|Elisabeth Jerichau Baumann [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons|
The Brothers Grimm, Jacob (above, right) and Wilhelm (above, left), surely need little introduction. Their collection of German folktales in the 19th century has formed the basis of a wealth of children’s literature and film around the world.
Mostly, though, we get re-tellings or adaptations of the stories. Concerns about violence and their suitability for children date right back to the first publication of Children’s and Household Tales so they have been sanitised, tidied up and disneyfied many times over the years.
I wanted to re-read the original tales but my copy is 100 miles away in my parents’ house. But then inspiration struck – this is the 21st century, the old translations are in the public domain, I’ve got an eReader… So, off I went to Project Gutenberg and hey presto, a free download of the 1884 edition, translated by Margaret Hunt and published as Grimm’s Household Tales. A note before the text informs me that “Margaret Hunt’s translation is very true to the German original”, and on comparison with the German text of the first story The Frog King, (which is available here on wikisource.de: Der Froschkönig) it certainly is. Personally, I would prefer a slightly freer and more idiomatic translation – the use of “thou” to translate du is both archaising and distancing, for example – but then I’d have to pay for it!
This one, for instance, The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, looks lovely and I’m encouraged that the translator, Matthew R. Price, has been given space for a translator’s note on the webpage as well as in the book. He says:
“initially I had little sense how best to unpack these stories for today’s English-speaking readers—and listeners. I leaned on my training: countless hours of living with the language, and theatrical instincts I’d honed for years. In my mind I saw fantastic animated films as I worked through these stories. They were dark, complex, and arcing versions, not the Disney films associated with the material. There is no denying the unforgiving morality or the harshness of daily life one finds in the tales. But even more striking, finally, was the full range of emotion, especially the comedy and delight of the characters and their antics.”
Then there’s the Vintage Classics edition, translated and with an introduction by Jack Zipes, an expert on fairytales and retired professor of German. It claims to be the only complete edition of all 279 tales – I certainly had no idea how many of them there were before I started researching this!
Now, this is a confusing one: Wordsworth Editions have three versions, including The Complete Illustrated Tales of The Brothers Grimm, apparently illustrated by Arthur Rackham (which from the cover looks frankly improbable) and containing “darker tales such as ‘Death’s Messengers’ which deserve to be better known”. The translator is uncredited, yet the cover looks sweet and childish. Then there’s Grimm’s Fairy Tales, selected and translated by Lucy Crane, and “illustrated throughout by Walter Crane’s charming line drawings.” So is the other version translated by Lucy Crane too? Who knows?
So there you are. You pays your money and you takes your choice. Or you get them for free and put up with the thees and thous.