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Brothers Grimm

The folklore collected and published by the Brothers Grimm have been foundational for several animated movies produced by Disney. For example, the tales of Cinderella, Snow White, and Rapunzel were all original published by the Brothers Grimm. The versions of the stories that appear in the Brothers Grimm's own collection of fairy tales, however, are notably darker and more mature than the relatively censored and sanitized versions produced by Disney.

Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm

Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm were scholars and linguists from Germany who focused much of their research on culture and folklore. The most prevalent storytellers of fairy tales, they popularized stories like Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, and Cinderella.

The brothers were educated at the University of Marburg where they found they had a keen interest in folklore. With the rise of romanticism came a renewed interest in folk stories, which the brothers saw as pure, natural cultural literature. The Grimm brothers aimed to research academic dissertations on traditional folk stories and developed a methodology for gathering and recording these tales. This became the basis for folklore studies.

Creating childhood memories

The first published volume of stories by the brothers was called Kinder- und Hausmӓrchen, or Children’s and Household Tales. This first edition was published in 1812 and contained eighty-six stories. The second volume followed in 1815 with seventy new tales. In 1819, the second expanded edition was published with one hundred and seventy stories while a volume of academic annotations and commentary was published in 1822. By 1857, the collection had been revised five more times with the final edition numbering two hundred folktales and eleven legends. The brothers also published several other collections, such as a book of German sagas, translations of folklore from other countries, and a German dictionary.

Adult undertones

For these brothers, writing was truly a collaborative act. It was Jacob’s job to establish the framework for the stories while Wilhelm was in charge of revising and editing. Wilhelm made sure that the tales were similar stylistically and improved the plots by adding dialogue and psychological motifs. As the volumes went on, Wilhelm added intricate details, polished his prose, removed dark and sexual undertones, and added Christian elements.

Most of the original stories that the brother cleaned up were not intended for children. Some of the stories involved such dark themes as cannibalism; in Hansel and Gretel, the witch really does cook children alive before eating them. However, Brothers Grimm revised the stories to be more appropriate for children without totally eliminating the lessons and morals of the stories.

Medieval roots

It is believed that many of the tales that the brothers gathered were written during medieval times by such writers as Boccaccio and Straparola. During the eighteenth century, there was a renewed interest in folklore and these stories were modified and circulated once more. There was another lull in interest for this kind of cultural preservation until the brothers began their work in the early nineteenth century. 

The brothers began to organize and collect their tales and folklore in 1806. They employed the help of friends who happened to be traveling to collect stories from other countries. They would often invite storytellers into their home and record their stories, word for word. Though many of their stories came from peasants, they also collected stories from their middle-class and aristocratic friends and acquaintances. Wilhelm’s wife and her family’s nursemaid told them the stories of Hansel and Gretel and Sleeping Beauty.

After befriending German scientist and writer August von Haxthausen, the brothers gathered stories from his French, aristocratic friends. They talked to anyone with a folk tale to tell and used all of their contacts and resources to gather as much information as possible. Later, the different versions of the stories would be compared and the story to be published would contain the elements that the various versions had in common.

The Brothers Grimm are the most prolific and recognized names in the business of telling fairy tales. Many of their works inspired screenplays, such as Ella Enchanted. Their revival of these stories gave birth to a preservation of folklore that is unlikely to fade. Children everywhere know the stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel and their popularity would not be so prevalent without the work of Brothers Grimm. 

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