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Creator / The Brothers Grimm

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Jacob Ludwig Carl (4 January 1785 – 20 September 1863) and Wilhelm Carl Grimm (24 February 1786 – 16 December 1859), 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. Germans of a certain generation may know their faces from the last issue (1990-2002) of German banknotes where they appeared on the DM 1000 ,- note.


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 The Fair Folk 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 ethnically insensitive. (Similar stories appear in the Grimms' other, more adult, story collection, Deutsche Sagen (German Legends).) The... well, grim nature of many of the original stories have made the Grimm Brothers the Trope Namer for Grimmification. 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, here, here and in Project Gutenberg.

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 (Germanic Mythology), 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 Ernst August, King of Hanover (who, somewhat confusingly, was born and raised in the far more liberal Britainnote ) 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. They also had cameos in the webcomic Hetalia: Axis Powers, working with the Anthropomorphic Personification of Prussia.

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 "Grimm's 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 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.
    • "Odds and Ends": a bridegroom will prefer a servant to the daughter of the house if he learns she is thrifty and industrious, unlike the daughter.
  • Animorphism: Many fairytales deal with breaking an enchantment that has turned someone into an animal.
  • Back from the Dead:
    • In "Faithful John", John is turned to stone for explaining his apparently senseless behavior. The king and queen learn they can restore him by cutting the throats of their twin children and using the blood. After they do so, the revived Faithful John puts the children's heads back and restores them to life.
    • In "Fitcher's Bird", the heroine restores her sisters after they have been hacked to pieces.
    • In "The Juniper Tree", after the stepson has been killed and cooked by his Wicked Stepmother, eaten by his father, and had his bones buried by his half-sister, he comes back as a bird. After killing his stepmother, he comes back to life as a boy.
  • Balloon Belly: Deconstructed in "The Wolf and the Fox". Both eponymous characters partake in feasting on a hunter's supply of salted meat. The fox notices that he's putting on weight, and he keeps checking to see if he'll fit through a hole they used to climb inside. The wolf ignores the fox's warning not to eat so much, insisting that he won't leave until he's cleaned house. By the time the hunter decides to check on his stash, the fattened wolf is unable to escape and gets beaten to death.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: In "Maid Maleen", the false bride has "a face as ugly as her heart was wicked".
  • Betty and Veronica: In "Odds and Ends", the daughter of the house and the servant.
  • The Bluebeard: "Fitcher's Bird" and "The Robber Bridegroom" are this. Bluebeard appeared in the first edition but was cut as French, not German.
  • Bride and Switch:
    • In "The White Bride and the Black One", the Wicked Stepmother pushes the heroine out of the coach into the water to substitute her own child.
    • In "Maid Maleen", the princess, working as Scullery Maid, is asked to substitute herself for the bride by the bride herself, who either wants to hide her ugliness or her pregnancy. Alas for the bride, this means that Maid Maleen can reveal that she's the prince's old love, not actually dead.
  • Bystander Syndrome/Villain-by-Proxy Fallacy: There's at least one character in almost each of their fairy tale versions that undergoes this, which usually allows the villain to do as they please before the plot and/or protagonist foils them (and also may tie into a majority of the adults being absentminded and/or villainous themselves). To describe a few:
    • In the original The Wolf and the Seven Young Goats/Kids tale, the wolf goes to a miller in order to paint his hands and feet white to fool the young goats. The miller is argued to be in a position to outright refuse to give service, only he gives in to the wolf's threats of eating him with the quote "Yes indeed, that's the way people are".
    • The groom of the princess in The Six Swans/The Twelve Brothers both gives into his mother's decision to burn her at the stake and does nothing at all to intervene in the situation. Same applies to the original siblings' mother that doesn't bother to directly oppose her husband's decision to execute his 12 sons.
    • The father in Cinderella does nothing to stand up for her daughter's abuse, nor does he seem to notice the memory of his late initial wife.
  • 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.
  • Dances and Balls: In "Aschenputtel"
  • Death by Childbirth: In "The Juniper Tree"
  • Deal with the Devil: Both literally and figuratively. This normally turns out very well for the protagonist. (Death, however...)
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?:
    • In "The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs", a king who discovers finds his daughter doomed to marry a poor man tries to kill him with many tasks, before and after the wedding; in the end, he fails.
    • In "Ferdinand the Faithful", after being slandered, Ferdinand must get a bride for the king and then all the things she demands before she will marry him. However, in the end, the bride tricks the king into letting her kill him, and then marries Ferdinand.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: In "The Singing, Springing Lark", the heroine has to go on a quest for seven years and face many dangers to get her 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.
  • Elective Mute: The princess in "The Six Swans" is forbidden to speak a word while working on the shirts to undo the curse on her brothers.
  • Engagement Challenge:
  • Evil Matriarch: The Grimms made an effort to avoid this by having evil mothers being step-parents instead.
  • Fairy Tale
  • Family-Unfriendly Death:
    • In "Faithful John", the king is thinking to execute Faithful John because of his apparently absurd behavior. John explains and falls under the curse — he is turned to stone. Then the king and queen learn they can restore him by killing their twin children and using the blood. (However, after they have done so, the revived Faithful John restores their children to life.)
    • In "Ferdinand the Faithful", at the end, the queen likes Ferdinand better than her husband. So she declares she can cut off people's heads and restore them; the king makes her demonstrate it on Ferdinand, and then she cuts off his — but then says something went wrong, so she can't put it back on, and marries Ferdinand instead.
    • In "Fitcher's Bird", Fitcher has a room where he keeps bodies he has hewn apart. Two sisters end up dead there, but the third rescues them, and then Fitcher and his friends are burned to death in the house.
    • In "Frau Trude", the little girl goes to a witch's house, where the witch turns her into a block of wood and burns her.
    • In "The Juniper Tree" the Wicked Stepmother chops her child stepson's head off with a heavy lid, then makes her daughter believe she did it. To hide the body, she cooks it into a stew and feeds it to the father. Later, the evil stepmother is crushed by a falling millstone.
    • In "The Robber Bridegroom", the heroine hides in the robbers' lair and sees them tear a captive woman to pieces.
    • In "The Singing Bone", the younger brother is murdered by the envious elder. His corpse rots, someone retrieves a bone from it and makes a flute, and the flute begins to sing of the murder.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence:
    • In "The Wonderful Musician", the musician traps wild animals to keep them away from him.
    • In "The Girl Without Hands", the Devil insists that the miller chop off his daughter's hands.
    • In "The Three Little Birds", the heroine's sisters throw her babies into a river, trying to drown them.
    • In "Aschenputtel", the evil stepsisters first cut off pieces of their feet to fit the golden slipper, and later had their eyes pecked out by birds who were avenging Ashenputtal.
  • The Fool: Quite a lot of stories are simply amusing anecdotes about foolish people, without any supernatural element at all.
  • Greedy Jew: The subject of the infamously antisemitic story "The Jew Among Thorns", who is punished, tortured, extorted, and ultimately executed by the protagonist on the grounds that, being a Jew, he must have come by his goods dishonestly. And they all lived Happily Ever After. Not surprisingly, this story is generally the first to be cut from modern editions.
  • 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: German Legends (Deutsche Sagen) includes two German folk tales of a headless horseman:
    • One is set near Dresden in eastern Germany. In this tale, a woman from Dresden goes out early one Sunday morning to gather acorns in a forest. At a place called "Lost Waters", she hears a hunting horn. When she hears it again, she turns around she sees a headless man in a long grey coat sitting on a grey horse.
    • In another, set in Brunswick, a headless horseman called "the wild huntsman" blows a horn which warns hunters not to ride the next day, because they will meet with an accident.
  • 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.
  • Karmic Jackpot: In "The Queen Bee", the youngest prince helps some animals the beginning of his quest, and they all turn up at the end to help him do the impossible tasks.
  • The Lost Woods: The usual setting of the fairy tale
  • Nameless Narrative: Most of the fairy tales; where characters have names, they're often descriptions, like "Snow White" or "Little Red Riding Hood". "Hänsel and Gretel" is an exception, but even there the names weren't meant to be distinctive; in the Grimms' time and place, they were so common as to be nearly as generic as "Boy" and "Girl".
    • The variation of The Six Swans known as The Twelve Brothers has a unique variation of this with one of the title characters being named, but not the princess who is the supposed protagonist of the story.
  • Noble Wolf: According to "The Lord's Animals and the Devil's", wolves are created by God and are, in fact, God's dogs. Meanwhile the Devil creates goats, which, true to their creator's destructive nature, ruin fruit-bearing trees and grapevines with their gnawing. God is displeased "so that in his goodness and mercy" he sends the wolves to kill the misbehaving goats.
  • 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
  • Plot Tailored to the Party: Among others, "How Six Men Went Far In the World"
  • Rags to Royalty:
    • In "The Girl Without Hands", the miller's daughter marries a king; then the Devil conspires against her, she is driven out to the wilderness, but the king follows her and she regains her place.
    • In "The Three Little Birds", the king's children are abandoned and grow up in ignorance of their birth, until a magic bird informs the king and children of the truth.
    • In "The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs", a poor boy is foretold to be married to a princess, and does.
    • In "All-Kinds-Of-Fur", a princess is forced to flee her home, and lives in a forest and then as a scullery maid before marrying a prince and becoming royalty again.
  • Rule of Seven
  • Rule of Three: In "The True Sweetheart", the heroine goes to the ball three times.
  • Sapient Eat Sapient: In "The Wolf and the Fox", the former character threatens to eat the latter if he doesn't provide a place to find food.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: In "The Devil With the Three Golden Hairs", a poor boy is foretold to be married to a princess, and does — largely as a result of the king's attempts to prevent it.
  • Shape Dies, Shifter Survives: In this version of "The Golden Bird", a talking fox repeatedly helps the protagonist in his quest, asking only that he cut off its head and feet afterwards. The protagonist refuses out of sentiment until the end of the story, when killing the fox allows it to regain its true form as a human prince.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: "Cat and Mouse in Partnership"
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: In "The White Snake", a king can communicate with animals because he regularly eats a bite from a white snake. When the servant who serves the king his food secretly eats a piece of the snake, he gains the same ability and uses it to rise socially.
  • 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.
  • Uptown Boy: Seen in a few stories, such as "Die Kluge Bauerntochter" (The Peasant's Wise Daughter).
  • Villainous Glutton: The wolf from "The Wolf and the Fox", to the point where the fox lampshades his overeating several times.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The Devil in "The Girl with Silver Hands" is adverse to water. He orders the girl's hands chopped off because they're soaked with her tears. When he comes back and her arm stumps are now soaked as well, he decides it's too much trouble to collect her.
  • Wicked Stepmother: A classic villain in many a Grimm tale. Many were mothers in the first edition, though.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: In "The Drummer", the drummer spends three days at the witch's house, and when he returns home three years have passed.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Brothers Grimm, Grimm Brothers


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