|Into the Woods, Jr. - About the Brothers Grimm and Fairytales|
Welcome to the magical world of fairytales!
This literary format of fairytales includes stories where princes and princesses meet witches and goblins. Mystical characters grant wishes and cast magic spells. And in the end, everyone lives happily ever after! Well, it wasn't always quite like this
You've probably seen many of Walt Disney's animated fairytales like Sleeping Beauty, Snow White or Beauty and the Beast. So, you most likely know the basic format (or style) the most fairytales follow. Fairytales contain elements of magic, wonder and enchantment that enhance their appeal and contribute to their continuing popularity.
An important point to start off with is that fairytales were not originally created, told or written for the entertainment of children. In fact, most of the fairytales that we know and love now, were originally harrowing stories with somewhat gruesome endings. Fairytales only gained a specific market for children after the 18th century.
No one knows who made up the first fairytale. People guess that fairytales actually come from oral folk tales, which have existed for thousands of years and were told mainly by adults and for adults. Themes and storylines from these tales were passed along word-of-mouth from generation to generation, and these themes also made their ways into such famous literary pieces like Homer's Odyssey and even the Bible.
Many of these tales that were passed along by word-of-mouth have existed for thousands of years and have undergone many different changes. The way that these stories change and grow resembles American tall tales. Stories like Paul Bunyan and John Henry were passed along by word of mouth for many years in America. By the time the stories got to the format that we know of today, it had changed drastically from the original tales. This is all part of the fun of oral narrative tales. Think of it like a game of telephone!
One of the first influential writers of fairytales was a 17th century French man named Charles Perrault. Charles was born into a wealthy family in Paris in 1628, and attended the best schools to eventually become a lawyer. In 1697, he wrote Tales from Times Past, with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose, which gave him great popularity and opened up a new literary genre: fairytales. Among his most famous fairy tales, we find Blue Beard, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, and Cinderella. Now remember -- Perrault did not make up these stories himself. Many of these tales were already very famous and well-known all across France. Perrault simply wrote them down with great wit and charm that has been popular with children and adults for many generations.
Some differences in Perrault's versions of famous fairytales:
The term "fairytale" originated during this time as French writers coined the phrase "conte de fee" during the 17th century and it has stuck ever since. Why were these stories called "fairytales" in the first place? We aren't too sure. But many people think that it is because it was women who possessed most of the magical powers in the stories, and women with magical powers were equated to fairies.
The next heavy hitters in the fairy tale writing world were the Brothers Grimm.
Once upon a time, there lived in Germany two brothers who loved a good story. The boys played and studied together in a small town called Hanau. But one day, their father died, unexpectedly and the family became very poor. One brother became sickly, the other serious beyond his years. At school, an old man led them to a treasure -- a library of old books with tales more compelling than any they had ever heard. Inspired by these stories and a love for the German language and culture, the brothers began collecting their own stories and folktales, mostly from women, both young and old. Soon, the brothers brought forth their own treasure -- a book of fairytales that would enchant millions of people all across the world for generations to come!
The Brothers Grimm, named Jacob and Wilhelm, named their collection of stories, Children's and Household Tales and published the first of seven editions in Germany in 1812. The table of contents for this collection reads like an A-list of fairytale celebrities: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, Hansel and Gretel, The Frog Prince and many others. Drawn mainly from oral narratives, 210 tales in the Grimm collection represents an anthology of fairytales, animal fables, rustic farces and religious allegories that remains unrivaled to this day.
Let's catch our breath for a second a talk about what some of this stuff really means!
Oral narrative: a story that is told aloud by a person, instead of reading it from a book. Stories tend to get passed a long from one generation to another, through oral narratives, particularly many years ago when most people could not read.
Anthology: an assortment of literary pieces, works of art or music from different artists or sources.
Collection: an assortment of literary pieces, works of art or music from a single artist or source.
Fable: a story that is meant to enforce a truth between good and bad that is usually told from an animal.
Farce: a comedic story in which the characters are exaggerated in order to mock themselves.
Allegory: a symbolic representation of a higher power (usually religious)
The English translation of these stories is usually called Grimm's fairytales, and so far the collection has been translated into over 160 languages, from Inupiat in the Arctic to Swahili in East Africa. In the United States, the Grimms' collection furnished the story lines for many Disney movies like Cinderella and Snow White. And the Japanese have built two different theme parks devoted to the tales!
Such incredible fame would have shocked the humble Grimm brothers. During their lifetime, the collection hardly sold outside of Germany and initially, only a few hundred copies a year. The early editions were not even aimed at children. The brothers initially refused to consider illustrations, and scholarly footnotes took up almost as much room as the tales themselves.
You see, Jacob and Wilhelm considered themselves as patriotic folklorists and scholars, not as children's entertainers. They began their work at a time when Germany, a messy patchwork of different kingdoms, had been overrun by the French under Napoleon and the new French rulers were insistent on not allowing any type of local culture. So, when the Grimm Brothers were still young scholars, they undertook the fairytale collection with the intent of saving the endangered oral tradition of Germany.
For much of the 19th century, teachers, parents and religious figures, particularly in the United States, hated the Grimms' collection for its 'uncivilized content'. Adults especially disliked the gruesome punishments inflicted on the stories' villains. In the original Snow White, for example, the evil stepmother is forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes until she falls down dead.
Despite its hesitant reception, Children's and Household Tales gradually took root with the public. Coincidentally, the publishing of the Grimm's fairytales occurred at the same time as a great flowering of children's literature in Europe. Suddenly, there was a never before-seen demand for children's books. Once the brothers realized this phenomenon, they set about refining and softening their tales, which had originated centuries earlier as earthy peasant fare.
The Grimms' texts have undergone many adaptations and translations, often with the intent of censoring objectionable material like harsh violence, or keeping the themes of the stories more contemporary
In a fourth grade classroom of Steinau, Germany, the town where the brothers spent part of their childhood, a storyteller asked a group of students how the princess managed to turn the frog into a prince at the end of The Frog King, the first tale in the Grimms' collection. "She kissed it!" the children sang out, "No," said the storyteller, "she threw the ugly frog at the wall as hard as she could and it awoke as a Prince." Most of the children looked as though they did not believe her!
The Grimm Brothers
Jacob Ludwig Karl and Wilhelm Karl Grimm, the eldest of six children were born a year apart in the mid-1780's in Hanau, Germany, in 1785 and 1786 respectively, in a market town less than a day's carriage ride from Frankfurt. Their father, Philipp, the son of a clergyman, was educated in law and served as Hanau's town clerk, a solid middle class job. Father Grimm preached a life of faith, zealous work and family loyalty. Their mother, Dorothea, gave the boys freedom to wander the countryside where, as Wilhelm later noted, their 'collector's spirit' was born.
By 1791, the Grimm family moved northeast to Steinau, another small town where their father took the position as the district magistrate. Five years later, Steinau marked the end of childhood comforts for Jacob and Wilhelm as in 1796, their father died at the age of 44 and Dorothea was forced to move her family of six children out of the government residence. With financial help from Dorothea's sister, a lady-in-waiting for a Hessian princess, 13 year old Jacob and 12 year old Wilhelm, were sent north to the city of Kassel to attend the Lyzeum, an upper-crust high school. They proved themselves to be gifted students by graduating at the top of their classes. It was said they studied for ten hours a day!
Jacob then went on to study law at the University of Marburg, and was a librarian while his brother, Wilhelm worked as a secretary. The Brothers were generally treated like a team, with Jacob concentrating on linguistic studies and Wilhem, primarily a literary scholar.
Their mother died in 1808 and money grew even scarcer than before. Employed as a librarian for the detested French ruler, Jacob could barely support his five siblings. Meanwhile, Wilhelm who suffered from asthma and a weak heart gradually became so ill that that he could not even work. In 1812, the year that the fairytales were first published, the Grimms were surviving on a single meal a day -- a hardship that could explain why so many characters in their stories suffer from hunger. Collecting fairytales must have provided the brothers with a good distraction from their impoverished living circumstances.
Between 1821 and 1822, the brothers raised extra money by collecting three volumes of folktales. Their purpose of collecting these folk tales from all over Germany was to show people that Germans shared a common culture and to advocate the unification of all the tiny German principalities.
Jacob and Wilhelm argued that folktales should be collected from oral sources because they believed that they gave the most honest reproductions of stories. Their methods of collected oral sources became a model for other scholars to follow.
around 40 people (mainly women) delivered tales to the Grimm's.
Many of the storytellers came to the Grimms' household in Kassel.
The brothers particularly liked visits from Dorothea Viehmann, a
widow who walked to town to sell produce from her garden. An innkeeper's
daughter, Dorothea grew up listening to stories from travelers on
the road to Frankfurt, who came from far-off places. Among her treasures
that she gave to the Grimm brothers was "Aschenputtel"-
Another important informants was Marie Hassenpflug, a 20-year old
friend of their sister, Caroline, from a French speaking family.
Marie's stories eventually became what are known today as Tales
from Mother Goose.
New editions of the fairytales continued to appear until 1857, two years before Wilhelm's death.
A Closer Look
There may be at least a thousand different versions all over the
world of the tales from the Brothers Grimm, each with a unique telling
which carries cultural information about the time and place in which
the story was told. One thing is certain -- people everywhere enjoy
stories in which truth prevails over deception, generosity is ultimately
rewarded, hard work overcomes obstacles, and love, mercy and kindness
are the greatest magical powers of all!
So, what was it the baker and his wife needed from Into the Woods? I'll bet these items sound very familiar, and each belongs to characters of four different fairytales of the Grimm Brothers.
A Slipper as Pure as Gold
Cinderella is easily one of the most well known stories around the world. The themes from the story appear in the folklore of many cultures. Sources disagree about exactly how many different versions of the tale exist, with numbers ranging from 340 to 1,500! In every culture, the story centers on a kind heroine who is forced to do hard work by her step-family after the death of her mother. Another heroine is a magic guardian (the fairy godmother) who helps her triumph over her step-family and gains all of her wishes. Most of the tales include a realization that is sparked by some type of clothing (usually a shoe) that causes the heroine to be recognized for her true worth.
Different versions of Cinderella from around the world:
Versions of Cinderella also exist in such countries as Iceland, Egypt, Korea, Siberia, France and Vietnam!
To read the Brother Grimm version of Cinderella, visit
A Cow as White as Milk
The first written version of the tale appeared in a 1734 Christmas
book: Round About our Coal-Fire: or Christmas entertainments.
In this reprint of the original 1730 book was a new tale entitled
"Enchantment demonstrated in the Story of Jack Spriggins and
the Enchantment Bean." Whew, what a mouthful! The tale appears
again in many different fairytale anthologies of the 18th century,
each varying the tale of the mischievous Jack and his endless pranks.
Many different versions of this tale exist in several different countries. The most popular English version is "Jack and the Beanstalk". The events that cause the beanstalk to grow, as well as the motivation of Jack stealing from and killing the giant varies from version to version, some with a more 'justifiable' reason for Jack's dubious behavior -- such as revenge. The tale has appeared primarily in North-Central Europe. It has also been popular in Norway and Finland, and has appeared as far away as Spain and Romania, but never in Russia or further East.
Stories about Jack from around the world:
Some Jack trivia:
To read a modern version of Jack and the Beanstalk, by Heidi
Ann Heiner, visit:
A Cape as Red as Blood
Little Red Riding Hood is one of the few popular fairytales
that has no known publication before Charles Perrault's Histoires
ou Contes du temps passé (1697). The tale grew in popularity
and the Brother's Grimm published the German version in their anthology
Many scholars believe that the ending dialogue between Little Red
and the Wolf is the reason for the story's popularity. The questions
about the wolf's ears, nose, mouth etc. bring suspense and humor
to the tale.
Both Perrault's and the Grimms' versions of the tale end with the Wolf eating Little Red Riding Hood, but later versions have been changed to have 'happier'" endings. In the many different versions of the story, Little Red Riding Hood has been killed, rescued or has escaped in various versions. Sometimes, the Grandmother survives too!
Little Red Riding Hood in Different Countries:
Little Red Trivia:
To read the Brothers Grimm version of Little Red Riding Hood,
Hair as yellow as corn
Although Rapunzel comes from the Grimms' story collection, the tale can be traced back to similar stories from Italy and France. One of the first times that the story was written down was by an author named Basile in 1637. In this version, the main character (Rapunzel) has the name Penthemerone, which comes from the word parsley.
Rapunzel in other countries:
To read the Brothers Grimm version of Rapunzel, visit:
Reading fairytales and Other Stories
When Dreams Came True
Misoso:Once Upon a Tale Times from Africa
The Lion's Whiskers and Other Ethiopian Tales: Revised Edition
The Fire on the Mountain and other stories from Ethiopia and Eritrea
Sundiata: The Lion King of Mali
African-American Folktales:Stories from Black Traditions in the
Leola and the Honeybears:An African-American Re-telling of Goldilocks
and the Three Bears
From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore (An Anthology)
Her Stories : African American Folktales, fairytales, and True
The People Could Fly:American Black Folktales
Every Tongue Got to Confess:Negro Folk Tales from the Gulf States
Lucky Jack and the Giant:An African-American Legend
One Hundred and One African -American Read -Aloud Stories
African-American Folktales for Young Readers : Including Favorite
Stories from African and African-American Storytellers
Juan y los frijoles magicos/Jack and the Beanstalk
Goldilocks and the Three Bears/ Ricitos de oro y los tres osos
Momentos magicos: Tales from Latin America told in English and
Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters : An African Tale
Smoky Mountain Rose:An Appalachian Cinderella
Cendrillon :A Cajun Cinderella
Angkat: The Cambodian Cinderella
Cendrillon :A Caribbean Cinderella
Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella story from China
The Egyptian Cinderella
Jouanah: A Hmong Cinderella
The Gift of the Crocodile
Naya: The Inuit Cinderella
The Irish Cinderlad
The Way Meat Loves Salt: A Cinderella Tale from the Jewish Tradition
The Korean Cinderella
Estrella de oro/Little Gold Star, A Cinderella Cuenta
Domitila:A Cinderella Tale from the Mexican Tradition
The Golden Sandal:A Middle Eastern Cinderella Story
Sootface:An Ojibwa Cinderella Story
The Persian Cinderella
Abadeha:The Phillipine Cinderella
Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave
TheGolden Sliper:A Vietnamese Legend (Legends of the world)
The Turkey Girl:A Zuni Ciinderella
Cinderella (The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series)