At age fifty-five, George Bernard Shaw declared that he still considered "Grimm" to be "the most entertaining of German authors. Lewis confessed to reading fairy tales on the sly for years; only after turning fifty did he feel free to acknowledge his addiction to the genre.
Compelling in their simplicity and poignant in their emotional appeal, fairy tales have the power to stir long-dormant childhood feelings and to quicken our sympathies for the downtrodden. They also offer wit and wisdom in the trenchant formulations of the folk. There is something in them for every age and generation. It is hardly surprising that the Grimms' Nursery and Household Tales ranks, by virtue of the number of its German editions and translations, as the runaway best seller of all German books. The Quarterly Review was neither the first nor the last to get their Christian names wrong.
Some folklorists and philologists even have trouble keeping the two brothers apart, this despite the radical differences between them in temperament, physical appearance, and intellectual leanings. Shaw seems to have labored under the illusion that "Grimm" was a single individual, rather than a team of fraternal scholars. As Thomas Mann pointed out in a tribute to the Irish playwright, Shaw never realized that his favorite German author consisted of two people: the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
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With what has become characteristic reverence for the Grimms and their accomplishments, Mann hailed the brothers as "romantically [ xiii 1 xiv PREFACE inspired lovers of German antiquity who listened to their fairy tales from the lips of the people and collected them conscientiously. Their friend Achim von Arnim, on receiving a copy of the Grimms' "story-book" with a full-page dedication to his wife and son, congratulated the brothers on their efforts. The handsome volume, bound in green leather with gilt edges, was "an excellent book" in his estimation. In what has proven to be a classic understatement, he predicted "a long sale" for the Nursery and Household Tales.
He felt reasonably confident, though, that eventually some shrewd publisher would see the commercial wisdom of printing an abridged edition of the tales with illustrations designed to capture the imagination of children. With time such figures emerged the world over. Folklorists are quick to point out that fairy tales were never really meant for children's ears alone. Originally told at fireside gatherings or in spinning circles by adults to adult audiences, fairy tales joined the canon of children's literature which is itself of recent vintage only in the last two to three centuries. Yet the hold these stories have on the imagination of children is so compelling that it becomes difficult to conceive of a childhood without them.
Growing up without fairy tales implies spiritual impoverishment, as one writer after another has warned. Little Red Riding Hood was "my first love," he avowed. Yet along with the daydream and its fulfillment comes the nightmare. Wishes and fantasies may come to life in the fairy tale, but fears and phobias also become full-blooded presences. In this context, it is perhaps worth repeating a latter-day fairy tale about fairy tales, one that stresses a child's need for fairy tales without for a moment attempting to gloss over the horrifying elements of the stories: There was once a young boy whose pedagogically solemn parents resolved to do everything in their power to prevent their child from developing superstitious fears.
They banned fairy tales from the household and saw to it that witches, giants, and other cannibalistic fiends were never once mentioned in the child's presence. All went according to plan until one night the parents awoke to the shrill cries of their son. Startled, they rushed to his bed only to learn that he was afraid of sleeping in the dark. They were even more startled after they asked the boy why he was afraid of sleeping in the dark, for the child's answer, punctuated by sobs, was: "There's a complex hiding under my bed. In our time, Bruno Bettelheim has emerged as the most eloquent spokesman for psychological readings of fairy tales.
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That fairy tales translate however roughly psychic realities into concrete images, characters, and events has come to serve as one cornerstone of my own understanding of the texts in the Grimms' Nursery and Household Tales. In this respect, they resemble dreams; but rather than giving us personalized wishes and fears, they offer xvi PREFACE collective truths, realities that transcend individual experience and that have stood the test of time.
When Hans Castorp, in the renowned "Snow" chapter of Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, has a vision that is at once "anonymous" and "collective," he has slipped from the realm of dreams into the province of folklore and mythology.
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What he sees incarnates not his own personal phobias and idiosyncratic fantasies, but the deepest fears and hopes of mankind. Rather, they capture psychic realities so persistent and widespread that they have held the attention of a community over a long time. They may invite us to take the royal road to the unconscious, but they also lead us off that now beaten track into uncharted territories. In the course of this book, I will follow that road yet stray freely from it whenever it seems appropriate to explore a tale's social and cultural realities.
It was the joke about the boy who feared the complex hiding under his bed that first drove home to me the full psychological import of fairy-tale plots. It took another joke—in the form of a cartoon— to teach me something about the formal aspects of fairy tales and to remind me just how much folkloric invention differs from literary creation. For all their rich variety, fairy tales have a remarkably stable—and therefore predictable—structure. The cast of folkloric characters is remarkably limited when compared to that of literature, and the plots in which the characters of folktales move unfold in a relatively uniform manner.
The cartoon to which I referred figure i may exaggerate the extent to which the brothers Grimm were locked into using set patterns to write the tales in their collection, but it does tell us something about the process of folkloric composition, about the way in which storytellers rely on formulas and conventions to spin their PREFACE xvii Image Not Available F I G U R E 1. Drawing by Stevenson. In the course of working his way through old, familiar routines the teller also makes occasional pauses to pick up new themes or motifs.
A tale's structure remains intact even as the specific order of episodes and the details of plot vary from telling to telling. It is easy to understand just why the phrase "That's not the way I heard it" should become the programmed response to an item of folklore, be it story, song, or nursery rhyme. Beneath all the variations in its verbal realization the basic form still shines through. In our century, the Soviet folklorist Vladimir Propp pioneered the study of the building blocks used to construct folktales.
Psychology, history, sociology, anthropology—these disciplines initially meant little to a scholar who trained his attention exclusively on surface structures, investigating with empirical rigor the plot sequences of folktales.
His systematic analysis gives us the rules of the game as it has been played by various tellers and transmitters of tales over the centuries. Knowing those rules makes it significantly easier to sort out vital elements of plot from extraneous details and to distinguish "authentic" oral narratives from literary retellings or from quirky, personalized versions of a story. Bettelheim and Propp have much to tell us about the substance and structure of folktales.
One an expert in the art of interpreting fairy tales, the other a master of ordering and analyzing their elements of plot, the two resisted the temptation to combine psychological readings with formal analysis. Propp saw himself as the champion of a "crude, analytical, somewhat laborious" method, one that was further complicated by a preoccupation with abstract, formal problems. His own work was later to take the direction of historical and cultural analysis. Bettelheim stood as a logical heir to Propp's labors, yet curiously he does not once mention the Russian folklorist in his Uses of Enchantment.
That he had much to learn from Propp's Morphology of the Folktale becomes clear when we find him inflating the importance of certain extraneous details in a folktale and treating literary variants of a tale as if they represented a prototypical form. In my own study, I have tried to take full advantage of Propp's legacy, while drawing on the fund of Bettelheim's more interesting, more imaginative in both the positive and negative senses of the term , and certainly more provocative readings.
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For Propp, folktales operate with machinelike precision according to a set of fixed and unvarying laws; for Bettelheim, they embody in PREFACE xix their various national incarnations timeless psychological truths. Only recently have historians come forward to declare themselves as legitimate interpreters of folkloric documents, to remind us that some elements of every folktale are culturally determined. Bluebeard acquired distinctly new personality traits once he crossed the Rhine; Little Red Riding Hood became more prim when she entered the pages of the Nursery and Household Tales', and Snow White became progressively sweeter and tidier as her story was translated into print and made its way from Germany to the United States.
Foremost among historians who have concerned themselves with folktales is Robert Darnton, whose pathbreaking essay on the meaning of Mother Goose warns us to avoid the hazards of treating folkloric texts "flattened out, like patients on a couch, in a timeless contemporaneity. While I am not convinced that folktales necessarily offer electrifying and informative revelations about various cultural communities in which they developed they generally only confirm what we already know through other, more reliable sources , I have kept Darnton's caveat in mind when reading the tales in the Grimms' collection.
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Like any literary critic who ventures into the realm of folkloric studies, I have discovered that close textual analysis is a skill that does not always pay off in interpreting folktales. The tools of literary study in general cannot be directly applied to folklore but must first be adapted for use in examining oral narration, a form of literature paradoxically without letters.
That literature and folklore are, despite their mutual contamination, separate in their genesis, intentions, and structure is an insight—obvious as it may seem—that I owe to scholars in the area of folkloric analysis, who never tire of reminding their literary colleagues to observe carefully the line dividing the two. But folklore, as I have also learned from these scholars, is a discipline without real boundaries. It requires the paleontologist's love of the archaic, the historian's appetite for facts, xx PREFACE the psychologist's curiosity about causes, and the anthropologist's passion for understanding cultural differences.
Only after my own study of the Grimms' tales was complete did I discover that it takes something of a polymath to produce a fully convincing analysis of that collection. This will simply have to stand as one of the lessons of my tale.
Since polymaths have always been scarce, folkloric studies have become a battlefield on which scholars from various disciplines meet to dispute theories and to contest interpretations. The resulting strife and dissension have proved surprisingly healthy and have fostered a spirit of vitality that otherwise might be absent. The real casualties in folkloric studies are those who have made a point of keeping their distance from the fray and of remaining neutral.
The onesided approach in folklore is precisely the approach that is most likely to go wrong and to yield questionable results. For that reason, I have tried to adopt a synthetic approach wherever appropriate, drawing on the methods promoted by folklorists, the insights developed by psychoanalytic critics, and the data provided by historians. It would take a book far longer than this one to do justice to the tales in the Grimms' Nursery and Household Tales.
This book focuses on a limited number of tales in the collection: the texts that now belong to the classic canon of fairy tales; but its range extends beyond "Cinderella" and "Snow White" to include such lesser-known fairy tales as "King Thrushbeard" and "Darling Roland. But no one can read through the Grimms' Nursery and Household Tales without pausing to reflect on the contrast between the happy endings of fairy tales and the hard facts of fairy-tale life.
The melodramatic plot begins with an account of helplessness and PREFACE xxi victimization, rehearses the conflicts between hero and villain, and concludes with detailed descriptions of reprisals taken against the villain and a report on the hero's marriage or accession to power. The Grimms' "Hans My Hedgehog" clearly illustrates the way in which fairy tales dwell on pain and suffering rather than on blissful happiness. Hans My Hedgehog is the son of parents who made the error of wanting a child so desperately that they declared themselves prepared to accept a hedgehog for a son.
Hans spends the first eight years of his life lying behind the stove. The first king betrays Hans, but Hans gets even by kidnapping his daughter, then punishing and abandoning her. When they had distanced themselves a bit from the city, Hans My Hedgehog took off her clothes and stuck her with his quills until she was bloody, and said: "That's your reward for being false. Go away, I don't want you. The second king's daughter keeps her father's promises, weds Hans, and thereby sets in motion the process that turns Hans from hedgehog into prince: "When the princess saw him she was overjoyed.
The two arose happily, ate and drank, and they celebrated their wedding. And the aged king made his kingdom over to Hans My Hedgehog. Looking at the hard facts of fairy tales in the Grimms' collection calls first for a long, hard look at the genesis and publishing history of the Nursery and Household Tales. The collection took on a special character as it moved from manuscript form to its various printed editions—seven in all during the Grimms' lifetimes.
The first chap- xxii PREFACE ter of this book charts the principal stages in the editorial history of the Nursery and Household Tales and attempts to define the narrative status of the tales. It shows how the Grimms, ever responsive to the values of their time and increasingly sensitive to pedagogical demands, transformed adult folk materials into a hybrid form of folklore and literature for children. Chapters 2 and 3 take up methodological questions.
How do we make interpretive judgments on the basis of a single published version of what was once an unfixed oral narrative existing in many versions? To what extent is the Grimms' variant of a tale type such as "Cinderella" culture bound and to what extent does it veer off into pure fantasy? What does one make of the fairy tale's repetitive patterns and recurrent motifs?
These are some of the issues raised in the course of theoretical reflections on fairy tales.