For 200 years people around the world have explored an enchanted forest of folktales, thanks to the work of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, a lovely new compilation from Taschen, highlights the dazzling artwork that does justice to the potent tales that still hold us spellbound.
The book is a gorgeous affair, from its royal purple cloth cover to its end papers sprouting dreamily winding white vines, followed by radiant stories and images. Then there’s the fanciful Old World font, the lissome, newly commissioned silhouettes; and the astounding banquet of artwork, crisply reproduced in all their glory. If this doesn’t lure you into the Grimm brothers’ tales, nothing will.
Focusing on illustrations created from the 1820s to the 1950s, the collection offers an array of visual and literary riches. The expected stars shine here: the British illustrators L. Leslie Brooke, Walter Crane, Arthur Rackham, and the quirky George Cruikshank, who illustrated the first English translation of the Grimms’ fairy tales. Acclaimed American artists include Wanda Gág (“The Fisherman and His Wife”) and Jessie Willcox Smith, with her radiant heroine for “The Goose Girl.” The fantastical illustrations of Nielsen grace three stories.
The editor has selected 27 appealing stories from the 1857 edition, which incorporated the brothers’ revisions designed to make the stories more engaging and suitable for both young and old audiences. The new translations by Mr. Price hew closely to the Grimm brothers’ versions, resulting in tales that bristle with energy and magic.
Arranged in the order in which the Grimm brothers published them, the tales seem both fresh and familiar. Such favorites as “The Frog Prince,” “Hansel and Gretel,” and “Rumpelstiltskin” are here, but the versions veer from many of the sanitized plots widely published. “Cinderella,” for instance, is no passive Barbie; instead, she’s a tenacious young woman who works to create her new destiny. She has no fairy godmother; instead, she prays at the hazel tree planted at her mother’s grave, and birds come to her aid. “Dear little tree,/Shake your branches and flutter your leaves/And let gold and silver fall down over me!” That’s how she gets her shimmering evening gown and slippers embroidered in silk and silver. She doesn’t need a pumpkin; she dashes off to the ball on her own, thank you. After Cinderella and the prince dance for hours, she needs no clock to tell her it’s time to go. When the smitten young man insists he will accompany her home, she gives him the slip.
Twice more this happens, until the prince wises up and orders the staircase covered in pitch. This time when Cinderella runs off, her golden slipper gets stuck. The gory measures the stepsisters take in order to force their feet into the shoe belonging to the prince’s true love will cause some adults to pause. The poetic justice meted out to them and their cruel mother at the end is also uncompromisingly stark. Adults may choose either to discuss the symbolic nature of the literature or simply to omit the violence when reading aloud to children.
Other folktales, however, do not give us reason to pause, even when reading to children as young as 5. The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm contains gentle stories, such as “The Brave Little Tailor,” “The Golden Goose,” and the beloved “The Elves and the Shoemaker.” And you will encounter little-known treasures such as “The Star Coins,” which beautifully demonstrates the power and wisdom of generosity.
Delights abound. Most readers will enjoy poring over the magical Old World artwork of the German illustrators Gustav Süs (“The Hare and the Hedgehog”) and Otto Speckter (“Rapunzel”). Wildly different from those are the witty, cartoonish color lithographs for “Puss ’n Boots,” done in 1946 by the Swiss illustrator Herbert Leupin. It’s nearly impossible not to marvel at the stunning variety of images contained in these many-colored pages.
And when the kinder have gone to bed, adults can ponder the editor’s insightful introductory essay and her concise, interesting biographies of the artists.
These strange and wonderful tales deserve to be part of our children’s heritage. Let this heirloom-quality collection cast its spell in your home.