The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales

The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales

The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales

The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales

Synopsis

Murder, mutilation, cannibalism, infanticide, and incest: the darker side of classic fairy tales figures as the subject matter for this intriguing study of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's Nursery and Household Tales. This updated and expanded second edition includes a new preface and an appendix containing new translations of six tales, along with commentary by Maria Tatar. Throughout the book, Tatar skillfully employs the tools not only of a psychoanalyst but also of a folklorist, literary critic, and historian to examine the harsher aspects of these stories. She presents new interpretations of the powerful stories in this worldwide best-selling book. Few studies have been written in English on these tales, and none has probed their allegedly happy endings so thoroughly.

Excerpt

Advance middle age appears to be a popular time for admitting interest in fairy tales. At age fifty-five, George Bernard Shaw declared that he still considered "Grimm" to be "the most entertaining of German authors." C. S. Lewis confessed to reading fairy tales on the sly for years; only after turning fifty did he feel free to acknowledge his addiction to the genre. Compelling in their simplicity and poignant in their emotional appeal, fairy tales have the power to stir long-dormant childhood feelings and to quicken our sympathies for the downtrodden. They also offer wit and wisdom in the trenchant formulations of the folk. There is something in them for every age and generation. It is hardly surprising that the Grimms' Nursery and Household Tales ranks, by virtue of the number of its German editions and translations, as the runaway best seller of all German books.

In 1818, the Quarterly Review proclaimed with great fanfare that "the most important addition to nursery literature has been effected in Germany, by the diligence of John and William Grimm, two antiquarian brethren of the highest reputation." As familiar as the tales in the Grimms' collection may be and as much as the Grimms' name has since become a household word, the brothers who compiled the now classic texts in the Nursery and Household Tales remain unfamiliar figures on the map of European cultural history. The Quarterly Review was neither the first nor the last to get their Christian names wrong. Some folklorists and philologists even have trouble keeping the two brothers apart, this despite the radical differences between them in temperament, physical appearance, and intellectual leanings. Shaw seems to have labored under the illusion that "Grimm" was a single individual, rather than a team of fraternal scholars. As Thomas Mann pointed out in a tribute to the Irish playwright, Shaw never realized that his favorite German author consisted of two people: the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. With what has become characteristic reverence for the Grimms and their accomplishments, Mann hailed the brothers as "romantically . . .

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