Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Deutsche Märchen: German fairy tales [pdf] (ubc.ca)
79 points by mmastrac 29 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 33 comments

This article confuses some things.

Struwelpeter is not fairy tales by any definition. It is a hilarious and gruesome picture-book with small moralistic verses intended to teach children good manners. It is an original work, written and illustrated by Heinrich Hoffmann.

Grimms fairy tales are folk tales collected by the brothers Grimm as anthropological research. We don't know the original authors of these stories. It was an orally transmitted genre, and many stories exist in multiple versions. This genre of folktales were not originally intended for children, but at the time of the collection there was a boom in children's literature, and the Grimms cached in on that by publishing modified versions for children.

There are other collections of folktales beside the Grimms, for example the french Charles Perrault. Disneys Cinderella for example is based on the Perrault version, not the Grimm version. I'm not sure what the "English translation" in the article refers to?

Hans Christian Andersen wrote original stories, although to some extent inspired by folktales, they are a very different genre of literature.

I remember by accident quite a few of the tales the Grimms record weren't German folk tales but French one (as unbelievable as this sounds) :https://www.zeit.de/zeit-geschichte/2012/04/Maerchen-Brueder...

Why is that unbelievable? Folktales are an orally transmitted genre which does not respect national borders. Some stories appear in both Decameron and Arabian Nights.

One example is Reynard the Fox https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reynard_the_Fox that's probably of Old High German origin but has been adopted into other languages, see how it has transitioned between the languages.

It was so popular it displaced the french word for fox. Foxes were called "goupil", "renard" in modern french.

It is not that the stories already diffused in the German population. It is (I think) the person telling the stories was raised by a French person. In an analogy it is more like you write a German English dictionary, but the German words are French (and not yet absorbed by the German language). I find this surprising (of course not if you know the backstory)

I highly recommend the Philip Pullman translation of Grimm into English, it’s excellent. My daughter was obsessed with it when she was little, but unlike other stories she wouldn’t let me read it to her. She wanted to absorb it in detail at her own pace.

I can't find a reference, but I remember reading that at least once the when the Grimms were collecting oral tales they were given a retelling of a Hans Christian Andersen story.

As far as I know, the Grimm tales were collected before H.C.Andersen began writing his tales. But there is a theoretical possibility since the latest Grimm revisions were published after Andersen.

Yes, that's indeed worth pointing out!

To be clear, this is not a joke or something. Fairy tales in their original forms were very gruesome, and many of them still are. (This is the first time I've heard of the "bad" ending to snow white though.)

While not a fairy tale, the "Max and Moritz" [0] story by Wilhelm Busch is much in the same vein and to this day a common bed time story for children in German-speaking countries.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_and_Moritz

Because the stories where used to teach the children a lesson, for instance if you talk to or go with strangers you die.

I think that might work better for adults, I'm not sure that the age group these are intended for really comprehends death. I think the ones where the kids are eaten, or taken away from their parents, sent away without dinner, or kept in a cage are more relatable. Even if the idea of being eaten doesn't really conjure the gory image of being torn apart by teeth, the idea of being stuck inside a bear or a witch's stomach, or not having a body part might be unpleasant enough.

I know when my son was young we told him that people smoking were poisoning their bodies, and after that he would get upset and teary eyed when people were smoking because they were hurting themselves.

Back home in Slovakia we have our own set or tales/stories, composed together by Pavol Dobsinsky in 19th century from various folk sources. They are pretty brutal too, murders even within families, treachery in all forms, even cannibalism. Killing bad guys pleading for mercy.

They don't go to gory details, no point in that, but they don't avoid it either. Times were different - half of kids before age 5 died, everybody could easily die from flu, inflamed appendix or a tooth problem. There were public execution held in bigger villages and towns. Wars, skirmishes and murderous bandits ravaged countries.

Killing of domestic animals was (and in many places still is) a fiesta for whole family, including the smallest, ie butchering of a pig or sheep. Not done somewhere hidden, but in plain sight of everybody.

I don't think we get how exposed to brutality in many forms the kids were back then.

Also, I have modern print of original texts and see no issue with reading them, many parents still read them to their kids. I was exposed to them as a kid and didn't find them shocking.

I'm not sure that the age group these are intended for really comprehends death.

Deaths in the family used to be pretty common. Lots of children didn't make it to adulthood.

It's a pretty modern idea that we are supposed to survive childhood and live to be like 80 years old and dying sooner than that is all shocking.

They are 100s of years old. Kids off any age were aware of death.

It is our modern kids who do not get it.

I read my kids the originals and it works as fine as the disney versions.

> I'm not sure that the age group these are intended for really comprehends death.

When my parents read the story of Paulinchen to me as a kid I immediately understood that she was gone for good. The picture of the pile of ashes and the two cats crying rivers did a good job at conveying what death means.

The most disturbing work by Wilhelm Busch is "Flipps der Affe": http://www.zeno.org/Literatur/M/Busch,+Wilhelm/Bildergeschic...

people love gore and horror, see Saw, Hostel, Texas Chainsaw Massace, etc. certain snuff pages that show e.g. a case of cutting of hands and feet in a third world country, presumably as a matter of punishment for thieving. Or take the scene of ape brain eating in Indiana Jones.

So called Bush Meat is not uncommon. It's a jungle out there. These tales do have an element of truth. But they are understood as from a different time (nearly the same thing). It's brutal realism. What is disturbing about this?

Showing somebody into an oven pales in comparison to sending them to the salt mines

> To be clear, this is not a joke or something.

You just have to take a look at the crying cats extinguishing the ashes of burned-out girl with floods of tears, to realize that this is indeed (very dark) humor. And it has nothing to do with the Grimm fairy tales, except both were published in German. Its like lumping together Beowulf with Charlie and the Chocolate factory because both are in English.

BTW to you mean the "bad" ending to snow white or in snow white? Because it's the evil stepmothers forced into the red-hot iron shoes.

Thanks for pointing that out, I misread it as snow white being the one subjected to that.

The Germans (historical) excel at the macabre. I can only imagine to what extent this lingered into mid-20th C. culture...

Are you suggesting German literature is particularly macabre compared to other cultures?

Bettelheim argues that the violence depicted in fairy tales is valuable, and it stands quite in contrast to the children’s books sold today.


I've had Der Struwwelpeter since I was a child. My mother had cut out a couple pages where the tailor cut the kid's thumbs off, thinking it was too horrific. All that did was make me very curious what the missing pages contained!

Anyhow, I always loved the great illustrations and stories.

Any fan should also look up "Max und Moritz" in the same vein.

My gradma would read them to me when I had to go to sleep.

They were all pretty harsh and somehow we never talked about what happened in them.

Just read, good night, lights out.

I loved the older versions of English Fairy Tales as a child - specifically this one:


with limited happy endings and scary artwork. (Try "The Lambton Worm")

I had that book as a child. Well, not this book, obviously, but I had one with those stories and those exact pictures in it.

I did not like them very much, though, because the moral of the stories is inevitably that if you don't conform, bad things are going to happen to you.

Considering the current culture of "canceling" child books (in this case nearly 200 years old) this will be interesting.

I would love a modern version of them were evil is a bit better distributed and not always a woman, the savior is not always a young handsome prince and the reward a wedding. As a white guy re-reading them with my daughters I find them boring and stereotypical. There are many modern versions but they are also often based on the Disney edition.

From a German perspective book cancelling (burning) is an incredible dangerous road. We had that in our history once and its lead to nothing good.

Create better ones and advocate them. Disney did that, just, in a bit too American style (oh-my-god-my-kid-cannot-hear-this-word-or-see-a-boob). That is the road.

Fun fact: This is already the redacted, modern version. E.g., evil mothers (apparently a theme in the folktales of the time) became stepmothers. The original version was even more harsh, or grim.

I'm not sure it is possible to speak about the "original version" when it comes to folk tales which exist in a variety of versions. It may also be due to modern prejudice we consider the most brutal versions the most authentic. For example the Charles Perrault collections are much older than the Grimm collections, but does not have the same amount of maiming. Perraut modified the stories to contemporary sensibilities - but so did the Grimm brothers.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact