Anyone who hasn’t read Grimm’s collection of Fairy Tales, hasn’t had much of a childhood.
This review also appears on Women24.com, a South African women's lifestyle website where I manage, amongst other things, an online books section.
Grimm’s Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm (Vintage Classics)
What a marvellous little collection of tales.
Strange, creepy, romantic and filled with all manner of twisty things, Grimm’s anthology of fairy tales is one of those classics that should be on every fable and folklore lover’s book shelves.
Most of us are familiar with Disney’s treatment of stories like Snow White, Rapunzel, Cinderella and The Frog Prince - to mention but a few - but in this collection, The Brothers Grimm go back to some of the roots of these tales and present a version that is not only different, but that are also much darker.
In quite a few cases, some don’t even have the happily-ever-after ending that we’re so used to seeing.
Even more interesting is that, based on recently doing a little research on folklore (I adore anything fable, myth and legend related), I discovered that in some cases, even the Grimm brothers had much better and happier adaptations and endings for some of their versions of these legendary stories.
And that’s saying a lot about two intellectual scholars who’ve never shied away from including murder and cannibalism in their tales.
But, more on that later - I’m getting ahead of myself.
This collection, published by Vintage Classics in 2013, features a diverse range of stories.
From the relatively well-known (Little Red Riding Hood, Brier Rose and Puss in Boots), to the rather obscure (The Juniper Tree, The Lettuce Donkey and The Singing, Springing Lark), these stories will take you on a journey that will leave you feeling at once both nostalgic and slightly sad that you missed out on so much subtext when you were younger.
While I certainly adored these narratives with my limited understanding of them when I was younger, reading them anew has certainly left me with an even deeper appreciation of these tales of yonder.
Looking at it from a child’s still developing point of view, it’s rather easy to assume that fairy tales, as a rule, is all about brave knights, resourceful princesses and the happily-ever-after it generally contains. And for me, it certainly did represent that.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this impression at all, but I do think that as they get older, children should be made aware of the underlying themes and metaphorical threads that are interwoven in them.
My personal experience of this collection was one of reawakening; one where I was reminded that behind these folklore tales, a treasure trove of hidden meanings was (and is) just waiting to be found.
From wicked enchantresses, to singing larks, golden birds and magical beasts, these Grimm-told stories are filled with all sorts of fantastical imagery. You’ll meet everything and everyone and discover that magic and goodness can be found just around the corner.
On the other hand, Grimm’s collection also tells us that dark deeds, enmity and cunning tricksters are just as prone to lurk about, and that some exist closer to home than anywhere else.
Exploring and incorporating themes of incest, murder, cannibalism and human folly in general, you’ll be astonished at just how much twistedness there are in these stories.
My absolute favourite?
The Juniper Tree – this one’s probably one of the darkest I’ve read in this collection, although I’m sure that I’ll probably discover more of their darker works in my quest to read every single Grimm story I haven’t read yet.
Interweaving themes of child abuse and murder with cannibalism and greed, The Juniper Tree is the story of a young boy who, loathed by his stepmother, is tricked into getting an apple to eat from a chest.
When he takes the apple, the stepmother closes the chest, lopping off his head in the process (You can see why this is one of the lesser known Grimm’s tales).
Trying to hide her cold-blooded act of killing from her husband, she chops up his body parts and feeds it to the family when he comes home from work. His stepsister, however, is heartbroken with grief and saves his bones. She eventually wraps them in a handkerchief and buries him underneath the magical Juniper Tree.
What happens next is for you to discover, but suffice to say, you’ll be hearing the phrase: “My mother she killed me, my father he ate me” throughout the story.
Deliciously twisted, but also incredibly hopeful, this story is a reminder that love can triumph from beyond all planes.
I wish I could spend more time going through all the stories, but I’m sure that what you’ll get instead of a book review, is a novel-length discourse on each of these little gems.
I will however make a brief mention of some of the stories that have stood out for me, the tales in question being:
Brother and Sister (a tale of two resourceful siblings who escape their evil stepmother),
All Fur (a young princess who flees from her father after he falls in love with her and demands to marry her)
The Singing, Springing Lark ( A young princess, an enchanted prince, a 7-year period apart and a wicked princess’s scheme. Here’s quite a lot that happens in this story, but the journey of the brave heroine will certainly have you rooting for her.)
Snow White and Rose Red (the version that involves an enchanted bear and one nasty, ungrateful, thieving dwarf), oh and…
The King of the Golden Mountain and The Lettuce Donkey (both decidedly sinister, although the one more so than the other because the ending is just so bluntly shocking).
See, there are just so many to mention here. The one thing I should add though is that if you’re looking for a book with a collection of fully developed and fleshed out stories, you won’t find that here.
These stories are written in a way that’s often choppy and abrupt, but strangely all the more beautiful for it. Many may even consider it somewhat simplistic, but I find that sometimes it’s these kind of reads that have the most pearls to offer.
If you haven’t read it yet, go out and grab a copy.
If you’ve read it before, but it’s been languishing in your shelves, dust it off and pick it up again. After all, there’s nothing like a book that reminds you that you’re never too old to be fall in love with your childhood favourites again.
And that is indeed what this collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales ended up doing for me.