Greatness Is Grimm

Selected Tales of the Brothers Grimm
By Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, translated by Peter Wortsman
238 pp. Archipelago. $24.

I know who the Brothers Grimm are, you know who the Brothers Grimm are. But have you actually ever read the Brothers Grimm? This is the first time I’ve actually picked up one of their collections, but who doesn’t love a good fairy tale?

There are a total of 33 in this collection, including all the popular ones you know and love … or rather, here you’ll find the source text for all the Disney versions you know and love. But the old rule applies here too — the book is better.

The classics are, of course, classics for a reason, so “Rapunzel,” “Snow White,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Cinderella,” and “Hansel and Gretel” are all standout tales. But there were several others I enjoyed just as much if not more since I’d never heard them before.

“A Fairy Tale About a Boy Who Set Out to Learn Fear,” “The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs,” “The Drummer,” “The Master Thief,” “Faithful Johannes,” and “All-Kind-Of-Hide” are all delightfully charming (and sometimes charmingly dark).

For all the attention that “controversial” books intended for young readers have received lately — treasured classics seem to come under fire from both left and right these days — I’m surprised that I haven’t heard the Brothers Grimm (or is it more correct to say the Grimm Brothers? Hmm …) mentioned. Perhaps their lack of inclusion is more due to the fact that school libraries are less likely to contain a collection of their tales, which would be an even greater travesty. From incest and child abuse to cannibalism and sexual desire, there’s plenty here to send the fanatical, censorious souls on both the left and right into a tizzy.

Should children read the original Brothers Grimm tales? Hell yes! Childhood has, after all, plenty of dark moments as well as bright ones, or don’t you remember? Children would be able to relate to these tales and perhaps even find the more-than-occasional bouts of bloodletting cathartic.

But we shouldn’t limit these classic tales to just children. Like any masterpiece, these tales only grow richer with age. Thousands of essays have been published on all the various things that these tales have to offer, and with so many Easter eggs hidden in a brief 3-4 page tale, you’ll find more on each rereading.

The only thing I might criticize about this specific edition, which is otherwise beautifully done, is that some of the illustrations — by contemporary Haitian artists — often don’t feel like a part of the text and don’t seem to fit at all. I’m not saying that German artists should have been commissioned instead — fairy tales are universal, after all — just that centering the illustrations a bit more around the tales themselves would have been a good idea.

Otherwise, this is a very good collection of wondrous tales, expertly chosen, and should be required reading regardless of age.

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