08 June 2023

Review: The Brothers Grimm 101 Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

The Brothers Grimm 101 Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm book cover

I did it! It took me 10 weeks, but I finally read The Brothers Grimm 101 Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. I read the original Snow White and Sleeping Beauty tales and more besides. How do I feel about it? I feel proud of my reading achievement, but the writing style was unfamiliar and it was a somewhat draining reading experience. I was only able to read a few fairytales at a time before needing a break from all of the kings, princesses, curses and forests.

I was shocked to discover just how short some of the fairytales were, namely Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Cap; or as we now know it, Little Red Riding Hood. The brevity of these tales and the way in which they've gone on to inspire untold spin offs and interpretations - one of which, The Archive of Alternate Endings by Lindsey Drager, I just read - is quite remarkable.

As expected, there were some terrific opening lines, like this one from The Hare's Bride:
"There was once a woman and her daughter who lived in a pretty garden with cabbages; and a little hare came into it, and during the wintertime ate all the cabbages." Page 282 The Hare's Bride
I'm instantly 'into' the story with this kind of opening line, and an intro like this reminds me of the stellar fable at the beginning of The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott.

Blessed with some stellar opening lines, some of the fairytales had quite sudden, dreadful or unexpected endings. How's this one from The Mouse, The Bird, and the Sausage:
"Owing to his carelessness the wood caught fire, so that a conflagration ensued, the bird hastened to fetch water, and then the bucket dropped from his claws into the well, and he fell down with it, and could not recover himself, but had to drown there." Page 104 The Mouse, The Bird, and the Sausage
Some of the tales end with a sentiment like 'and they haven't been heard from since" or "where they live to this day." How about these though:
"And the mouth of the man who last told this story is still warm." Page 116 The Bremen Town-Musicians
"Then the children went home together, and were heartily delighted, and if they are not dead, they are living still." Page 204 Fledgling
Isn't that charming? This happy ending describes a wedding party:
"I wish you and I had been there too." Page 208 King Thrushbeard
This isn't the only time the authors break the fourth wall and address the reader directly either. When describing a scene whereby everyone present is collecting as many gold pieces as they can physically carry, comes a comment in brackets direct to the reader:
"(I can see in your face that you also would like to be there.)" Page 151 The Wishing Table, The Gold Ass, and the Cudgel in the Sack
I wonder if the brothers could have imagined readers enjoying their stories 200 years after publication. Reading The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs was a highlight of this collection, along with the classic Hansel and Gretel.

Now that I've read them, would I recommend Grimm's Fairytales to other readers? I actually don't think I would. Viewed through today's lenses, the lessons from these fairytales feel simplistic and out of touch: beauty and virtue is good, greed and envy is bad, being ugly is bad and good will always triumph. The fairytales aren't suitable for young children, and there's a lot of violence for children over the age of ten as well, with drownings, curses, amputations, poisonings, beheadings, hangings and all sorts of terrible endings. I actually think storytellers and children's authors from the last 50 years do an excellent job of providing educational and entertaining stories for young children and adults alike.

This collection has been worth reading and while I'm satisfied to have now read the original source material, the experience was enriched by reading it alongside three other book reviewers. Ashleigh (The Book Muse), Veronica (The Burgeoning Bookshelf) and Claire (Claire's Reads and Reviews) joined me for this Grimm's buddy read and Ashleigh lead our conversation based on her study of the subject matter at university. What a great buddy read!

What's your favourite fairytale? I think mine is Hansel and Gretel.

My Rating:

Would you like to comment?

  1. Great review Tracey, I think it's wonderful they inspire so many new spinoff stories and adaptations, but yes, the original don't inspire me the way some new versions do.

    1. Thanks so much Claire! It's funny how many retellings and adaptations we've all seen and read without reading the original stories. At least I've finally been able to rectify that.


Thanks for your comment, Carpe Librum!