Book Review: Grimm’s Grimmest

I’d always heard that Grimm’s Fairytales were much more gruesome than the popular Disney versions. I bought this book a while ago and finally picked it up to read. Its introduction is written my Maria Tatar, and it features the illustrations of Tracy Arah Dockray. The book itself is based on the stories told to the brothers Grimm.

moon1If you’ve followed my blog or my writings, you know that I enjoy dark tales, and these are certainly dark. For example, there’s a version of the tale we know commonly as “Cinderella,” but in this version, the evil stepsisters cut off parts of their feet in an attempt to fit into the shoes. There is a tale of a mother-in-law who tries to eat her grandsons and daughter-in-law, tales of people coming back to life, curing blindness, and tricking spouses.

They certainly are grim tales: tales of murder, illness, deceit, death, incest. What I found most interesting is the themes running through many. Those characters singled out to experience some bit of otherworldliness are never completely normal afterwards: they are either lucky, well-behaved, or evil. In any case, exposure to an otherworldly force makes them extraordinary in some way.

I found it interesting, too, just how many stories featured people able to come back from death, or heal the dead, or find some balm or charm to bring someone back, or cure blindness or grow back missing body parts. In some ways these stories remind me of practices of ancient Egypt, in which the dead had to be prepared just a certain way in preparation for what comes next. Given that religions of the world focus on this topic as well, I supposed curiosity about life after death has always been on our collective mind.

As freedom is a theme I strongly favor, I found it fascinating that so many of the stories feature a king, or someone in a similar position of power, who could simply make decrees and cause things to be so. I wondered at the fact that in so many of these tales, the only way to right injustice is to seek the order of someone in higher power, or use one’s wit to outsmart the offender. So many of these tales have as their crux the decree or promise of a king. I don’t recall a tale in which someone lacking power decided to rise up and fight the injustice of the system. Rather, as the introduction informs us, these tales were likely told around fires to give people breaks from their ordinary lives of tedious chores.

Despite the grim content, however, they are still told as fairy tales, so even if matter is dark, words are sparse. The tales lack the luscious detail that would otherwise raise the maturity rating on the book. They’re tales best savored one at a time. It would be a good book to leave on a nightstand or read while in a waiting room since each tale is short enough to read in one sitting.