Grimm's Grimmest

Grimm's Grimmest

Book - 1997
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A collection of nineteen of the darkest stories from the Grimm collection of German fairy tales, containing elements that have frequently been removed in other versions.
Publisher: San Francisco : Chronicle Books, c1997
ISBN: 9780811850469
Branch Call Number: FIC Grimm 3558ad 1
Characteristics: 142 p. :,ill. (some col.)
Additional Contributors: Grimm, Wilhelm 1786-1859
Dockray, Tracy


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Feb 17, 2016

This is a good book, containing nineteen German folktales, collected and published in the early 19th century by Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm. A couple -- "Ashenputtel" (a.k.a. "Cinderella") and "Rapunzel" -- are well-known in North America, the rest less so. These are not tales for small children. Despite our current thinking, many such folk- or "fairy" tales functioned as entertainment for adults. And this collection will still appeal to those who enjoy fantasy and symbolism. The stories deal with uncomfortable issues: cruelty, parental abuse, child abandonment, revenge, mutilation, incest, adultery, torture, murder, death, deformity, and serial killing. However, Grimm's Grimmest is probably no worse than English folktale collections that I read when I was of junior-high age, full of references to giants "dashing out brains". Unless your preteens are highly sensitive, they won't find this book particularly disturbing, no more than contemporary teen thrillers.

To put the collection in perspective, folktales are stories told aloud, and spread from person to person and culture to culture, so that they exist in different versions (sometimes a portion of one tale will appear in another). The Grimms collected stories from their housekeeper, but, as the scholar Maria Tatar explains in her introduction, they rewrote these stories, so that the published tales were often quite different from what was first collected. Undoubtedly, some versions told in peasant kitchens or European lumber camps were considerably more bawdy than those delivered to us by the Grimm's and other middle-class collectors and editors. Still, these tales, translated by Tatar from the first Brothers Grimm edition, are far from sweet. Products of a harsh world, in which crimes resembled those of today, but punishments involved torture, maiming, and capital punishment, these stories reflect the hopes and fears of the peasantry in the society from which they were collected. They contain beautiful imagery and considerable humour. "The Story of The Youth Who Went Forth to Learn to Shudder" is a comic tale. In the Grimm's first version of "Rapunzel", she reveals to the witch, through a humorously innocent comment, and not the well-known remark from later editions, that she's had a visitor. (For those interested in the Brothers Grimm and their publications, the OPL has books by both Maria Tatar and Jack Zipes, scholars who specialize in the Grimms.)

Apart from suffering, death, blood, and torture throughout the tales, one of the most disturbing stories is "Allerleirauh" in which, according to Tatar's translation, the princess ends up marrying the king from whom she's trying to escape -- that is unless she already has another "betrothed", something the tale doesn't mention. In other publications of the story, she ends up with a second king, so perhaps (and one hopes) the lack of a second suitor was an oversight in Tatar's editing -- such tales usually have happy endings, in which justice prevails.

For those who have read a great many folktales, there's nothing new here -- all these stories have been published before, with their grimmer aspects. However, for those interested in folktale, but familiar only with children's collections, Grimm's Grimmest is worth exploring. And If you feel that the tales reflect a barbaric past that we should forget, compare the themes I listed in the first paragraph with themes of contemporary television shows and movies -- they're all still there, repackaged as other types of "entertainment".

Jan 10, 2016

Brisk and satisfying stories, rhythmic and quaint English expression, and I thought some awkwardness, perhaps from translation/when they were originally written?-interesting.

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