More on the Brothers Grimm bicentennial

Earlier this month, I posted a piece on the 200th anniversary of first edition of the Brothers Grimm’s collection of German fairytales:

Yesterday the Sacramento Bee printed an article on this treasure trove of folklore and some of the worldwide activities the bicentennial has inspired (“The Grimm brothers from many angles,” by Jan Ferris Heenan,

Of particular interest is the publication of a new collection, The Annotated Brothers Grimm by Harvard professor, Maria Tatar. At $35, it’s not cheap, but since I don’t do Playstation and Christmas is coming up…

In the 45 years after 1812, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published six more editions which were eventually translated into more than 160 languages. In the Bee article, Jan Heenan explains that the Grimm brother’s motivation was partly political – Napoleon had conquered the German states and the Grimms sought to preserve something “authentically German.” They also understood the irreversible changes taking place because of industrialization. Farms, towns, and forests, the birthplace of traditional tales for millennia, were emptying out as economic change drove people into cities and factories.

“These stories were the television and pornography of an earlier age,” said author John Updike, and the summaries of earlier versions of the tales makes this clear. Rapunzel got pregnant, the stepmother wanted to eat Snow White’s liver and lungs, and in some versions, Red Riding Hood disrobes for the wolf. Not the stuff of Disney, but according to Maria Tartar, the originals offer something more important for adults:

“These are stories that show you no matter how bad it is…if you use your wit and have courage, you can get back home again. Even if we know in the real world that you don’t always survive, these are the stories that tell you…you do have a chance.”

Tartar’s book is the new number one on my wish list.

6 thoughts on “More on the Brothers Grimm bicentennial

  1. I love the Updike quote. The original stories aren’t really for children, now are they? And those Disneyized tales are coming back to something closer to their origianl forms with television and the movies revisiting them. Thanks for the post.


    • I’m very interested in the popularity of folklore and fairytale themes these days on TV and in the movies. I guess it’s somethng like the spike in interest after the Moyers/Cambell discussions 20+ years ago – a hunger for something deeper and more true than much of our cultural fluff.


  2. I have a version of the Grimm’s Fairytales, but my version doesn’t have those very dark versions of the stories.

    I’ve read about 1/3 of the stories in the book, and I really enjoy the stories, it’s great to take a look at the different stories. I had no idea that it was the 200th anniversary of the first publishing, if I didn’t already have a version I’d definitely have to consider picking this one up, I may have to get it anyway.


    • I just have a Penguin paperback edition that is not complete, so I’m pretty sure I’m going to get this one. This particular edition may not have all the darkest versions, since with numerous choices among the popular tales, who knows what criteria the editors used?


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