The Brothers Grimm: much more than just fairy tales

New academic research into fairy tales made it into the news recently, suggesting that many are thousands of years old and date back to before the languages of the common Indo-European language family split. This corroborates the beliefs of the Brothers Grimm who are famous for collecting and publishing fairy tales in the 19th century.

Jacob (1785-1863) and Wilhelm (1786-1859) Grimm first published their Kinder- und Hausmärchen in 1812. The earliest editions held by the UL are the 1826 Kleine Ausgabe (S463.e.82.1) and the 1837 Grosse Ausgabe (XXVII.3.46).

Grimm’s fairy tales have been consistently popular since first publication and much translated and illustrated. Our catalogue lists over 300 editions (some containing just one story though) dating from every decade since the 1820s and including illustrations by, among others, George Cruikshank, (the caricaturist who illustrated the very first English translation), Arthur Rackham, Walter Crane, Ludwig Richter, Mervyn Peake and David Hockney. The illustration of the Grimm tales is in itself an important enough topic that a 2013 book by François Fièvre discusses it: Le conte et l’image: l’illustration des contes de Grimm en Angleterre au XIXe siècle (C204.d.1872).

One notable translation in our collection is The Penguin complete Grimm’s tales (1984.8.2893), translated by Ralph Manheim, subject of an earlier blog post.

Over 200 years since the first edition was published, the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales continue to be of interest to scholars and general readers alike; this is demonstrated by the recent publication of new versions and editions as well as scholarly works about the tales, many of which we have acquired. For instance, in the last few years the UL has received:

  • Grimm tales for young and old (2013.8.4803), a retelling of fifty of the tales by the acclaimed children’s author Philip Pullman
  • The original folk and fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm: the complete first edition (C210.c.6702), translated by Jack Zipes. This book is the first ever translation into English of the first edition, a much more gruesome work than later refined editions and definitely not aimed at children
  • Grimm’s fairy tales (C210.c.6701) with illustrations by Walter Crane and Arthur Rackham
  • Rotkäppchen kommt aus Berlin!: 200 Jahre Kinder- und Hausmärchen in Berlin (2013.11.260), a catalogue published to accompany an exhibition held in the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin
  • Handbuch zu den “Kinder- und Hausmärchen” der Brüder Grimm by Hans-Jörg Uther (748:32.c.201.21) which provides annotations for each tale
  • Märchen, Mythen und Moderne: 200 Jahre Kinder- und Hausmärchen der Brüder Grimm (748:32.c.201.28-29), proceedings of an international conference held at Universität Kassel

In September 2015 a new museum on the Brothers Grimm, Grimmwelt, opened in Kassel where the brothers lived for many years. A related exhibition catalogue, Die Grimmwelt: von Ärschlein bis Zettel, has recently been published and the UL has a copy on order. The museum offers a hands-on experience aimed at families but also features original manuscripts and archives. It showcases their work on fairy tales but also highlights their other equally vital work in the field of linguistics and lexicography. In his Deutsche Grammatik of 1822 (Aa.28.35-) Jacob Grimm described what has become known as Grimm’s Law, also known as the First Germanic Sound Shift, which explains certain consonant shifts from Indo-European to Germanic languages. And in 1838 the brothers began work on the Deutsches Wörterbuch (R785.G51) which to this day is the largest dictionary of the German language. The first volumes were published in 1854 and by the time of their deaths the brothers had reached the letter F. Work on the dictionary was finally completed during the 1950s.


Title page of first volume of R785.G51



Less well-known in this country than Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm is their younger brother, Ludwig (1790-1863) who was an artist. Indeed, the illustrations in the Grosse Ausgabe of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen are by him. A recent addition to our holdings is the richly illustrated Ludwig Emil Grimm: Lebenserinnerungen des Malerbruders (S950.b.201.2605)

Katharine Dicks

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