Grimm’s Fairy Tales have been immensely popular ever since the first edition and are second only to the Bible in the number of copies sold. They are classics, read in homes and schools and studied in universities. Walt Disney produced three feature-length animated films based on the Grimms’ fairy tales: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), Cinderella (1950), and Sleeping Beauty (1959).
The fairy tales have become part of Western cultural heritage. Heard and read repeatedly in childhood, they are assumed to be part of everyone’s frame of reference. British author Angela Carter developed the psychosexual aspects of “Blue Beard” (omitted from the Grimms’ final edition) and “Little Red Riding Hood” in her collection The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories (1979). They depend for their effect on the reader’s familiarity with Grimm’s Fairy Tales. So do American author James Finn Garner’s amusing collections Politically Correct Bedtime Stories (1994) and Once Upon a More Enlightened Time (1995), which use the same titles as the fairy tales that they parody.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm became interested in fairy tales as a means of entertaining their younger sister Charlotte and her friends. Soon, they took an academic approach to the subject. The Grimms intended to present the fairy tales as folktales, even writing some of them in dialect, and destroyed the manuscripts of the first edition. Scholars have subsequently succeeded in identifying almost every source, oral and literary, as listed in the notes to Zipes’s translation. Whether the Grimms’ tales are authentic folklore is a moot point in view of their enduring popularity. They fulfill a continuing need of the human psyche that transcends social class.
The landscapes evoked in the tales often seem idyllic and imaginary to North Americans, but they still exist in Europe. The Grimms lived in the city of Kassel in Germany. On the outskirts of the city, a beautiful rococo castle, Schloss Wilhelmsthal, stands surrounded by woods and fields. On the hill behind it is a tall tower much like Rapunzel’s, and a row of magnificent fountains leads through the castle gardens to a glass summerhouse where musicians play on summer evenings.