Top British writers hail birth 200 years ago of Grimm tales that bewitched them
In interviews and readings on BBC3, writers including Philip Pullman, Terry Pratchett, John Agard, Michael Morpugo and Carol Ann Duffy explain how they fell under the spell of the German masters of the fairytale
The stories of the Brothers Grimm have been read at bedsides and seen in cinemas all over the world. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella are still vivid characters today, but their popularity began 200 years ago.
Radio 3 will this week celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Grimm’s Fairy Tales with a series of interviews and readings by some of Britain’s greatest writers. They include poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Michael Morpurgo, the author of War Horse, John Agard, the poet and playwright, Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, and the writer of comic fantasy stories, Sir Terry Pratchett.
In 1812 Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published Children’s and Household Tales in the German region of Westphalia and its influence slowly spread all over the world. The Grimms’ book, which they updated in their lifetime, is the second bestselling book in the German language after the Bible.
While many in Britain will have first experienced the tales in Ladybird Books, others will have seen some of the Walt Disney films that brought the stories into the televisual era of the 20th century.
The Brothers Grimm harvested their tales from friends and old books. Many of the tales date back thousands of years and have variations in other languages and cultures. The Grimms later published collections of Irish and Scandinavian folk tales.
The writers on the Radio 3 shows offer their own interpretations of the tales. Terry Pratchett said his work was heavily influenced by the Grimms and his story, The Amazing Morris and his Educated Rodents, is a retelling of their Pied Piper of Hamelin. “They [Grimms’ tales] hang in the ether. We probably first met them at school,” he said. Because of this he used the tales extensively in his work; “knowing that we all know the fairy tales means that someone like me can play a lot of tunes with them knowing that I don’t have to explain an awful lot to people”.
Most adaptations of the stories make them less sexual and violent. In the Grimms’ original, Snow White’s stepmother dies as she is forced to dance in red-hot metal shoes at Snow White’s wedding. Rapunzel’s long hair is used to bring up a prince to her tower cell for a sexual liaison which leads to pregnancy. The Frog Prince is not kissed by the princess but thrown against the wall in anger by her.
Philip Pullman is about to publish his own collection of some of the Grimms’ fairy tales.
“My main aim was to take some of the stories I have read and loved enormously and tell them as if I was telling them to an audience, to take the stories and put them into my own voice,” he said. “So I took 50 or so and marinaded them and told them as well as I could.”
Little Red Riding Hood. Rapunzel. Cinderella. Snow White. Rumpelstiltskin. These fairy tales are so common, so well-known that it is hard to believe that this December 200 years will have passed since their initial publication. The work of the Brothers Grimm are second only to Martin Luther’s translation of the bible for most widely read German work.
To celebrate the 200-year anniversary, the Deutsche Vertretung in Griechenland is raffling off several copies of Grimms Märchen. To enter, you first have to answer 12 questions about the tales correctly. To take the quiz and enter the contest, click here.
The fairy tale road
The fame of the Brothers Grimm has led to the idea that Germany is “the land of fairy tales.” Those interested in following in the footsteps of the Grimm Brothers can follow the Fairy Tale Road, a driving tour that follows the Grimm brothers throughout their lives—starting in Hanau where they were born and passing through Steinau where they were raised, and Göttingen where they worked at the university.
Other stops include the settings of many popular tales, although many of the stories originated throughout Europe. The Schwalm River is said to be the setting for Little Red Riding Hood, while the medieval castle of Trendelburg is said to be the setting for Rapunzel. Hamlin (the Pied Piper), Castle Sababurg (Sleeping Beauty), and Bremen are also included.
If you are a fairy tale fan, then stop over at the Young Germany facebook page, and tell us which tale is your favorite.
Mirror Mirror On The Wall..
Matthew R. Price has translated for leading theaters and publications in Germany and the US. A graduate of Princeton University, he studied in Berlin on a DAAD Fellowship, receiving his masters from the University of the Arts. After an early career producing theater, he earned an M.B.A. from Columbia University and lives in New York City.
“Once upon a time I counted thousands of deutsche marks in a Dresdner Bank vault with a colleague who spoke in heavy Saxon dialect; deciphered medieval German texts in rare-books rooms; and performed Schubert lieder in places as different as Moscow and Montana. These experiences stretched and challenged me, and the German literary, theatrical, and musical culture came to exercise an unexpected grip.
The Grimms occupy an iconic place in that canon, of course. Yet initially I had little sense how best to unpack these stories for today’s Englishspeaking readers—and listeners. I leaned on my training: countless hours of living with the language, and theatrical instincts I’d honed for years. In my mind I saw fantastic animated films as I worked through these stories. They were dark, complex, and arcing versions, not the Disney films associated with the material. There is no denying the unforgiving morality or the harshness of daily life one finds in the tales. But even more striking, finally, was the full range of emotion, especially the comedy and delight of the characters and their antics.
I faced a balancing act between adherence to the original structure, and freedom with the abundant choices of English. I tried to use clear “camera angles” and to dose in narrative color as a sensory highlight. Noel Daniel and I disciplined ourselves to hold fast to the original, despite my urges to tread off the path into the magical woods. I sincerely hope readers will feel that our efforts resulted in a fresh and enjoyable translation reflecting the depth and wonder of these magnificent tales, which offer something for all ages.”
–Matthew R. Price, New York City
TASCHEN editor Noel Daniel graduated from Princeton University, and studied in Berlin on a Fulbright Scholarship. She received a master’s in London and was the director of a photography art gallery before becoming a book editor. Her TASCHEN books include The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm(2011), Magic 1400s–1950s (2009), and The Circus 1870s–1950s(2008).