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Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm – Grimm’s Fairy Tales

March 12, 2010

25. Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (originally published 1812)

Length: 187 pages
Genre: Fairy Tales, obviously.

Started: 10 January 2010
Finished: 03 March 2010

Where did it come from? From my LT Secret Santa.
Why do I have it? See above.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 20 December 2009.

Fairy princesses
aren’t all that you’ll be getting
in this book of tales.

Summary: The Grimm brothers’ collection of folk stories was originally intended as a scholarly work for adults, although they’re better known today as children’s fairy tales. This collection contains early versions of favorites such as Cinderella, Rumplestiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. However, there are also many lesser-known fables as well, telling stories of noble kings and beautiful princesses, clever merchants and shiftless sons, magical sacks and enchanted animals, and wicked witches and the depths of the dark forest.

Review: I’d always heard that the original versions of fairy tales were a lot darker and more gruesome than the Disney-fied versions that everyone knows. And, while it’s true that the stories in this collection were certainly not nearly as sanitized as the versions that you’ll find in children’s storybooks, neither were they quite as dark as I’d been led to believe. A lot of the stories are either humorous and light, or relatively straightforward morality tales with the good and honorable people winding up happy and the wicked people ending up punished for their misdeeds. What really surprised me were the few stories that seemed to run counter to the implied morality of the rest of the tales – there was more than one story where the character who is clever and manipulative and greedy actually gets his own way, instead of causing his own downfall. That discontinuity actually interested me more than any of the so-called “dark” elements to the stories; I’d be curious to read a more analytical approach to these classic stories.

This book took me a long time to finish, not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because when a book contains short short stories, it becomes too easy to put down and not pick back up again. The stories I enjoyed most were not the stories I already knew (i.e. Cinderella, etc.), nor the stories that were totally unfamiliar, but rather the stories that I had only ever encountered in passing in other works of fiction. I got a lot of background on quite a few Fables characters whose origins I didn’t already know, that’s for sure. Finally reading “The Goose Girl” let me see how much of Shannon Hale’s version was her own invention, and I was shocked to see that Tender Morsels is an actual quote from “Snow White and Rose Red.” Overall, if it isn’t too blasphemous, I do have to say that I generally enjoy retellings more than the originals, but that my appreciation for the retellings is deepened by knowing where they come from… so reading the Grimm brothers’ originals was certainly worth my time. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Every lover of fantasy and fairy tales should probably read this (and Hans Christan Andersen’s Fairy Tales) at some point in their lives.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Rebecca Reads, Ulat Buku in the City
I feel like this is the one rare case where the Book Blog Search Engine is letting me down – it’s hard to pick out posts that are actually about the original collection of fairy tales from all of the posts that are about some version of one of the tales. Have you reviewed this book and I missed it? Please leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in!

Cover Thoughts: Those are some fat little German kids!

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 100: ““Oh no,” cried the host, quite humbly. “I will gladly produce everything, only make the accursed kobold creep back into the sack.”” – a spirit or goblin, often mischievous, that haunts houses, mines, or underground places.
16 Comments leave one →
  1. March 12, 2010 8:45 am

    You may have inspired me to pick my copy of this back up and give it another try.

  2. March 12, 2010 8:51 am

    Hi! Thanks for the link! :)

  3. March 13, 2010 5:45 pm

    I read this once for a class in college. I hadn’t paid much attention to fairy tales before that, but it sparked an interest and after that I read Anderson’s tales, and other collections I could find. Then on to retellings- which are sometimes more enjoyable. I remember being shocked at the darker elements and endings in some of Grimm’s tales, but not the ambiguous morality- perhaps I just didn’t notice. Makes me curious to read them again and see what I think this time.

    • March 13, 2010 6:31 pm

      Jeane – I wonder if the fact that I’ve read more than a few very dark retellings influenced my reaction to the originals?

  4. March 13, 2010 7:29 pm

    I adore fairy tales, and I read Grimm’s as a kid so most of these stories are familiar to me. I think the “originals” that people talk about being so dark are more original than Grimm. My impression was always that the Grimm brothers cleaned them up quite a bit when they collected them, from the darker and more gruesome source stories. In fact there’s a book on my TBR list about that very thing: The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales, I think.

    • March 15, 2010 9:17 am

      Jenny – Oooh, that sounds like exactly the kind of book that I was talking about. To the wishlist!

  5. She permalink
    March 13, 2010 10:14 pm

    I recently bought this from B&N, so I’m glad to hear your take on it! I’m thinking I might take it up as a second book and read a story or two a day.

    I’ve also heard about how dark the stories are. While I’m sad to hear that this was misleading, I think I could do without the chopping and blood that might have otherwise been there. ;p

    • March 15, 2010 9:19 am

      She – They’re darker than the Disneyfied versions, for sure, but I didn’t find them to be DARK, if you know what I mean.

  6. Shanra permalink
    March 14, 2010 4:52 pm

    Jenny’s right about the cleaning. The Grimm’s themselves already sanitised the fairytales they collected – and then later found that they weren’t santised enough the way we know them now.

    (For example, in one of the earliest versions we have of Sleeping Beauty, she wakes up not to a kiss of True Love, but a baby suckling her breast. Rapunzel ‘originally’ asks the witch why her stomach is growing – or why her periods have stopped, I’m not sure, but there was definitely more than talking going on in that tower.)

    (The Hard Facts by… Maria Tartar, I think, also sounds about right, but I haven’t read it. You might want to ask Nymeth for books on the origin of our fairytales. She’s read a few of them. ^-^)

    I grew up on Grimm and Andersen – still have two huge collections standing in my room. ^-^ One of my favourite stories has always been “The Two Brothers”, about the two brothers who go off into the world and get a variety of baby animals for sparing the parents. And “Brother and Sister” about the two children who flee their wicked stepmother into the forest and Brother gets turned into a deer… (I actually made a retelling of that one myself. ^-^) And “The White Bride and the Black Bride”, although it may be called “The True Bride” in English…

    *ahem* You get the idea. ^-~ But I do agree with you on the retellings. I enjoy them far more than the original fairytales too. ^-^ (If only for the “What did they do to the fairytale?” curiosity. It’s such a fascinating thing, retelling…)

    • March 15, 2010 9:23 am

      Shanra – Now I’m wondering how complete this edition was… I suspect not very, as I don’t think it has all of the stories you mention. One more book I need to hunt down, I guess.

      • Shanra permalink
        March 20, 2010 12:49 pm

        *looks at page count* Oooh, not complete by a long shot. Though I did actually check my copy now and it’s actually only 500 pages instead of around a thousand… ^-^; I used to read it voraciously as a kid (as in literally every single night. I’m surprised I don’t know the ones I revisited the most by heart), so I guess it just feels a lot bigger than it is to me.

        (But at least that means it’s less pages to read, right? ^-~)

  7. March 14, 2010 5:54 pm

    I second Jenny’s and Shanra’s comments – Grimms’ versions are, surprisingly enough, quite sanitized. Maria Tatar’s The Brother’s Grimm gives a fascinating account of their editing process. It’s just so tricky to talk about originals when discussing fairy tales. Having said that, I do love me some Grimm in all their sanitized-but-still-disturbing-enough glory.

    • March 15, 2010 9:26 am

      Nymeth – I realized about halfway through writing this review that it was rather silly to talk about “originals” of folk tales, since they’re so mutable and their roots stretch back so far… but the Grimm Bros. do mark *something* in the history of these stories, even if not their origin, and I couldn’t think of a better word.

  8. December 12, 2011 7:33 pm

    Loved this book, but I was surprised how dark it was. I knew it was going to be different, but I wasn’t ready for some of them. I agree that every fantasy reader needs to read this at some point.

    -Eliabeth Hawthorne


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