Academic journal article German Quarterly

Rhymes and Reasons in the Grimms' Kinder- und Hausmarchen

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Rhymes and Reasons in the Grimms' Kinder- und Hausmarchen

Article excerpt

As the only linguist in a German Department filled with scholars of literature and culture, I have occasionally dabbled in literature and culture myself. My main dabble in the past few years has been a freshman seminar on the Brothers Grimm and their fairy tales. Like a literary scholar, I have addressed with the students questions concerning the cultural context in which the tales were written, their oral and/or written sources, and the values that may or may not be revealed in them. I have approached them from a number of different theoretical perspectives, including feminist and psychoanalytic ones.

As a linguist, however, I am ultimately interested in the Grimms' fairy tales for the linguistic, or, in this context, philological issues they raise. My particular interest for the purpose of this article has to do with the ways in which dialect phenomena, rather than or in addition to more standard forms, are manipulated in the fairy tales to achieve the goals of the Brothers Grimm.

It has long been recognized that the Brothers Grimm did not arrive at their world-famous fairy-tale collection by slogging through the fields, woods, and villages of German-speaking Europe, eliciting age-old folktales from peasant farmers and old spinning ladies.1 Many of their sources are demonstrably literary, their informants were frequently acquaintances, and many of the tales are not even exclusively German. Furthermore, the Kinder- und Hausmarchen (KHM) went through seven editions while at least one Grimm was still alive, and the differences between, indeed developments in, the successive versions of the collection are wide-ranging and striking.

Nevertheless, the argument has been made, and I will reinforce it here, that the Grimms tried to give to their tales a distinctively German, and in fact, frequently, a regional German character. Indeed, to strengthen their claim for the Germanness of these tales, the Grimms obviously relied on their talents as folklorists and linguists not to actually forge, but rather to edit and add to the tales, and to emphasize aspects of them that would buttress their "authenticity."

Heinz Rolleke and his students (Rolleke 1988) have argued persuasively that one of the things the Grimms (especially Wilhelm Grimm) did which had this folkloristic effect was to add over the years hundreds of independently collected sayings and proverbs to the body of the tales. To quote Rolleke:

Wilhelm Grimm hat gerade durch die Interpolation der dem Marchen als wesensverwandt empfundenen Paromien das meiste fur die ungeheure Volkstumlichkeit seiner Textgestaltung und damit zweifellos auch einen unverachtlichen Beitrag zur Revitalisierung volkstumlichen Sprachguts geleistet. (1988: 20)

Without denying the great importance of such incorporations to the "Volkstumlichkeit" of the tales, I argue here that the Grimms used other strategies that may have played an equally important role in lending the tales a more authentic, and more oral, cast. Specifically, I examine the use of verse in their stories.

I begin with tales for which there exist clear literary sources, in order to establish those elements which in the Grimms' judgment added not only to the authenticity of a tale, but also to the likelihood of a positive reception by a general German audience. To this end, a comparative analysis of those aspects that they kept from a preexisting tale with those that they changed is called for.

When comparing the literary sources for these tales with the versions presented by the Brothers Grimm, it becomes obvious that in terms of narrative, prose is favored over verse. This may be illustrated with tale #147 "Das junggegluhte Mannlein," the original coming from Hans Sachs. I have presented the original, in rhymed couplets, first and further to the left, while the Grimm version from the seventh and final edition is indented:

Though I have presented the Grimm version in verse format (to capture the correspondence between the two versions) this fragment is not in rhymed verse. …

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