Friday, November 02, 2007

Grimms' Fairy Tales vs. George MacDonald's Fairy Tales

This past week I picked up a copy of The Complete Fairy Tales of George MacDonald and set out to read it. I'm intrigued by MacDonald because he was inspiration to both Lewis & Tolkein and thus deserves to be explored. (However, I would say that he deserves it in his own right.) I've also had Grimms' Fairy Tales sitting on my shelf for about six months, waiting its turn. I decided to read them both in one week in order to compare the two.

I have to say that I enjoyed Grimm's Fairy Tales over MacDonald's.

The brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm (horrid name, btw), took a fancy to fairy tales in 1803 upon meeting two (what I assume to be?) professors at the University of Marburg in Germany. They began to collect various ancient stories in an effort to to preserve All Things German. (Although many of the stories seem to be of French origin, coincidentally and/or ironically.) The total number of stories that exist seems to be somewhat in question but range from 200 to 211 fairy tales. The book that I read was the Illustrated Junior Ed. (pub. by Grosset & Dunlap) and contained 55 of the tales. The stories were published as children's stories but it seems people have taken exception to that branding all through the ages. The stories aren't exactly bedtime lullabyes meant to soothe and calm. Not by any stretch of your imagination! If you are thinking Disney, these tales are not it! However, there is a charm about each story that kept me hungry for the next and the next and the next, etc. They are grusome and indescreet at times, even though the Grimms sought to adapt them to be more palatable and better received by their reading public. Apparently they attempted to attribute morals to some of the stories, removed some of the more grotesque descriptions and removed certain insinuations from a few of the tales. At the same time, their descriptions of the punishment of some of the villians in the tales became more violent. Go figure! At any rate, the tales are delightful and I enjoyed all 55.

Of the ones that I read, I believe my favorite is Hansel and Gretel which I was somewhat surprised at, actually, being somewhat familiar with it but always thinking I would like Cinderella best. I found some of the tales very humorous, such as Frederick and Catherine (which reminded me of the modern day Amelia Bedelia) and The Clever Gretel which smacks of physical humor in the form of misunderstandings between the characters. Some of this "stuff" is laugh out loud funny. On the other hand, a lot of it is dark and trecherous. All the same, I'm glad they took the time to preserve these tales which, according to some sources, rank this book as a best-seller right behind the Bible and William Shakespeare!

MacDonald's tales (8 total) are longer and therefore less apt to hold the attention of little children or people like myself who favor their fairy tales in short, sweet form. MacDonald takes a long time to get to the point or the end of his tale. The introduction to the book is given by Roger Lancelyn Green and he warns the reader not to think too hard about the tales, but that MacDonald seem to be teaching things through them just the same. When the story "drags on" its hard not to start thinking about looking for the moral code that you are sure he is trying to espouse. I had to keep reminding myself to follow Green's instructions not to think too hard. I spent so much time doing that, that I think I missed the point of the fairy tales entirely due to the inner mental battle over whether to think or not think.

I most enjoyed the story of The Giant's Heart although it too is very descriptive in a disgusting way at times. (Perhaps I just like things too clean and neat?) Although I had a hard time working through The Shadows, I found that the most insightful and intriguing of the rest of them. I had read The Light Princess a long time ago and rather enjoyed it. I still like his Princess stories but they just didn't entertain me as much as the Grimm brothers did. Not that I always need to be entertained, mind you, but still. It helps.

The quality award most certainly goes to MacDonald although I'm going to confess I cannot elaborate as to why. Maybe it's just because I know Lewis clicked with him and so I know there is value to these stories. MacDonald would often read his stories aloud to students and I think of how weird it would be to sit and listen to some of the descriptions in his tales. Nevertheless, he is a noted "thinker" and doubtless spent more time thinking through the implications of his stories than did the Grimm brothers.

Both sets of fairy tales are a worthy read at any age. I don't believe anyone can honestly admit to have outgrown fairy tales. If they say so, I think they speak a lie. Fairy tales speak to the mind, to the heart and to the imagination. They can make and unmake people, depending on application. I think it would be interesting to explore fairy tales and their influence in today's society at some point. Certainly it would be intriguing. For now I'm content to delight myself with stories which continue to hold people's imaginations captive hundreds of years after having been invented and copied down. They are true treasures and I hope you'll take the time to read a few yourself!


Alison said...

I just finished reading The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale. It is a re-telling of the original Grimm's fairy tale. I promise to write a review soon! But, right now I'd rather be reading the second book in the trilogy. :-P

return home gnome said...

What about the Grimm Brother's more morbid tales, like Blue Beard, which are intentionally excluded most modern volumes?

B said...

Don't forget that the revered Brothers Grimm were the pioneering philologists of their day and were using the collection of tales to establish a linguistic and cultural history for Germany through myth (as odd as that sounds). They were particularly interested in locating some connection to the so-called "Gothic" tribes of post-Roman Europe and hoping to find this connection through the stories that had been passed down for generations. When talking about fairy tales, it's always about so much more than fairies, regardless of the culture. Myth is about language development, and the Grimms were attempting to trace this.

Sorry for the boring rant. I just get excited about fairy tales and what they represent!

Carrie said...

Fantastic notes, CI. Thanks for sharing. I was learning about them as I went along and am happy to learn more.

Sarah M. said...

Funny, my older sister always like "Blue Beard" and I'm not sure why. Was the "Little One Eye, Little Two Eye, and Little Three Eye" in there?

Btw, did you watch that VERY weird movie that was supposed to be about the Brothers Grimm?

At A Hen's Pace said...

I agree with you about Macdonald's tales. You know there's something really great about them, but it's hard to define or to totally appreciate! And they are long and rambly.


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