Grimm, Jacob Ludwig Karl (1785-1863) Grimm, Wilhelm Karl (1786-1859)
Jacob Ludwig Karl Grimm (1785-1863) Wilhelm Karl Grimm (1786-1859)
German philologists and collectors of folk tales.
Renowned for their collection of European fairy tales, entitled Kinder-und Hausmärchen (1812-1815; Grimms' Fairy Tales), the brothers Grimm are additionally celebrated for their study of the Germanic literary tradition. Distinguished philologists, they are credited with rediscovering the richness of Germany's medieval language, literature, and culture in the early nineteenth century. While both brothers individually produced significant works of scholarship, their most enduring literary efforts were produced in collaboration. These include the Deutsches Wörterbuch, a German dictionary, which is recognized as comparable in importance to the Oxford English Dictionary, and Grimms 'Fairy Tales, their world famous collection of folk tales. Transcribed from stories purportedly recounted by peasants in the German countryside, Grimms' Fairy Tales reflects the brothers' effort to preserve the oral tradition of folklore.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were born in Hanau, Germany. The death of their father in 1788 and consequent lack of family income required that they be placed in the care of an aunt in Kassel, where they were educated at the Lyceum Fridericianum. Throughout their lives the Grimms shared a close intellectual and emotional relationship. Both studied law at Marburg University in Kassel and both were distracted from their studies by their interest in medieval German literature. Beginning in about 1806 the brothers began collecting oral folklore, which they revised and published as Kinder-und Hausmärchen, a work that Wilhelm considered of minor importance but which proved to be among their finest contributions to literature. In 1816 Wilhelm and Jacob accepted positions in the Library of King Jerome in Kassel. Their duties as librarians allowed them significant time to devote to scholarship and to complete their early collection of essays on folklore, published as Deutsche Sagen (German Legends) in 1816. Both men further established their academic reputations in the ensuing years with the publication of individual works, including Jacob's Deutsche Grammatik (1819-37) and Wilhelm's Die deutschen Heldensage (1829). In 1930 Jacob was offered a position as professor of law and linguistics at the University of Göttingen, while Wilhelm became a lecturer in medieval literature at Göttingen in 1831, acceding to a full professorship in 1835. The brothers' formal protest of the restrictive civil policies imposed by Ernest August of Cumberland, the new King of Hanover, led to their discharge and exile in 1837. Their subsequent financial difficulties following a return to Kassel were ended in 1840, when the Grimms were offered posts at the Berlin Academy of Sciences by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia. Both lectured on German politics, literature, and folklore, but their principal duty was the compilation of a German entymological dictionary, the Deutsches Wörterbuch, a sixteen-volume set that would not be completed until the mid-twentieth century. Jacob published the first volume of the Wörterbuch in 1854. Wilhelm's death in 1859 prevented him from completing his portion of the dictionary, though Jacob produced two more volumes before dying in 1863.
The Grimms' two-volume Fairy Tales contains more than 200 folk stories transcribed from the oral tradition of the German peasantry. Among the best known of these tales are such recognizable stories as "The Frog Prince," "Hansel and Gretel," "Rumpelstiltskin," and "Snow-White." The stories generally feature medieval settings and concern a variety of characters easily familiar to any schoolchild—beautiful princesses, fools, tricksters, witches, naïve heroes, talking beasts, bumbling craftsmen, fearless boys, and clever girls. Their principal technique is one of exaggeration and dramatic contrast between representations of good and evil, though the tales generally lack the harsh tone of moral didacticism. In large part, these stories preserve the simple, unadorned style of the peasant storyteller. While the core of the works come from Germany, specifically the region of Hesse, many of the tales derive from geographically broader sources and others are literary rather than oral in origin.
Upon publication, Grimms' Fairy Tales became immediately popular with children. First intended for the student of folklore rather than as entertainment, the tales reflect the brothers' efforts to define their literary heritage. Critics have acknowledged that the Grimms' statements regarding the Fairy Tales indicate their belief that these were authentic expressions of peasant speech. However, modern analysis of Grimms' Fairy Tales has questioned some of the Grimms' methods in collecting and recording these stories. Several critics, including Jack Zipes and John M. Ellis, have contended that Wilhelm's extensive revisions fundamentally contradicted the stated purpose of literary preservation by overlaying the peasant tales with a bourgeois sensibility. Other folklorists have countered that the Grimms' embellishments simply indicate the process of evolutionary change that is fundamental to the oral tradition. While scholars continue to study the appropriate literary and oral significance of the tales, others have sought to formally analyze the individual stories using the techniques of psychoanalysis and cultural criticism. Such interpretations have attributed an assortment of psychosexual and socio-historical themes to the works. Overall, the Grimms' Fairy Tales have provided folklore scholars with valuable information regarding the art of storytelling, and children of every age with fantasy and delight.
Kinder-und Hausmärchen [Grimms' Fairy Tales', also published as Children's and Household Tales, Fairy Tales, and German Popular Stories] (fairy tales) 1812-15
Other Major Works
Altdänische Heldenlieder [by Wilhelm Grimm] (songs) 1811
Über den altdeutschen Meistergesang [by Jacob Grimm] (essay) 1811
Deutsche Sagen [German Legends] (literary history) 1816
Deutsche Grammatik [by Jacob Grimm] (grammar) 1819-37
Über deutsche Runen [by Wilhelm Grimm] (folklore) 1821
Die deutschen Heldensage [by Wilhelm Grimm] (folklore) 1829
Deutsche Mythologie [Teutonic Mythology; by Jacob Grimm] (folklore) 1835-54
Geschichte der deutschen Sprache [by Jacob Grimm] (history) 1848
* Deutsches Wörterbuch [editors] (dictionary) 1854-1961
*This work was completed by Hildebrand, Wiegand, and others.
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SOURCE: "Sleeping Beauty: The Meaning and Form of Fairy Tales," in Once Upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales, Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1970, pp. 21-34.
[In the following essay, Lüthi analyzes the Grimms' version of "Sleeping Beauty" and considers other variants of the tale.]
Our attitude toward fairy tales (Märchen) is ambivalent. "Don't tell me any fairy tales," we say, in the derogatory sense. Here, the term is only a politer expression for cleverly contrived lies. On the other hand, when we admire something especially beautiful, the word märchenhaft (i.e., like a fairy tale) almost spontaneously comes to mind. Here, it does not mean unreal in the sense of untrue, but in the sense of unearthy or divine. Thus, even in everyday usage, our language suggests both rejection of, and fascination by, the fairy tale.
For centuries, educated people have looked down on popular fairy tales as stories properly belonging in the nursery and the servants' quarters; yet great writers have repeatedly drawn inspiration from them. Great literature of all ages has borrowed from fairy-tale motifs and often exhibited an imaginativeness not unlike that of the fairy tale. In the life of the individual, there are periods when one is fascinated by fairy tales and periods of indifference. After the actual fairy-tale age (between five and ten), there follows a realistic stage during...
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SOURCE: "The Brothers Grimm and Their Collection of Kinder und Hausmärchen," in Theoria, Vol. XLV, October, 1975, pp. 41-54.
[In the following essay, Ihms details the lives of the Grimm brothers and investigates the political and social dimensions of their fairy tales]
The stories now known as Grimm's Fairy Tales appeared in English translation during the nineteenth century as Popular Stories1 or Household Tales.2 These titles correspond closely to the original German Kinder-und Hausmärchen. When nowadays we refer to the Fairy Tales, or in German to the Märchen, we use a one-sided and inadequate term which applies only to a certain part of the collection (to approximately 60 out of 210 tales).
The men who recorded these stories, the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, were just one year apart in age, and were particularly close to one-another from childhood. To understand their work, it is necessary to consider not only the men themselves, but also these bonds between them,3 and beyond that the social and political conditions of the times in which they lived.4
Jacob, the older of the two, was in appearance a little man, slightly built, but with an impressive head and a characterful clearcut profile. He did not find it easy to make contact with other...
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SOURCE: "Born Yesterday: Heroes in the Grimms' Fairy Tales," in Fairy Tales and Society: Illusion, Allusion, and Paradigm, edited by Ruth B. Bottigheimer, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986, pp. 95-114.
[In the following essay, Tatar discusses the common traits of the Grimms' fairy tale heroes: naiveté, compassion, fearlessness, and humility.]
There comes an old man with his three sons—
I could match this beginning with an old tale.
—Shakespeare, As You Like It
Identifying fairy tale heroes by name is no mean feat. In the Grimms' collection, only one in every ten actually has a name. But it is also no secret that the most celebrated characters in fairy tales are female. Cinderella, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, and Sleeping Beauty: these are the names that have left so vivid an imprint on childhood memories. With the exception of Hansel, who shares top billing with his sister, male protagonists are exceptionally unmemorable in name, if not in deed. Lacking the colorful descriptive sobriquets that accord their female counterparts a distinctive identity, these figures are presented as types and defined by their parentage (the miller's son), by their station in life (the prince), by their relationship to siblings (the youngest brother), by their level of intelligence (the simpleton), or by...
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SOURCE: "Prohibitions, Transgressions, and Punishments," in Grimms' Bad Girls & Bold Boys: The Moral & Social Vision of the Tales,' Yale University Press, 1987, pp. 81-94.
[In the following excerpt, Bottigheimer probes gender distinctions related to transgression and punishment in Grimms' Tales.]
A general pattern of exculpating men and incriminating women permeates Grimms' Tales. This pattern is clearly evident in the post-1819 versions of "Hansel and Gretel" (no. 15), "Snow-White" (no. 53) and "Cinderella" (no. 21), each of which provides a stepmother who assumes the burden of blame while the father, virtually absent, shoulders no share of the responsibility for his children's fates.1 The theme of prohibition, transgression, and punishment offers an incisive example of this more generalized pattern. "Our Lady's Child" (no. 3) and "Brother Lustig" (no. 81) are two of several tales that embody and exemplify the gender-specific consequences of transgressing prohibitions.2 "Our Lady's Child" and "Brother Lustig" alone contain a specific prohibition, clearly presented to a character, that functions solely to determine his or her obedience. Both the heroine and the hero knowingly violate this prohibition, but only the heroine is punished; the hero is rewarded.3
A comparison of the consequences of transgressing prohibitions in Grimms'...
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SOURCE: "The Tales of the Brothers Grimm: In the Black Forest," in Touchstones: Reflections on the Best in Children's Literature. Volume Two: Fairy Tales, Fables, Myths, Legends, and Poetry, Children's Literature Association, 1987, pp. 104-17.
[In the following essay, Thomas examines the nature and significance of the Grimms' fairy tales.]
As the great-grandparent of children's literature, fairy tales occupy a privileged place as touchstones for that literature. Basic as the peasant's crusty black bread, they nourish us upon essential sustenance—the fare of elemental story. Especially do the volhmarchen or folk fairy tales—those stories that were once part of an oral tradition of storytelling—lay the foundation for many, if not most, classics of children's literature. The works of such beneficiaries as Charles Kingsley, Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald, L. Frank Baum, Kenneth Grahame, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Ursula Le Guin, among others, would be unrecognizably altered—if not rendered non-existent—without that essential cornerstone of "faerie."
Ironically, this elder genre is frequently regarded as something children grow out of—if, indeed, they are accorded the direct experience of the tales in the first place. Fairy tales too often are diminished, if not openly denigrated, by our society, which tends to view them as "mere" fare for young children. The very...
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SOURCE: "What Did the Grimm Brothers Give to and Take from the Folk?," in The Brothers Grimm and Folktale, edited by James M. McGlathery, University of Illinois Press, 1988, pp. 66-90.
[In the following essay, Dégh assesses the influence of the Grimms' Kinder-und Hausmärchen.]
Are oral and literary tradition two separate entities which can be studied independently from each other or must their interdependence be taken into consideration when looking at a folklore genre, the Märchen in particular, as it evolved and developed through the ages?
This question touches upon essentials about the nature of folklore and its study. In view of a chronological process of interaction between folk and elite, oral and written sources, we may look at the folk-product and its managers: scholars, artists, educators, politicians, and marketers who shape the product in service to their diverse goals. I will try to evaluate the influence of the Grimm tale corpus on oral tale production from the viewpoint of the folklorist.
At the beginning of folklore study, the subject of interest consisted of materials edited and formulated in the service of nationalistic ambitions from both literary and oral sources. Later, at a more emancipated stage of ethnic consciousness, folklore theory developed the notion of authenticity and the criterion of genuineness, striving after the elicitation...
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SOURCE: "New Misconceptions about Old Folktales: The Brothers Grimm," in The Brothers Grimm and Folktale, edited by James M. McGlathery, University of Illinois Press, 1988, pp. 91-100.
[In the following essay, Ward decries the lack of an objective scholarly evaluation of the Grimms' fairy tales.]
One occasionally encounters the contention that the Brothers Grimm were guilty of manipulative deception when they added elements of cruelty to the tale of Cinderella that were not in their sources. The reference is typically to the bloody scene of the stepsisters cutting off their heels and toes in the attempt to make the slipper fit. I find this contention to be somewhat strange, for one merely needs to look up tale type 510 in the Aarne-Thompson index,1 which leads one, in turn, to the monograph by Marian Roalfe Cox2 that documents this motif in scores of variants disseminated from India to Iceland, so that it is immediately evident that the Grimms scarcely could have invented the motif. One could, of course, also consult a more recent monograph, The Cinderella Cycle by Anna Birgitta Rooth,3 which on this particular point would lead one back to the earlier monograph by Cox.
In a recent essay by one of America's finest folklorists, Alan Dundes, one reads, too, that the Grimms were guilty of deception in portraying their main informant for the second...
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SOURCE: "Exploring Historical Paths," in The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World, Routledge, Chapman and Hall, 1988, pp. 43-61.
[In the following essay, Zipes offers a socio-historical perspective on the Grimms' Children's and Household Tales, examining the ways in which these stories depict the social customs and classes of the German people.]
Inevitably [the characters of Grimm's tales] find their way into the forest. It is there that they lose and find themselves. It is there that they gain a sense of what is to be done. The forest is always large, immense, great, and mysterious. No one ever gains power over the forest, but the forest possesses the power to change lives and alter destinies. In many ways it is the supreme authority on earth and often the great provider. It is not only Hansel and Gretel, who get lost in the forest and then return wiser and fulfilled.
Once upon a time there was a prince who was overcome by a desire to travel about the world, and the only person he took with him was his faithful servant. One day he found himself in a great forest when evening came. He had not found a place to spend the night and did not know what to do. Then he noticed a maiden going toward a small cottage, and when he came closer, he saw that she was young and beautiful.
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SOURCE: "Folktale Characters," in The Brothers Grimm and Their Critics: Folktales and the Quest for Meaning, Ohio University Press, 1992, pp. 81-97.
[In the following essay, Kamenetsky describes folktale character types in the Grimms' tales and presents Wilhelm Grimm's view of the significance of folk stories.]
MYTHICAL AND EPIC DIMENSIONS
Mythical and epic origins determined not only the deeper meaning of folktales but also the nature and dimensions of their characters, according to the Brothers Grimm. Folktale characters appeared in many forms, some human, some super-human, some in the shape of birds, fish, animals, plants, trees, or even stars and stones. Creatures of land, sea, air, and the very firmament above were animated and alive, spoke with a human voice, and had a human soul.1 They laughed, wept, and took an active part in human thoughts and endeavors, assumed various human shapes, and ultimately returned to their original forms. A clear line of division between the animate and inanimate world did not exist among the folktale characters of long ago, for in one way or another they all shared in God's creation.2
Many folktale characters themselves embodied the mythical powers of good and evil. Whereas in myths and epics there had been gods and goddesses, in folktales often these were in human shapes while the magic power of the gods...
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Michaelis-Jena, Ruth. The Brothers Grimm. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970, 212 p.
Critical biography including an assessment of the Children's and Household Tales and its influence.
Dundes, Alan. "The Psychoanalytic Study of the Grimms' Tales with Special Reference to 'The Maiden Without Hands' (AT 706)." The Germanic Review 62, No. 2 (Spring 1987): 50-65.
Emphasizes the critical value of psychoanalytic readings of the Grimms' tales and offers a principally Freudian interpretation of "The Maiden Without Hands."
Ellis, John M. One Fairy Story Too Many: The Brothers Grimm and Their Tales. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983, 214 p.
Maintains that "the Grimms deliberately, persistently, and completely misrepresented the status of their tales," which they claimed were faithful reproductions of oral stories recited by German folk storytellers.
Haase, Donald. "Motifs: Making Fairy Tales Our Own: Yours, Mine, or Ours? Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and the Ownership of Fairy Tales." In Once Upon a Folktale: Capturing the Folklore Process with Children, edited by Gloria T. Blatt, pp. 63-77. New York: Teachers College Press,...
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