Most people have no clue that the Grimms first edition of 1812/15 is totally unlike the final or so-called definitive edition of 1857, that they published seven different editions from 1812 to 1857, and that they made vast changes in the contents and style of their collections and also altered their concept of folk and fairy tales in the process. Even so-called scholars of German literature and experts of the Grimms tales are not aware of how little most people, including themselves, know about the first edition, and ironically it is their and our “ignorance” that makes the rediscovery of the tales in the first edition so exciting and exhilarating. Indeed, there is still much to learn about the unique contribution that the Grimms made to folklore not only in Germany but also in Europe if we return to take a closer look at the first edition, for it was this edition that sparked the pioneer efforts of folklorists throughout Europe and Great Britain to gather tales from the oral tradition and preserve them for future generations.
What fascinated or compelled the Grimms to concentrate on old German literature was a belief that the most natural and pure forms of culture those which held the community together were linguistic and were to be located in the past. Moreover, according to them, modern literature, even though it might be remarkably rich, was artificial and thus could not express the genuine essence of culture that emanated naturally from peoples experiences and bound the people together. Therefore, all their energies were spent on uncovering stories from the past.
The Grimms sought to collect and preserve all kinds of ancient relics as if they were sacred and precious gems that consisted of tales, myths, songs, fables, legends, epics, documents, and other artifacts not just fairy tales. They intended to trace and grasp the essence of cultural evolution and to demonstrate how natural language, stemming from the needs, customs, and rituals of the common people, created authentic bonds and helped forge civilized communities. This is one of the reasons why they called their collection of tales an educational manual (Erziehungsbuch), for the tales recalled the basic values of the Germanic peoples and also other European groups and enlightened people about their experiences through storytelling. Remarkably, the Grimms at a young age wanted to bequeath the profound oral tales of the people to the German people not realizing that they were about to bequeath unusually striking tales to people of many different nations, and that these tales assumed relevance in all cultures.
The Grimms sought to celebrate and argue for the necessity of storytelling to create bonds among people that share their experiences through stories. They believed that the tales and all their variants were distinctive and kept cultural tradition alive. They respected difference and diversity, and at the same time they argued that “The aim of our collection was not just to serve the cause of the history of poetry. It was our intention that the poetry living in it be effective, bringing pleasure wherever it could, and that it therefore become an educational manual.”
Adapted from Jack Zipes, The Forgotten Tales of the Brothers Grimm @ 2012 by The Public Domain Review.
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