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Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales

Term Definition
Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales

Most modern people probably know The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales through the Disney adaptations of these tales into animated films. For example, classics such as Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and The Frog Prince are in fact all originally to be found in this collection. In general, though, The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales are considerably darker in tone and content than their modern adaptations for children may suggest. 

Introduction To The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales 

In 1812, German cultural researchers Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859) published Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales), a collection of 86 German fairy tales. A second edition comprised of three volumes was rolled out between 1819 and 1822, which brought the number of tales to 170. By 1857, the seventh edition had been issued and the number of tales had risen to 211. These collections, which contain many tales that have since entered the popular Western lexicon, are informally known in the Anglosphere as Grimm's Fairy Tales.

Early volumes came under fire for containing tales that were deemed ill-suited for children. For example, both "Snow White" and "Hansel and Gretel" featured wicked mothers in the first edition whose characters were changed to that of stepmother for later editions. A comment about dress-tightness made by the titular character in "Rapunzel" was also removed due to its suggestive connotations by 19th century standards. Scenes of violence, however, were subject to far less censoring.

Motifs Of The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales

A common motif in the Grimm's folk tales is the activity of spinning, which was a common undertaking among women up through the 19th century. Even though it was considered a communal activity rather than an occupation, the personalities of female characters are often represented by their attitude toward spinning. Depending on the tale, spinning might be cast in either a positive or negative light. in "Rumpelstiltskin," the activity is given negative connotations; elsewhere, spinning is portrayed as the activity of a responsible, hard-working woman.

While the German characteristics of these stories have sometimes been called into question, many scholars conclude that the Grimm's fairy tales are sufficiently rooted in their country of origin. A constant theme in these stories is rusticism and the German fascination with forests, which are often portrayed as dark places where spooky things can happen; such as in "Little Red Riding Hood," where the girl is regularly sent through the woods to take baskets of food to her grandmother.

Additional Information

At the time that the volumes were first being assembled, there was argument regarding the inclusion of stories that contained scenes of a graphic nature, such as children being devoured. While the brothers agreed that parental warnings were necessary for certain stories, it was the Grimm's firm belief that every tale held unique value as an artifact of German culture, and therefore should all be included in Kinder- und Hausmärchen. It was also asserted that the tales served a didactic function; "Little Red Riding Hood," for instance, was promoted as a cautionary tale for children. This stood in marked contrast to prevailing disciplines of the early 1800s: a time when teaching was generally ruled by fear.

Today, more than two centuries after the Grimm's published their first volume of collected folk tales, the popularity of these stories lives on in children's entertainment around the world, where the volumes have been translated into more than 100 different languages. Walt Disney brought some of these tales—Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs—to new levels of fame with big-screen adaptations that also marked breakthroughs in the art of animation.

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