How Grim is Grimm?

Short answer – not very.

But who likes short answers? So let’s delve a little deeper.

Grimm's Fairy Tales Book Cover

First off, actually the original Grimm fairy tales were pretty darn grim. But that was before they were “modified”. I personally think we need to give the Grimms a break. At the time they collected the tales, some were meant to teach, some to entertain. But when there was public pressure to tone down the sex and violence, they bent. Again, I believe we have to give them a break. I mean, look at all the people today who cave to peer pressure. I know I have. I bet you have at some point in time, too.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

So, here’s the deal. Basically, the Grimm Brothers – Jacob and Wilhelm – wanted to collect and preserve German tales for scholarly purposes. Many of the tales were quite grim (pun most definitely intended), but then they were criticized because not all of their tales were suitable for children. To be fair, they were not originally intended for children.

Regardless of motive, they rewrote the tales to soften the blow of controversial subject matter. And tales that were never intended to be moral gradually became so. Implications of sex were taken out and the violence was greatly toned down.

And ta-dah! The editing worked. Each successive edition of their fairy tales gained in popularity. Here’s a few juicy details.


Do you know the story of Rapunzel? Do you really? Just what were Rapunzel and the prince doing up in that tower, anyway? But this is not suitable for children, so the implications in this fairy tale had to be altered slightly.

How about that poor Frog Prince? Did the princess kiss him? Or did she rather throw him against a wall instead?

Frog Prince

And do you know what happened to Snow White’s evil stepmother? In the Grimms’ version, she dances in a pair of red-hot iron shoes that kill her. Nice ending.

I also must call attention to the fact that the Grimms wanted to collect German fairy tales from common people, but they were criticized for where the tales really came from, as well. The Grimms wanted to preserve the German culture, so that’s why they sought to collect German tales told orally by peasants. However, it has been found that many of the tales really came from the middle class or aristocrats.

Aschenputtel or Cinderella

Cinderella or Aschenputtel came from the French. Or actually, this particular story seems to have versions in a variety of cultures spanning the globe.  Little Red Riding Hood has also been criticized as not being purely German in origin.

Returning to the violence, let’s take a closer look at Cinderella for an example.  In the Grimm version, the evil stepsisters are encouraged by their mother to hack off parts of their feet in order to get the shoe to fit for the prince.  I love it when the pigeons tell him “There’s blood in the shoe” and that “The shoe is too tight, This bride is not right!”  And Little Red Riding Hood?  In early versions, she was simply eaten by the wolf.

Hmn, I must be a gluten for violence. But, in the end, I cannot blame the Grimms for editing out the racy and violent details of their fairy tales. I doubt any parent would read their children the original Little Red Riding Hood as a bedtime story.

Grimm NBC logo

Although NBC’s “Grimm” is pretty grim and racy . . . and I like their particular take on who (or what) the Grimms were! What do you think? What’s your favorite fairy tale? And do you like tame versions or grim originals? Tell me your thoughts by clicking on the comment cloud at the top of this post.


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