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Exploring the German storybook with the Brothers Grimm

by Martin Ederer Wilhelm Grimm (left) and Jacob 1859, the Grimm brothers pub- Jacob Grimm lecturing (illustration by Ludwig Emil Grimm, c. 1830)
Grimm in an 1856 painting by lished eight books together. The
It has become a common cliché Elisabeth Jerichau-Baumann best seller, of course, was their Perhaps most importantly, the That stated, without Hansel
in captions of pictures of Ger- Kinder- und Hausmärchen, which Grimm Brothers created a world- and Gretel, Snow White, Cinderel-
many to refer to a “storybook” or tionalism the Brothers Grimm printed in seven editions during wide interest in folk tales as works la, Sleeping Beauty, Red Riding
“fairytale” countryside. Indeed worked to preserve a cultural heri- their lifetimes. But that success to take seriously as literature—and Hood and Rapunzel, to name but a
these pictures usually show lovely, tage best maintained among the was not a sure thing. Critics initial- as an instructive glimpse into the few, where would opera, Russian
enchanting scenes of villages customs of regular “real” people. ly panned the collection as too soul of a people. More formal liter- ballet and the Walt Disney empire
along the Rhine valley or of some The Grimm Brothers weren’t the unappealing to children. ature by its very nature is created be, not to mention a child psychol-
lovely castle ruin. All of these im- authors of the timeless works now by elites for elites and is much ogy industry studying the damage
ages have been further reinforced associated with them, but they did Here is where the problem of more connected to an international done by frightening stories about
by Disney packaging of same. collect the stories and present them professors writing children’s scene of literary standards and in- little girls and wolves, and chil-
to a reading public in academia books becomes plain. In a bow to fluences. dren who eat houses?
But a closer look at the real and in front of the stove. marketing realities, they revised
German storybook reveals a much the stories, and the rest is history.
grittier, more authentic, less ideal- After a rocky academic start in Throughout their careers they con-
ized reality. Romantic-era German Göttingen – rocky thanks to their tinued to gather stories and present
nationalism gathered and pre- revolutionary activism in the them in official German, although
served these stories from the rural 1830s – they eventually landed in they came to realize that original
German soul. The best-known col- well-financed posts at the Univer- dialects were far more charming
lection, of course, is that of the sity of Berlin. Between 1812 and and “real”. They also branched out
Grimm Brothers. into collecting medieval Germanic
stories, ancient poetry, and estab-
Jakob Ludwig Karl Grimm lishing a collection of German folk
(1785-1863) and his brother Wil- sayings. Their biggest undertaking
helm Karl Grimm (1786-1859) of all was creating the Deutsches
hardly fit the description of au- Wörterbuch (German Dictionary),
thors of children’s stories. They although they did not make it be-
would have probably agreed. They yond the “F” section in their life-
were university scholars, philolo- times. The project was actually not
gists, researchers and lexicogra- completed until 1960!
phers much more intent on
expanding the German literary
repertoire and advancing a Ger-
man national consciousness.

In the Europe torn asunder by
Napoleonic armies and French na-

6 • • June - July 2018 "Hansel and Gretel", illustrated
by Arthur Rackham, was a
"warning tale" for children.

Two local World
War I exhibits

Two local exhibits are partici-
pating in the worldwide remem-
brance of the “war to end all wars”.
For Home and Country at the Buf-
falo History Museum, Elmwood
Ave. and Nottingham Terrace, is a
collection of artifacts and posters
from World War I. Exhibit runs
until February 2019. See
buffalohistory.org for details and
costs.

Buffalo Never Fails: The
Queen City and World War I is at
the downtown branch of the Buffa-
lo and Erie County Public Library
on Lafayette Square, and includes
artifacts from private collections
and items from the library’s Rare
Books and Special Collections de-
partments. Exhibit runs until Jan-
uary 2020. See http://www.
buffalolib.org/content/library-
locations/central for additional in-
formation.
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