Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Grimm Brothers

Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Carl Grimm (1786-1859), German philologists, folklorists and writers, generally and correctly treated as a team, though Jacob concentrated on linguistic studies (he devised the principle of consonantal shifts in pronunciation known as Grimm's Law) and Wilhelm was primarily a literary scholar. They were both highly productive in various associated fields, but remain best-known for the various versions of Die Kinder-und Häusmarchen ["Children's and Household Tales"] (coll 1812-1815 3 vols; trans John Edward Taylor [with others' assistance] as German Popular Stories 1823-1826 2 vols UK) illustrated by George Cruikshank, a gathering of tales from various Folklore sources which has been published in many editions, usually as Grimm's Fairy Tales. The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (trans coll Jack Zipes 1987 US) provides a useful analysis of the seven German editions; the 241 tales Zipes assembles include 32 dropped by the Grimms from various of these editions.

As young men, both brothers were affected by German Romanticism; their scholarly endeavours were shaped by a desire to provide an intellectual justification for Romantic assumptions about the unique and intertwined relationship between the "original" German tongue and the Folktales whose origins were – they felt – coeval with the origins of German culture. Jacob's first book, Über den altedutschen Meistergesang ["On the Ancient German Master-song"] (1811) began to argue the case; as did the Fairytales (see Fairytales), which they had begun to assemble several years before the first edition appeared, their associated collection of Legends, Deutsche Sagen (coll 1816-1818; trans as The German Legends of the Brothers Grimm 1981 2 vols US) and Jacob's Deutsche Mythologie ["German Mythology"] (1835), in which archaic pre-medieval Germany was seen as a Golden Age.

Both brothers argued that Folklore should be recorded and presented in print in a form as close as possible to the original mode, but in practice modified those originals in varying ways, a habit in which Wilhelm indulged increasingly as the years passed. In later editions of the Fairytales – which were primarily his responsibility – he introduced more and more "literary" values into the stories, and succumbed to the bowdlerizing instinct. But the Fairytales remain, as a whole, a huge and progressive achievement.

The GB star in George Pal's Cinerama biopic, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962). [JC]

Grimm Brothers


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.