Again to the Brothers Grimm

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.

Kay Nielsen illustration for “Sleeping Beauty”

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.

Viktor Paul Mohn lithograph for “The Star Coins”

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.


13 Comments (+add yours?)

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  6. Anne Nydam
    Jan 30, 2012 @ 10:54:02

    I’ll definitely have to check this out. I’ve been trying to get my children familiar with the classic fairy tales (yes, even those dark aspects of them) because I feel like their reading of modern fantasy is lacking something vital without an understanding of its roots… This sounds like a wonderfully alluring edition.


    • Janice Floyd Durante
      Jan 30, 2012 @ 12:42:57

      Anne, you’re absolutely right in your feeling that a familiarity with fairy tales enriches our appreciation and understanding of fantasy. When I was a school librarian, I always made sure children, especially in 2nd and 3rd grades, were exposed to a variety of fairy and folktales from around the world. That foundation enables us to have wonderful discussions with children about the similarities and differences in people’s values and imagination, and also to relate the old tales to new works of wonder, whether they be fiction, film, music, etc.
      Alas, this is a gift few principals seem to appreciate, to the detriment of children’s creativity.


  7. Charlotte
    Jan 25, 2012 @ 19:33:45

    This looks lovely! I’m a big Nielsen fan….and love that picture in particular.


  8. Barbara
    Jan 24, 2012 @ 10:32:32

    This sounds wonderful; I may have to treat myself to a copy. The Viktor Paul Mohn lithograph for “The Star Coins” is absolutely beautiful. I’ve never come across this version of Cinderella it sounds more like something written by Heinrich Hoffmann than the brothers Grimm – in fact it sounds pretty Grimm!


    • Janice Floyd Durante
      Jan 24, 2012 @ 11:00:33

      Barbara, I think this book is just your cup of tea. The selection of stories is intelligent, and it’s so much fun to see the range of artwork inspired by those old folktales. I’m not surprised you’re unfamiliar with this version of “Cinderella”; Perrault’s retelling, including the fairy godmother and the lost glass slipper (most likely a bad translation of what once was a fur slipper) is the one most of us have grown up with. There are aspects of the Grimm version I prefer, however, especially the depiction of a Cinderella who is more assertive in pursuing her goals.


  9. Gently Mad
    Jan 23, 2012 @ 22:13:03

    I love the Grimm’s fairy tales. You make this book sound very enticing. Even though I have two complete works’ editions, I may have to look at this one for the art work. Thanks for the review!


    • Janice Floyd Durante
      Jan 24, 2012 @ 11:03:57

      Yes, Gently Mad. I have the unabridged works, too, including the Jack Zipes’ compilation, which has been my go-to edition for quite a few years. The Taschen book, however, allows one to enjoy the stunning artwork inspired by those folktales. I think it’s a worthy addition, and I hope you will, too.


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