This lavishly illustrated volume, published in 1961 in London, contains only about 50 of the over 200 folktales Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm collected during their lifetimes. It includes, of course, some of the most famous: Cinderella, Hänsel and Grethel (Hansel and Gretel), Rapunzel, Snow-White, and Tom Thumb, among others.
One of the most interesting aspects of reading these original versions of the stories is how different they are from the Disney-fied versions. Cinderella, for example, had no fairy godmother, no pumpkin-carriage, no clock striking midnight, and no glass slipper, and each of her evil sisters mutilated themselves to try to fit a foot into the shoe she did leave behind.
Even in their day, some of the Grimms’ stories were so bloody, or included certain topics, that they were not considered suitable for children. None of the stories in this collection go quite that far, but perceptive readers will occasionally notice some “interesting” things going on in the background.
Many other stories are variations of the theme of the fool or peasant getting the better of the rich man or the king. Often they’re rewarded either with vast riches or the king’s almost-always beautiful daughter and then inherit the kingdom themselves. And of course they live happily ever after, although that phrase never appears in any of the stories in this collection.
Magic plays a role in some of these stories, but only a few, and fairies, elves, and their kind rarely appear, despite the English name for the collection—the original name was Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales)—and for the title of this book.
Political correctness was unknown in the Grimms’ day, so some of the stories relate negative stereotypes about residents of certain areas, like the seven Swabians who are so stupid they’re first terrified by a hare, then drown themselves in the Mosel River when they think the first one managed to walk across the bottom because they saw his hat float away. If you’ve never read any of these stories in their original form, this book is a good place to start.