Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm : A New English Versionby: Philip Pullman
PERHAPS THE GREATEST IRONY concerning the profound legacy of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's Children's and Household Tales (1812), celebrating its bicentenary worldwide this year, is that the fame of the tales is due in great part to Edgar Taylor, a British lawyer, who produced the first English translation, German Popular Stories, in 1823. Actually, Taylor adapted the Grimms' tales, and thus transformed them into unusual jocose stories for children and middle-class families. He also included 22 hilarious illustrations by the great caricaturist George Cruikshank. Surprisingly, the serious Grimms, who never took care to have their tales enlivened with illustrations, were so impressed by Taylor's highly successful book that they followed his example in all the editions they published after 1823 and until 1857. The Grimms remained true to their original scholarly intention of salvaging the great oral tradition of storytelling, while artfully editing the tales according to the tastes and values of their contemporary reading public. Meanwhile, Taylor, who published another translation called Gammer Grethel in 1839, continued to influence the reception and legacy of the Grimms in Great Britain and also in North America up through the twentieth century. Thanks to Taylor and other British translators, the Grimms became known as delightful writers for children whose books also had an appeal for adults, even though the original works were never intended for children.
The English success of the Grimms' tales led to all sorts of adaptations for adults and children in the twentieth century — parodies, melodramatic films, vaudeville shows, opera, ballet, comic books, postcards, plays for children and adults, musicals, paintings, photographs, and so on. The Grimms stories became Anglicized and, of course, Americanized through the Disney films and merchandise. Two extremes became noticeable in Great Britain and North America: a trivialization of the Grimms' tales that transformed them into amusing products for profit; and a critical exploration and interpretation of the tales that endowed them with great cultural significance. Indeed, these so-called "German" tales collected by the Grimms and appropriated by Anglo-Americans become very much part of the British and American cultural heritage.
Two new books testify to the extraordinary legacy of the Grimms' tales in England, North America, and other English-speaking countries: Sara Maitland's Gossip from the Forest: The Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales (2012) and Philip Pullman's Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version (2012). Both writers have previously published numerous fairy tales, but with these new books, they acknowledge an even greater cultural debt to the Grimms' stories and make a significant contribution to their ongoing heritage in England, as well as in other English-speaking countries.
Maitland is especially dedicated to maintaining the English cultural allegiance to the Grimms' tales through adaptation. Nowhere is this more evident than in Gossip from the Forest, a highly original and poetical rendition of 12 Grimms tales interwoven with stunning essays about their relationship to British forests. The subtitle says it all: Maitland wants to honor "the roots of our forests and fairy tale." Rewritten to highlight their contemporary relevance, Maitland subtly embeds these tales in her book with observations of places, plants, trees, and animals while offe...read more