Fairy Tales
Kinder- und Hausmärchen
• Jakob Grimm (1785-1863) and his brother
Wilhelm (1786-1859) wrote the best-known
book in the German language.
• Romanticism: project of discovering the true
spirit of the German nation, which resided in
the language and literature of the people.
• Approx. 1795-1830. Age of Goethe and
Kinder- und Hausmärchen
Who were the Grimm brothers?
• Their father is a respected court official, but dies
young, thrusting the family into poverty.
• Jacob and Wilhelm, the two oldest children, become
overachievers to provide for their family.
• Study of law in Marburg brings them to Friedrich
Karl von Savigny, professor of law.
• Savigny is an important figure in German
romanticism, believes in the unification of Germany.
Teaches the Grimms to study German culture
through the history of its laws.
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Who were the Grimm brothers?
• Savigny introduces the Grimms to the older circle
of romantic poets in the area.
• 1806 Jacob decides to make a living as a scholar of
philology and literature instead of law.
• 1806-1807 a job in the War Commission until the
country is defeated by Napoleon.
• 1808 Jacob and later Wilhelm become Royal
Librarians in Kassel. First scholarly publications.
• 1812 publication of Kinder- und Hausmärchen.
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Who were the Grimm brothers?
• 1829 they resign their positions in the library due to a
denied promotion and disgust with local politics.
• 1830 they both accept positions at the University of
Göttingen. Gifted and stimulating teachers.
• 1837 they and five colleagues protest the restoration of
absolutistic rule and are dismissed.
• Grimms blacklisted because of their liberal views.
• 1841 Savigny and Bettina von Arnim help them find
positions in the University of Berlin.
• 1848 Grimms are representatives in the National Assembly
in Frankfurt. Failed March Revolution in Germany.
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Who were the Grimm brothers?
• Jacob retires from politics and teaching (but not
from research and writing).
• The brothers spend their final years working on a
complete historical dictionary of the modern
German language (similar to the OED). They make
it to the word “Frucht” (fruit).
• The project is assumed by other scholars upon their
deaths – it is completed only in 1960, with teams
from both East and West Germany working in
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Why did they collect folklore?
• In 1806, Achim von Arnim and Clemens
Brentano publish a collection of German folk
songs, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, which inspires
the young Grimm brothers.
• Through their mutual friend Savigny, the Grimms
are asked to collect tales for a third volume of The
Boy’s Wonder Horn.
• Grimms see the project as a scholarly contribution
to discovering and recording German cultural
artifacts. Early form of cultural anthropology.
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Why did they collect folklore?
• Contrary to legend, they did not travel the
countryside in search of the tales.
• Most tales were told to them by family friends,
mostly upper-middle-class women, some with a
French background.
• Wilhelm later married one of their primary sources,
Dörtchen Wild. Wilhelm was the primary editor for
later editions of this book.
• Two brothers collaborated on most of their projects,
always on extremely close terms with each other.
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Why did they collect folklore?
• They send Brentano a copy of their tales, but he
neglects the text and later donates the manuscript to
a monastery (discovered only in the 20th century).
• Translations of a few of these tales sent by email.
• When Volume III of Des Knaben Wunderhorn does
not materialize, the Grimms publish an edition of
tales with many scholarly footnotes (1812).
• Unexpectedly, the book is a popular success, and the
brothers prepare a second volume of tales (1815).
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Why did they collect folklore?
• In their lifetime, Kinder- and Hausmärchen
(Children’s and Household Tales) sees seven
• After they realize the popularity of the book, they
delete the scholarly commentary and seek to
“improve” the tales for children: much less moral
ambiguity in later editions.
• Although their aim was to preserve the authentic
voice of the common people, they revised the
tales, some quite extensively.
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What else did the Grimm brothers do?
• In addition to fairy tales, the Grimm brothers
were the first scholars to do groundbreaking
research in a number of areas.
• In fact, they were two of the first professors of
German literature ever, and helped shape the
academic discipline as it is know today.
• Most of the topics discussed in this course –
Eddic poetry and Norse mythology, Germanic
languages, Germanic history and legends – were
first studied by the Grimm brothers!
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What else did the Grimm brothers do?
• Grimm Brothers’ selected publications:
1813-1816 Collections of Essays on Germanic folklore
1815 Lays of the Elder Edda, edited volume
1816 German Legends
1819-37 German Grammar (Jacob)
1821 On German Runes (Wilhelm)
1829 The German Heroic Legend (Wilhelm)
1835-54 German Mythology (Jacob)
1848-53 History of the German Language (Jacob)
1852-1960 Historical Dictionary of the German Language
Kinder- und Hausmärchen
Who first wrote fairy tales?
• Marie-Catherine de Barneville,
Baroness d'Aulnoy (1650-1704) wrote
a famous collection of tales, which
gave the genre its name: Les Contes
des Fées, or Fairy Tales (1697).
• She was an influential member of a
literary movement in Paris that allowed
women a voice in the salon culture of
the time.
• She wrote literary fairy tales that are often far removed
from traditional, oral folk tales.
• Her tales, many of which portray strong female characters,
were first recited to an adult, upper-class audience in her
salon, and later published.
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Who first wrote fairy tales?
Charles Perrault (1628-1703) was the
first major writer of stories derived from
folk tales.
• He was also a central figure in the querelle
des anciens et des modernes.
• His publication, Histoires ou contes du
temps passé, avec des moralités: Contes
de ma mère l'Oye (1697), contained his
version of eight popular French tales.
• He appended a moral in verse to each of the tales.
• His work also reflects the French salon culture of Louis
XIV, and the influence of Baroness d’Aulnoy.
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Who first wrote fairy tales?
• Perrault’s tales, like those of Baronness d’Aulnoy, are
literary works rather than simple folk tales.
• His collection contains some of the best-known
versions of popular tales today:
English title
The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood
French title
La belle au bois dormant
Aarne-Thompson-Uther type
Type 410
Little Red Riding Hood
Le petit chaperon rouge
Type 333
Blue Beard
La Barbe bleüe
Type 312
The Master Cat; or, Puss in Boots
Le Maistre Chat, ou le Chat Botté
Type 545B
The Fairies
Les Fées
Type 480
Cinderella or The Little Glass Slipper
Cendrillon, ou la petite pantoufle de verre
Type 510A
Ricky of the Tuft
Riquet à la Houppe
Type 711
Little Thumb,
Le petit Pouçet
Type 327B
Kinder- und Hausmärchen
History of Fairy Tale Studies
• 1812 & 1814 Jacob and Wilhelm publish
volumes I and II of Kinder- und Hausmärchen
(Children’s and Household Tales).
• Unlike earlier collections, the Grimms were not
trying to be literary or original, but to preserve
the oral tales of the common people.
• Later editions expanded and standardized the
• They understood their revisions as recapturing
the spirit of the oral tradition. Later folklorists
are much more exact in recording variants!
Kinder- und Hausmärchen
Who also collected fairy tales?
• After the Grimms, Franz von
Schönwerth also collected tales,
mostly in Bavaria.
• His notes were discovered in
2009, and translated into English
by Maria Tatar (2015).
• Schönwerth‘s collection shows
less polish and greater variety
than the Grimm collection:
bawdier, racier, with stronger
female characters.
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Who followed the Grimm brothers?
• 1835 Hans Christian Andersen publishes Fairy Tales
Told for Children, some such as ‘The Wild Swans’ and
‘The Princess on the Pea’ based on traditional folklore.
• 1845 Norwegian Folk Tales, collected by Peter Christen
Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe appears, includes ‘East of
the Sun and West of the Moon’ and ‘The Three Billy
Goats Gruff.’
• 1870-1910 The Golden Age of Illustration for children's
books – Walter Crane, Gustave Dore, Arthur Rackham,
Warwick Goble, et al.
• 1866 Aleksandr Afanasyev collects and publishes his
first volume of Russian fairy tales.
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How are fairy tales adapted?
• Most other European cultures also collect folklore in
the style of the Grimms in the nineteenth century.
• 1890 Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's ballet The Sleeping
Beauty premieres in St. Petersburg.
• 1893 Engelbert Humperdinck's opera, Hansel und
Gretel premieres.
• 1937 Walt Disney releases his first feature length
animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
• 1945 Sergei Prokofiev's ballet, Cinderella, premiers.
• In the following decades, new print, television, and
film versions of fairy tales appear regularly.
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What is a Fairy Tale?
• Grimm’s collection contains many kinds of
stories, including the magical (or wonder) tales,
humorous tall tales, animal fables, and realistic
folk tales.
• Originally oral folk tales, with countless variants
throughout Europe.
• There are no “original” versions of tales, only
different variants.
• Social context of tales changed when they were
transformed into written literature.
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What is a Fairy Tale?
• Short stories in prose, originally for adolescents
or young adults, but commonly for children
nowadays (a development begun at the time of
the Brothers Grimm).
• A peasant perspective, quite unlike the
aristocratic perspective in heroic legends or
middle-class perspective of early modern legends.
• Unlike legends, which deal with ostensibly
historical events, fairy tales are set in a vaguely
medieval, indeterminate time and place.
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What is a Fairy Tale?
• Fairy tales typically have no character development
– strong contrasts between ‘good’ and ‘bad’
characters are typical.
• Use of magic and magical items is common.
• Familial setting is typical, often dysfunctional or
incomplete nuclear family setting. Many tales
present a child’s perspective of the action.
• Family tensions tend to play important roles.
• Strong reliance on stock characters and well-known
motifs and plot structures.
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What is a Fairy Tale?
A few common fairy tale motifs:
• Triumph of the youngest, laziest, dumbest, weakest, most
oppressed, least promising, etc.
• Triadic structure, circuitous journey with reversal of
• (Familial) adversaries–establishment of improved and
secure familial structure at end.
• Helping figures, with magical objects and creatures.
• Rewards in the form of honor, wealth, spouse, power.
• Talking animals–animate world, with enchanted cosmos.
• Happy end, poetic justice, reward and retribution.
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What is a Fairy Tale?
• It is difficult to generalize about folk tales.
• Morally unambiguous tales a product of the modern
concern for proper child-rearing.
• “Original” versions of many fairy tales contain a lot
of sex and violence.
• Protagonists can be active or passive, male or
female, successful or unsuccessful.
• Tales may be innocent or cynical in tone.
• Tales may support or subvert existing hierarchies.
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How does one interpret fairy tales?
• A Historical Approach to fairy tale research is
very complicated.
• “Origins” of fairy tales are impossible to trace,
since motifs are common in Europe and even
beyond – Cinderella stories are found
• Unlike many legends, there is absolutely no
factual historical basis for folk tales. Actually,
there are no truly realistic plots in any of the
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How does one interpret fairy tales?
• A Psychological Approach
Bruno Bettelheim argues that fairy tales present an
internal psychological truth: “In a fairy tale, internal
processes are externalized and become
comprehensible as represented by the figures of the
story and its events.”
• Some Common Topics: Power and class relations,
Freudian sexual fantasies, Jungian archetypes,
cultural images, Christian and pagan ideologies and
rites, collective class consciousness, etc.
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How does one interpret fairy tales?
• A Cultural Approach
• Robert Darnton argues that “Folktales are historical
documents, each colored by the mental life and
culture of its epoch.”
• Different variants of tales in one country or in
different countries point to regional or cultural
• Details in fairy tales are often very arbitrary,
depending on the interests of a particular audience.
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How does one study Fairy Tales?
• A Comparatist Approach
• 1961 Stith Thompson expands and translates Finnish
scholar Antti Aarne's The Types of the Folktale (1910)
into English in 1961.
• Further revisions done in2004 by Hans-Jörg Uther.
• The ATU Classification System becomes the most
widely used for classifying Indo-European folktales,
cataloging some 2,500 basic plots and over 10,000
• There are dozens or hundreds of variants for all of the
Grimm fairy tales.
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How does one study Fairy Tales?
• A Structuralist Approach
• Vladimir Propp (1928) publishes Morphology of
the Folktale (English translation 1958). He
emphasizes the recurring structural features of
folk and fairy tales.
• Both the ATU classification system and Propp’s
structural models are considered essential tools
for the current study of folk tales.
• Oral folk literature is difficult to interpret; a
flexible, holistic method is probably best.
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Typical Structure of a Folk Tale
• Wish Fulfillment as Folk Tale structure
• Frame with circuitous journey.
• Dysfunctional family in opening frame. Suffering,
helplessness and victimization of protagonist.
• Adventures and tests in supernatural realm
• Reversal of fortune, reward of marriage or power
• Vengeance or punishment of villains – suffering
projected onto the former oppressors.
• Nearly everyone capable of cruelty and vengeance.
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Fairy Tales and Wish Fulfillment
• “The Fisherman and his Wife” is a good example
of wish fulfillment.
• A fisherman catches a talking flounder that is
really an enchanted prince, so he lets him go.
• His wife, however, makes repeated requests from
the fish, since he now has an obligation to the
family: cottage, castle, king, emperor, pope, God.
• Enchanted flounder grants all their wishes, which
eventually bring them back to the hovel in which
they began. Be careful what you wish for!
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Why and how did they edit the tales?
• Lukewarm reviews led Wilhelm to edit the tales,
with increasing changes in later editions, which
removed the tales from their peasant origins.
• Grimms aimed for a “Platonic ideal” of the folk
tales as they understood them.
• Transmission and translation of tales often involves
censorship or bowdlerization.
• Grimms emphasize bourgeois values: strict gender
roles, strong work ethic, sexual virtue, importance
of property.
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How did the Grimms edit the tales?
• Oral tales for young adults commonly dealt with
the transition from puberty to adulthood.
• Fairy tales did not originally teach lessons, but
dealt with fears and anxieties of adolescents.
• Revisions for children as a new audience caused
sexual themes to be disguised or omitted.
• Violent subject matter was actually increased in
many fairy tales (unlike U.S. versions!).
• Revisions standardized the narrative style,
expanded the tales, added details.
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How did the Grimms select the tales?
• Tales that were obvious copies of foreign tales
were usually deleted from later editions.
• Fragments were sometimes combined with other
tales to create a single, coherent tale.
• Some tales, such as “How some children played at
slaughtering” (77-79) were considered too
gruesome for a children’s audience, and were
• In general they kept tales that seemed to reflect
German folk customs.
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How did the Grimms edit the tales?
• A comparison of the manuscript with the first
edition illustrates some of the changes: expansion
of details, dialogue, and conclusion.
• “Briar Rose” in the manuscript version is less than
half the length of the published version.
• In the manuscript version, “everyone in the castle
began to sleep, even the flies on the walls.” In the
published version, the King, the courtly retinue, the
pigeons, the dogs, the flies, the cook, the maid, the
boy and even the fire in the hearth went to sleep!
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Censorship and Fairy Tales
Disney’s Tangled
Good example of
editing and
revising of a fairy
tale for new
Disney interpretation of Rapunzel as repressed
adolescent desire. Girl empowerment.
AT 310 The Maiden in the Tower (Rapunzel)
• Prelude of a husband and a wife wishing for a child.
• Theft of rapunzel-lettuce leads to an agreement with the
sorceress to collect the girl.
• Rapunzel grows up to be a beautiful girl. She is locked
away in a tower in the forest when she is twelve years
old (hidden from boys with the onset of puberty!).
• One day, a young prince sees the sorceress climbing the
tower with the help of Rapunzel´s hair.
• At night, he calls “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your
hair for me!”
• She meets the prince in her tower (cite 39.).
Changes to Rapunzel
• The first edition deals quite obviously with premarital
sex and teenage pregnancy.
• The twins are a sign of the great passion of the two
young lovers.
• Both are punished and tested by the sorceress, but their
lover and perseverance lead to a happy end.
• In later editions, the Grimms try to erase the pregnancy:
The prince proposes marriage and promises to escape
with her to his parents! (proper middle-class virtue).
• The sorceress learns of their plan through a thoughtless
comment by Rapunzel. The twins are retained, but the
context changed to obscure the parents’ indelicate
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Animal Bridegrooms
• The Frog King, or Iron
Heinrich (13-15)
• ATU 440 The Frog Prince
• Another example of revisions
and differences in variants of a
fairy tale!
• In the popular American version,
the princess kisses the frog who
turns into a prince, and they live
happily ever after…
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Animal Bridegrooms
• The German version presents more violence!
• The Frog fetches her golden ball in return for
her friendship and affection.
• The Frog wants more from the princess than
just a kiss (13).
• The Frog follows the princess everywhere,
even into her bed!
• The girl is afraid of the Frog, so she throws him
against the wall (3).
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Animal Bridegrooms
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Animal Bridegrooms
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Animal Bridegrooms
• “But the frog didn’t fall down dead. Instead, when
he fell down on the bed, he became a handsome
young prince. Well, now indeed he did become her
dear companion, and she cherished him as she had
promised, and in their delight they fell asleep
• The manuscript version is somewhat more direct:
“But when he hit the wall, he fell down upon her
bed and lay there as a beautiful young prince, so the
king’s daughter lay herself down to him.”
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Animal Bridegrooms
• In later editions, Wilhelm Grimm erased all hints
of sexual liberty.
• “When he fell to the ground, he was no longer a
frog but a prince with kind and beautiful eyes…”
• Instead of lying in each other’s arms, they rush off
to see the king and ask his permission to become
man and wife.
• Her father gives his blessing, they become “dear
companions” and get married.
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Other Animal Bridegrooms
• “Beauty and the Beast”
• “The Singing Springing Lark”
• Adolescent heroines perceive their bridegrooms to
be bestial and dangerous – monsters, wild animals –
but succeed in rescuing or transforming them into
attractive men. Domestication fantasy?
• Psychological reading of the text emphasizes the
transformation in the girl’s perception of masculinity
rather than the physical transformation of the beast.
• Adolescent anxiety with maturity and sexuality.
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Prohibition, Transgression, Punishment
• In “Bluebeard” (or variant “Fitcher’s Bird”), the
bridegroom truly is a monster in human form.
• The bride is given a key (or egg) for safekeeping,
but her curiosity leads her to open a forbidden door
and discover a monstrous secret.
• Key/egg falls into blood; the stain is a mark of guilt.
• The forbidden chamber represents carnal knowledge
– the blood-stained key hints at the onset of puberty
(loss of innocence), loss of virginity, or marital
infidelity (different interpretations).
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Prohibition, Transgression, Punishment
• Oddly, narrators (and later editors) condemn her
curiosity more than his serial murder!
• Stories seem to deal with adolescent fear of adults’
secrets, of maturity, marriage, and sexuality.
• In both “Bluebeard” and “Fitcher’s Fowl,” the
heroine defeats the would-be bridegroom and
returns to her family and to her brothers.
• In effect, she returns to her childhood existence and
no longer has to worry about confronting the horrors
of marriage or sexuality.
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Review of Interpretative Difficulties
• Interpretation of fairy tales is complicated:
1. Many different variants of folk tales.
2. No one “original” authoritative text.
3. Details of variants are especially arbitrary.
4. Supernatural events invite interpretation.
5. “Simple” tales encourage allegorical readings.
6. Many interpretations tell us more about the
anxieties of the interpreter than about the text!
Fairy Tales
Variants of Little Red Cap
• Tame American version (based on Perrault’s
story) is well known.
• In another French variant, the heroine
unwittingly consumes the flesh and blood of
her grandmother, is called a slut by her cat,
and performs a slow striptease for the wolf.
• In an Italian variant, the wolf kills the mother,
makes a latch cord of her tendons, a meat pie
of her flesh, and wine from her blood.
Fairy Tales
Little Red Cap 85-87.
• The German variant is slightly different:
• Cake and Wine for grandmother.
• Wicked Wolf tempts the “juicy morsel” with
flowers and birds to distract her.
• Wolf gobbles up the grandmother.
• Big ears, big hands, terribly big mouth…
• Wolf gobbles up Little Red Cap and snores.
• A huntsman happens by, hears odd snoring…
Fairy Tales
Little Red Cap
Fairy Tales
Little Red Cap
Fairy Tales
Little Red Cap
• The Huntsman wants to
shoot the sleeping wolf, but
fears harming Grandmother.
• He cuts open the belly, and
out jump Little Red Cap and
• They fill his belly with large
stones – he leaps up and
falls down dead.
Fairy Tales
Little Red Cap
• Wilhelm Grimm added a short epilogue and
a moral for Little Red Cap:
• The Huntsman gets the fur of the wolf.
• Grandmother gets the cake and wine.
• Little Red Cap gets the admonition never to
stray from the path her mother has given her.
• This nice little fairy tale has led to some
surprising interpretations….
Fairy Tales
Little Red Cap
• Tale records contact with actual werewolves.
• Little Red Cap represents the burning sun setting
forth on her westward journey home.
• Wolf represents male pregnancy envy, killed
ironically by stones, symbols of his sterility.
• Wolf is a projection of Little Red Cap’s pubertal
sexual desire, an example of female self-assertion.
• A parable of rape and female helplessness.
• Usual reading: Don’t trust talking wolves.
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Enhanced Gender Roles in Fairy Tales
• Strictly defined gender roles created by the
Brothers Grimm (originally more variation).
• Boys use luck (and sometimes) wits to achieve
power and wealth. Hard work never makes boys
wealthy or successful!
• Girls use obedience and willingness to work to
achieve a proper marriage.
• All female protagonists are beautiful – but
industry and obedience make them desirable.
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Enhanced Gender Roles in Fairy Tales
• The changes in Rumpelstiltskin illustrate some of
the gender roles of the Brothers Grimm.
• In the manuscript edition, the girl’s unusual gift –
she can only spin gold from flax – is portrayed as
a source of misery.
• The first edition presents a more typical heroine,
who “sits and weeps” because she cannot spin flax
into gold.
• The little man’s aid makes her seem industrious
and capable, which prompts the king to marry her.
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Gender roles
• “Mother Holle” (81-83) a good example of the tale
of the kind and unkind daughters.
• The kind daughter willingly undertakes demeaning
and difficult tasks, and reaps a great reward. She
demonstrates the prime female virtues of humility,
obedience, and diligence.
• The unkind daughter refuses to demean or debase
herself, does not learn humility, and is punished for
her disobedience.
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Patriarchal Control
• “King Thrushbeard” (167-170) is also a good
example of gender roles as emphasized by the
Grimms’ patriarchal perspective.
• The princess does not want to obey her father, so he
marries her to the first beggar to appear.
• She must learn peasant chores and servant work.
• The “beggar” humiliates her several times to teach
her the value of humility and obedience.
• Once she learns “her place,” she is rewarded with a
marriage to her true husband, King Thrushbeard.
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Male Heroes
• Active male heroes are actually very rare.
• More typical are the young, naïve, stupid boys who
lack common sense.
• Peasant perspective is clear in that not a single male
hero ever succeeds through hard work or study.
• Compassion and humility make hero “good,” allow
for his eventual reward.
• The goal for male heroes is the transition into
adulthood, with successful integration into the
established social order, status, spouse, and wealth.
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Male Heroes
• “Good Bowling and Card Playing” (21-23) features
a typical naïve hero. His “bravery” is not far
removed from foolhardiness.
• The tale is altered to “The boy who went forth to
learn fear” in later editions. (Wagner used this
figure in his characterization of Siegfried in his
Ring Cycle opera).
• He succeeds in situations where his lack of sense is
an advantage – in reversing his fate, he seems to
have reversed his character traits as well.
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Male Heroes
• “The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs” and
“Puss-in-Boots” also present tales with clever
(rather than hard-working) male protagonists.
• Both tales have important helper figures who have
the qualities needed to aid the hero and provide him
with the objects he will need.
• In acquiring outside aid and objects, the hero
symbolically acquires these qualities as well.
• Tales end with reversal of fortune, providing the
hero with wealth, position, power, and a spouse.
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Parental Desire for the Child
• Dysfunctional families and patterns of abuse
are a common beginning point in fairy tales.
• The theme of incest is not uncommon in the
manuscript versions of some of the tales.
• Jacob and Wilhelm sought to erase images of
parental misbehavior, or to refocus such desires
in ways that were more socially acceptable.
• “All Fur” (“Thousandfurs”) and “The Maiden
Without Hands” both dealt in early versions
with a father’s desire for his daughter.
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The Maiden Without Hands 99-103
• This story is not well known in the U.S.
• A miller falls into poverty, and is tricked by the
devil into trading his daughter for wealth.
• The sinless girl is too clean for the devil.
• The father chops off her hands so that the devil can
take her – she complies, but is still too clean!
• The girl takes her hands and leaves home.
• A prince discovers her in his orchard and marries
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The Maiden Without Hands
• She gives birth, but the devil tricks them into
banishing her and the child.
• She lives in the forest; a miracle returns her hands.
• King learns of devil’s deception, searches and finds
the girl in a happy reunion.
• The Devil is an insertion; in an earlier version, the
Father wanted to marry the daughter.
• Her refusal led him to cut off her hands and her
breasts. That is why she did not want to stay with
him, despite all his money.
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The Maiden Without Hands
• Wilhelm Grimm was able to erase the theme of
incest by introducing the devil.
• Incest also appears in other tales, such as “All Fur,”
in which the daughter runs away from home to
avoid a father who wants to marry her.
• Much more common are fairy tales with strong
suggestions of Oedipal and Electra complexes – the
child desires the parent of the opposite sex.
• Grimms also actively erased such desire where it
was obvious in the text.
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Freudian Electra Complex
• Electra Complex places a
girl in competition with her
mother for her father’s love.
• Most Stepmothers in tales
were originally mothers!
(Wilhelm changed that).
• Note change of perspective
in the audience; focus
changes from adult to child.
Evil Stepmother / Witch / Mother-in-law
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Hansel and Gretel
• Originally, the mother wanted to leave the
children in the forest.
• The Mother in “Mother Holle” also transformed
into a wicked stepmother with a step-child.
• Child abuse, abandonment and infanticide are
often seen as Freudian projections of childhood
resentment as parental malice.
• That is, a child’s “I hate you” is refashioned here
as “you hate me.”
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Hansel and Gretel
The supernatural realm contains heightened
versions of the problems faced at home.
The witch of the forest figures as the wicked
stepmother without her disguise.
By overcoming the obstacles in the magic forest,
they solve their true problems at home.
Death of the witch coincides with the
disappearance of their mother at home.
“Little Brother and Little Sister” has similar
conflict with a wicked stepmother/witch.
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Little Snow White
• Little Snow White
• Disney’s first fulllength feature
film(1937) .
• The villainess in the
first edition was her
own mother – not a
wicked stepmother.
• Good example of
Electra complex.
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Little Snow White
• Many folklorists see the voice in the mirror as the
father figure – when he decides the daughter is
more attractive than his wife, she is forced to
eliminate the competition.
• In the manuscript, Little Snow White only had to
“cook for them,” but Wilhelm exaggerated her
work ethic by adding quite a few chores! (175)
• The evil queen is punished at the wedding by
being forced to wear glowing iron slippers and
dancing until she falls down dead.
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Snow White
• Some recent film versions of Snow White!
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Freudian Family Romance
• According to one psychological interpretation, the
mother is split into two different maternal images, a
good, absent mother, and an evil stepmother.
• Generally dysfunctional families of fairy tales often
reflect Freudian “Family Romance.”
• Children imagine themselves misplaced in the
wrong family – their true home is much nicer,
wealthier, more respected…
• Orphan and foundling tales reflect such wishes.
Family Romances
The Goose Girl
• The tale describe the attempts of the protagonist
to be accepted in her true home.
• The “Goose Girl” is a princess whose servant has
stolen her position and relegated her to a life of
poverty and labor. Why should she get everything
and I have to suffer?
• She is eventually recognized and restored – while
her adversary is killed as punishment.
• “Brementown Musicians” (added in later
editions) also portrays search for a suitable home.
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The Juniper Tree 148-157.
• Some fairy tales do not fall into any neat categories,
such as ‘The Juniper Tree’:
• This tale contains a dysfunctional family, an evil
stepmother, child abuse, infanticide, cannibalism,
transformations, magical animals, and murder.
• The good mother gives birth to a boy, then dies.
• She is buried beneath the Juniper tree.
• Next wife has a good daughter, but she mistreats the
boy and favors her own girl.
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The Juniper Tree
• The mother kills the boy, blames the girl, cooks him
in a stew that only the father eats. Delicious!
• The girl takes her brother’s bones to the Juniper
Tree, which transforms them into a talking bird.
• The singing bird gets a golden chain, a pair of shoes,
and a heavy millstone.
• Father hears the bird, gets the golden chain.
• Marlene hears the bird, gets the red shoes.
• And the evil mother…
Fairy Tales
The Juniper Tree
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The Juniper Tree
• Mother hears the bird, gets the millstone on her
• The little boy returns to his usual shape.
• Despite his wife’s death, the father is now “very
happy,” and the three of them go back inside, sit
down at the table, and eat.
• This tale was the one that inspired Brentano and
von Arnim to ask the Grimms to collect fairy tales!
• If you have a good interpretation of this fairy tale,
I would love to hear it!
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Folk Tales
• Unlike fairy tales, which are conservative and tend
to uphold a strong patriarchal sense of order and
propriety, Folk Tales reflect a peasant perspective
that relishes inversions of the social order.
• Folk tale heroes come from most downtrodden
social levels, peasants, retired soldiers, tailors, etc.
• Folk tales tend to be more satirical and more
“realistic” than the supernatural fairy tales.
• Folk tales more often offer adult perspectives rather
than a child’s point of view.
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The Blue Light 383-386
• “The Blue Light” describes the life of a retired
soldier – he is old and useless, so the King has sent
him away with nothing. He is at the bottom of the
social order, has neither money nor property.
• A witch exploits his labor, but he gains a magical
blue light that summons a little black dwarf (like a
genie in a bottle).
• The dwarf aids him in getting his revenge,
eventually gaining the kingdom and the king’s
daughter. Folk heroes are ruthless to competitors.
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Dr. Know-it-All
• “Dr. Know-It-All” is a good example of a folk tale
in which a poor (though foolish) man uses his wits
(and his luck!) to improve his station in life.
• Medical profession mocked from a peasant
perspective –to be a doctor one needs only a picture
book, some nice clothes, and a sign!
• The peasant acquires the superficial appearance of a
doctor, and is then treated by everyone as if her were
indeed wise and learned.
• A little Luck helps him to earn his fortune.
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Jew in the Thornbush 360-363
• Early variants of the story cited by Grimms contain antiCatholic rather than anti-semitic sentiments.
• The Jew in the story is accused by the simpleton of having
“skinned enough people” and now “getting the justice” that
he deserves.” (Jewish peddlers and moneylenders had the
reputation of cheating peasants).
• His mistreatment of the Jew (torturing him and extorting his
money, then denying him justice) appears to contradict the
tale’s premise that the simpleton has a good heart.
• The unquestioned anti-Semitism of the tale is given
justification in the ending, when the Jew (again, under
torture) confesses that he had stolen all of his money.
• The reversal at the end represents a typical folk tale fantasy,
that peasants can invert social power hierarchies.
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Folk Tale Heroines
• While fairy tale heroines demonstrate their virtue
through a strong work ethic (Cinderella, Mother
Holle, Snow White), folk tale heroines try to avoid
• The girl in “Rumpelstilzkin” cannot spin straw into
gold, and does not ever try – she succeeds in
avoiding work through the intercession of the evil
little man.
• Another example of work avoidance is the tale “The
Lazy Spinner.”
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The Lazy Spinner 418-420
• A lazy wife wishes to avoid spinning, and tells her
husband she does not have the proper tools.
• She tricks him into thinking that carving a new reel
for her would be dangerous.
• Eventually she tricks him into thinking that he is
responsible for ruining the wool, so he never asks
her to work again!
• “The three Spinners” (added in later editions) also
portrays rewards given for not working!
• Triumph of the laziest girl! Reversal of usual order.
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Grimm Summary
• The collection of the Grimm brothers was not the first
publication of fairy tales, but it was the first
comprehensive collection, and the first to attempt to
record tales as they might have been told in an
authentic folk context.
• They were enormously influential, not only on other
scholars who started collecting folk tales in different
countries, but on literary figures in Germany, who
began to write literary fairy tales (Kunstmärchen)
imitating the style of the folk tales.
• Their influence continues. Folk tales are adapted for
modern audiences to this day.

Myths and Legends Lecture