For my money, this is without a doubt the story of the week. For years we’ve been hearing how the Grimm fairy tales were a lot more horror-based and bloody than the sanitized versions we’ve been reading during our lifetimes, and now – finally! – an English translation of the Brothers’ original 156 stories is available from Princeton University Press.
The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition was translated by Jack Zipes, professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota, and illustrated by Andrea Dezsö. Per The Guardian, the book shows a very different side to the well-known tales as well as including some gruesome new additions.
Rapunzel is impregnated by her prince, the evil queen in “Snow White” is the princess’ biological mother, plotting to murder her own child, and a hungry mother in another story is so “unhinged and desperate” that she tells her daughters: “I’ve got to kill you so I can have something to eat.” Never before published in English, the first edition of the Brothers Grimms’ tales reveals an unsanitized version of the stories that have been told at bedtime for more than 200 years.
The Grimms – Jacob and Wilhelm – published their first take on the tales for which they would become known around the world in December 1812, a second volume following in 1815. They would go on to publish six more editions, polishing the stories, making them more child-friendly, adding in Christian references, and removing mentions of fairies before releasing the seventh edition – the one best known today – in 1857.
Zipes describes the changes made as “immense” with around 40 or 50 tales in the first edition deleted or drastically changed by the time the seventh edition was published. “The original edition was not published for children or general readers. Nor were these tales told primarily for children. It was only after the Grimms published two editions primarily for adults that they changed their attitude and decided to produce a shorter edition for middle-class families. This led to Wilhelm’s editing and censoring many of the tales,” he told the site.
Wilhelm Grimm, said Zipes, “deleted all tales that might offend a middle-class religious sensitivity,” such as “How Some Children Played at Slaughtering,” in which a group of children play at being a butcher and a pig. It ends direly: A boy cuts the throat of his little brother, only to be stabbed in the heart by his enraged mother. Unfortunately, the stabbing meant she left her other child alone in the bath, where he drowned. Unable to be cheered up by her neighbors, she hangs herself; when her husband gets home, “he became so despondent that he died soon thereafter.” Dire indeed!
Wilhelm also “added many Christian expressions and proverbs,” continued Zipes, stylistically embellished the tales, and eliminated fairies from the stories because of their association with French fairy tales. “Remember, this is the period when the French occupied Germany during the Napoleonic wars,” said Zipes. “So in Briar Rose, better known as Sleeping Beauty, the fairies are changed into wise women. Also, a crab announces to the queen that she will become pregnant, not a frog.”
“It is time for parents and publishers to stop dumbing down the Grimms’ tales for children,” Zipes said, adding that the brothers “believed that these tales emanated naturally from the people, and the tales can be enjoyed by both adults and children. If there is anything offensive, readers can decide what to read for themselves. We do not need puritanical censors to tell us what is good or bad for us.”
Amen, Professor Zipes. Amen!
When Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their Children’s and Household Tales in 1812, followed by a second volume in 1815, they had no idea that such stories as “Rapunzel,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Cinderella” would become the most celebrated in the world. Yet, few people today are familiar with the majority of tales from the two early volumes since in the next four decades the Grimms would publish six other editions, each extensively revised in content and style. For the very first time The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm makes available in English all 156 stories from the 1812 and 1815 editions. These narrative gems, newly translated and brought together in one beautiful book, are accompanied by sumptuous new illustrations from award-winning artist Andrea Dezsö.
From “The Frog King” to “The Golden Key,” wondrous worlds unfold–heroes and heroines are rewarded, weaker animals triumph over the strong, and simple bumpkins prove themselves not so simple after all. Esteemed fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes offers accessible translations that retain the spare description and engaging storytelling style of the originals. Indeed, this is what makes the tales from the 1812 and 1815 editions unique–they reflect diverse voices, rooted in oral traditions, that are absent from the Grimms’ later, more embellished collections of tales. Zipes’ introduction gives important historical context, and the book includes the Grimms’ prefaces and notes.
A delight to read, The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm presents these peerless stories to a whole new generation of readers.