Into the Woods, Jr. - About the Brothers Grimm and Fairytales


Performance Schedule

School Residency Information

About Into the Woods, Jr.

About The Brothers Grimm and Fairytales

Behind the Scenes

Educational Resources for Teachers and Students


[Picture of a fairy tale castle.]Fairytale History

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!

[Picture if Little Red Riding Hood.]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:

  • In Little Red Riding Hood, she is not rescued and is gobbled up by the wolf along with her grandmother.
  • Cinderella is much weaker, and only cries at her fate until the fairy godmother comes along.
  • In Sleeping Beauty, after the Beauty is awoken with the Prince's kiss, she finds out that her mother-in-law wants to eat her with sauce!

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.

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 [Picture of a German town.]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!

[Picture of the Brothers Grimm.]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.

Hold Up…

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…
where do they come from?

[Picture of the Brothers Grimm.]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.

[Picture of Cinderella.]Altogether, 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"- Cinderella.

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…
The Culture and Kookiness of the Into the Woods Stories

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…

[Picture of Cinderella.]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:

  • Rashin Coatie--Scotland
  • Aschenputtel--Germany
  • Zezula--Italy
  • Yeh-hsien--China

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…
Jack and the Beanstalk:

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:

  • The Boy Called Thirteen--Greece
  • The Cock and the Hand Mill--Russia
  • Esben and the Witch--Denmark
  • The Lost Prince--Chile

Some Jack trivia:
Q: What was the name of the giant that Jack killed?
A: Manticore

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:

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 in 1808.

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!

[Drawing from Little Red Riding Hood.]

Little Red Riding Hood in Different Countries:

  • El Cappelin Rosso--Italy
  • The Golden Chain from Heaven--Japan
  • Boudin-Boudine--France

Little Red Trivia:
Q: In the original English version of tale, what is the name given to Little Red?
A: Biddie

To read the Brothers Grimm version of Little Red Riding Hood, visit:

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:

  • The Canary Prince--Italy
  • The Fatal Marriage--Greece
  • The Godchild of the Fairy in the Tower--France
  • Louliyya, Daughter of Morgan--Egypt

To read the Brothers Grimm version of Rapunzel, visit:


Reading fairytales and Other Stories

When Dreams Came True
Classical fairytales and their Tradition
By Jack Zipes

African Folk Tales

Misoso:Once Upon a Tale Times from Africa
By Verna Aardema (Editor) Reynold Ruffins (Illustrator)

The Lion's Whiskers and Other Ethiopian Tales: Revised Edition
by Brent K. Ashabranner (Editor), Brent K. Asbabranner, Helen Siegl (Illustrator)

The Fire on the Mountain and other stories from Ethiopia and Eritrea
By Harold Courlander, Wolf Leslau, (contributor), Robett Kane (illustrator)

Sundiata: The Lion King of Mali
By David Wisniewski

African American Fairy and Folk Tales

African-American Folktales:Stories from Black Traditions in the New World
by Roger D. Abrahams

Leola and the Honeybears:An African-American Re-telling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears
by Melodye Benson

From My People: 400 Years of African American Folklore (An Anthology)
by Daryl Cumber Dance

Her Stories : African American Folktales, fairytales, and True
by Virginia Hamilton, Leo Dillon (Illustrator), Diane Dillon (Illustrator)

The People Could Fly:American Black Folktales
By Virginia Hamilton et al

Every Tongue Got to Confess:Negro Folk Tales from the Gulf States
By Zora Neale Hurston

Lucky Jack and the Giant:An African-American Legend
by Janet P. Johnson, Charles Reasoner (Illustrator)

One Hundred and One African -American Read -Aloud Stories
Edited by Susan Kantor

African-American Folktales for Young Readers : Including Favorite Stories from African and African-American Storytellers
by Richard Young (Editor), Judy Dockrey Young (Editor)

Latino fairytales

Juan y los frijoles magicos/Jack and the Beanstalk
by Marta Mata, Arnal Ballester (Illustrator), Alis Alejandro (Translator), Francesc Bofill

Goldilocks and the Three Bears/ Ricitos de oro y los tres osos
by Marta Mata, Arnal Ballester (Illustrator), Alis Alejandro (Translator)

Momentos magicos: Tales from Latin America told in English and Spanish
By Olga Loya, Carmen Lizardi-Rivera (Translator)

Twenty Five Cinderella Tales from around the World

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters : An African Tale
by John Steptoe

Rough-Face Girl
By Rafe Martin, David Shannon (Illustrator)
(Alonquin - American Indian from Ottawa River Valley)

Smoky Mountain Rose:An Appalachian Cinderella
By Alan Schroeder et al
(Eastern USA)

Cendrillon :A Cajun Cinderella
By Sheila Hebert Collins, Patrick Soper (Illustrator)
Cajun (New Orleans)

Angkat: The Cambodian Cinderella
By Jewell Reinhart Coburn, Edmund Flotte (Illustrator)

Cendrillon :A Caribbean Cinderella
By Daniel San Souci, et al

Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella story from China
By Ai-Ling Louie, Ed Young (Illustrator)

Raisel's Riddle
By Erica Silverman, Susan Gaber, (Illustrator)
(East European)

The Egyptian Cinderella
By Shirley Climo, Ruth Heller (Illustrator)

Jouanah: A Hmong Cinderella
By Jewell Reinhart Coburn et al
(Northern Vietnam, Laos, Thailand)

The Gift of the Crocodile
A Cinderella Story
By Judy Sierra, Reynold Ruffins (Illustrator)

Naya: The Inuit Cinderella
By Brittany Marcea-Chenkie, Shelley Brookes (Illustrator)

The Irish Cinderlad
By Shirley Climo, Loretta Krupinski (Illustrator)

The Way Meat Loves Salt: A Cinderella Tale from the Jewish Tradition
By Nina Jaffe, Louise August (Illustrator)

The Korean Cinderella
By Shirley Climo, Ruth Heller (Illustrator)

By Francesc Boada, Monse Fansoy (Illustrator), James Suryes (Translator)

Estrella de oro/Little Gold Star, A Cinderella Cuenta
Joye Hayes, Gloria Osuna Perez (Illustrator), Lucia Anglea Perez(Illustrator)

Domitila:A Cinderella Tale from the Mexican Tradition
By Jewell Reinhart Coburn, Connie McLennan (Illustrator)

The Golden Sandal:A Middle Eastern Cinderella Story
By Rebecca Hickox, Will Hillenbrand (Illustrator)

Sootface:An Ojibwa Cinderella Story
By Robert D. San Souci, Daniel San Souci
(American Indian from Lake Superior)

The Persian Cinderella
By Shirley Climo, Robert Florczak (Illustrator)

Abadeha:The Phillipine Cinderella
By Myrna J. De la Paz, Youshan Tang Illustrator)

Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave
By Marianna Mayer, K.Y. Craft (Illustrator)

TheGolden Sliper:A Vietnamese Legend (Legends of the world)
By Darrell H. Y. Lum, Makiko Nagano (Illustrator)

The Turkey Girl:A Zuni Ciinderella
By Penny Pollock, Ed Young (Illustrator()
(American Indian from Western New Mexico)

Cinderella (The Oryx Multicultural Folktale Series)
By Judy Serra, Joanne Caroselli (Illustrator)