2012 Book 115: Grimm’s Household Stories, by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm; Lucy Crane translation (7/27/2012)
Reason for Reading: Fantasy and Science fiction Coursera text: week 1
This is a short, illustrated collection of Grimm’s folktales. All of the most famous of Grimm’s tales are in there, without too many of the redundant same-story-but-slightly-different tales that you’ll inevitably come across in a longer collection. The illustrations are enjoyable. The translation has a few small errors (apparently), but overall I think it’s a good place to start with the Grimm brothers.
Essay for Coursera
Many critics claim that the Brothers Grimm had sexist portrayal of women in their stories. These critics ignore the negative portrayal of men that is also endemic in the tales.
Despite misgivings, Hansel and Grethel’s father leads them into the forest to die. When they return, he leads them back out again because “when a man has given in once he has to do it a second time.” In other stories, like Aschenputtel or The Three Little Men in the Wood, the father conveys not one moment of disquietude at the injustice done to his daughter. Many men in the tales are spineless. In The Fisherman and his Wife, the husband returns time and again to ask the princely fish for favors for his wife—favors he does not wish for, and that he is terrified to request. In The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats, the wolf orders the miller to help disguise him. Despite the fact that the miller suspects the wolf, the miller “was afraid and did what he was told. And that just shows how men are.” The worst man, though, is the father in The Twelve Brothers. He’s willing to kill 12 of his boys to provide his newborn daughter with a larger inheritance!
These stories caricaturize the weaknesses of humans–both male and female. As the German-Swiss Nobel Laureate Hermann Hess said: “The literature of the tales and the legends refers us, often with frightening agreement, to something transcendent, to the very concept of the human race.”1These stories refer us to a deep-rooted fear of our own flaws, and they resonate throughout the ages because the most abhorred flaws of human nature have remained, in essence, the same throughout time.
1. Quoted on page 15 of: Bottigneimer, Ruth (1987). Grimms’ Bad Girls and Bold Boys. New Haven: Yale University.
AsideIt was really hard to get this down to the correct word length! I had to leave out so many fantastic examples of horrible snake-like men! As well as examples of brave women. After reading these tales, I’ve decided I don’t agree with the feminist analysis of these stories. Though I probably already had a skeptical bias.
One of the examples I really wanted to include was The Wonderful Musician. This guy had a marvelous power over fellow creatures…he played his music and creatures would come to praise him. These creatures would trust and revere him. However, he kept attracting animals that didn’t please him: a wolf, a fox, a hare. So he promised to tutor them, but deceived them and left them to die. When he finally found a man, he said: “At last! Here comes the right sort of companion. It was a man I wanted, not wild animals.” But the wild animals are more humane than the musician was. The wonderful musician is like a charismatic politician. One that can charm people during the election or important diplomatic meetings, and afterwards he does whatever he wants–essentially stabbing his supporters in the back. I could have written a whole second essay on this subject. 🙂