If you’re looking for the authentic Grimm’s Fairy Tales at its most gruesome and grisly, this is your book. While the Grimm brothers published seven editions of their fairy tales, each revision tamer than the last, this collection contains the original two-volume Kinder- und Hausmärchen (1812/1815). This first edition, compared to any of the others, is raw.
Translator and editor Jack Zipes says it best in his introduction: “Many of the tales in the first edition are more fabulous and baffling than those refined versions…, for they retain the pungent and naïve flavor of the oral tradition. They are stunning narratives precisely because they are so blunt and unpretentious” (xx).
This blunt and unpretentious quality of the fairy tales makes them charming, straightforward reads. Their moral themes are clear, and the diction, in taking after oral storytelling, is simple and accessible. I was cast back to the days of my childhood by the fantasy of kings and queens and talking birds and frogs, and I enjoyed breezing through a few tales each night before bed.
Of course, in addition to being comforting classics, the Grimm’s Fairy Tales are brutal. And even though I knew this, I could not stop my surprise and revulsion at each new act of brutality. The tales incorporate violence into the narratives without any embellishment or fanfare; the violence is so mundane it is chilling. Truly, this thread of horror is why the first edition of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales is a worthwhile read.
However, with that said, this collection also has a few shortcomings. For one, a disappointing number of typos litter the text. I would have expected a higher standard of quality for this book. For two, many of the tales are similar, and some are near copies of each other. Numerous times I backtracked in the book thinking I had lost my place and was rereading stories, but in fact there is a lot of duplication. For three, there are a few tales that are more like nursery rhymes with repetitive verses and little to no plot or theme, and I couldn’t see the point in these.
Although the Grimm’s Fairy Tales is a bit of an undertaking thanks to its volume of tales and repetition, it should be on everyone’s to-read list for its striking simplicity and horror.