Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, trans. by Jack Zipes

I've finally finished my Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (illustrations by John B. Gruelle, aka Johnny Gruelle). I particularly appreciated the inclusion of tales the Grimms later omitted from their collection and Jack Zipes' brief biography, "Once There were Two Brothers Named Grimm."

Gruelle's pen-and-ink illustrations are the quintessential fairytale images, but in a 734-page book, they feel spread rather thin. I like my fairytales heavily illustrated, even when the tales are not actually for children.

I hoped reading all 242 of the tales would help me recognize some of the basic fairytale/folktale structures and elements. What surprised me was the tension between the morals of different tales. In most stories, for example, kindness and politeness to rude and unusual strangers is rewarded, but in "The Gnome," the youngest brother, who meets the gnome's incivility with harshness, is rewarded with information (of course, the reader knows the gnome is up to no good, so the message supposedly is "know who you're dealing with"). Throughout the collection, tales switch between confirming and subverting values like humility, honesty, patience, industry, etc.

Notes on the Translation: Jack Zipes says that his translation from the German attempts to keep historical references and the Grimms' mix of the "graceful" and "coarse," while avoiding mimicking a Victorian style. Comparing Margaret Hunt's (much older) translation of "The Three Spinners" to Zipes, I find I greatly prefer Zipe's "'Ahh!' said the bridegroom. 'How did you ever come by such ghastly-looking friends?'" to Hunt's more sedate "'Ah,' said the bridegroom, 'how comest thou by these odious friends?'" Also, (though unrelated to translation quality) I am predisposed to like anyone responsible for a book titled Don't Bet on the Prince.

(Image from Random House.)


  1. Have you read Michael Buckley's series, "The Sisters Grimm"? It's entertaining, and a good example of a new series which was inspired by a classic.

  2. I'd never heard of (or at least, paid attention to references to) The Sisters Grimm before now, but it looks wonderful. (http://sistersgrimm.com/books.html)