Grimm Bros

School is back in session for me, which means possibly short columns with an erratic schedule. This semester one of my classes focuses on science fiction and fantasy. Our first essay was about the Brothers Grimm, specifically Household Stories from the Collection of the Brothers Grimm, translated by Lucy Crane with gorgeous illustrations by Walter Crane. You can read it for free in several formats here:

I was amused to see that many members of my class were surprised when they read this book. They had two misconceptions, that the stories were sanitized and blood free, and that they were moral tales, like Aesop's fables. If they have morals they are not always good morals. Take for instance Clever Grethel, a tale about a lazy cook who finagles her way out of trouble by lying and terrifying the guest to the house. What would be the moral of this story? It's better to be a lazy liar than an industrious honest chef? The Wonderful Musician is about a man who is cruel to animals and still triumphs in the end. Make of that what you will.

If you think about the more popular fairy tales you'll see they either have no morals or crummy morals. In Rumpelstiltskin the miller's daughter goes along with her father's lie that she can spin straw into gold and then goes back on her deal with Rumple. She wins in the end, which evidently shows once again that liars win. (Although maybe that's true – if we look at some of the politicians and CEOs out there.) The King, the miller and Rumple are no saints either with the King threatening the miller's daughter with death, the miller lying about his daughter's abilities, and Rumple planning to make off with an infant.

I personally have always enjoyed the slightly more obscure stories. The tale of the sister who must rescue her six swan brothers is a personal favorite, and slightly altered in this book. (There is also another story that is very similar, showing that these stories have a common root and have grown and changed over the years.)

The Goose Girl is also one of my favorites but it isn't exactly happy and uplifting. A princess sets off to meet her fiance but is bullied by her maid, who takes her place and steals her horse and her dowry. Some gruesome events happen next but nothing is as gruesome as what comes at the very end. This story haunted me when I read it as grade school kid.
Another thing some of my fellow students complained about is how the stories seem to be bare bones, not fleshed out enough to suit them. But that is often the way of oral storytelling, where the storyteller embellishes and adds their own touches during the tale, often making each telling unique. I tend to think of them like long jokes or shaggy dog stories instead of well developed character studies.

If you haven't read these stories before be advised that they are different from the newer versions. The princess doesn't kiss the frog prince, she throws him against the wall while having a tantrum. Cinderella (who has a more Germanic name in this version) doesn't have a fairy godmother and her sisters mutilate their feet trying to fit into her shoe. Weirdly the story of the seven kids and the wolf has been changed so that the goats are now geese.

If you're getting ready to go see the new Jack the Giant Slayer movie you might want to bone up on the story it's based on, which is called the Gallant Tailor. Look for other familiar tales under different names, for instance Little Red Riding Hood is called Little Red Cap.

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is flip book animation to go with the Psy Gangnam Style video. It's a mind-boggling amount of work. The consensus seems to be either that is is a colossal waste of time (which you could say about a lot of art projects) or amazing.