The Classics Club: Grimm’s Fairy Tales

Grimm's Fairy Tales

I picked up The Complete Brothers’ Grimm Fairy Tales back in deep and dark January feeling in the mood for some dark short stories. The weather has remained quite dark and cold until recently, and I have taken my time over that period dipping in and out of this collection. It was interesting to start a book in deepest Winter tucked up in a blanket only to finish in Spring basking in the sun in my garden.

The Complete Brothers’ Grimm Fairy Tales consists of over 200 magical short stories. Some of which were easily recognisable, others had recognisable elements to them, whilst others I didn’t recognise at all. Those that I instantly recognised included Beauty and the Beast, Hansel and Gretel, Rumpelstiltskin and The Twelve Dancing Princesses (there is some differences in their titles). While I was surprised to find there was not one story that completely matched up with Cinderella or Snow White. It appears instead they were created later from a mixture of elements from several stories which I thought was interesting. One of my preconceptions going into reading Grimm’s Fairy Tales was that they would be a lot darker than the modern versions we think of today; mainly because of Disney. This is not the impression I had on finishing the collection though. There was a lot of death and killing in these stories but no real detail was given thus I never felt particularly chilled by them. I just came away with a less positive feeling than I would from the modern counterparts.

If you go into Grimm’s Fairy Tales seeking strong female characters you are to be sorely disappointed. There are only three types of women in all of the stories. The first is of course the witch and/or evil mother  who may prosper at first but will ultimately meet a sticky end. Secondly there is the jealous and usually ugly sister, step-sister, and/or love rival these also usually meet an unkind end. And then finally there is the beautiful maid or princess who will finally prosper their only reward being to get married off. I’ve never seen myself as a particularly fervent feminist but after 200+ stories even my patience grew rather thin. Male characters are slightly better as they have a lot more options. They get to be soldiers, adventurers, knights, Kings, Princes, skilled tradesmen, sorcerers, holy men, thieves and many more roles. The definition between the good and bad men for me though was a bit blurred. On the whole the bad men were shown as murderous and deceitful, while the good men as brave and true. Yet sometimes men hailed as heroes at the end of their story displayed all of these traits. I think Grimm’s Fairy Tales give off very confusing moral messages. If I had children not sure I would be happy for them to read this version.

I have wanted to read Grimm’s Fairy Tales for sometime now. So when I saw Acheron Press’s digital version The Complete Brothers’ Grimm Fairy Tales offered for free for my Kindle I snapped up a copy instantly. I had never read any of the original stories before so had little idea what to expect. I was not surprised to find the stories were archaic in style and sentence structure, and contained many prejudices pertaining to class, gender and race of the time they were written in. These are faults that I can overlook because these are faults I expect from such an old work. I actually enjoyed reading these stories not just for their magical and surreal elements but because of the social commentary embedded within them. The faults that stuck for me were the mixed moral messages the stories gave off and that most of them left me with a decidedly negative feeling. I am glad that I had the opportunity to read the original stories but I am happy to return to the modern versions I remember fondly from my childhood.

The Complete Brothers’ Grimm Fairy Tales was an imperfect but fascinating read. I recommend to those interested in reading classic fairy tales. This is my 13th read off my Classics Club list. I am now looking forward to reading the collection of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales which is waiting for me on my Kindle.

Have you read Grimm’s Fairy Tales?

I am also counting The Complete Brothers’ Grimm Fairy Tales as Fairy Tale for Once Upon a Time VII hosted by Carl V @ Stainless Steal Droppings.

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14 thoughts on “The Classics Club: Grimm’s Fairy Tales

  1. Great, detailed review! I had very similar thoughts to you on The Grimm Fairytales. I really enjoyed them up to a point but then I got frustrated because of the repetitive stories and their structures, as well as the female portrays. Well done for persevering, it’s a real challenge! 🙂

    1. Thank you Becky! I’m so glad you liked this post. It is also rather nice to hear I’m not the only one that struggled a little with some of the elements of this collection.

  2. Wow, good for you finishing the complete collection! I’ve only read snatches. Although I do remember “Snow White” and “Cinderella” so that’s odd…
    Great analysis on the female stereotypes. The fairy tales are not strong on women…I suppose I’m resigned to that. And that’s why I love retellings that address it!

    1. Cheryl I really would like to read more retellings of fairy tales. The only two I can think I have read are Ella Enchanted and The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. I really enjoyed both so not sure why I haven’t read more!

  3. Really interesting observations about the female characters! I’m with you – I’m not sure if I’d want my kids, especially daughters, reading these versions of the fairy tales – but then, I’m not sure I like the Disney ones, either!

    1. Anbolyn I think it is probably about getting the balance right. Not sure much harm would be done if you allowed a daughter to read these or watch Disney films if you make sure she is exposed to other female characters to compare with.

  4. I had a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales when I was a child and also a book of Hans Christian Andersen’s, but I’ve forgotten most of the stories now. Your post has made me want to read them again, and I think it would probably be a very different experience reading them as an adult!

    1. Helen I think it would be really interesting to see what you thought of them now compared to when you were a child. I had never read the originals before so could only compare with the modern versions of the stories I was read as a child.

  5. I read most of them as a child, but reading your post I feel I’ve never even come across them! For example I didn’t know about the lack of women or the way there was no Snow White (I suppose that’s where Rose Red comes in? I always wondered about that story). I’m surprised about the darkness, too. I suppose I always think of The Little Mermaid’s ending but of course that’s Hans Christan Anderson.

    1. Charlie perhaps you read a child’s edition of them? And your right there is Rose Red in this collection and other references that must have been used to create Snow White later. There isn’t a lack of women, in fact there’s plenty, just I found them all to be one of the three stereotypes I listed above. Don’t read this looking for some variety! I am looking forward to reading the Hans Christian Anderson collection I have.

  6. I actually saw an old copy of Grimms fairytales in a thrift shop this weekend – perhaps I should stop by again this Saturday and see if it’s still there! Although with all these female stereotypes perhaps not!
    Lynn 😀

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