Away with the Fairies

By Quirke, Antonia | New Statesman (1996), December 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

Away with the Fairies


Quirke, Antonia, New Statesman (1996)


Grimm Thoughts

Radio 4

A ten-part series devoted to the Brothers Grimm and their fairy tales is presented over the days before Christmas by the mythographer Marina Warner in her compellingly steady, serious voice. It's a voice that suggests, with its occasional musical modulations for sarcasm and intrigue, an off-the-scale hinterland to which we are never quite invited and which we would never dare trespass upon.

Compiled two centuries ago by the purposeful brothers Jacob and Wilhelm, the fairy stories contain no fairies and no fairy land but instead goblins, cannibals, a singing bone, a donkey cabbage, a cudgel in a sack, a girl without hands and a girl in a nail-studded barrel dragged through town until death. There is also a youth who went forth to learn how to shudder, a tailor who gets high on jam, a den of murderers eating ravens and a frog who crawls into bed next to a princess insisting "now I want some comfort", after which the Princess (who had already resisted his outrageous advances by a well) hurls him with exceeding violence against a wall.

In the programme, this bit was dramatised with a thorough splat, followed by the sound of the semi-conscious amphibean falling bloodily to a marbled floor. (Auden, in a piece for the New York Times, once described the tales as "an educational must for adults married or single")

In the first episode, Warner talked a little about the brothers, whose own early lives were fantastical--the death of their wealthy father forced them to leave their estate opposite a dark forest and "secret and unpredictable" mountains filled with wild boar and wolves in central Germany, and throw themselves on the mercy of an aunt who was lady-in-waiting to a local princess. …

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