Grimms' fairy tales

NLS celebrates one of the world's most famous books

The universal appeal of one of the most famous books in history — 'Grimms’ fairy tales' — is being celebrated at the National Library of Scotland on the 200th anniversary of its first publication.

The display which opens today (September 19) highlights the strong links between the brothers Grimm and Scotland. It includes letters between Jacob Grimm and Sir Walter Scott and a book published in 1813 for which Wilhelm Grimm translated three Scots songs into German, among them one from Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.

Visitors will be able to see a copy of the first, 1812, edition of the 'Fairy tales' — 'Kinder- und Haus-Märchen' — which was sent by Jacob Grimm to Scott in 1814. It bears Scott's signature on the title page. This was sent in response to a letter from Scott where he tells Jacob Grimm he is keen to get a copy. A letter by Jacob Grimm to Scott from Paris, in which Grimm expresses his delight at the offer of a parcel of books including epic poems about Robert the Bruce and William Wallace, will also be on display.

Grimm and Scott wrote in their native tongues and explained in earlier letters that, while they could read English and German respectively, they were too shy to use it in writing.

The correspondence provides a fascinating insight into the relationship between two of the most influential literary figures of their day. 'Grimms' fairy tales' has been described as one of the most influential works of Western culture and contains timeless tales that have entertained generations of children, including 'Snow White', 'Cinderella', 'Hansel and Gretel' and 'Little Red Riding Hood'.

The Grimms were cultural scholars: literary historians and philologists who edited North European and Old German epic poems, and famously collected oral folk tales mainly from educated young women as part of their research into national poetry and folk lore. These tales were transcribed by the brothers and subsequently published in what was to become the most famous book in German after Luther's Bible. It has since been translated into more than 160 languages.

'What many people do not realise today is that the Grimms' collection of fairy tales was not intended for children. The first edition even has scholarly annotations,' said Anette Hagan, Senior Rare Books Curator who has put the display together.

'The tales were mainly told among adults, mostly young women, who in turn had heard them from their governesses and servants. Others were simply copied out of older books. There is a dark side to many of them: they reflect the often cruel, violent lives of people in Europe at that time with a central fear of the dangers that lurk in the dark forest.

'After the publication of the second volume in 1815, Wilhelm Grimm in particular started to edit the tales to make them more acceptable to adults who wanted to tell them to their children. The fairy tales now became much more child-friendly, and that trend has continued down to the 20th century, particularly with the sanitised Disney film versions.'

The display demonstrates the vast reach of the fairy tales by including a version of 'Hansel and Gretel' in Pitman shorthand, a Nigerian translation and musical adaptations.

Entry to the display at the NLS on George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, is free. It runs until November 18.

The influence of the brothers Grimm will also be explored at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival, which runs from 19-28 October 2012. Storytellers from Scotland, Germany, Poland, Italy, France, Norway, Russia, England and Ireland, will converge on Edinburgh and Glasgow to provide an unparalleled feast of entertainment for all ages. Alongside this will be an examination of the enduring influence of fairy tales and their significance in contemporary culture and education.

Read more about the 'Illustrating the Grimms' display.

19 September 2012

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