Jack Zipes, a Scholar of Fairy Tales, Has Two Brothers Grimm Books Out

By Goetzman, Amy | MinnPost.com, January 27, 2015 | Go to article overview

Jack Zipes, a Scholar of Fairy Tales, Has Two Brothers Grimm Books Out


Goetzman, Amy, MinnPost.com


Fairy tales just don't die. They just get rebooted for new generations. Part cautionary tale, part repository of cultural history, part pure entertainment, variations of this universal form exist in the oral tradition of every culture on Earth. German scholars Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm traveled the German countryside in the early 1800s, collecting and analyzing the folk and fairy tales we know best today. However, the stories we think of as theirs have been revised, softened and sanitized, first by the Grimms themselves, then by legions of others, notably Walt Disney.

Remember in "Tangled," when the prince climbs up the rope of Rapunzel's hair and impregnates her? Maybe you went back for more popcorn at that part. Anyhow, it's right there in the original, translated by Jack Zipes in "The Complete First Edition: The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm." (Princeton University Press) "Tell me, Mother Gothel, why are my clothes becoming too tight? They don't fit me anymore," she asks in the Grimms' version of the oft-told tale.

Zipes, a retired University of Minnesota professor of German, is one of the world's most prolific scholars on fairy tales and folk tales. This new translation comes out alongside another title, "Grimm Legacies: The Magic Spell of the Grimms' Folk and Fairy Tales." (Princeton University Press). In this book, Zipes examines the impact the fairy tale has had on the Western literary tradition and in contemporary pop culture. Even if you haven't been to the theaters lately, you're living in a world shaped by fairy tales.

MP: In "Grimm Legacies," you show the Grimm brothers discovering their calling as very young scholars. It sounds like it took you a little longer to realize your career would center on fairy tales.

JZ: Actually, my work on the Brothers Grimm and folklore is not the center of my career. I have written a great deal on the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, Germans and Jews, and storytelling. In 1995, I founded a storytelling program for children called Neighborhood Bridges in collaboration with the Children's Theatre Company of Minneapolis, which is 15 elementary schools in the Twin Cities. It is still thriving today and has been spread to other cities in the U.S. So, my work on folklore and the Brothers Grimm is part and parcel of my critical and creative work.

MP: You translated the Grimm brothers' fairy tales in the 1980s. Why did you decide to revisit the earlier versions with your new book?

JZ: In 2012 many universities and societies in the world held conferences to celebrate the bicentenary of the Grimms' first edition [1812] of their folk and fairy tales. I was invited to give talks at many different places in 2012, 2013 and 2015. When I realized that the first edition had never been fully translated into English -- I had translated a selection of tales from this edition here and there for different books -- I decided to translate the first edition, because it is completely different from the seventh edition that I had translated in 1987. It is fascinating to make comparisons between the first and seventh editions, because one can see how the Grimms made major changes in their views of the tales.

MP: As a parent, did you read fairy tales to your child?

JZ: I have a daughter, Hanna, and I never read fairy tales to her. But I did tell her bedtime tales and made up many tales involving Gory the Goblin and other creatures that I borrowed from the Grimms' tales and other tales I knew. Most of the tales were improvised. …

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