The Brothers Grimm Versus The Brother Taylor

When I was at that academic lecture about John Ruskin (which gave me SO much material for last Friday’s post), I also learned something really cool about the Brothers Grimm and what we know as Grimms’ Fairy Tales.

The fairy tales we know today (especially the Disney versions) are actually more the work of nineteenth-century English author Edgar Taylor, who was the first translator of the Brothers Grimm into English.

Taylor very substantially changed most of these stories, taking out a lot of the religion, sex, and violence found in the original German publication. So the stories you’re most likely to tell small children, or know from your own childhood, are not really the work of the Grimms at all.

There is, of course, the issue that the Brothers Grimm didn’t actually write the tales from scratch, themselves: they were largely collected from folklore and oral tradition and then compiled by the brothers. So it’s not like any of these are sacrosanct, with one definitive author and one definitive version.

This is even true when it comes to reading “the original Grimm’s fairy tales”. When people ask if you know the tale of Snow White or Cinderella in the “original Grimm version“, that alone causes lots of problems for scholars, because (excluding the additional issues of translation) the Grimm Brothers released LOADS of editions over several decades, tweaking a lot of their stories every time. So the “original” Grimm version of any fairy tale could actually be one of seven different versions in their seven editions.

Thanks, guys. That’s helpful.

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