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Once Upon A Time

December 3rd, 2014

Grimm-blogHave you ever written anything really good? Well, once upon a time there were two brothers called Jacob and Wilhelm and, way back in 1812, they published a collection of stories which was destined to become really, really famous. They were, of course, the Brothers Grimm, and the Fairy Tales which have borne their name for the past two hundred years are now known all over the world. The 156 stories in their first edition included Cinderella, Rapunzel, and Snow White, tales which went on to become the cornerstone of one of the twentieth century’s mightiest storytelling corporations; tales which will surely be with us for hundreds of years to come.

Jacob and Wilhelm didn’t make up these stories though. Starting out as collectors, they gathered them from an oral tradition going back at least as far as the middle ages and, originally, published them just as they had been told. But much of this material, garnered from poor, illiterate peasants, was vulgar and shocking. So, over a period of some forty five years, they polished and reworked the tales through seven different editions to produce the christianized, child-friendly versions we all know so well.

Now though, their original edition has been published in English for the first time. The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm was translated and edited by Jack Zipes, professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota. Its texts are accompanied by fabulous illustrations by Andrea Dezso, and a very gory read it is proving to be. In one story – ‘How the Children Played at Slaughtering,’ a group of youngsters play at being a butcher and a pig until one boy cuts the throat of his own little brother, only to be stabbed in the heart by his enraged mother who, in order to commit the stabbing, had to leave another child alone in the bath, where he drowned. Brokenhearted by the loss of her three children, the woman hangs herself, just before her husband arrives home to find his whole family gone. And how does he respond to this tragedy? Well, according to the text, “He became so despondent he died soon thereafter.”

Clearly, Disney will not be making an animated musical romp out of that one. And whether Jack Zipes’ new translation is destined to become as popular as tales we grew up with remains to be seen. But, whichever version we may prefer, one thing is sure, these stories will survive because something in them touches us very deeply. Which brings me back to my opening question: has any of us written anything really good? Well, we may not achieve the world-wide renown of the Brothers Grimm, but it would be nice to think that at least one of us has.

Keep on writing!

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