A Grimm Anniversary

On December 20th, 1812, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm's first book was published. All over the world, book lovers are marking the 200th anniversary of Die Kinder und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales), a collection of 86 traditional fairy tales the brothers had reworked and written down. The German brothers would go down in history for stories like Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel, and Snow White. A year of events is planned in Germany to celebrate the anniversary, although the Brothers Grimm are more popular outside their native land than in it. And why is that?

The theory that the Grimms' tales, particularly the more brutal ones such as How Children Played Butcher With Each Other, in which a whole family massacres itself, had an adverse effect on the German character was expressed frequently after the second world war.

In his 1978 book Roots of German Nationalism, Louis Snyder argued that the brothers helped to shape certain deleterious traits, such as discipline, obedience, authoritarianism, glorification of violence and nationalism, which became part of the national character. That was the reason allied commanders banned the book in schools after the war, arguing that they had found the roots of Nazism in the Grimms' world.

A British major, TJ Leonard, even said the fairytales had helped Germans teach their children "all the varieties of barbarousness", making it easy for them to fit into the "role of the hangman".

The German author Günther Birkenfeld saw in the fairytales the answer to "how the German people were able to perpetrate the atrocities of Belsen and Auschwitz".

The book was therefore largely banned from the German nursery – which was simultaneously undergoing its own anti-authoritarian, pro-modernisation reaction to Nazism – for decades. At the same time though, it was becoming increasingly hijacked outside Germany by Disney and Hollywood.

However, the Brothers Grimm have been good for tourism, from the towns of Hamelin and Bremen to the fairy tale castles of Germany. Academics are planning events throughout 2013 in honor of the Grimms' works. And foreigners as well as Germans are invited. Link


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