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Jakob and Wilhelm’s “Grimm’s Fairy Tales”





APRIL 4, 2018

We have reached the point where, each month, I search for authors and titles that the world considers to be so great that it would be a travesty to leave them out of our series. For some time now, Jacob and Wilhelm have steadily and ever louder, been knocking at my door demanding admission.

McLoughlin Brothers, n.d.

Jakob Ludwig Karl Grimm was born in Hanau in Hesse-Cassel in 1785, Wilhelm Karl Grimm a year later. After their father died, the widow, with six children, moved to Cassel. After a public school education, the brothers attended the University of Marburg in order to study law. Here they were mentored by the celebrated jurist, Friedrich Karl von Savigny, who not only immersed them in Roman law but also in antiquarian research. In their mid-fifties, the brothers were made full professors at the Berlin Academy of Science. The brothers concentrated mainly on scholarly works. More or less by accident, they stumbled into doing Children and Household Tales which was intended to be no more than a collection of folklore rather than a treasury to be picked over and polished up by compilers of fairy tales for the very young.

The brothers remained inseparable. After Wilhelm’s marriage to Dortchen Wild (a friend since childhood), Jakob moved in with them and became one of the household. During their growing-up years, both slept in the same bed, and studied at the same table; during their student years, they slept in two beds and studied at two tables in the same room. In adult life, they continued to study at the same table and they slept in adjacent bedrooms. Jakob survived his younger brother by four years. Then the brothers, as they had lived, were buried together.

The brothers spent thirteen years accumulating their folk tales from various sources, chiefly from Hesse and Hanau. In this they were greatly helped by Dortchen, who had grown up listening to many of them told by her old nurse. Eventually more than 200 stories were collected and published in two volumes, the first in 1812 and the second in 1814.

Worthington Co, 1888

About the process, the brothers, for their Preface, wrote, “We have been collecting stories from oral tradition for about thirteen years. We were especially fortunate in our conversations with a peasant woman of Niederzwehrn, who told us most of the tales in the second volume. . . . She remembered the old stories with great exactness; she related the details deliberately, confidently, and with definite self-satisfaction. She spoke slowly so that, with a little practice, we could take down the stories literally. When repeating a tale she never changed anything; she corrected an oversight as soon as she noticed it.”

“Our first care in transcribing the stories was for faithfulness and truth. We have added nothing of our own, nor have we altered the character of either the narrative or the speech.”

—Louis Untermeyer

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I have discovered that most compilations of Grimm’s Fairy Tales are much abbreviated and cherry-picked, featuring only the most famous ones. But for your library, I urge you to seek out an unabridged copy. There are plenty to choose from—the work has never been out of print for two centuries now. I was able to snag that splendid edition, The Complete Household Tales of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm (New York: The Heritage Press, 1962). It features 200 stories, 100 in each volume. The two hardback volumes are boxed separately. Some of the stories you may remember include “The Frog Prince,” “Iron John,” “The King of the Golden Mountain,” “The Golden Goose,” “Snow-White and Rose-Red,” “The Goose Girl,” “Cinderella,” “Rumpelstiltskin,” “The Fisherman and His Wife,” “Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces,” “Rapunzel,” “Sleeping Beauty,” Hansel and Gretel,” ‘Tom Thumb,” “Bearskin,” “The Fox and the Cat,” etc.

What an imperishable treasure for your family!