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The Brothers Grimm ( or ), Jacob (January 4, 1785 - September 20, 1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (February 24, 1786 - December 16, 1859), were German academics who were best known for publishing collections of folk tales and fairy tales, which became popular. They also did academic work in linguistics, related to how the sounds in words shift over time (Grimm's law).

They are among the best-known story tellers of folk tales from Europe, and their work popularized such tales as "Rumpelstiltskin", "Snow White", "Sleeping Beauty", "Rapunzel", "Cinderella", "Hansel and Gretel", and "The Frog Prince".


Berlin memorial plaque, Brüder Grimm, Alte Potsdamer Straße 5, Berlin-Tiergarten, Germany
Jacob Ludwig Karl Grimm (also Carl) and Wilhelm Karl Grimm were born on January 4, 1785, and February 24, 1786, respectively, in Hanaumarker near Frankfurt in Hessenmarker. They were among a family of nine children, six of whom survived infancy. Their early childhood was spent in the countryside in what has been described as an "idyllic" state. The Grimm family lived near the magistrate's house between 1790 and 1796 while the father was employed by the Prince of Hessen.

When the eldest brother Jacob was eleven years old, their father, Philip Wilhelm, died and the family moved into a cramped urban residence. Two years later, the children's grandfather also died, leaving their mother to struggle to support them in reduced circumstances. It has been argued that this is the reason behind the Brothers' tendency to idealize and excuse fathers, leaving a predominance of female villains in the tales—the infamous wicked stepmothers, for example, the evil stepmother and stepsisters in “Cinderella” However this opinion ignores the fact that the brothers were collectors of folk tales, not their authors:
"They urged fidelity to the spoken text, without embellishments, and though it has been shown that they did not always practise what they preached, the idealized ‘orality’ of their style was much closer to reality than the literary retellings previously thought necessary."

"Scholars and psychiatrists have thrown a camouflaging net over the stories with their relentless, albeit fascinating, question of 'What does it mean?'"

Another influence is perhaps shown in the brothers' selection of stories such as The Twelve Brothers, which show one girl and several brothers' (their own family structure) overcoming opposition.

The two brothers were educated at the Friedrichs-Gymnasiummarker in Kasselmarker and later both studied law at the University of Marburgmarker. There they were inspired by their professor Friedrich von Savigny, who awakened an interest in the past. They were in their early twenties when they began the linguistic and philological studies that would culminate in both Grimm's Law and their collected editions of fairy and folk tales. Though their collections of tales became immensely popular, they were essentially a by-product of the linguistic research, which was the Brothers' primary goal.

In 1808, Jacob was named court librarian to the King of Westphalia. In 1812 the Grimm brothers published their first volume of fairy tales, Tales of Children and the Home. They had collected the stories from peasants and villagers, and ,controversially, from other sources such as published works from other cultures and languages (eg. Charles Perrault). In their collaboration, Jacob did more of the research, while Wilhelm, more fragile, put it into literary form and provided the childlike style. They were also interested in folklore and primitive literature. In 1816 Jacob became librarian in Kassel, where Wilhelm was also employed. Between 1816 and 1818 they published two volumes of German legends and a volume of early literary history.

In time the brothers became interested in older languages and their relation to German. Jacob began to specialize in the history and structure of the German language. The relationships between words became known as Grimm's Law. They gathered immense amounts of data. In 1830, they formed a household in Göttingenmarker, where both brothers secured positions at the University of Göttingenmarker. Jacob was named professor and head librarian in 1830; Wilhelm became a professor in 1835.

In 1837, the Brothers Grimm joined five of their colleague professors at the University of Göttingenmarker to protest against the abolition of the liberal constitution of the state of Hanovermarker by King Ernest Augustus I, a reactionary son of King George III. This group came to be known in the Germanmarker states as Die Göttinger Sieben (The Göttingen Seven). The two, along with the five others, protested against the abrogation. The professors were fired from their university posts and three were deported, including Jacob. Jacob settled in Kassel, outside Ernest's realm, and Wilhelm joined him there; they both stayed with their brother Ludwig. However, the next year, the two were invited to Berlin by the King of Prussia, and both settled there.

Their last years were spent in writing a definitive dictionary, the Deutsches Wörterbuch, the first volume being published in 1854. The work was carried on by future generations.

Marriage and family

Jacob remained a bachelor until his death. On May 15, 1825, Wilhelm married Henriette Dorothea Wild (also known as Dortchen). She was a pharmacist's daughter and a childhood friend who had told the brothers the story of "Little Red Riding Hood". Wilhelm and Henriette had four children, of whom three survived infancy: Karl, Jacob, and Agnes. Even after Wilhelm's marriage, the brothers stayed close. They lived as an extended family under one roof with little conflict.

Wilhelm died in Berlinmarker on December 16, 1859. Jacob continued work on the dictionary and related projects until his death in Berlin on September 20, 1863. The brothers were buried in the St. Matthäus Kirchhof Cemetery in Schönebergmarker, Berlinmarker. The Grimms helped foment a nationwide democratic public opinion in Germanymarker and are cherished as the progenitors of the German democratic movement. Its revolution of 1848/1849 was crushed by the Kingdom of Prussia, which established a constitutional monarchy.

The Tales

The Brothers Grimm began collecting folk tales around 1807, in response to a wave of awakened interest in German folklore that followed the publication of Ludwig Achim von Arnim and Clemens Brentano's folksong collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn ("The Youth's Magic Horn"), 1805-8. By 1810 the Grimms produced a manuscript collection of several dozen tales, which they had recorded by inviting storytellers to their home and transcribing what they heard. Although they were said to have collected tales from peasants, many of their informants were middle-class or aristocratic, recounting tales they had heard from their servants. Several of the informants were of Huguenot ancestry and told tales that were French in origin.Some scholars have theorized that certain elements of the stories were "purified" for the brothers, who were Christians.

In 1812, the Brothers published a collection of 86 German fairy tales in a volume titled Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales).They published a second volume of 70 fairy tales in 1814 ("1815" on the title page), which together make up the first edition of the collection, containing 156 stories. They wrote a two-volume work titled Deutsche Sagen, which included 585 German legends; these were published in 1816 and 1818. The legends are organized in the chronological order of historical events to which they were related. The brothers arranged the regional legends thematically for each folktale creature, such as dwarfs, giants, monsters, etc. not in any historical order. These legends were not as popular as the fairytales.

A second edition of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen followed in 1819-22, expanded to 170 tales. Five more editions were issued during the Grimms' lifetimes, in which stories were added or subtracted. The seventh edition of 1857 contained 211 tales. Many of the changes were made in light of unfavorable reviews, particularly those that objected that not all the tales were suitable for children, despite the title. The tales were also criticized for being insufficiently German; this not only influenced the tales the brothers included, but their language. They changed "fee" (fairy) to an enchantress or wise woman, every prince to a king's son, every princess to a king's daughter. (It has long been recognized that some of these later-added stories were derived from printed rather than oral sources.) These editions, equipped with scholarly notes, were intended as serious works of folklore. The Brothers also published the Kleine Ausgabe or "small edition," containing a selection of 50 stories expressly designed for children (as opposed to the more formal Große Ausgabe or "large edition"). Ten printings of the "small edition" were issued between 1825 and 1858.

The Grimms were not the first to publish collections of folktales. There were others, including a German collection by Johann Karl August Musäus published in 1782-7. The earlier collections, however, made little pretence to strict fidelity to sources. The Brothers Grimm were the first workers in this genre to present their stories as faithful renditions of the kind of direct folkloric materials that underlay the sophistication of an adapter like Perrault. In so doing, the Grimms took a basic and essential step toward modern folklore studies, leading to the work of folklorists like Peter and Iona Opie and others.

The Grimms' method was common in their historical era. Arnim and Brentano edited and adapted the folksongs of Des Knaben Wunderhorn; in the early 1800s Brentano collected folktales in much the same way as the Grimms. The early researchers were working before academic practices for such collections had been codified.


In the very early 19th century, the time in which the Brothers Grimm lived, the Holy Roman Empire had recently dissolved, and the modern nation of Germanymarker did not exist. In its place was a confederacymarker of 39 small- to medium-size German states, many of the states newly created by Napoleon when he reorganized Germany. The major unifying factor for the German people of the time was a common language. Part of what motivated the Brothers in their writings and in their lives was the desire to help create a German identity.

Less well known to the general public outside of Germany is the Brothers' work on a German dictionary, the Deutsches Wörterbuch. It was extensive, having 33 volumes and weighing 84 kg. It is still considered the standard reference for German etymology. Work began in 1838, but by the end of their lifetime, only sections from the letter 'A' to part of the letter 'F' were completed. The work was not considered complete until 1960.

Jacob is recognized for enunciating Grimm's law, the Germanic Sound Shift, that was first observed by the Danish philologist Rasmus Christian Rask. Grimm's law was the first non-trivial systematic sound change to be discovered.

Books and film

In 1962, the United States movie The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm was released, with a cast including Barbara Eden, Russ Tamblyn, Yvette Mimieux and other high-profile stars of the time. Directed by Henry Levin, the movie intertwined a fictionalised version of the Grimm brothers' lives as young men with fantasy productions of some of their fairy tales (directed by George Pal). It went on to win the 1963 Oscar for costume design and was nominated in several other categories.

In 1977, a made-for-tv musical called "Once Upon A Brothers Grimm" aired in the United States. It starred Dean Jones as Jakob and Paul Sand as Wilhelm. The basic plot presented the brothers' traveling and getting lost in a forest, and encountering various characters from the tales that made them famous.

In 1998, in the movie Ever After, the Grimm Brothers visit an elderly woman, the Grande Dame of France, who questions their version of the Cinderella story. The Brothers Grimm reply that there was no way for them to verify the authenticity of their story as there were so many different versions. She proceeds to tell the story of "Danielle De Barbarac".

In 2001, a Grimme Prize-nominated German TV crime thriller entitled A Murderous Fairytale (Ein Moerderisches Maerchen) used elements of Brothers Grimm fairytales. In the film directed by Manuel Siebenmann and written by Daniel Martin Eckhart, the elderly killer challenges the detectives with a series of Brothers Grimm fairytale riddles.

In 2002, comic book writer Bill Willingham created the comic book Fables, which includes characters from "fables" as the main characters. Many of these characters are among those collected by the Grimm brothers.

In 2005, a movie based roughly on the Grimm brothers and their tales was made called The Brothers Grimm, starring Heath Ledger as Jacob Grimm and Matt Damon as Wilhelm Grimm. The film, directed by Terry Gilliam, resembles the contents of the sagas from the brothers' collections, much more than the academic nature of their lives.

In 2005, author Michael Buckley began a popular young reader's series (geared for age 7-12) titled The Sisters Grimm in which the two characters, sisters, are the direct descendants of the Brothers Grimm. They discover the family secret in which the fairy tales told in their ancestor's stories are not fictional, but instead all exist in a fairy tale realm. The sisters are brought into that realm to solve mysteries that sometimes spill into their world.

In 2006, the crime novel Brother Grimm, by author Craig Russell, was published. A serial killer stalks Hamburg and uses themes of Brothers Grimm fairytales to pose his victims and to write riddles about the next one. Chief Detective Jan Fabel has to hunt down the Fairytale Killer, as the press soon calls him.

Some of the Grimms' stories (including Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella) were adapted as animated feature films by the film-making company of Walt Disney. Two more fairy-tales popularised by the brothers, The Princess and the Frog and Rapunzel, are in production. Snow White is said to be transferred onto the screen by the Walt Disney Animation Studios in yet undefined future.


The DbA (Deutsches biographisches Archiv) records Wilhelm's name as "Grimm, Wilhelm Karl".

The 1879 edition of the AdB (Allgemeine deutsche Biographie) gives the names as "Grimm: Jacob (Ludwig Karl)" and "Grimm: Wilhelm (Karl)".

The National Union Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints (NUC) also gives Wilhelm's name as "Grimm, Wilhelm Karl".


  1. Thomas O'Neill, National Geographic, December 1999,
  2. "Jakob Ludwig Karl Grimm", Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, 2nd ed., 8 vols. Gale Group, 2002.
  3. Die Brueder Grimm Timeline at Retrieved February 4, 2007.
  4. James M. McGlathery, ed., The Brothers Grimm and Folktale, Champaigne, University of Illinois Press, 1988.
  5. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, 'Women Who Run with the Wolves, p 15 ISBN 0-345-40987-6
  6. Kamenstsky, Christa. The Brothers Grimm & Their Critics: Folktales the Quest for Meaning. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1992.
  7. Two volumes of the second edition were published in 1819, with a third volume in 1822. The third edition appeared in 1837; fourth edition, 1840; fifth edition, 1843; sixth edition, 1850; seventh edition, 1857. All were of two volumes, except for the three-volume second edition. Donald R. Hettinga, The Brothers Grimm: Two Lives, One Legacy, New York, Clarion Books, 2001; p. 154.
  8. Kathleen Kuiper, Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature, Springfield, MA, Merriam-Webster, 1995, p. 494; Valerie Paradiz, Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales, New York, Basic Books, 2005, p. xii. One example: the tale "All Fur," Allerleirauh, in the 1857 collection derives from Carl Nehrlich's 1798 novel Schilly. Laura Gonzenbach, Beautiful Angiola: The Great Treasury of Sicilian Folk and Fairy Tales, London, Rootledge, 2003; p. 345.
  9. Peter and Iona Opie. The Classic Fairy Tales, London, Oxford University Press, 1974, is the most famous of their many works in the field.
  10. Ellis, One Fairy Story too Many, pp. 2-7.
  11. Grimm Brothers' Home Page, University of Pittsburgh, Retrieved February 28, 2007.
  12. Deutsche National Bibliothek, citing NDB (Neue Deutsche Biographie)
  13. Deutsche National Bibliothek, citing NDB (Neue Deutsche Biographie), DbA (Deutsches biographisches Archiv) and NUC (National Union Catalog) pre 1956 records


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