European Fairy Tales

Aesop’s Fables

Aesop’s Fables – A new translation by Laura Gibbs

Excelsior Avenue Poetry Club in Oakland California is thanked in the Preface.

xxiv – reference to Syriac fables

Grimm Brothers

The Juniper Tree and other tales from Grimm Vols 1 & 2

The original 1973 publication of The Juniper Tree and other tales from Grimm (by Maurice Sendak, Lore Segal, and the Grimm Brothers) was as a two book set, but in honor of the book’s 30th anniversary the set was republished in 2003 as a single volume.  The format is easy to read – a good size for a read-aloud.  The 13 tales in the first volume and 14 in the second were selected by Lore Segal (who also translated of 23 of the tales) and illustrator Maurice Sendak; Randall Jarrell is the other translator.  Their selection includes well-known stories such as Hansel and Gretel, Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Rapunzel (though not the sanitized Disney version of those stories) as well as less well-known stories such as Hans My Hedgehog and Rabbit’s Bride.  They have not shied away from the morally ambiguous and slightly salacious stories such as ‘The Frog King, or Iron Henry’ (in which the princess, in a snit fit about having to share her bed with the frog who recused her toy from the pond, petulantly flings the frog against her bedroom wall… whereupon the frog transforms into a handsome prince who then marries the princess), ‘The Poor Miller’s Boy and the Little Cat’ (with its scenes of the miller’s apprentice being waited on by a group of ‘pussycats’ – “I don’t dance with pussycats”), and ‘Rapunzel’ (who is impregnated by prince during his daily visits).

Though the Amazon review promotes the faithfulness of the translations, I question that assessment given the example of the story ‘Many-Fur’.  This version of the story starts the same: Many-Fur flees her father, the king, because he is preparing to marry her.  The critical point where this story diverges is in the identity of Many-Fur’s rescuer and subsequent employer and husband: in the original her rescuer was the sovereign from the neighboring country; in this translation her father rescues her.  This translation is illogical: why would she flee marriage to her father only to later entice him into marriage?

Translation problems aside, this version of the Grimm Brothers’ stories is a good introduction for anyone seeking a folksier – less disneyesque – version of the highlights of the Grimms’ collection.

“The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm, Volume 1” selected by Lore Segal and Maurice Sendak, translated by Lore Segal (and Randall Jarrell), and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, copyright 1973, ISBN 0-374-18057-1.  A good collection: the very familiar (e.g. “Hansel and Gretel”) and the less familiar (e.g. “The Twelve Huntsmen”) drawn from the most “coherent” sources enlivened with Maurice Sendak’s distinctive weighty figures based on his elderly Polish Jewish relatives (no anorexic Arayan Disney princesses).  The translations don’t dumb down or sanitize the stories – but they’re still suitable to be read by enlightened children – children prepared for the moral ambiguities of traditional folklore.  The character motivations and story arcs are sometimes baffling to 21st century readers.  For example, the title character in “The Master Thief” is a sort of anti-prodigal son: the son returns to his parents and godfather wealthy and unrepentant.  After the master thief successfully avoids the gallows by completing the three thieving challenges presented by his godfather, the godfather banishes him.  The story concludes with “The archthief said goodbye to his parents, went back into the wide world, and has not been heard of since”.  Why does he tell his parents and godfather that his wealth is from theivery?  And why doesn’t he skip town instead of attempting the challenges?

Grimm’s Grimmest

Grimm’s Grimmest illustrated by Tracy Arah Dockray, introduction by Maria Tatar, published by Chronicle Books, copyright 1997.

Catalogued under adult non-fiction, this collection of Grimm’s tales is not particularly grim.  Personally I prefer the illustrations by Maurice Sendak in the two volume “The Juniper Tree” – which is catalogued under juvenile non-fiction though it contains many of the same stories as Grimm’s Grimmest.  The stories which I don’t recall reading in other collections are “The Three Army Surgeons”, “Hans My Hedgehog”, “The Death of the Little Hen”, “The Three Snake Leaves”, “Prudent Hans”, “The Girl Without Hands”, and “The Dog and the Sparrow”.  Overall I can’t say that I agree with the “grimmest” billing – or even with a “least morally redeeming” epitaph.  Note that the version of “Allerleirauh” (sometimes known as “Many Furs”) included here is the one in which she returns to and marries the father from whose incestuous overtures she fled… why bother going to all the trouble of fleeing if you’re just going to marry the guy anyway?

The Annotated Brothers Grimm

The Annotated Brothers Grimm is a good way to revisit the stories from the Brothers Grimm without the glossy Disney veneer the dominates most children’s recollection. I picked up this book because thanks to the graphic novel series “Fables” and “Jack of Fables” (by Bill Willingham and company). In those series there are plot twists based on mundies (non-fables) not remembering Snow White’s sister Rose Red and on fables getting revised out of existence. Since I likewise couldn’t remember Rose Red’s story, I went to my local library to fill the gap.

If you’re not reading this book purely from a scholarly perspective I recommend reading the introduction and perhaps even the preface after reading the stories and the biography of the Brothers Grimm. (I found the introduction pedantic and it left me confused as to whether I’d be reading fairy tales, folktales, or ?.) The preface does provide context for the stories, and compares the Grimm’s retelling of the stories to those of authors in other countries, but much of that is also in the notes to particular stories.

Having recently made a trip to the capital cities of the Hapsburg Empire, Nuremberg, and Berlin during which I puzzled through the rise and fall of the Nazis (and Communists) in those locales, I appreciated the comments in the preface and notes on the Nazis’ appropriation of the Grimm’s tales and the Brits’ subsequent attempts to quash the tales. I also appreciated the inclusion of the “The Jew in the Brambles” tale – especially the accompanying illustrations which echo the Nazi propaganda posters on view in the German History Museum in Berlin. However, I feel that the book could have used a better summation of how the tales published in the early 1800’s did or did not reflect uniquely German characteristics in the 1930’s.

Likewise I would have preferred concluding summaries and cross-indexing of topics such as ‘male dummy as hero’ and ‘blood as a symbol of a heroine’s entrance to adulthood’ to redundant story notes. And how about a side by side comparison of the first edition (for scholars) and subsequent editions (for children)? Point comparisons are included, but I didn’t get the big picture. I’m not even sure if the stories in this book are all from the 2nd edition, if they are in the order published, and which stories were omitted (and why). (I infer that the stories are mostly from the 2nd, are only partially in order, and that some stories were omitted.)

The Annotated Brothers Grimm, edited with a preface and notes by Maria Tatar and an introduction by A. S. Byatt, published by W. W. Norton & Company, copyright 2004, ISBN 0-393-05848-4. A deluxe edition with additional stories will be published October 2012.

1 Reply to “European Fairy Tales”

  1. This is a greatest-hits grab bag of 25 srtioes from the Grimm’s Fairy Tales collection, unillustrated, and apparently taken from the 1884 Margaret Hunt translation. Good collection of the highlights, but there are more complete collections (for example, Household Tales by Brothers Grimm) available for free in the kindle store. List is:The Goose-GirlThe Little Brother and SisterHansel and GrethelOh, if I could but Shiver!Dummling and the Three FeathersLittle Snow-WhiteCatherine and FrederickThe Valiant Little TailorLittle Red-CapThe Golden GooseBearskinCinderellaFaithful JohnThe Water of LifeThumblingBriar RoseThe Six SwansRapunzelMother HolleThe Frog PrinceThe Travels of Tom ThumbSnow White and Rose RedThe Three Little Men in the WoodRumpelstiltskinLittle One-eye, Two-Eye, and Three-Eyes

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