How the Grimms Cast a Spell on the World

Similarly, celebrated German novelist Martin Walser recently said in an interview the Grimm stories are "our oldest testament," stories that hearken back to a time when "the people were still poets." Family Friendly Revisions But the appeal of the Grimms' particular versions of such tales comes from their painstaking revision process, which took place over the course of 45 years through seven different editions, says Noel Daniel, editor of publisher Taschen's new translation of the original tales, released last year along with stunning vintage illustrations she pulled from archives around the world. "Their great creative act was editing what they got," says Daniel. The result "takes hold of our imaginations when we are young children and stays with us throughout our lives."

Over its 30-year history, the art book publisher had never released a children's book, but saw the Grimms' work and its ageless appeal as an opportunity to change that. Daniel selected stories from the final 1857 edition, their most pared-down, child-friendly version. Her aim, she says, was to "go back to the source and cut through all the cleaning up and derivatives that have come since."

The fact is that Grimms' Fairy Tales, despite their original title, were not initially aimed at children. It was only in response to outside pressure, which came after translations of their early editions that were geared toward children had success abroad, that they began to weed out the more offensive elements of the stories and remove some stories altogether. "They decided to modify the really truly frightening, brutal, scatological, incestuous or bawdy tales," Zipes says. For example, one tale entitled "How Children Played at Slaughtering," in which kids try to emulate a butcher and one child ends up dead, did not make the cut for the final edition. Relevant Problems

Still, says Daniel, the 1857 edition retained a number of details that continue to be removed in other versions on the market today. "The horse's head is still nailed to the fence in 'The Goose Girl,' and various people in different tales lose appendages," she says. "It's not completely sanitized."

Despite the extensive amount of reinterpretation and sugar-coating that continues in the countless versions available today in various forms, the tales maintain their popularity because their key elements are common to all. "We recast them, but the basic plots, motifs and characters are still there," says Zipes. "Metaphorically these tales deal with our real problems, like child abandonment in 'Hansel and Gretel'."

But perhaps their most alluring element is the utopian world in which they take place. "Whoever is a tyrant, a witch, an evil brother, or mother who wants her own daughter dead -- they will always be punished. There will always be justice," Zipes says. Additionally, characters of humble origins, if they are kind and generous, often manage to achieve some kind of success in the stories. "They offer us hope that we can survive despite the odds that are against us," Zipes adds.

A New Responsibility

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