I just learned from today’s very fun and interactive Google doodle (which you should go and check out, pronto) that it is the 200th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Kinder- und Hausmärchen, more commonly simply called Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
You inevitably know these tales: Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, The Brave Little Tailor, Cinderella, The Girl Without Hands (well, Renate knows it, anyway), The Elves and the Shoemaker, Tom Thumb, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rumpelstilksin, and many, many more. They were gathered by the Grimm brothers from friends and family and nannies and any source they could find. They believed that the poorer the teller, the purer the form of the story, that these stories were a living link with some sort of primeval Germanic (or Indo-European) heritage.
Some of these are known from other sources. Cinderella was first published in French before the Grimm brothers. The Girl Without Hands is known from a Latvian book of fairy tales. Rumpelstiltskin is popular in Ukraine. Thus the cross-fertilisation of stories amongst the peoples of Europe. Whether these fairy tales actually represent some early, primeval stage of our culture, who can say?
Anyway, these stories have become imprinted on our consciousness. Perhaps they tell us deep things about our psyche we do not normally know. But they have influenced our storytelling and, no doubt, the invention of fantasy, especially as they were a major influence in Victorian folklorism and scrambling to discover the ‘authentic’, the old stories, the roots of our modern peoples, leading in some cases to Gothic Revival, in others to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, in other times to Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market‘ or to George MacDonald’s fairy tales and The Princess and the Goblin.*
Inevitably, then, to fantasy. To Tolkien. To Lewis. Also, of course, to Tchaikovsky. Then to Disney.
The fairytales have been told and retold time and again, usually for children, usually sanitised — although they’d already been sanitised by Jacob and Wilhelm!
Anyway, go grab a selection and read a few. I’m a fan. Hopefully you will be too.
*I recently started A Short History of Fantasy by Farah Mendlesohn and Edward James, whence comes much of this knowledge.