales didn’t match the values of society from the beginning of the 19th century and their own (both were raised in strict Calvinistic doctrine) values either.
Violence apparently didn’t bother them, but they were much more strict when unmarried couples were in question. So they rewrote every single sentence to be more appropriate to the audience.
If we just look at the first fairy tale in their first collection: Frog Prince (also known as Frog King), the story is all about finding a mate. There were no promises about eating or playing together, frog in the first version wants only to sleep with the princess. In the end, they slept together in her bed, what was out of the question for brothers Grimm, so they diluted a story with additional requests and they even deleted the mere mention of bed in later versions.
Did you know Rapunzel was pregnant in the first edition of Grimm’s Children and Household Fairy Tales? Through their numerous editions, brothers systematically erased everything they believed may install wrong values into their readers, no matter how different were ‘their’ fairy tales from the ‘originals’.
It’s interesting to note the violent scenes were not among their major concerns. In The Sleeping Beauty, they even added some gore.