Grimm's fairy tales have been the source of a fair bit of fascination for me ever since I was a teenager. That was around the point where I found out that the stories that I was told as a child were really quite sanitised and comparably tame to their original sources. And the source for quite a lot of these tales, at least in their written forms, was the Brothers Grimm. So, when I saw a book touted as the complete works, I picked it up mainly to see what I missed as a child.
I can't really say that many of the tales in there were new to me.
As there were 279 noted in the contents, I was hoping that there
would be a lot of new tales that would surprise me. Admittedly there
were some new tales, but it seemed to be that a lot of them were more
the result of mixing and matching elements used in other tales.
Possibly this is a result of them being passed down by word of mouth,
but when there are at least four different stories where the princess
wins back her unfaithful/enchanted betrothed by bribing his new bride
with pretty dresses and weeping outside his bedroom, then there seems
little point in listing every single one of them within the
collection. Really though, I think this is as much my own heightened
expectations interfering with my reading of it. While there were some
tales that seemed so similar that they might as well be the same
thing, there was enough variety to keep my interest up.
One of the things that was really noticeable was the weird mix of
themes. I was always taught that fairy tales were a method of
teaching children moral lessons, so the fact that there seemed to be
two main lessons that were taught and conflicted with one another.
The first was that if you are hard-working and virtuous then God will
send good fortune your way, and if you are likewise mean-spirited and
lazy then your cruelty will come back to hurt you later. The second
was that if you want to get ahead in life, you should rely on your
wits and a little bit of luck. While the two lessons needn't be
mutually exclusive, more often than not the protagonists from the
second type of story wouldn't necessarily be the sort of sweet, good
hero or heroine that you would necessarily want to see succeed. I'm
not even going to get into the stories that seemed to have neither
moral nor point; these are few and far between, but very confusing
when they do occur.
The main thing that I can see putting people off is the
anti-Semitism. Fortunately it doesn't turn up all that often, but
when it does appear in stories like “The Jew in the Thornbush” it
hits you like a Glasgow kiss. It really isn't subtle. I had an
inkling that there might be some attitudes present that aren't so
well tolerated now and my basic knowledge of German history gives me
a bit of contextual background, but that really doesn't make it any
easier to read. I would say that if you're really bothered by this
particular brand of discrimination, then you may wish to be very
careful when reading this. If a Jew appears, the likelihood is that
things won't go well for him, so it's at least easy enough to avoid
if you're truly determined to read this collection.
Overall, a bit of a patchy collection, but still something that I
would take a look at if you're interested in fairy tales or other
traditional stories. I maybe wouldn't advise reading it more or less
uninterrupted like I did, instead dipping in and out occasionally.
Maybe avoid if you have triggers involving anti-Semitism. 3/5
Next review: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
by John le Carre