Jacob Ludwig Carl
and Wilhelm Carl Grimm
, known collectively as The Brothers Grimm
, were German linguists born in the late 18th century, who, in an effort to preserve Germany's heritage and promote cultural unity in a period of political disunity
, collected a vast array of folk tales from their fellow Germans (mostly middle-and upper-class friends). The brothers eventually published these stories in the famous collection which they called Kinder- und Hausmärchen
(Children's and Household Tales
), but which is generally better known among English-speakers as Grimms' Fairy Tales
While the original intent of the collection was to preserve the stories exactly as told, the Grimms gave in more and more in each new edition to the temptation to make various "improving" alterations. The scholarly Jacob sought to establish more Germanic forms of the stories by replacing foreign words such as "Prinz
" and Prinzessin
with Teutonic terms such "Königssohn
" and Königstochter
, replacing fays
with enchantresses and wise women and by supplying missing plot-elements from historic sources; the more creative-minded Wilhelm tried to make the stories more acceptable to a popular audience (presumably including children), by selectively Bowdlerizing
the tales published, notably removing evil mothers and replacing them with step-mothers (as in the case of "Snow White
"), by removing implications of sex and pregnancy (as in "Rapunzel
"), and by re-writing the stories in a more literary style. (Though they notably did not tone down the violence, even for the children.)
Standards of child-friendliness have shifted in the past 200 years; some
of the Grimms' stories are now considered shockingly violent
— and at least one of them, "The Jew in the Thorns"
, notoriously religiously insensitive
. (Similar stories
appear in the Grimms' other, more adult, story collection, Deutsche Sagen
). The... well, grim
... nature of many of the original stories have made the Grimm Brothers the Trope Namer
. It should be noted, however, that some of the tales included by the Grimms were not intended for children in the first place — hence the distinction made in the name of their popular collection.
Although many of the Grimms' fairy tales now languish in obscurity, a significant chunk of these stories remain in the popular consciousness. Those with pages of their own on this site include:
Full collection here
Although the Grimms' collection does contain a version of "Cinderella
" ("Aschenputtel"), the better known version is based on an earlier story by Charles Perrault
. "Sleeping Beauty
" and "Little Red Riding Hood
" also appeared first in Perrault, but the Grimms' versions ("Dornröschen" and "Rotkäppchen") are better known. And despite popular belief, "Beauty and the Beast
" has nothing to do with them at all.
While best known today for their fairy tales and mythological studies (such as the monumental Deutsche Mythologie
), they were also pioneers in linguistics (Jacob in particular is remembered for Grimm's Law of Consonantal Shift
), wrote the first bit of the German dictionary, and were two out of the "Göttingen Seven," the prominent liberal professors at Gōttingen University whose dismissal by the autocratic English King of Hanover caused a major stir in 1830s Germany.
The Grimms were the subject of a highly fantasticated Musical Biopic
in 1962, called The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm
, with Karlheinz Böhm as Jacob and Laurence Harvey as Wilhelm; the film won 1 Oscar
(Costume Design) and was nominated for 3 more. In 1998, the brothers, played by Andy Henderson and Joerg Stadler, made an appearance in Ever After: A Cinderella Story
(despite the film being a riff more on the Perrault than on the Grimm version of ""Cinderella
"). In 2005, Terry Gilliam
made The Brothers Grimm
, a decidedly unsettling reinterpretation
; Heath Ledger and Matt Damon were the brethren in this outing. The Grimms in the form of Allen Smith and Millen Baird were deconstructed in the 2006 film Big Bad Wolves
The Grimms, this time portrayed by Dean Jones and Paul Sand, were also the subject of a well-remembered 1977 TV movie, Once Upon A Brothers Grimm
, which was nominated for 5 Emmys, winning 2.
An anime series, Gurimu Meisaku Gekijou
(retitled Shin Gurimu Meisaku Gekijou
in its second season and shown on Western television under various titles such as "Grimms' Fairy Tale Classics") was produced in 1987-1988. Not all were actually found in the Grimms' collections. The webcomic Erstwhile
is another modern collection of some of their tales.
Examples of tropes in the Grimms' folk tales:
- Abusive Parents: Well, step-parents, anyway.
- In a lot of cases, this was an example of editing on the part of the Grimms themselves. One of their areas of emphasis was on the virtue of a good, German family, so they changed all abusive mothers in stories to step-mothers.
- An Aesop
- Often wanders into Family-Unfriendly Aesop territory. Often in these tales the aesop is that following instructions to the letter will make your dreams come true, and conversely that not doing so will land you in big trouble. These are often directed at young girls, making sure that they stay in line into adulthood. Most of these, though, were perfectly acceptable both as literature and parts of the culture they came from.
- All Are Equal in Death: Godfather Death about a man looking for a godfather for his newborn, and asks Death to do so for this reason (having previously rejected God for giving to the rich and not to the poor and the Devil for tempting men).
- All the Little Germanies: The settings of these stories, with their numerous small kingdoms and forests infested by bandits (and very often down-on-their-luck peasants and discharged soldiers) reflect the fragmented character of Germany in this period.
- Androcles Lion
- Animorphism: Many fairytales deal with breaking an enchantment that has turned someone into an animal, including "The Frog Prince" above.
- Back from the Dead
- Balancing Death's Books
- Be Careful What You Wish For
- Beauty Equals Goodness
- The Bluebeard: "Fitcher's Bird" and "The Robber Bridegroom" are this.
- Bride and Switch
- The Beastmaster: The two protagonists of "The Two Brothers" become hunters and collect a train of animal companions—a lion, a bear, a wolf, a fox, and a hare—each.
- Comically Missing the Point: In the Goose Girl at the Well, a king asks his daughters how much they love him, their answers decide how much of the kingdom they will get. The youngest daughter says that "The best food does not taste good without salt, therefore I love my father as I love salt", what does the king do? He divides the kingdom between her older sisters and sends her deep into the forest with a bag of salt bound to her back.
- Damsel in Distress
- Dances and Balls
- Death by Childbirth
- Deal with the Devil: Both literally and figuratively. This normally turns out very well for the protagonist. (Death, however...)
- Dude, Where's My Respect?
- Earn Your Happy Ending
- Egg Sitting: In Fitcher's Bird, the sorcerer Fitze Fitcher carries young women and gives them an egg, then tells them to carry it everywhere except the sorcerer's room and to be very careful with it for a few days before he can marry them. Failure to pass the test results in the women getting dismembered.
- Engagement Challenge
- Evil Matriarch
- Fairest of Them All
- Fairy Tale
- Family-Unfriendly Violence/Death
- Fearless Fool: "The Youth Who Went Forth to Learn Fear"
- The Fool: Quite a lot of stories are simply amusing anecdotes about foolish people, without any supernatural element at all.
- Ghibli Hills: Rose Red and Snow White live by one. It's usually less safe.
- Grimmification: Surprisingly, although they're the trope namers for their often Family-Unfriendly Violence, this trope is just as often averted. Once they realized that Kinder- und Hausmärchen was being read by children, they Bowdlerized some of the sex and violence for subsequent editions.
- Happily Ever After
- Headless Horseman
- Head Turned Backwards: The hero of "The Two Brothers" is beheaded in his sleep by a wicked marshal. When the hero's train of animal companions find him, they send the hare to fetch a magic root that can restore people back to life. It works, but the not-too-bright animals have put his head on the wrong way. The hero does not immediately realize this due to being lovesick, and only when he tries to eat lunch he notices there is something amiss. The animals fess up to their mistake, and the lion mends the damage by ripping the head off, then putting it back on the right way with the magic root.
- I'm a Humanitarian: Cannibalism figures in several stories, most notably "The Juniper Tree."
- Impossible Task: In "The Peasant's Clever Daughter", a king promises he will marry the heroine if she can appear before him "not clothed, not naked, not riding, not walking, not in the road, and not out of the road". The peasant's daughter wraps herself in a fishnet that is being dragged by a donkey along the edge of the road.
- Inter-Class Romance: Seen in a few stories, such as "Die Kluge Bauerntochter" (The Peasant's Wise Daughter).
- Long Neck: One of the servants in "The Six Servants" has this characteristic.
- Loyal Animal Companion: The titular brothers of "The Two Brothers" each have a lion, a bear, a wolf, a fox and a hare for companions.
- The Lost Woods: The usual setting of the fairy tale
- Karmic Jackpot
- The Marvelous Deer: In The Two Brothers following one is how one brother gets into trouble.
- Nameless Narrative
- No Ending: "The Golden Key." The story ends as the reader waits for the boy to unlock the box.
- No Name Given: Sometimes
- Obnoxious In-Laws: The "Wicked Mother-In-Law" is fragmentary, but we do know she wants to kill her daughter-in-law. In the first edition, the mother-in-law was the villain in the second part of "The Girl Without Hands."
- Once Upon a Time
- Parental Abandonment: "Hänsel und Gretel"
- Plot Tailored to the Party: Among others, "How Six Men Went Far In the World"
- Rags to Royalty
- Rule of Seven
- Rule of Three
- Shoot the Shaggy Dog: "Cat and Mouse in Partnership
- Silver Bullet: In "The Two Brothers", a bullet-proof witch is shot down by silver bullets, fired from a gun.
- Standard Hero Reward
- The Unreveal: "The Golden Key." A boy finds a buried box opened by a golden key, but you'll have to wait for him to unlock it before you find out what's inside.
- Wicked Stepmother: A classic villain in many a Grimm tale.
- Youkai: Nine-tailed foxes? Wonder where they got that idea...
- Youngest Child Wins: Usually, though there are some exceptions. "One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes" is a rare case where a middle-child wins.