Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Grimm vs Grimm.

Well, it had to happen eventually.  Thanks to the Upper Hudson Library System, I’ve gotten my hands on a copy of this book:
It's Grimm, only more Zipes-y.
That’s right, it’s The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm edited by well-known fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes.  Zipes made the effort of going back to the original first edition of the Grimms’ book before they made all sorts of changes to appeal to the masses and actually translated the whole thing into English.

Now, I don’t know how many of you might recognize me when I post on other blogs and news sites.  However, you may recall that I met the news of this book with just a little skepticism (okay, more than a little).  I just didn’t see the point of another version of the Grimm book.  However, since it was a big, enchanted deal among fairy tale people, I thought I’d eventually have to do something in regards to this book.

So, since the big deal is in the changes that were made, let’s take a look at those changes.  So, I pulled out my own, trusty copy of Grimm:
Trusty old Grimm.
and set to reading a handful of these stories side by side to compare and contrast them.  So, here goes!  We start with . . .

“Cinderella”- The first thing you’ll notice upon reading the first edition story is that the stepsisters have a far more active role in being cruel to Cinderella.  In the later editions, most of the blame seems able to fall on the stepmother.  Another big difference has to do with the pigeon coop.  If we’re to recall the later edition versions, Cinderella uses the pigeon coop as a hiding place after her first trip to the ball.  The prince then destroys the pigeon coop in his search for Cinderella.  Luckily, she managed to slip away.  In this version, she does go into the pigeon coop, but without a trip to the ball.  The pigeons actually say to her after helping her sort lentils “Cinderella, if you want to see your sisters dance with the prince, then climb up to the pigeon coop.”  I’m not sure if this pigeon coop is magical or just located really close to the palace, but Cinderella goes into it and watches the ball in action.  When she reveals this to one of her sisters, she immediately orders the pigeon coop to be torn down.  It seems that through their edits, what the Brothers Grimm did was formalize a formula of events in this story.  It basically comes down to “three trips to the ball and three hiding places”.  Interestingly, in all the press for this book, this is actually the kind of thing I had been hoping to hear about.  This is a case when the events in the first edition story’s plot were actually different.  Instead, most of what I heard was about how the Grimms “sanitized” their stories (Note: I only just barely care about the dark side of these tales.  That side is there, but it is not a selling point for these stories for me unless the dark bit is really weird and fantastical).

Now we move on to . . .

“Little Snow White”- The big difference between the first edition and the later editions is the lack of these sentences in the first edition: “And when the child was born, the Queen died” and “After a year had passed the King took to himself another wife”.  That’s right, in the older edition, the Evil Queen is Snow White’s biological mother.  The interesting thing about this change is that it seems huge at first glance but it really only changes things from the outside.  The fact that the Queen is Snow White’s stepmother only makes the reader feel better knowing that the Queen is not trying to kill her own flesh and blood.  It’s easy to see the stepmother Queen as an interloper who wormed her way into a once happy family.  Readers like it because we like the idea that this royal family was not damaged to begin with.  However, it does nothing to change Snow White’s predicament.  In either case, it’s still Snow White being persecuted by the only mother she ever knew!  Look at the two sentences I quoted.  The biological mother dies in childbirth and the King marries the new queen a mere one year after that.  Snow White was just a baby when this villainess was introduced into her life.  It’s a change that seems to mean so much but really means little from the main character’s point of view.

On the subject of little changes that change little, we move onto . . .

“Rapunzel”- This story wins the prize for silliest edit ever.  In the first edition of the story, after the titular heroine has been visited by her prince a number of times, she says to Mother Gothel “Tell me, Mother Gothel, why are my clothes becoming too tight?  They don’t fit me anymore.”  You can guess what happened between the prince and Rapunzel in that tower, especially seeing as she gives birth to twins later in the story.  However, the later version has her saying “Tell me, Dame Gothel, how it happens that you are so much heavier for me to draw up than the young King’s son- he is with me in a moment.”  I mean, come on!  It’s clearly an attempt to cover up the presence of pregnancy and thus sex in this tale.  However, it’s just kind of delaying the inevitable because the story still references her giving birth to twins later on.  It may work on little kids, but once they get older and learn the facts of life they’re going to put two and two together.  In the process, Rapunzel is now required to ask one of the stupidest questions in fairy tale history.  It’s almost as bad as in the bowdlerized version of “Sun, Moon and Talia” from The Pentamerone, in which Sun and Moon aren’t born to Talia but just appear to her from “she knew not where”.  It’s clear there’s something missing from the story and it’s easy to figure out what.  The only other major change is that Dame Gothel in the first edition is a fairy and in later editions is a witch.  This is probably left over from earlier versions that were brought over from France.

And now our last comparison piece . . .

“Allerleirauh”/”All Fur”- This may seem like an odd choice compared to the “all stars” I just focused on, but I wanted to look at a story that was always known for its unsavory elements.  For those not in the know, in this story a princess runs away from home because her father has become convinced that he should marry her.  She then reappears in another kingdom disguised in a cloak made from patches of different kinds of fur.  However, she also brought with her three miraculous gowns that she wears to three different balls to enchant the kingdom’s young king.  I can say with all assurances that the suggested incest/king wanting to marry his daughter bit is in both versions!  The only major edit I can see is that the king of this other kingdom keeps getting referred to as the girl’s fiancée/betrothed in the older version.  This suggests that the princess was already promised to another when the king decided he absolutely had to break the laws of God and man.  It also makes it seem more like a tease/prank when the princess appears at the balls in her fantastical gowns.

I also read other tales besides these four, but it seems that stories like “Little Red Cap” and “Briar Rose” are essentially the same in both versions.  However, this edition also seems to include tales that were cut because they weren’t considered “German enough” like “Puss in Boots” or stories that seemed redundant like “The Frog Prince” (Not to be confused with “The Frog King or Iron Henry”).  It’s also a very readable translation.  So, I will now have to admit somewhat grudgingly that this book isn’t as pointless as I may have once thought.  So, you may be wondering why I was so hard on this book in the first place.

Well, it’s because I’m kind of sick of the Brothers Grimm is all.

It seems like there is always a new version of Grimm hitting the bookstore shelves.  First edition, third edition, annotated, illustrated . . . pop-up edition.  Every flavor of Grimm is represented.  Not only that, Grimm and occasionally Andersen are all I can seem to find on bookstore shelves these days.  It wasn’t always like that, though.  I used to be able to find books like these:
I bought all of these books OFF THE SHELF!
on the shelves in the Barnes and Noble and the late, lamented Borders.  Strangely, it seems like as fairy tales have become more popular in the media, the choices in book stores have dried up.  Sure, the library can be useful but I prefer to own my folk tale books so that they’re handy.  Kindle is nice too, but harder to flip through.  Then, there is of course Amazon.com.  But I still walk into Barnes and Noble from time to time hoping against hope that I’ll find some strange and obscure book of folk tales from some far off exotic land on the shelf.  More often than not, I’m disappointed.

So, Mr. Zipes has in fact put together a very solid first edition Brothers Grimm book.  Maybe I’ll put it on my Kindle, just in case.  But I still hunger for more exotic and less familiar fare in my folk tale diet.  One cannot live on Grimm alone.


  1. This book is on my wishlist! I've been wishing for a while to be able to read the first edition of the tales, other than the short snippets found in other books on the Grimms. Thanks for the comparisons! So interesting to look at the versions side by side...and as you say, the "sanitization" process is only a way of summarizing what happened to the tales, but can't really capture all of the nuances and details that were changed

  2. Great post! I purchased this book awhile back, because I liked that it contains all of the 'original' stories. It's fun to spot the differences, and discover tales which were taken out in later editions. All Fur is one of my favourite fairy tales, and you're right - in every version the incest theme is very clear, and I always find myself getting confused between the king and the betrothed/fiancé. Whether that's intentional or not I'm not sure, but it certainly makes the story intriguing.

    Also I agree that we need more than Grimm in bookstores. And by that I don't mean Andersen instead, because he's just as common!

    1. Even a little more Charles Perrault would be nice.

  3. Does the Zipes version contain the original annotations? They give pretty good insight into their line of thinking andit's interesting to seewhich of the vesion they came across they chose for their book and which they left out.

  4. Hahaha. 'One cannot live on Grimm alone' and 'Rapunzel is forced to ask the silliest question ever' great! I had been hanging out for a book like this for ages, I really wanted to know what was edited. The Turnip princess is next on my list.

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