The Grimm Brothers: No Pun Intended

Once upon a time, there were two brothers who had seven siblings. These two boys were poor scholars who were not expected to do much in the world. In spite of this, instead of fading away like most common people of the time, these German boys imprinted their names forever on the history books through one means – fairy tales.

Born in the years 1785 and 1786, brothers Jacob Ludwug Carl Grimm and Wilhelm Carl Grimm were destined for greatness, and poverty. With four siblings (three died when they were very young) and no father, the eldest Grimm brothers (Jacob and Wilhelm) often had to take jobs that interrupted their studies just to put bread on the table. Despite this, both Jacob and Wilhelm studied law at the University of Marburg, but then became librarians. Eventually, they received honorary doctorates, and Wilhelm got married to Henriette Wild in 1825. The trio ended up living together, forging close bonds and acquiring new jobs a couple of times as the years passed. Finally, around the age of 73, Wilhelm died; Jacob followed suit four years later.

However, there is much more to their lifetimes than just that. Starting in their teens, the Grimms started collecting fairy tales, folk songs, nursery rhymes, and anything orally transferred throughout time that had German culture in it. Their actions revolved around the fear that industrialization would completely wipe out the oral parts of German culture as well as a few other reasons. Jack Zipes nicely sums their reasons up with the words, “They intended to trace and grasp the essence of cultural evolution and to demonstrate how natural language, stemming from the needs, customs, and rituals of the common people, created authentic bonds and helped forge civilized communities.”

Nonetheless, apart from being the scholarly reports the Grimm brothers had intended their volumes to be, their original dark and dreary stories ended up being edited over seven editions just in their lifetimes to wind up resembling something close to the stories we have today. The reason for these revisions? Parents and the Christian church criticized the Grimms for publishing fairytales and, in the churchs’ and parents’ eyes even though the Grimms didn’t intend it this way, for having events such as premarital sex, graphic violence, child abuse, anti-semitism, incest, and wicked mothers all in a child’s bedtime book. Nonetheless, the Grimm’s book is rumored to be outsold – in those times – only by the Bible. Still, the Grimms listened to the irritated voices and changed the wicked mothers to wicked step-mothers and added a Bible on the bedside table belonging to Red Riding Hood’s Grandmother among other revisions. The more revisions that were installed, the more popular the stories became. The ironic parts of the changes are that, even though most of the R-rated happenings got excised from the stories, the violence, particularly the punishment toward the evil-doers, was increased exponentially. It would take a few more centuries and lots more revisions before we get the delightful, pleasing fairy tales that you and I know today.

Because of the Grimm brothers and their diligent work, we now have movies such as Tangled, Cinderella, Snow White, Mirror, Mirror, and shows such as Once Upon A Time among others. Their work did more than just directly affect us in these ways, the Grimms and their work inspired others to collect stories and oral cultural aspects of different countries and nations. Many of the fairy tales and folk tales that these people collected would have been lost if not for their efforts and hard work. Another amazing thing about the Grimms is that, not only did they preserve over 200 fairy and folk tales, they also wrote publications on mythology, linguistics, and medieval studies as well as being scholars in the field of German philology. To add to all their other accomplishments, the Grimm brothers started a ambitious German dictionary; unfortunately, death claimed them before they could finish the letter F.  Even with regard to their failure to complete their dictionary, the Grimm brothers did marvelous work with the fairy tales and other stories they collected. Much of today’s culture and the culture in Europe back then has been dramatically shaped or preserved because of their efforts. Truly, these men who saved precious Cinderella, jewel-like Snow White, and the beauty Rapunzel deserve our praise more than any of the heroes in the stories they recovered because, instead of wooing princesses and falling in love to save the day, they simply put pen to paper and dramatically influenced life then and continue to do so now even after hundreds of years.



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