Friday, January 22, 2016


We are now somewhere right between the birthdays of the brothers Grimm, Jacob’s on January 4th, and Wilhelm’s on February 24th. Give or take the year, both are having their 230th birthdays.

Today, Grimms’ Fairy Tales don’t seem so grim, but that’s probably because most of us know the fairly innocuous Disney versions. Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, and even The Brave Little Taylor, came to us complete with malevolent fairies, ugly stepsisters, witches, and giants, but they were soon dispatched in Technicolor and with catchy tunes. Reading the original versions, people today might be shocked at the violence in the old folk tales, but then again, after living in the midst of such movies as Nightmare on Elm Street and The Exorcist, maybe not.

The Grimms volunteered to collect local oral folktales for a friend’s project. They wound up writing them in collections of their own, eventually including over two hundred tales, and gradually toning down some of the stark images in the stories they heard. Modern versions, including operas, films, plays, and, of course, children’s books are mostly low key and very entertaining, but are not at all the moral tales and life lessons originally intended to teach the young.

Compare, for instance, Arthur Rackham’s illustrations for Cinderella and Snow White in 1900 for a volume of Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, to the Disney illustrations.  As the illustrations became simpler, rounder, with less detail and more color, so too did the stories become relatively sanitized over the years. The morals of the stories are still in place, but they warn more than scare.

The Seven Dwarfs are certainly less intimidating
in the Disney version.

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