January 7, 2015

Grimm Fairy Tales, Restored to Their Formerly Grimmer Glory, By Nora Stasio, Fairy Tale News Reporter

In my last article, I talked about how the original Grimm Brothers' fair ytales were a little bit grim, and how they have, over the years, been cleaned up and censored to be more family friendly. Well, if you've forever found that trend disappointing, you'll really enjoy today's story.

Jack Zipes has released The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, and his translation aims to keep the tales as dark, gritty, risqué, and unpolished as they were when Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm compiled them hundreds of years ago.

Jack Zipes is the Professor of German and Comparative Literature at University of Minnesota, and a well-known fairytale scholar. He was able to get his hands on the original, uncensored Grimm publications, and translated them from German himself.

As you may know, The Grimm Brothers had spent much of their early years compiling ancient Germanic folk and fairy tales that had been passed down orally through generations of local families. The brothers recorded the tales just as they'd been told them, and released 2 volumes of Children's and Household Tales between 1812 and 1815.

The volumes didn't sell as well as the brothers had hoped. The main criticism they received was that the tales were not "child-friendly," as the title might suggest. They began to make some revisions, hoping to appeal to the conservative, religious middle-class families of that day and age. Not only did the tales become cleaner and sweeter, but the Brothers also gave them a personal touch, inserting their own voices into the narration.

They cut out the gorier passages in several tales, removing some entirely if there was too much violence overall. Passages that had been sexual in nature were revised to be more innocent and chaste, suggestive only of pure and chivalric romance. In an effort to appear more seemly to the Catholic Church, some elements that had had an air of paganism were removed or reimagined. Also, the Brothers had a strong, spiritual sort of reverence for family, valuing motherhood especially highly in the equation.

In their revisions, wicked mothers were changed into stepmothers--after all, how could a loving mother ever commit an unsavory act against the fruit of her very own loins? When the brothers made the tales their own, mothers came to represent the ultimate good, chaste love was true love, gore was replaced by magic and whimsy--and God reigned on high through it all.

I'd be remiss if I didn't give you a few examples of what the original fairy tales were like. I'll start with “Rapunzel”--in the ancient version, Rapunzel spends many a day alone “making merry” with her friend, the Prince, whilst the Witch is away. When the old hag returns, Rapunzel naively asks why her dress is getting so tight around the middle. The witch is furious that Rapunzel's been unchaste, and banishes her to a desert, where she gives birth to twin boys (and they all survive, which is pretty amazing). In later versions, Rapunzel merely remarks that the Witch is so much heavier to pull up the tower than the Prince is, and there is no mention of twins being born until after the marriage.

There is a surplus of bad mothers to be found in these ancient stories. In the original version of “Hansel and Gretel," the mother of the twins abandons them in the woods because she is too poor to feed them (you can't fault her for being poor, but she might have found a better place to leave them, right?). This sad detail was left out of future versions of the tale. In the ancient version of “Snow White”, the maiden is only seven years old. It is her own mother, not a wicked stepmother, who despises the child’s beauty and plots her death.

“The Children Who Played at Slaughtering” is one story the brothers chose to remove from later publications due to an excess of violence. Trust me, that's no mere exaggeration. This one, short as it is, gets terribly gory... I won't go into detail; if you're interested, head over here: http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/case-studies/113

Lastly, the original version of “Cinderella” has a surprising bit of gore in it as well. When the wicked stepmother sees that her daughter’s feet will never fit into Cinderella’s dainty slipper, she instructs them to cut off their toes with a knife. And they obey. Beauty is pain, right? However, the Prince, seeing all the blood, does not fall for their gruesome trickery.

If you’re interested in a copy of The Original Folk and Fairytales of the Brothers Grimm, follow this link to Amazon.com:http://www.amazon.com/Original-Fairy-Tales-Brothers-Grimm/dp/0691160597
It might just make the perfect gift for the fairy-tale fanatic in your life. (Or yourself!)

What do you think - Do you like your fairytales neat and clean, or grim and gory? Will you be checking out Jack Zipes translations?

Bio: Nora writes, "I have been a lover of creative writing and fairy tales for basically my entire life! I recently graduated Cum Laude from Rutgers where I completed a minor in English, with a focus in Creative Writing and Shakespeare (I majored in Psychology)."


  1. I've been looking for a few years now for an English translation of the 1st edition and was so frustrated that there didn't seem to be one. So I was so excited to hear about that and so happy to have a copy in my hot little hands! I'm looking forward to digging in to it:)

  2. Hmmm...I'll admit to liking the romanticized versions of fairy tales just a wee bit better...but there is something fascinating about reading the original, no matter how dark and gruesome.

    Oh how I would love to see the original, uncensored Grimm publications! I will have to pick up a copy of this book...