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Fairy Tales

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200 years "Children's and Household Tales"

The first edition of "Children's and Household Tales" appeared on December 20, 1812. In the meantime, Grimm's fairy tales are known world-wide; they have been translated into about 160 languages – expressions of boundless Grimm worship.

The history of origins
It was during their years of study in Marburg in 1803 that Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm became acquainted with the two romanticists Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim, who had begun to preserve historic and folk texts from the fate of being forgotten. The collection, which they named "Youth's Magic Horn", also contains a number of finds from the brothers. Especially however, this contact allowed the idea to grow of collecting and presenting the world of fairy tales, hitherto only kept alive by oral tradition, preserved between two book covers, and so securing them for posterity. In 1806, when they returned to Kassel after their studies, the brothers began their collecting activities. By no means did they only glean from written sources, but relied even more heavily on oral tradition.


The contributors
The search for storytellers stood under an auspicious star, since the Grimms found numerous "contributors" in Kassel and in the surrounding countryside. Their most important source was Dorothea Viehmann – by no means an old countrywoman, as the Grimms once described her, but rather an educated woman with Huguenot roots, who was just as familiar with French fairy tales as with the regional narrative tradition.
Inspired fabulists were also the six daughters of the apothecary family Wild, drawn from Bern into the Electoral Hessian metropolis. The Grimms also thank these young ladies for Italian, South German, and Raeto-Romanic fairytale elements. One of the apothecary daughters, Dorothea Wild, called "Dortchen", became the wife of Wilhelm Grimm in 1825.
About 50 fairytale sources are represented in the first edition. These include Ludovica "Lulu" Jordis, one of the numerous sisters of Clemens Brentano, Wilhelmine von Schwertzell, the sister of a schoolmate of Wilhelm Grimm from Willingshausen in the Schwalm, the clergyman daughter Friederike Mannel from Schwalmstadt-Allendorf and the Dragoon Constable Johann Friedrich Krause, a resident of Schauenburg. There were no female heroines and also no ravishing beautiful fairies, but only witches and nasty old women in the stories told by the constable to the Grimms. Marie and Jeannette Hassenpflug – likewise with Huguenot roots – were responsible for fairy tales about beautiful virgins and enchanting princesses.


The publication
On December 20, 1812, hence shortly before Christmas, the book with the title "Children's and Household Tales" appeared on the market. However the anthology proved to be too brittle as a Christmas present. Not only the diverse narrative styles and many depicted cruelties irritated readers, but the scholarly comments of the Brothers were not exactly conducive to capturing a broad reading public. Even more sluggish were the sales of the second volume which appeared in 1815. Jacob, the older brother, did not continue to fight the deficient interest, because his main concern was securing the oral culture in academic form. But Wilhelm, who had the young reading public in mind and had already carefully edited the first volume, developed his innate romantic fairytale style in the next years. He transformed the too shocking, amoral stories through the lens of middle-class value concepts: wicked mothers became evil stepmothers, nude princes were splendidly dressed, and Rapunzel's pregnancy remained undiscovered by the wicked witch as well as by the young reader. With the new edition of 1819, which contained William's stylistic as well as dramaturgical corrections and which, like the 1857 edition, comprised about 200 fairy tales, the transformation from shelf warmer to best seller began. The "small edition" already achieved this ranking in 1825, containing 50 selected fairy tales, adorned with illustrations of the younger brother Ludwig Emil Grimm.


The fairy tale
Several of the fairy tales recorded in the collection are laconical twelve-line items, while others require several pages. Many describe the stony path of their usually morally blameless protagonists, predominantly however lady protagonists, through the night to the light. A few of the stories are presented in dialect, the majority however in Wilhelm Grimm's romantic "folk voice". Nearly half of the stories begin with "Once upon a time", the one or the other however also with "In old times, when wishing still helped". The best known among them almost exclusively bear the name of a female character.


"Little Red Riding Hood" – a small girl who, instead of taking the shortest possible path to her sick grandmother, encounters the bad wolf who not only devours the grandmother but also Little Red Riding Hood herself. The rescue comes in the form of a hunter.


"Sleeping Beauty" – the pretty royal child, who is at first foretold death and then "only" a hundred years of sleep. None of the king's protective measures help: together with the royal household, the princess falls into a deep sleep and the castle is surrounded with an impenetrable thorn hedge. The rescue comes from a prince with a kiss of wakefulness.


"Snow White" – likewise a gorgeous girl whom the step-mother cannot tolerate because her young beauty exceeds her own, and who therefore attempts to kill her stepchild. The beauty finds a safe retreat with seven dwarves, however she does not escape the attempted murder of her envious opponent. That she survives at all in the end is thanks to the tripping of the pallbearers, when a piece of poisoned apple falls from her throat.


"Cinderella" – a young, beautiful and benevolent girl, who has been enslaved by her stepmother and stepsisters, bewails her grief at the grave of her real mother and is helped there in a wondrous manner to accomplish the task imposed upon her, and moreover receives the most beautiful clothes along with silver embroidered shoes. Thanks to her uncommonly small feet, she is finally found by her dream prince.


Also in "Mother Hulda", stepsisters compete: the one is ugly and lazy, the other pretty and diligent. And it is almost self-evident that the good is rewarded in the end and the bad is punished.


"Hänsel and Gretel" are siblings who are exposed in the forest at the behest of a heartless mother, and there are locked up by a witch who then fattens them up for eating. Thanks to Gretel, the witch burns to death in the oven at the end.

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