The Brothers Grimm
When it comes to the history of the fairy tale, the Grimm brothers had essentially the same effect on the nineteenth century that Disney had on the twentieth.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were linguists, folklorists, and cultural historians, who were interested in recuperating and preserving the oral traditions of their nation, and so set out to collect all the folktales they could, particularly those they considered representative of German culture.
Between 1812 and 1857, they published and republished collections of tales that were widely distributed and translated. By collecting diverse tales into these individual, widely available volumes, the Grimms essentially created a kind of universal reference for the Western tradition of fairy tales, at the same time that they reinvigorated interest in the genre.
They thus had a major impact on the life of fairy tales in the popular imagination in modern times, and heavily influenced many contemporary adaptations of fairy tales, including the Disney films.
???? Read the introductory page on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and the story of “Snow Drop” (Germany, 1823) by the Brothers Grimm, attached below.
Consider the following questions to help you read carefully and critically:
- The introduction compares the story of Snow White to a story found in the Pentamerone, a literary collection of fairy tales written by Giambattista Basile (Italy, 17th c.). What classic trope of the Snow White story originates in Basile’s story? What details are included in Basile’s tale that the Grimm Brothers’ version of Snow White leaves out? How might these details affect the way we respond to the characters and their actions, and what the story seems to teach us?
- According to the introduction, early translations of the Grimm story leave out some of the gory details. What do you think is the significance of these details; why might they have been included in some versions of the story? What do they symbolize? Does it change what the story communicates when these details are left out?
- The images of skin white as snow, hair black as ebony, and cheeks (or lips) red as blood are a common motif in Snow White stories — and, indeed, a footnote in your text points out that a similar motif shows up in another fairy tale, “The Juniper Tree,” along with the image of the mother-to-be spilling her own blood. What do you think these details symbolize? Why would the story include these specific images?
- What orders does the queen give to her servant regarding Snow White, and why doesn’t he carry them out? How do you think we are meant to view/judge his character?
- How do the dwarves respond to Snow Drop when she arrives at the cottage? What do we learn about the characters from Snow Drop’s relationship with the dwarves (the traits and behaviors demonstrated by each, and the positive qualities they represent)?
- What strategies does the queen use to try to kill Snow Drop? Why do you think Snow Drop falls victim to these schemes, and what does that tell us about her character? What do you think we are supposed to learn from Snow Drop’s downfall?
- How is Snow Drop eventually rescued? Who do you think should get credit for saving her? Or, what would we judge is the reason for her salvation, and does this teach us anything about ourselves?
- What happens to the queen at the end of the story? What do you think is the cause of her downfall, and what are we meant to learn from her character?
???? Write a paragraph (100-300 words) responding to one of the questions above about the Grimm’s story of “Snow Drop”and comparing the story to the film. Support your points with at least one specific example from the text and one specific example from the film.