Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Two Hundred Years after Once upon a Time: The Legacy of the Brothers Grimm and Their Tales in Germany

Academic journal article Marvels & Tales

Two Hundred Years after Once upon a Time: The Legacy of the Brothers Grimm and Their Tales in Germany

Article excerpt

The first question to ask when discussing the legacy of the Brothers Grimm and their tales in Germany 200 years after they published the two volumes of Kinderund Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales) in 1812 and 1815 is, Are the Grimms sleeping comfortably in their graves because of the great success of their tales, now considered almost as famous as Luther's translation of the Bible, or are they twisting, turning, and complaining that they have been betrayed by the manner in which their tales have been turned into kitsch entertainment? The second important question is, What is their legacy exactly and what are their tales? Here I must note that the stories in their collection are not strictly speaking all fairy tales, for there is hardly a fairy in any of their tales, which range from fables, legends, and animal tales to folk anecdotes, trickster stories, tall tales, and religious narratives. On the other hand, there is, of course, a great deal of magical or miraculous transformation and moral counterworlds that constitute prime characteristics of the great tradition of fairy tales. Bearing that in mind, the third question, for there must always be three, is, What has happened to the Grimms' tales in Germany since the 1990 reunification of East and West Germany, and why are they still so relevant? Why is there a contemporary fairy-tale boom in Germany, not to mention in the United States and other parts of the world?

Because there have been excellent studies about the influence and heritage of the Grimms' tales up to 1990-I am thinking here of Donald Haase's book The Reception of Grimms' Fairy Tales, an informative collection of essays, among others-I want to set the discussion of the legacy of the Grimms' tales in the German sociocultural context of the last twenty-five years and begin by discussing some of the more recent popular manifestations of their stories. Literally hundreds if not thousands of Grimm fairytale products and productions have been created in the cultural fields of literature, theater, fine arts, opera, music, dance, film, television, the Internet, comics, and so on, and it would be impossible to do all of them justice. The same can be said about fairy-tale products in the world of advertising, commerce, and trade. Therefore I focus mainly on literature, including picture books, and filmic adaptations, and even here I must be selective because of the large amount of material. Following my discussion of popular manifestations, I discuss the concept or notion of a Grimm legacy and conclude with an analysis of scholarly studies that, in contrast to popular culture, have grounded the legacy of the Grimms in substantial ways that, I believe, are giving the brothers great peace of mind in their graves. To be sure, I do not believe that the Grimms turn over in their graves all that often because of popular culture and the popularity of their tales, but they must certainly be shocked and, at times, distressed by the massive transformation of the tales, which runs the gamut from banal and infantile kitsch to sublime and profound recreation-something that they had not experienced during their lifetime.

The kitsch has been more or less "celebrated" and certainly exposed in the exhibit "Grimmskrams & Märchendising: Die Popularität der Brüder Grimm und ihrer Märchen" (Grimms' Junk and Fairy-Tale Merchandising: The Popularity of the Brothers Grimm and Their Fairy Tales),1 held from December 2008 to February 2009 in Marburg and organized by the Institute for Ethnology and Cultural Studies of the Philipps-University Marburg. The exhibit was divided into modules consisting of the "German Fairy-Tale Road and Regional Marketing," "Language and Storytelling," psychology, pornography and fairy-tale fetishism, fairy-tale illustrations, fairy-tale films, fairy-tale archaeology, Grimm street art in Marburg, and the poetry of boxes. According to the organizers:

The basic idea of the exhibit is to comprehend objects as nodal points that to a certain extent dwell within the popularity of the Brothers Grimm as they manifest themselves today and to comprehend where they are stored and preserved. …

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