Way back in February after completing a set of exams I decided to reward myself with a book spurge. The Complete Fairytales by The Brothers Grimm was one of those books. Since then, fairytales seem to have become some sort of trend, making appearances in both the TV and film industries. Which does make me wonder, why did I decide to pick up the Brothers Grimm this year? Was it really on a whim? Or did it get into my subconscious?
Another reason I chose this book is because two of the stories are on The Rory Gilmore Challenge (Rapunzel, and Snow White and Rose Red) and being the type of person who never likes to do things half way, I though hey, why not read ALL the Grimm fairytales?! 🙂
‘The stories have immense vitality…no punches are pulled…no emotion is unrepresented’
– Margaret Atwood
Wolves and grandmothers, the seven dwarfs, a goose made of gold…the folk tales collected by the Grimm brothers created an astonishingly influential imaginative world. However, this is also a world where a woman cooks her stepson and an evil queen dances to death in a pair of burning shoes. Violent, funny, disturbing and wise, these stories have intrigued both children and adults for generations.
I actually had to do some research before purchasing this book so I would like to warn anyone interested in reading the Grimm Fairytales to do the same. The reason for this is that there are a lot of books out there claiming to be the complete version, when in actual fact they are not. There are a lot of different volumes due to the fact that the Brothers Grimm didn’t publish them all in one go. The official number of tales is 210, so this is the number you should look for. My version however boasts on it’s back cover 279 stories, and claims to be the only complete edition available because it also includes The Omitted Tales, Selected Tales from the annotation of 1856, Jacob Grimm’s Tales, Published Tales and finally Selected Tales from the Posthumous Papers of the Brothers Grimm. These are extra bonus stories for those that are interested. So if your looking for the best book to go for, I would say this is definitely the one to pick! 🙂
The plot of each Grimm story is usually quite simple. It begins with either a Prince, Princess, or animal. They get into some sort of trouble – usually involving magic, and then spend the rest of the story trying to get out of trouble again. Sometimes this results in ‘happily ever after’. Other times…….not so much. That was one thing that surprised me actually. When I’ve heard people reference the Grimm Fairytales (usually from TV or film) they’ve always commented on how gruesome and horrendous they are compared to say, Disney. So when I began reading them I thought they would be more……well, more grim. Don’t get me wrong, there’s cannibalism, limbs being chopped off and people being put in barrels with nails sticking out…but it’s written in such a simplistic, matter of fact style that it doesn’t come across as very gruesome. Sounds strange I know! Maybe I should just worry that the youth of today such as myself have become desensitized? Kids these days, geez!
The very nature of fairytales is that they traditionally change with each telling as they are passed down through the generations, so I found this book really interesting to read, it was an opportunity to revisit the more original versions of famous stories that I heard when I was a child. What I discovered? Nearly every children’s story started off as a Grimm Fairytale. Snow White, Rumplestilskin, Little Red Riding Hood, The Princess and the Frog, even Puss in Boots! Some of the famous stories I knew about, but there were others I was complete surprised by! While some of the stories I read were similar to the ones I was originally told, others were barely recognizable, and had been reshaped and morphed into tales that are more commercial.
In The Complete Fairytales you can clearly see religious links and messages woven throughout the text, warning you to obey your elders, to not be lazy or greedy, to avoid the devil, and to do as others say or there will be dire consequences. It actively encourages selflessness, belief in God, kindness, and heart. Most of the religious messages it preaches appear to be Christian and probably reflect the views of the time. This makes me wonder if their obsession with evil stepmothers, who seem to appear in ever other story, are related to Catholic values on marriage and divorce. (Although don’t take my word on that, it is just a possible interpretation and could be completely wrong.)
The writing style of this book is a little difficult to comment on, especially as it is translated from German. It’s simplistic and doesn’t go into any form of detail describing the personalities of characters, or their surroundings like a normal novel or short story would. But it works. It’s very matter of fact and has a weirdly imaginative and childlike quality. It also often uses the rule of three I talked about in a previous post.
It was interesting for me to learn that the Brothers Grimm didn’t actually come up with all these stories themselves, they did not invent them which is what I assumed at the beginning. Instead they ‘obtained most of their oral and literary tales from educated members of the middle and aristocratic classes’ . Hmmph, there was me thinking they were creative geniuses coming up with all these stories! Although I’m sure they improved them with a little poetic license.
My enjoyment of this book fluctuated like the wind. At times I absolutely loved it and was completely wrapped up in the world of fairytales; running away from the big bad wolf with Little Red Riding Hood, hiding from Blue Beard, curiously peering into forbidden doors with the woodcutters daughter and dancing long into the night with the three princesses. Some of my favourite stories were Brother Lustig, Puss in Boots, The Long Nose ( A Pinocchio-esk story) Snow White and Rose Red, The Winter Rose (Beauty and the Beast) and King Ironhead. (Or at least, I was enjoying that one until the anti-feminist ending, what a letdown!)
But at other times I wanted to throw it across the room. The thing was just so freaking big! Over 1000 pages. I started reading this in February people! That means it took me around 6 months to read, and I tell you what, it felt like 6 months too. I even started to resent it a little bit because I felt like it was restricting my reading. The thing is, I don’t really have an issue with long books. I think it was mainly to do with the fact that it was repetitive. I lot of the stories overlapped or were very similar, and although I really enjoyed them in small doses, reading them in big chunks wasn’t very enjoyable like it would be with a novel. Overall I did enjoy it, and it was a very interesting experience, but boy was it hard work too!
I would recommend this book to fantasy or fairytale lovers either male or female, who are interested in learning more about the original sources that they came from. I would also recommend it to people interested in analyzing the moral messages within them. I’m not sure if I would suggest reading them to children; some are appropriate, others aren’t, but the female representations are also questionable due to the time period they were written in. If you want to read them then I would encourage you to do so, but beware, this book is not for the faint hearted.
I will leave you with 10 things I learnt from the The Complete Fairytales by the Brothers Grimm:
1.) Beware. All stepmothers are evil.
2.) Not to open forbidden doors. Curiosity killed the cat.
3.) There are an abnormal amount of people named Hans in the world.
4.) The gamblers of the world were created when a man with magic playing cards (rigged so he would always win) was kicked out of heaven shattering his soul which worked its way into many gamblers who are still alive to this day.
5.) Eating a four-leafed clover will make you so sharp minded that you will be able to see through any deception.
6.) Always bet on the third child, even if they are a ‘simpleton’
7.) If you’re in trouble, turn yourself into a flower or a lake.
8.) Being a tailor seems to be a favorable profession.
9.) To defeat a wolf: Cut open it’s belly, fill it with stones, sew up it’s belly. (Yeahhh this is all kinds of crazy troll logic this one)
10.) Be nice to everyone you meet, even if they are a frog, bear, or old man. They could be a witch or a handsome prince in disguise.
Writing Style: 4/5
Character Development: Kind of not relevant with this one. 1/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes, but with a health warning! LOL.
Book Cover http://www.booktopia.com.au/