Once upon a time, Volume I of several books was published, called Children’s and Household Tales. While the title might not send you racing to Amazon.com, it was a collection of children’s stories now known throughout the world as Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
December, 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of the collaborative work of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm who published 86 stories in that first manuscript. Among them were familiar tales including Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, Thumbling (Tom Thumb), Little Briar-Rose (Sleeping Beauty), Snow White and The Fox and The Geese.
For lovers of quaint villages and towns nestled amid pastoral landscapes, this is an ideal tour for parents and grandparents seeking to relive their childhood and for children to explore the sights where the stories took place.
The Grimm’s stories can be viewed on multiple levels. First, they are folkloric narratives that have become familiar to us all thanks largely to Walt Disney and television. But there is also a deeper, more political, layer of intrigue that many people do not know about.
During World War II, the Nazis used the legends as propaganda to instill concepts of racial purity. So influential were they that other collectors were inspired by a similar nationalistic spirit that reflected their own cultures.
Initially, Jacob and Wilhelm were harshly criticized because the stories were considered unsuitable for children. Boiling pots, being thrown into ovens and cutting off limbs were not the stuff of sugar plum dreams. Some subject matter dealt with missing children, infanticide, abandonment and other assorted atrocities.
In the original version of Rapunzel, though the prince was no doubt “Charming,” the golden-haired damsel became pregnant after visits from her suitor.
Beginning just east of Frankfurt in
To do the full itinerary without racing through it, allow four days. While you need to be wary of villages using contrived alliances to pose vaguely as backdrops for the tales, the half-timbered towns and rural settings more than make up for the sins of the pretenders.
The Grimms were highly educated linguists who spoke more than ten languages between them. Though born into prominence, they fell upon hard times after the death of their father, eventually winding up in the nearby poorhouse where they struggled to survive.
Eventually, Jacob was appointed court librarian to the King of Westphalia in 1808. Wilhelm later joined him and the environment could not have been richer for their pioneering work in gathering traditional folklore.
Most of the stories were handed down from approximately forty sources. Many were provided by a loose-knit group of upper-class women and relatives.
The most prominent tipster, and one of the few who was identified, was Dorothea Viehmann, an innkeeper’s daughter in
The Viehmann family inn, Brauhaus Knallhutte, still exists today, where traveler’s can order a Cinderella meal which includes a slipper carved from a baked potato.
Though Jacob and Wilhelm only contributed two stories of their own, it was their dedication to the preservation of German folklore that sealed their legacy as pioneers of mythology.
It is believed that many of the narratives had already been written down during the Middle Ages and then rewritten again in 17th century before the Grimms did their own editing.
As Maria Tatar, an American scholar with expertise in children’s literature, explains, “the brothers’ goal of preserving and shaping the tales as something uniquely German at a time of French occupation was a form of ‘intellectual resistance’, and in so doing they established a methodology for collecting and preserving folklore that set the model to be followed later by writers throughout Europe during periods of occupation.”
After two centuries the stories of Jacob and Wilhelm endure. While some may have been Grimm, they rank second only to the Bible in the number of translations. The
Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in
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