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I am quoting a local librarian's reply when I asked to order a copy of the Brother's Grimm's Fairy Tales. I recounted this to Malu - who I believe shares my horror. Grimm's Fairy Tales is something we would both expect anyone to be familiar with - most especially a librarian, but this book seems to be becoming forgotten, and many consider it completely unfit for children. All the same I read this book from cover to cover as a child several times over. In fact we read it so many times we wore the poor old book out, which is a pity as the book we owned was printed in the 1800's and had been in my family the entire time. My Mother should have bought us a cheap reprint and kept the original put away.
I would like to note that the copy I am reviewing of Grimm's Fairy Tales is published by Bounty books rather than Wordworth, as shown above. Dooyoo has previously advised me to review other fairy tales under the first heading listed, and I don't see them entering a separate category for this, as it is basically the same book. The pictures are copies of the original woodcut prints ( and as such very simple black and white) and the stories are the same regardless of which publisher you choose, assuming you choose the complete works, as many are shortened. In fact the book the library eventually found for me, had many of the best stories removed - so I would advise selecting the complete edition. But I must mention that different publishers have given some of the same stories different names. So in our original book my favourite story was "Iron Hans". In this book the same story is called "The Man of Iron".
I would also note that the version I own has had anti Semitic language removed. So the old story "The Jew in the Bush" has become "The Thief in the Bush". I much prefer it this way, as I am not at all comfortable reading my children tales which denigrate an entire race, but I must advise caution for parents, as I understand some versions of this book still use the original language. I have checked the table of contents for the Wordsworth book pictured above, and it does include the title "The Jew in the Bush", so I expect the other stories will also include anti Semitic language. Personally, I would advise against giving this book to a child, but at least parents should be aware and discuss the matter with young readers.
In addition to anti semitism, you will find wholesale violence, cannibalism, incest, and several other unsavoury topics for young readers in this book, such as parents lopping the heads off their own children. I have not sat down with my sons and read the book cover to cover. Instead I select those stories I feel are suitable, and read those. I often read the story myself and then make up my own version of it as well. I would very strongly recommend that parents read this book before giving to a child, or sitting down to read to them.
But as violent as these stories are , the Brother's Grimm did quite a lot of editing themselves to make them more suitable for children. How many readers are aware that in the original Sleeping Beauty the Prince does much more than kiss his beloved princess? In fact, he rapes her and produces two children ( she slept through childbirth as well) before the spell is broken. But that isn't the end of their problems as his mother or jealous wife, depending on the tale - fancies the children for dinner. This is omitted from this tale, as well as references to Little Red eating her grandmother, doing a strip tease for the wolf and more - these stories were not originally for children. All but the most subtle of sexual references are removed from this text - and I don't believe there is anything a child would really catch onto. Actually - there isn't really anything I caught onto myself as an adult without having someone point it out to me. The story of Little Red Riding Hood also has a new ending in the Brother's Grimm. Original tales are meant to have left the grandmother and Little Red dead, but an ending with a kindly woodcutter is included in this book.
But the story of Allerleirauh is included. This is about a father who wishes to force his daughter to become his bride when reaches adulthood. This seemed a bit gross when I was a child, but the full concept never really hit home. There are also a number of stories which deal with the deaths of children, including an admonishment to Mothers not to pine at their child's grave. Personally - I find this a bit too morbid for young children and have skipped this.
But once we get finished complaining about this book, there are really so many wonderful stories. The story of Cinderella here is so much more beautiful and touching than the Disney version. Cinderella does not have a fairy godmother in this story. Instead a beautiful tree has grown from a branch she placed on her mothers grave, and the gifts to attend the ball come from this tree. My son's favourite story in this book is 'The Iron Man', or Iron Hans. I do have an illustrated version of this story as well, but it is wonderful tale of adventure and redemption. I also loved the story of the Little Almond Tree, in which the poor child is murdered and his spirit changed into a bird which sings "My mother killed me; My father grieved for me, My little sister Marline, Wept under the almond tree; Kywitt,Kywitt what a beautiful bird am I".
There are so many truly great stories in this book, I could never mention them all. King Thrushbeard is a wonderful tale which may have inspired Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew. Another wonderful story is that of Rose Red and Snow White and a wonderful talking bear that comes to warm himself by their fire. Old Mother Frost tells of a young girl who travels through a well to magical realm, something I find fun to describe in more vivid detail than the original tale, placing everything one could imagine in this beautiful land. and of course there are the traditional tales, such as Hansel and Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin.
While critics have argued that these stories are simply to violent for children - most children do like scary and violent tales. Furthermore, we can never shelter children completely from the real world, which does contain death, violence and cruelty in strong measures. Reading children stories like this allows parents to discuss fears with children, making them less frightening in my opinion. I think perhaps we have overly sanitised children's literature, removing all reference to death. In doing so we have made death more frightening, instead of a natural part of life. When we try to hide things from children - they do catch on very quickly.
Additionally, these stories generally have moral. Fairy tales are used to teach children the concept of right and wrong, and of morality. In most of these tales, the hero or heroine who is good and kind, especially in showing kindness to strangers and overlooking appearances is rewarded while those who are cruel suffer terrible fates. These stories teach loyalty, faithfulness, honesty, kindness and integrity. I think these are all things we could do with more of in modern times. I have to point out though, in the Frog Prince, the princess appears to be rewarded for being a miserable selfish little wretch who slams the frog against a wall rather than kissing him as in more modern tales. I can't help but wonder if something has been lost in translation in this one.
I do recommend parental supervision with these stories, but I read them myself from age 7, and I think the stories encouraged me to think of others and to strive to be good and honest. I was not frightened by any of them and quite enjoyed the book. Perhaps we simply do not give children enough credit today. We may wish to keep them innocent of death and violence -but it isn't possible. I found the evening news far more terrifying then any of these stories, especially as I grew up during the Cold War. The idea of a wicked witch luring me to gingerbread house and roasting me for dinner never frightened me. The idea of nuclear bombs falling scared the pants off of me. If your child watches television and plays video games - I wouldn't worry about this book shocking them too much.
But the other issue with this book today is the fact that children have so many other forms of entertainment to choose from. With TV and video games for competition, as well as wealth of beautifully illustrated books, comics, magazines and so on, I'm afraid my children never ask for this book directly. They may ask me to tell stories from it, but they prefer my versions. This book is primarily used in my house as part of our home education curriculum, or as a resource for my story telling. I remember fantasying as a child about the most beautiful landscapes and scenery when reading this, so I include all these descriptions when I tell my children the stories.
All the same I do recommend it, very highly. I do think all children should be exposed to the classics of literature as well. I think these stories are a part of culture, and there is something missing when children are not familiar with them. I actually know adults who do not even know the story of the Three Little Pigs. I think there are certain stories every educated person should be familiar with, and that includes the Brothers Grimm. I would recommend these for adults as well - it might give you new insight into the old tales. Fairy tales were once used to transmit the morals and ethics of a culture to the next generation. I think we are missing something without them.
I am giving the edition I own 5 stars. It is a part of history captured for future generations, a chance to look backwards in time. But it also has truly beautiful stories that seem in danger of being forgotten about. There are so many incredible tales here, far better than anything written today. Whether you select the best to read to your children, or memorise them and tell them in a darkened room at bedtime as we do, this is a book that should be on every child's bookshelf. If my version had the anti Semitic language - I would have deducted stars, but as offensive as it is today, it is a part of the zeitgeist of time, and perhaps can help us understand the way people behaved then. Still, I think most of us can agree, anti semitism is one concept we don't wish to pass on to the next generation. I personally feel it best for this to be changed, at least for editions of this book to be read by children.
I would recommend the edition I own at £5.99 new or £2.81 used for a hardback book from Amazon ISBN-10: 0753709147 . I would advise that Amazons description of this as 32 pages is completely wrong. It is 852 pages.