“Once upon a time, two princes started off in search of an adventure…”
from “Queen Bee” in “Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm”
Who are our literary giants…those people whose body of work not only entertained and enlightened in its day, but then went on to truly change the way we read literature and view the world?
The list is debatable, of course, but names like Homer, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dante, Dickens, Tolstoy, Milton, and Cervantes are certainly near the top. Their work transcends the page inasmuch as their characters and imagery have woven themselves into the fabrics of our culture and faith. Do we have contemporary hero stories without first having Homer’s “The Odyssey?” What would our vision of hell be without Dante and Milton? And without “Romeo and Juliet” we wouldn’t have “West Side Story” or a hundred other tales of star-crossed lovers.
On this day, February 24, 1786 onr
Of these literary Giants was born, a man whose contributions to literature and culture are virtually indisputable…Wilhelm Grimm.
Wilhelm is best known in conjunction with his brother Jacob who was only a year older. The Brothers Grimm were extremely close in real life, hardly far from one another’s side. They lived together as young university students, both became librarians at the same library, both became professors of German studies at the University of Gottingen, both lost their jobs at the university at the same time, and both got elected to civil parliament. Jacob, a lifelong bachelor, continued to live with Wilhelm, even after Wilhelm got married.
But it was their collaborative work with the collection and documentation of folktales that secured the legacy of the Brothers Grimm. In 1807, the two began gathering lore and stories from all over Germany: from peasants, the middle class, and aristocracy alike. In 1812, they published their first collection of 86 tales called “Children and Household Tales.” Continually expanding the collection, they ultimately published seven editions of their “Fairytales” with the last edition containing 211 stories.
The Brothers Grimm should not be glossed over as mere collectors either. They were authors in their own right, and it was Wilhelm who took the helm when it came to editing and rewriting many of the tales. In fact, some of the early editions of the fairytales became twice as long after Wilhelm’s edits and additions.
Without Wilhelm and Jacob, we may have lost track of some of these fairytales all together. Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, the Frog Prince, Sleeping Beauty, and dozens of others may owe their very existence to the brothers. And the legacy of Grimm’s Fairytales is vast. The number of spin off books, children’s books, movies, TV shows, works of art, and musical compositions based on Grimm’s fairy tales would be impossible to calculate.
Heck, Disney likely owes the Brothers Grimm a big debt of gratitude.
Happy Birthday, Wilhelm. Thanks for the stories.