Grimmsí Fairy Tales illustrated
by Arthur Rackham
On December 20, 1812, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published a book called Children's and Household Tales (Kinder- und Hausmärchen in German) and helped popularize one of the most enduring aspects of Western popular culture – the fairy tale.
Their collection of folktales contains stories that have become so well known that they have taken on lives of their own. The adventures of Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel are so famous that the original research by the Brothers Grimm has been somewhat forgotten.
The Brothers Grimm did not originate the stories. They were scholarly researchers and linguists who selected the stories from various dialects and regions, and then published them as a collection.
The Grimms collected folktales for many years before becoming a publishing phenomenon. That historic first volume of tales contained 86 stories and the second volume, published in 1814, had 70 stories. Many of those tales had been handed down in the oral tradition but some had already been published. Those early volumes pulled no punches. There was often something very nasty in the woods and villains were punished with brutal violence. The toning down process began soon after and continues to the present day with the likes of Disney and the hundreds of children’s book publishers who reprint the stories each year.
The brothers owe much to the French author Charles Perrault (1628-1703) who helped create fairy tales as a literary narrative with his versions of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Puss in Boots.
The Grimm tales feature almost every important storytelling theme imaginable. Good versus evil, life and death, love and hate, cleverness and stupidity, courage and cowardice, magic and adventure, and golden heroes and flawed heroes. The characters are vivid, which made the stories ideal for illustration and later for cinema.
“They take basic human situations - wife, husband, father, son, king, subject, life, death - and illustrate them with such simplicity and clarity that they can't help resonating throughout the ages,” said English author Philip Pullman in an interview with the BBC.
Notable artists who have illustrated the tales include Arthur Rackham, Walter Crane, Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielsen, Pauline Baynes, Wanda Gag, Mervyn Peake, Maurice Sendak, Adrienne Adams, Mercer Mayer, Gordon Browne, Margot Zemach and Nancy Ekholm Burkert. The 1909 Arthur Rackham first edition is famous in the rare book world.
It was not all witches, frogs and princes for the Grimms. They also devoted years to compiling a vast German dictionary (remember Germany as a nation did not exist until 1871) but both brothers died before its completion. The Deutsches Wörterbuch is significant because it also offered origins for each word. Wilhelm died in 1859 and Jacob in 1863.
10 Facts about the Brothers Grimm › Play Video