Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Article: Why The Brothers Grimm Sanitized their Fairy Tales

(From Myths and Monsters' article on the Sanitation of "Little Red Riding Hood")

An interesting article about how the Grimms sanitized the fairy tales from the first edition to the second, and how most of the tales were given to them by women.

From the Business Standard (March 2012), via Akond of Swat on Censorship:

"The brothers Grimm were also the first bowdlerisers of the fairy tales, setting off a process of sanitizing these dark materials that continues today in Disney’s prettily bland retellings. “We like them,” Wilhelm Grimm wrote of fairy tales, “without reflecting why.” 
The versions he and his brother Johann set down were drawn direct from the deep well of folklore. In the first edition, for instance, the story of the frog prince is frankly carnal—the princess flings the frog from her in disgust, he lands on the bed and transforms into a handsome prince. She joins him—but by the second edition, their meeting is much more chaste. 
The scholar Maria Tatar chronicles the true nature of the fairy tales in detail. In the original, Rumpelstiltskin tears himself in two, ripping his body apart; Briar Rose’s unsuccessful suitors, trying to break into the castle where the princess lies sleeping, are caught by the thorny hands of the briar bushes and torn to bits. Rapunzel’s dalliance with the prince is discovered when her belly swells; fathers try to marry their daughters, the violence of the world is unmasked. 
Perhaps the most representative was a chatty disquisition, excised from future editions of Grimm’s tales. It was about a group of children who, playing a game in imitation of the village butcher, end by butchering their playmates. The original fairy tales were guides to a bloody, brutal and bestial world, as most stories that start with “once upon a time” and end with “happily ever after” usually are at their core." (Full Article)
In her book, The Hard Facts of the Grimm's Fairy Tales, Maria Tatar goes in depth about this editing process. It seems that Jacob and Wilhelm were trying to please two separate audiences. Originally, the brothers collected folk tales to record the colloquial language of the region for scholarly reasons. They remained relatively true to the original tellings, even going so far as to include dialect (though they still may have taken creative license, choosing one version of the same story over another, etc). This did not sell very well. 

Those who bought the book, ended up using it to tell stories to their children, but complained about the graphic nature of the tales. Since the Grimms were poor, they figured a commercial success might be better than an academic one. Wilhelm, at least, started to smooth out the tales, giving them more narrative structure and imbuing them with Germanic values. He took out fairy folk, and put in angels and devils, and whitewashed all the sex. However, he left in, and even enhanced, the violence. Why? Kids love violence. 1) If violence is being done to someone evil, the kids learn that evil people are punished. 2) If violence is being done to good characters, kids, who often see themselves as abused and neglected, relate more to the good characters, and give them sympathy. 

From the Business Standard (March 2012), via Akond of Swat on Female Storytellers: 
"This may have been because few of the tales were conceived by the brothers Grimm, or indeed told by men at all. The genius of the brothers Grimm, who were later to make their reputations with a path-breaking grammar and dictionary, lay in their ability to locate and listen to the women who were carriers of the tales.
“Women teach babies and children to speak, which is the same as teaching them to think,” writes Germaine Greer. The women who shared their stories with the Brothers Grimm were an extraordinary bunch, acknowledged by most scholars as the true storytellers—even if their names don’t appear on the green and black covers of the original Grimm’s fairy tales.
Frau Dorothea Viehmann was a peasant woman in her fifties, who contributed many of the tales in the second volume of Grimm’s fairy tales, which came out in 1815. In their preface to the second edition, the brothers Grimm wrote of her with palpable admiration: “Her large eyes saw sharply and clearly. She preserved the old legends in her memory ... Her manner of storytelling was deliberate, confident, and uncommonly lively – she clearly took pleasure in it.” 
She could tell her tales twice over, first as a storyteller, and then again slowly, so that the Grimm brothers could transcribe them. The 40 tales she added to the collection may have come from her memories of growing up in her father’s inn; the Grimm brothers saw her as a natural storyteller."
Wilhelm Grimm was married to another wonderful storyteller—Dorothea Wild, the apothecary’s daughter, told him stories around “the stove in the summer-house” when they were children. She and her five sisters lived in the house next door; the Grimm brothers added many of Dorothea’s stories to their collection. (Full Article)
This article doesn't mention that a lot of these stories weren't originally meant for children. They were tales women told to each other while doing chores, or around the fire after the children had gone to bed, which may be why they had so many ribald elements in their original tellings. (Tatar)

For further reading on this topic, I recommend:
The Hard Facts of the Grimm's Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar
Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm's Fairy Tales by Valarie Paradiz
The Brothers Grimm: From Enchanted Forests to the Modern World by Jack Zipes

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