Friday, November 9, 2012
The Household Tales of the Brothers Grimm
As an aside, if you haven't seen it, this was handled brilliantly in what I fear may be Woody Allen's final masterpiece Midnight in Paris.
I've known people (at times been one myself) who idealize periods of history. Being the sort of man who knows bawdy songs by heart that were written long before my own nation even existed, I also invariably know the most depraved and horrible acts that humans accomplished in any period that someone may be idealizing. Isn't that what learning history is really about?
The collected tales of the Brothers Grimm are well known, even by people who haven't read them, as earlier, much darker versions of many of the fairy tales that have entered our collective knowledge. It is true, but the horror seems to serve the function of fear motivations (don't go into the woods alone, don't take gifts from strangers, and so forth) for the amelioration of children, rather than exploiting horror for entertainment value. Personally I did not find all of the incest and evisceration nearly so shocking as the bizarre and fungible morality throughout. For example, the version of what we know as the frog prince has the princess behaving like an absolute monster to the frog. Eventually she throws it against the wall which is what catalyzes the transformation into the prince (seems an odd way to break a curse). I thought, "Okay, here it comes with the comeuppance! Sock it to her, Jacob and Wilhelm!" Nothing doing. The prince whisks her off with all speed to marry her. The book was filled with these sort of moments.
I suppose I could (and probably should) get away with reading this whole series without mentioning the Disney adaptations. I am finding that the emerging picture as I see it is of an increasingly desperate and insecure company. To wit, Snow White is strikingly similar to the original. They've added the earlier appearance of the prince in order to work a duet into the beginning. They've subtracted the evil Queen eating the false heart of Snow White and the evil Queen's gruesome manner of death (as well as the repetition of attempts leading up to the poisoned apple). Likewise with "Briar Rose", retitled Sleeping Beauty, simply adds a boss fight at the end of the story for catharsis. But comparing Aladdin or The Little Mermaid, each bear as much resemblance to the original as a hyperion to a satyr.
I do agree that this is a collection that every household should own. I would read them to a child (and probably will when Ezekiel comes of age). I think that it is a volume well worth preserving in our collective knowledge and, like so much else out there, the original vastly surpasses the filtered versions in quality.
As a quick aside, I am well into the works of Andersen and have noticed that this remains one of the slimmer volumes in the series. I am perplexed. The volume contains the (presumably) original works of Aesop, the compilation of unoriginal works by the Brothers Grimm, the mixed bag of Andersen's. Why wouldn't he round out the volume with the fairy tales of Oscar Wilde? Actually, I know the answer to that question and it is a tragedy and a travesty.