The original grim tales from the Brothers Grimm

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When Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm first published Kinder- ind Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales) in 1812, children weren’t the intended audience. But when the stories were translated into English and kids went nuts for them, the brothers Grimm decided to revise the tales to make them more suitable for families, which basically means they took out the sexy stuff and added some Christian references.

It took a very long time for a translated version of the uncensored tales to come out, but last year The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition finally got published by Princeton University Press. Professor Jack Zipes took on the mammoth task of translating all 156 of the original “racy” stories and releasing them in this incredible new collection. In Zipes’ own words: “I have endeavoured to capture the tone and style of the different tales by translating them into a basic contemporary American idiom. My main objective was to render the frank and blunt qualities of the tales in a succinct American English.”

This Complete First Edition puts my other copy of Grimm’s to shame. The Andrea Dezsö’s illustrations found throughout the book really help to set the tone, which is creepy but in a good way. I’m sure many will find these more authentic tales to be slightly disturbing, but this is what Zipes has to say to that: “If there is anything offensive, readers can decide what to read for themselves. We do not need puritanical censors to tell us what is good or bad for us.”
So there.


Over the years I’ve picked up my copy of Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales now and again, usually just to read a specific story such as “Cinderella” or “Hansel and Gretel“. The first thing I did when I got my hands on this new complete first edition was compare the text of one story to the other. Here’s a look at the opening lines of “Rapunzel”:


From The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition (Zipes)

Once upon a time there lived a husband and wife who had been wishing for a child many years, but it had all been in vain. Finally, the woman became pregnant. Now, in the back of their house the couple had a small window that overlooked a fairy’s garden filled with all kinds of flowers and herbs. But nobody ever dared to enter it.

From Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales (my copy doesn’t even list the translator, that’s how bad it is)

There once lived a man and his wife who had long wished for a child, but in vain. Now there was at the back of their house a little window which overlooked a beautiful garden full of the finest vegetables and flowers; but there was a high wall all round it, and no one ventured into it, for it belonged to a witch of great might, and of whom all the world was afraid.


I’m kind of fascinated at how different the two versions are. Don’t you find that Zipes’ version reads better than the other? For me, the difference is quite drastic. I always assumed that fairy tales were slightly boring on some fundamental level, but now I understand that it’s all in the translation. And I feel sort of misled by the edition I had previously purchased. Imagine how many people out there are reading lousy translations, completely unaware that a more accurate, more engaging version exists. I’m so interested in learning more about this subject that I’m tempted to read this guy’s PhD thesis comparing English versions of Grimm’s tales. But for now I’ll just make my way through my copy of the Complete First Edition and toss my other no-name version to the side. 

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