Therefore, Jack Zipes’s new English translation of The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition may surprise readers who “know” them. They should come away with a new appreciation of the Brothers’ work.
In spite of its university press imprint, this is not a textbook. Far from it. The elaborate cover fonts and woodcut drawings by Andrea Dezsö are reminiscent of a book published in the 1930s. Dezsö’s illustrations inside create a magic forest feel where anything can, and does, happen. Zipes’s introduction is scholarly in the best use of the word: The Brothers published the stories as a show of national pride during the Napoleonic Wars. Assisting them in their work was a cross-section of rich, poor, educated, and illiterate master storytellers whose names appear in the index. Thus, the Brothers and their collaborators qualify as both folklorists and anthropologists. Zipes mentions Heinz Rölleke’s Once Upon a Time. . .: The True Tale of the Brothers Grimm and Who Told Them to Them (2011), which is not translated into English. Perhaps Zipes and Princeton University Press will follow-up with this title by a renowned Grimm scholar.
There is something else noting about the 86 tales in Volume One and the 70 in Volume Two. With each successive edition the Brothers published (there were seven), the more changes they made to the original transcription, self-censoring the sex and violence.
Several major themes emerge in The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. There are promises designed as traps, unhappy marriages, sibling rivalry, children placed in extreme danger, and abusive parents. “Hansel and Gretel” is the perfect example of a typical Grimm fairy tale: With their family facing starvation, their mother (stepmother in later versions) sends them into the deepest part of the forest. Their loving father reluctantly agrees. The two get lost, finding shelter in “a little house made of bread with cake for a roof and pure sugar for windows” where an “ancient woman” who is really a witch lives. The witch is also a cannibal planning to make Hansel her next meal. Gretel tricks the witch by locking and baking her in the oven. Magically, the house becomes “full of jewels and pearls,” which they bring back to their father. Their mother died during their absence. Her death is unexplained.
Another “sweet little maiden” finds trouble. “Little Red Cap” was the original title of “Little Red Riding Hood.” Red’s loving, cautious mother sends her “half an hour from the village” into the forest to visit her sick grandmother. On the way, she meets a wolf. Grimm’s and other fairy tales from around the world feature talking animals that are either good or bad. This wolf is very bad and very hungry. He charms the girl, suggesting she bring flowers as well, leading her “deeper and deeper into the forest.” While she does so, he eats her grandmother. Little Red Cap realizes something is “strange,” noting grandma’s “big ears,” “ears,” “eyes,” “hands,” and “teeth.” It is her last observation that prompts the wolf to eat her too.
A huntsman just happens to pass by, and hears the snoring wolf. So he:
took some scissors and cut open the wolf’s belly. After he made a couple of cuts, he saw the little red cap shining forth, and after he made a few more cuts, the girl jumped out and exclaimed, “Oh, how frightened I was! It was so dark in the wolf’s body!”The Grimms include a sequel. Another hungry wolf turns up outside grandma’s house; only this time, she and Little Red Cap are ready. They make him hungrier by boiling water left over from making sausages. He falls from the roof and drowns in the trough containing the water.
Even with consistently clear, entertainingly graphic writing, The Original Folk and Fairy Tales are either a few paragraphs or pages long. The prince who turns out to be “The Robber Bridegroom” has outwardly good intentions towards his fiancée the Princess, who doesn’t want to visit his castle:
since the way to the castle led through a large forest, she continually refused because she feared she might lose her way. If that was her concern, the prince told her, he would readily help her by tying a ribbon on each tree so that she could easily find her way.This short passage includes essential information and romance—along with an opportunity to explore further. In her 1942 novel of the same name, Eudora Welty embellished the same story with Greek mythology, the New Testament, and a different appreciation of an enchanted forest:
Spring and the clear and separate leaves mounting to the top of the sky, the black flames of cedars, the young trees shining like the lanterns, the magnolias softly ignited; Summer and the vines falling down over the darkest caves, red and green, changing to the purple of grapes and the Autumn descending in a golden curtain; then in the nakedness of the Winter wood the buffalo on his sinking trail, pawing the ice till his forelock hands in the Spring, and the deer following behind to the salty places to transfix his tender head.The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm are not bedtime stories. They weren’t intended to be. They are for all to share and appreciate in whatever way the reader pleases.