Today’s review is about on of my favorite fairy tale collections, Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales. Do any of you have a favorite collection? If so, I would love to hear what collection you prefer. This is a spoiler free review.
Themes Explored: coming-of-age, aging, wickedness, selfishness, sacrifice, selflessness, evil, virtue, morality, ethics, death, birth, magic, wizardry, love, religion, tradition, independence, greed, obsequiousness, disenchantment, pettiness, jealousy, gluttony, slothfulness, lust
Synopsis: Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales collects more than two hundred tales set down by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. For centuries, children and adults learned about the pitfalls of humanity through mystical tales of myth and shadow. Jacob and Wilhelm dedicated their lives to collecting the folklore of the 19th century oral storytellers. The result is a collection of powerful and evocative stories about the misadventures of numerous heroes and heroines. These are not your Disney Fairy Tales.
Review: We all have a favorite fairy tale. Be it Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, The Frog Prince, and The Twelve Brothers, somewhere along the line a fairy tale has captured your imagination. There are numerous retellings and adaptions of classic tales crowding the book store shelves today. However, one collection still holds modern audiences in a thrall. The Brothers Grimm still have one of the best collections of international fairy tales in print.
The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, were German academics, linguists, cultural researchers, and authors with a specialization in collecting and publishing popular folklore in the 19th century. The result is a semi-comprehensive collection of tales from around the world. Like all editors, the Grimm Brothers probably condensed the stories to improve readability. This is a natural assumption considering that oral stories have a reputation for being long-winded. Just take a look at the Iliad for an example. However, the Grimm Brothers do retain the overarching narrative and morality of the tales.
Unlike the sanitized Disney fairy tales of today, the folklore of yesteryear contains the stuff of nightmares. Most of the tales verge on the bloodthirsty. Tale after tale involves wickedly perverse characters burning, torturing, maiming, and cursing the good citizens of the fairy tale realm. Ambitious stepsisters mutilate themselves in order to win a Prince (just read Cinderella if you do not believe me). Voices emerge from bones admitting their participation in murder and the virtuous heroes nearly fall victim to slick soothsayers. Some of the stories verge on the sadistic. However, they are a refreshing alternative in a world where the line between good and evil is constantly blurred. The fairy tales of today nearly always have a happy ending, regardless of the actions of the hero/heroine. The endings in Grimm are based on the concept that the result is based upon the morality/ethics of the hero/heroine
The first thing you will notice about the Grimm fairy tales is that the stories follow a strict moral code. Good, upstanding characters are rewarded with a happy ending. The wicked and evil characters generally receive their comeuppance. These endings are incredibly rare in today’s world of fiction. Today even the most twisted of character is given a “happy” ending. I think this difference shows why fairy tales are still relevant, to both adults and children. These stories embed a moral compass in the reader. The citizens of the past used these stories to illustrate the difference between good and evil to their children. Fairy Tales illustrate the weakness of human nature. The dangers of selfishness, jealousy, pettiness, violence, evil, and lying all play within the tales. Sometimes good wins but the victory is not always decisive. While the tales are not totally about defeating evil, they do show that any evil in the world can be overcome and survived.
While the tales are not the sanitized versions of today, I think they are more realistic than any modern folklore. Readers learn more about human nature from Grimm’s than they ever will from Disney’s Cinderella. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy modern fairy tales and am a fan of the Disney Princess Franchise. However, from a literary perspective, the Grimm Collection is a more challenging read. I highly recommend the Grimm Collection to any reader looking for a more realistic fairy tale. However, I would not recommend to the collection to children under the age of ten. There are some sequences that might frighten younger readers.
Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales, Barnes & Noble Books, 1993, ISBN: 0760703353