Monday, November 24, 2014

The Original Horror Stories

Grinned when I saw an email link to the e-book. Only this girl would know and dare to get a book for the man and I. We love books as presents. However, few people could buy books for us because there's an 80% chance that between our shelves, one could be giving a duplicate copy that would eventually go into an upcycling bin or another home.

Of course I wouldn't miss reading 'The Original Folk & Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition', originally put together by the Grimm brothers Jacob and Wilhelm of course, now translated and edited by Jack Zipes and illustrated by Andrea Dezsö. It's published by the Princeton University Press. Finally, a much-awaited translation of the original macabre and grim with all its blood and horror. I've read scattered bits here and there, but never in its entirety put together. Those Norwegian fairy-tales aren't gentle either. (Reviews here, here, here, here and here.) 

Illustrator Andrea Dezsö did ink-vignettes for the book, resulting in her mesmerizing trademark creation of paper-cut figures and scenes- a brilliant play between light and shadows, darkness and illumination, of colors, artistic directions, and no doubt a nod to the socio-political voices in the fairy tales. Jack Zipes wrote an introduction to this newly published translated first edition.

Ironically, few people today are familiar with the original tales of the first edition, for the Grimms went on to publish six more editions and made immense changes in them so that the final 1857 edition has relatively little in common with the first edition, replaced them with new or different versions, added over fifty tales, withdrew the footnotes and published them in a separate volume, revised prefaces and introductions, added illustrations in a separate small edition directed more at children and families, and embellished the tales so that they became polished artistic "gems." 
All these editorial changes to the tales in the first edition of 1812/15 should not lead us to believe that the tales were crude, needed improvement and do not deserve our attention. On the contrary. I would argue that the first edition is just as important, if not more important than the final seventh edition of 1857, especially if one wants to grasp the original intentions of the Grimms and the overall significance of their accomplishments. In fact, many of the tales in the first edition are more fabulous and baffling than those refined versions in the final edition, for they retain the pungent and naïve flavor of the oral tradition. They are stunning narratives precisely because they are so blunt and unpretentious. Moreover, the Grimms had not yet "vaccinated " or censored them with their sentimental Christianity and puritanical ideology. In fact, the Brothers endeavored to keep their hands off the tales, so to speak, and reproduce them more or less as they heard or received them. 

156 stories in this volume collated from the initial 1812 and 1815 editions. The titles already warn you not to read this to children if you aren't prepared to explain the themes to them. I love fairy-tales so much because people who read to a very young imp took the time to explain the meaning behind the stories. Both grandmothers didn't think Disney characters added any value to my childhood. Often, as they read to me, they didn't hesitate to state their opinions about it aloud. Muahahaha. More effective than any nagging from the authority figures, 'Hansel and Gretel' promptly put me off candy and desserts for the rest of my life.

For instance, tales like "How Children Played at Slaughtering" and "The Children of Famine" were omitted because they were gruesome. "Bluebeard," "Puss in Boots," and "Okerlo" were not reprinted because they stemmed from the French literary tradition. The same is true for "Simple Hans" because of its Italian origins. Some tales like "Good Bowling and Card Playing." "Herr Fix-It-Up," "Prince Swan," and "The Devil in the Green Coat" among many others were simply replaced by other stories in later editions because the Grimms found versions that they preferred or combined different versions. The changes made by the Grimms indicated their ideological and artistic preferences. For instance, in the 1812/1815 edition of "Little Snow White" and "Hansel and Gretel" the wicked stepmother is actually a biological mother, and these characters were changed to become stepmothers in 1819 clearly because the Grimms held motherhood sacred. In the first edition "Rapunzel" is a very short provocative tale in which the young girl gets pregnant. The 1819 version is longer, much more sentimental, and without a hint of pregnancy.

The magic is in reading these 'originals'. Enjoy them. So I won't type out too many excerpts from this collated volume. The stories aren't too far from the horrors we see today. Morals. Choices. Abuse. Rebellion. I remember being really tickled when an Aunt read 'Cinderella' got to this part about mutilating feet to fit into that golden slipper. I was probably nine or ten. She said women do crazy things sometimes for men, and more than that, the idea of securing that glittering future. But at what price? Grinned when I saw this part in this collection too.

"Listen," said the mother secretly. "here's a knife, and if the slipper is still too tight for you, then cut off a piece of your foot. It will hurt a bit. But what does that matter? It will soon pass, and one of you will become queen."


L Lee said...

Not sure you already have/seen this, but I came across it in some post today. Darkly funny.

And your mention (and photo) of Hansel and Gretel reminded me of this - looks so similar!

imp said...

OH YES! I have that gorgeous book. i'm not sure if i like the illustrations more or little dark lines of the alphabets explained. Big fan of Edward Gorey.

Also, I'm a crazy Neil Gaiman fan. Heh.