(alternate title used on the 501 booklist – “Children’s and Household Tales”)
I used a few long-gathered Waterstone’s points to get this huge book. At 1019 pages, it took me a while to read (while reading other books) and I wouldn’t recommend anyone to read it in one burst, it’s easier to digest in shorter attempts, or you will get fairy-tale overload.
There are 279 tales in this edition, which appears from the introduction to be the most comprehensive collection of their work you can get. It was published by Vintage in 2007 and arranged by Jack Zipes.
The tales vary from the outright chilling, to the moral fable, to the pure silly, and even include a plan for a woman to cheat on her husband with the local clergyman (Old Hildebrand). I was unpleasantly surprised to find some of the tales to be anti-semitic (The Jew in the Thornbush) although given their age it may be understandable. Many tales relate the adventures of old soldiers, cast aside by their monarchs and struggling to get by without any form of pension, or other improverished people seeking their fortunes. Some stories are frank upon the topic of maidenhood, and the consequences of its loss. “The Stubborn Child” – a flash fiction morality tale – includes child-beating, something else you wouldn’t find in modern stories for children. I wouldn’t read all of the tales, or indeed many of them, to my young children without substantial editing for their age.
However adult some of the stories, you can’t read them without realising that Walt Disney and his team mined the Grimm’s work for inspiration on a regular basis through the years. Stories we’ve all heard as children which orginate with the Grimms include; Little Red Riding Hood (Little Red Cap), Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty (Brier Rose), Snow White, the wren becoming king of the birds by hiding in the eagle’s wings, Puss in Boots, Bluebeard, The Princess and the Pea, Beauty and the Beast (The Winter Rose), Rumpelstiltskin (Rumpenstunzchen), and Cinderella – although the original of that tale appears to be Charles Perrault’s “Cendrillon” in 1697.
I enjoyed discovering that Rapunzel’s story includes a reference to rapunzel lettuce (a.k.a. lambs lettuce). In another flash piece they even attempt to explain why dogs sniff each other.
But of course this is a collection of folk tales and they use all the usual devices; “they lived happily ever after” and “once upon a time”. My favourite was the opening “In the days when wishing still helped…”
I can see how a book like this is invaluable to any student of English (or indeed German, the Grimm’s mother-tongue), and I enjoyed reading the stories, but I wouldn’t be in a rush to recommend it as there’s a great deal of repetition of themes and plots. Also, I was disappointed to find in the introduction that the Grimm brothers didn’t do any folk-tale collecting from the countryside people, but instead relied upon middle-class re-tellers of servants’ tales and then massively re-wrote them into their house “style”.
But if you like your fairy tales before Walt and his crew sanitised them for movie-audiences, this is the book for you. Just remember to bend you knees and lift it carefully.
(read April-July 2010)