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Brothers Grimm stayed true to fairy tales they knew: Sinister

December 20, 2012|By Deborah Netburn
  • Pop-up fairy tale books from the 19th century sit in a glass case in the Brothers Grimm Museum in Kassel, Germany.
Pop-up fairy tale books from the 19th century sit in a glass case in the Brothers… (Uwe Zucchi / European Pressphoto…)

The brothers Grimm, recipients of today's Google Doodle, published a book of fairy tales 200 years ago that would come to define bedtime reading for millions of children over two centuries.

Thursday’s doodle tells the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Twenty-one different slides depict her journey from town, to woods, to Grandma's house, to wolf's belly, to freedom in the arms of a burly woodsman. The story is universally known -- one we grew up on, and our parents grew up on, and their parents before them. 

But Google could have chosen half a dozen other stories published by the German brothers that are similarly embedded in our culture. Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella (originally published as Aschenputtell), Snow White, Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel all appear in their voluminous work.

Photos: Google Doodles of 2012

The brothers -- Jacob and Wilhelm -- worked closely together throughout their lives, and had a particular interest in the history of the German language and the mythology of the people. 

They spent 13 years gathering stories for the first volume of their collection. The brothers strove to set the tales down just as they heard them. The editing they did was mostly in story selection, and picking between two similar but slightly different tales.

Although the original title of their book was "Children's and Household Tales," not everyone thought the stories suitable for children. For example, in the Grimm's version of Cinderella, our heroine gets help not by a warm elderly fairy godmother, but rather from a hazel tree that grows on her mother's grave. And her stepsisters' punishment for treating her poorly? They get their eyes pecked out by doves. 

And in their telling of Hansel and Gretel, the two children did not get lost in the woods accidentally. They were deliberately left there by their parents who didn't have enough food to feed them.

Recently, author Philip Pullman published "Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm," a new retelling of the original stories -- a testament to the timelessness of these stories. 

Will people still be reading and telling stories about a naive little girl who trusts the wrong person on her way to Grandma's house, or a young woman who cannot be roused from sleep unless the right person kisses her in 200 more years? I think so.


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