Grimm's Household Tales

By Jacob Grimm. 2012. London: British Library. 320 pages. ISBN: 978-0-7123-5858-3 (hard cover).


Reviewed by Karra Shimabukuro, Independent Scholar

[Review length: 598 words • Review posted on February 6, 2013]


This year is the two hundredth anniversary of the publication of the Grimms’ tales. Fairy tales seem to be experiencing a revival, both in print and popular culture. There were two Snow White themed movies released this year, Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror, Mirror. Beastly, a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” was released last year and these movies seem to be building up to a crescendo as upcoming fairy tale movies include Jack the Giant Killer (2012), The Little Mermaid (2012), Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013), Cinderella (2013), and Maleficent (2014). Television has also cashed in on this renewed interest in fairy tales with the series Once Upon a Time, Grimm, and Beauty and the Beast. This year has also seen the publication of Philip Pullman’s Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version where he chose fifty of the brothers’ tales to tell.

So, it is not a surprise that reprints of the tales are also popular. If you’ve never sat down and read the original tales, it is certainly worth it, although one should be warned that few of these tales will seem familiar to the reader. Readers will recognize “Rumpelstiltskin,” “Little Briar Rose,” “Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs,” and “Ashputtel, or Cinderella,” but for most, the collected tales will seem strange and unfamiliar. “Mother Holle” may at first seem like a version of Cinderella, but there is no prince, no ball, no glass slippers, simply an ugly, lazy daughter who is covered with soot the rest of her life. Readers might be put off by the fact that Hans is married to Grettel, who is a fairly lazy wife, and that the tale does not include a witch or a gingerbread house.

Often the tales are better described as folk tales whose morals are ambiguous. Liars seem to fare well, as in “The Valiant Tailor,” people who don’t take advice are still rewarded in the end, as with “The Golden Children,” and stupidity often proves to be a blessing, as in “The Golden Goose,” “Wise Folks,” and “Frederick and Catherine.” You have tales such as “The Wise Servant” where the lesson as stated in the text is “do not trouble yourselves about your masters or their orders, but rather do what comes into your head and pleases you.” These are certainly not the tales that many readers grew up with, but it is interesting to read them, if you never have and wonder at how modern imaginings came out of them.

Grimm’s Household Tales, illustrated by Mervyn Peake, is praised by Sarah Waters in the introduction for its illustrations and Peake’s “gothic imagination.” She praises Peake’s art, stating that it “brings these stories to life in all their power, strangeness, and beauty.” Unfortunately, I would have to disagree. The majority of the illustrations are pen-and-ink line drawings that rarely seem to add to the story. In many instances, the image could be of anything, and I often found myself looking back at the tale in order to determine what the illustrations were.

Fairy tales naturally lend themselves to illustrations, since they appeal to the imagination. However, collections such as The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (2011), edited by Noel Daniel, including illustrations from Kay Nielsen, Wanda Gág, Walter Crane, Arthur Rackham, Hermann Vogel, Otto Speckter, and Viktor Paul Mohn; Olcott's Grimm's Fairy Tales (1927); and Grimms' Fairy Tales, illustrated by Otto Ubbelohde (1906), are much more detailed, and the illustrators’ working knowledge of the tales is clearly seen in their portrayals.

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© Journal of Folklore Research, 2010. Last revised June 21, 2010.