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The Grimm Brothers

The Grimm Brothers are probably the most well-known collectors/writers of stories. They were 19th-century academics who were interested in language and culture and were part of a movement that sought to collect folklore. Many others followed in their footsteps in other parts of Europe. Collecting folklore, specifically the oral traditional stories, was one way of making a claim for cultural national unity.

The Grimm Brothers produced collections of what they termed “märchen“, perhaps best translated as “wonder tale.” Grimm’s Fairy Tales was originally known as Children and Household Tales. The first edition, in 1812, contained 86 stories; ta second volume of 70 stories followed in 1815. Over the next years, until the seventh edition of 1857, the brothers added and subtracted stories, and rewrote many of them with an eye toward improving their suitability for children and increasing their suitability in terms of the values of 19th-century German-speaking middle-class societies. This often took the form of removing sexually explicit material, though not violence.

As part of our work on fairy tales, you are choosing one story to work on in-depth, looking at many variations, so you may, for example, find it interesting to look at a story from the 1812 publication and compare it to that of 1857. Or to see how it gets retold again, by another writer as you will see in the third story on this page.

The first story is also an example of what your first presentation might be. Here, I have recorded a telling of “The Three Spinners” using a traditional Grimm text. In your own presentation, you can tell the story however you wish and with whatever text you wish.

Listen and see if this story reminds you of any you know.

Please read/watch/or listen to the following stories:

The Juniper TreeText from the Grimm Brothers, translated by D.L. Ashliman

Louis Rhead “The Juniper Tree”, 1917

The Six Swans

Elenore Abbott, Illustration of Six Swans of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, 1920

Text of “The Six Swans” from The Yellow Fairy Book, edited by Andrew Lang. 1894 edition with illustrations by H.J. Ford; available via Project Gutenberg

The Elves and the Shoemaker

This is an optional read-aloud of a Grimm Brothers tale.

Retold from the Brothers’ Grimm and illustrated by Jim LeMarche

What are two or three things that you’ve noticed so far in these literary versions of these stories?

17 thoughts on “The Grimm Brothers

  1. many books use the good vs. evil theme to demonstrate morals to young minds.The story The Juniper Tree contains themes of child abuse, murder, savage.exposure to right and wrong can help children to develop a proper moral conscience.The story The Three Spinners teach us great moral lesson about correct behavior. you may see social class in The Three Spinners for letting the girls marry the prince after her lie. Teaching children right morals a long lessons learned in fairytales and other areas helps society

  2. Throughout fairytales and stories, there are so many life lessons and situations that make you question what will happen. The morals are often are brought up in the themes of the story. The Elves and the shoemaker teaches the audience the thought of giving and the transaction between doing a good deed and receiving as well. In the Three spinners, The girl lied about spinning and eventually married the prince.

  3. I thought they were similar with the enchanting moments in the book. although it did with the old man in the second book that I watch it happened in a good way, it was some kind of cure. It was like magic

  4. The three literary versions share the good and the evil of principles in people’s minds. The Jupiter Tree reveals neglect and abuse to the child later ending with a teaching lesson of self-thought. The next literary story depicts the good moral of proper behavior

  5. They were very similar there were the bad people and the good ones they teach morals and life lessons the shoemaker teaches about giving and kindness and we can take that into our daily life. But what more important is the meaning storytelling has on children’s life.

  6. As a child, I used to read fairy tales and watch movies about fairy tales. Fairy tales mainly teach me lessons about life and how to cope with different life situations.
    So far, I have noticed that The Juniper Tree includes themes of child abuse, murder, and cannibalism, which can be inappropriate for children to read. In addition, the moral of the story is a little different from the famous story of Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. The Juniper Tree mainly teaches us not to accept apples from strangers and family members.

    While reading The Six Swans, I noticed that it has very similar lessons, such as the idea of trust and family, to other fairy tales that I read as a child. This story also examines themes of good versus evil and the results of our actions. As a mother, I think that the earlier my children learn these lessons, they will have much better human interaction.

    1. Hi Maayan.
      I enjoy reading your post, especially your thoughts about the Juniper Tree. As you mention, the message about not trusting strangers, not even family members debatable. In the Juniper tree, the stepmother killed her stepson. I think that this might lead to different stereotypes such as all the stepmothers are evil. Therefore the stories are conditioning the kids with the thoughts of fear stepparents are mean. I also agree that “Juniper Tree” is not appropriate for children. Absolutely I found it very scary

  7. The lessons taught within stories can be impactful as they make the audience aware of things and tell it in a manor that’s easy to understand. For example, The Juniper Tree highlights the lesson trust, as the it revealed child abuse and death. While the Elves and the Shoemaker discusses the opposite of what was learned in Juniper Tree. The Elves and the Shoemaker lesson is giving and receiving kindness. Obviously, these lessons are help shape the audience.

  8. The literary versions of these stories seem to always have an evil woman as the main antagonist who is motivated by jealousy, greed, or some kind of contempt for the world at large who takes advantage of a man who is attempting to be good and pure. In the case of the Juniper Tree, a “good” wife dies and leaves behind a child who is killed by an evil second wife while the husband is made a part of her plot seemingly by no fault of his own. In the Six Swans, we also see this in the form of the witch coercing the king into marrying her daughter and then turning his male children into swans. In the Six Swans, we also see the pure maiden saving her brothers which continues the trend of a clear-cut good vs. evil. However, even the maiden is also plagued by an evil woman who steals her children and tries to get her killed. This story almost repeats itself between its first half with the 6 boys turned into swans, and the 3 children stolen by the old mother.

  9. The things that I noticed in the literary versions of the stories is the dark themes that are related to the stories. For example, Juniper Tree has child abuse, neglect, cannibalism, and murder. The six swans follows the themes of sacrifice and both talk about good vs evil. In both stories, the villain is a jealous woman and the protagonists must overcome the evil doers.

  10. Within all of these stories, there’s been life lessons as well good & bad people which can relate to real life. As we love upon day to day we encounter struggles and learn from them as times go by. As for the good and bad people, they are all around us.

  11. Things that I have noticed in these stories is that for those like, ‘the three spinners’ and ‘The Juniper tree’ is that these stories have themes that are not suitable for children, such as lying (in the three spinners), as well as themes of murder and cannibalism (in the juniper tree). Meanwhile, in ‘The elves and the shoemaker’, this story depicts themes of kindness and giving

  12. The reader for the elves and the shoemaker in the video reminded me of the perfect voice for story telling. I find it important that when reading a fairytale out loud the reader should always bare the agenda to touch the imaginative spot in their thinking.

  13. There’s always a protagonist and antagonist in a story. I agree with Megan there are life lessons as well as good and bad that we all can relate too. But theses stories really aren’t for children that are very young.

  14. All these stories share is the fight between good and evil. They usually tell life lessons, these stories have lying, killing, and cannibalism in them which is very terrifying. The protagonist is an evil woman that the antagonist must overcome their evil doings.

  15. Each of these stories have their own lessons they teach us. They also show us good and evil. Some of which we can see in our own lives and experiences. These stories also have terrifying elements that are not suitable for children. This has definitely landed us on the darker side of fairytales and I AM READY FOR IT!

  16. Most of these stories always have something in common being a fight between good and bad. they teach us how we should be in our real life and how being good can get you much in life than being evil and bad can take a lot from you and how you should always do nice things in life.

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