|Grimm..... and Grimmer
|Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were above all else scholars. They began their work at a time when
Germany was divided into many tiny principalities and duchies overrun by Napoleon. The French
occupiers sometimes suppressed the local culture. This troubled the brothers Grimm, and they
undertook a folk tale collection to preserve the endangered oral tradition of Germany as the single
major unifying factor for the Germans at that time was a common language. In 1812, the Grimm
brothers published volume one of 'Kinder und Hausmärchen' which contained 86 numbered
folktales, followed by volume two, adding 70 more stories.
By the time of its final version, it contained 200 nstories and it became the best known German
language book ever created. Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm were born in 1785 and 1786, respectively, in
Hanau, the sons of Philipp Wilhelm Grimm, a lawyer and court official, and his wife Dorothea
Zimmer. They were educated in Kassel and they both read for the law at the University of Marburg.
When their widowed mother suddenly died in 1808, Jacob took a position as a librarian at Kassel to
support the remaining family of nine other siblings, and Wilhelm followed suit. In 1818, they came
out with two volumes of 'Deutsche Sagen', a collection of 585 German legends. Their deep scholarly
work on linguistics, folklore, and medieval studies continued. Forty people brought tales to the
Grimms, the most important sources including Dorothea Viehmann, the daughter of an innkeeper,
Johann Friedrich Krause, an old dragoon, and Marie Hassenpflug, a friend of their sister Charlotte.
When the Brothers Grimm lived in Kassel, they collected and wrote most of their folk tales shortly
before Napoleon annexed it in 1807, and it became the capital of the Kingdom of Westphalia under
Napoleon's brother Jerome. Next, it was annexed by Prussia in 1866, and soon Kassel ceased to be a
In 1825, Wilhelm Grimm married Henriette Dorothea (Dortchen) Wild, the daughter of a pharmacist
and a prominent source of fairy tales for their collection, but Jacob was a lifelong bachelor. The
Grimms resigned their positions as librarians in Kassel in 1829-1830 and accepted positions at the
University of Göttingen as librarians and professors. The brothers joined five of their colleagues in a
group later known as Die Göttinger Sieben (The Göttingen Seven) at the University of Göttingen
from 1837 until 1841 in a protest against the abolition of the liberal constitution of the state of
Hanover by King Ernest Augustus I of Hanover. The professors were all fired, including the Grimms.
They accepted appointments at the University of Berlin and remained there until 1848 and 1852
when they left to complete their own studies and research. The Grimms helped sway nationwide
democratic public opinion in Germany and are respected as being inspirational to the German
democratic movement which resulted in the revolution of 1848. Wilhelm Grimm died December 16,
1859, at the age of 73, and Jacob on September 20, 1863, at age 78. They are buried in Berlin.
Less famous outside of Germany is the Grimm work on a German dictionary, the 'Deutsches
Wörterbuch'. Indeed, the Deutsches Wörterbuch was the first major step in creating a standardized
"modern" German language since the Bible was translated from Latin to German by Martin Luther.
Between them, the Grimms brothers published more than 35 books.
The folk tales that the Grimms collected had not originally been considered children's stories. The
brothers tried to keep the stories in a form as close as possible historically to the original mode. In the
original 'Snow White,' for instance, the evil stepmother is forced to dance in red hot iron shoes until
she collapses and dies. Other characters are stripped, tortured, and thrown in nail studded barrels.
Doves peck out the eyes of Cinderella's stepsisters, and in 'The Juniper Tree' a woman decapitates
In 'Hansel and Gretel' the witch ends baking alive up in the oven. Within Snow White, one finds
cannibalism, hanging, stabbing, garroting and poisoning, not too far off from today's news stories.
These gruesome punishments inflicted on the Grimm villains caused some discomfort toward the
stories. The Brothers initially refused even to consider illustrations, instead preferring scholarly
footnotes. Later, when they realized that children were actually reading them, they often rewrote
versions considered appropriate for the time, especially when the folk tales were quite sexually
explicit.. Rapunzel really did let down her hair!
The works of the Brothers Grimm were among the thousands of German books banned and burned
by the Allies after World War Two during the "re-education process" which destroyed literature of a
"violent" nature in an effort to tame the Germans. Previously, on the night of October 22, 1943,
British bombers destroyed 90% of the ancient city center of Kassel, the place where the Grimms
lived as adults, in a gruesome firebombing that incinerated over 10,000 civilians. Their birthplace did
not fare much better: Hanau, just east of Frankfurt and first mentioned in the year 1143, was
unnecessarily destroyed by British airstrikes on March 19, 1945, a mere few days before it was
inevitably taken by the US Army. 85% of the city was blown up. Violently.
|The original title page
of the Deutsches
|Some of the Original