Brothers Grimm: the men behind the standards of Western civilization

by Tolovaj

Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm wrote most popular collection of fairy tales of all times. They also helped to set some of most important values for all humankind.

Brothers Grimm wrote Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Frog Prince, Snow White, Cinderella and many other famous fairy tales. In fact they were collectors who tried to preserve national heritage with writing hundreds of stories existed only in oral tradition in those times.

But they accomplished much more than initially intended. Let me try to amaze you with top 10 facts from their interesting life!

(Image credit:, PD licence)

Top 10 amazing facts from brothers Grimm's life

Family Grimm

1. Jakob (also Jacob) and Wilhelm (William) were born less than one and a half years apart. They were oldest surviving brothers in a family with eight boys and one girl (three of boys died before they reached the age of two). The pattern of many brothers and only one sister can be found in several of their fairy tales. They even rewrote some of the fairy tales to meet that criteria!

2. Their father died of pneumonia when Jakob was only eleven years old. Jakob and Wilhelm soon took responsibilities of adult persons. They were brilliant students but felt excluded from many activities because of their relative poverty. So instead of partying they studied more and harder. They developed strong working ethic and sensitivity for weak, poor and excluded from society.

3. Jakob and Wilhelm were not the only artists in the family. Their younger brother Ludwig was engraver and painter and professor at art school. He also illustrated first edition of now famous Children's and Household Tales, more known simply as Grimm's Fairy Tales.

Drawing of Jakob and Wilhelm by their brother Ludwig

This is how the younger brother portrayed famous collectors of fairy tales
This is how the younger brother portrayed famous collectors of fairy tales, PD licence
Jakob and Wilhelm as scientists

4. Brothers Grimm at first studied to become lawyers, like their father. Under above mentioned circumstances and inspired from one of their professors they begun exploring cultural inheritance of not fully integrated Germany. Most countries in Europe in 18th century still didn't develop national awareness and Germany was no exception.

The invisible glue with great potential of connecting different people with different dialects, different backgrounds and different interests under one state, were legends and fairy tales. People from East, West, South and North parts of Germany barely shared their language but they certainly shared numerous folk stories. Only few of them were written and young brothers started to collect them.

5. Legends and fairy tales were not the only occupation of Jakob and Wilhelm who soon became respected researchers of cultural past of German culture. They also started writing first dictionary of German language. Of course this was tremendous job and none of them never saw the final result: complete dictionary with impressive weight of more than 80 (!) kilograms.

6. First edition of Children and Household Tales with 86 stories in first volume and 70 stories in second volume was meant for scientists and researchers only. Soon they realized the potential of the stories loaded with morals. It seemed just right to present them to children in new society. Old feudal system was retreating to new order of bourgeois society. With fairy tales children could easier understand what is right and what is wrong.

Of course brothers Grimm had their own system of values developed on reformed Calvinistic doctrine. They believed in hard work and modest life, so they favored stories which featured perseverance, honesty and fairness. Some fairy tales already fitted in this model, others have been rewritten.

Illustration from Goose Girl by Hermann Vogel (PD licence)

(from Grimm's Fairy Tales, 1910)
Goose Girl by Hermann Vogel
Goose Girl by Hermann Vogel
Public Domain Pictures of Fairy Tales
Collectors, writers or censors?

7. Brothers Grimm collected many fairy tales but some of them never managed to get in their collection and other were thrown out when they discovered they don't belong to German literary tradition. Puss in Boots and Blue Beard were for instance thrown out and Sleeping Beauty (aka Briar Rose) was included only after they found relation with tale of Brynhild in German folklore.

8. They were collecting stories for several years and rewriting them for the rest of the life. Because fairy tales were aimed for children brothers Grimm felt every insinuation of sexual activity should be erased. So children of Sleeping Beauty (yep, in earlier version she gave illegitimate birth to twins) vanished from Grimm's Fairy Tales, Rapunzel wasn't pregnant in later versions and even the mentioning of bed in Frog Prince was erased!

9. Jakob and Wilhelm also believed in strong family values, so they changed roles for many villains in the classic fairy tales. In older versions mother (not step mother) tried to kill the Snow White, father (not step mother) of Hansel and Gretel wanted to leave the children in the woods and Cinderella killed her biological mother (and got away with the murder!).

Sleeping Beauty by Viktor Vasnetsov (PD licence)

Painting from late 19th century
Sleeping Beauty by Viktor Vasnetsov
Sleeping Beauty by Viktor Vasnetsov
Grimm's Fairy Tales and stereotypes

10. By today's standards Grimm's fairy tales are far too brutal and stereotypical. But we should know they were written in different times with different values in Jakob's and Wilhelm's minds. Objection about helpless heroine passively waiting for her prince is only partly true. Many female characters in Grimm's collection show courage, enterprise and a lot of imagination in their pursuits.

Grimm's fairy tales are of course not perfect for every occasion but most of the values they are promoting (be nice, work hard, take responsibilities) are values of today's society too. So with proper approach we should present them to our children to educate and enjoy. After all Grimm's Fairy Tales are not on UNESCO World Document Heritage list without reason, right?

My main resources

(first two are written in Slovene language)

Brata Grimm (Brothers Grimm)
Short biography of brothers Grimm, most known collectors of fairy tales who inspired many other collectors, writers, folklorists and even psychologists.

Pravljice bratov Grimm (Fairy Tales of brothers Grimm)
The most famous and influential collection of fairy tales in the world. How they were collected and rewritten to fit into value system of brothers Grimm.

Brothers Grimm
Short story about famous collectors of fairy tales with some more amazing facts about their life, work and fairy tales.

Public Domain Pictures of Fairy Tales

All the illustrations presented above (and many more) are available on this blog where you can find some additional info about the artists and more interesting resources.

Updated: 10/14/2016, Tolovaj
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Tolovaj on 11/01/2020

Your visits and comments are always appreciated, DerdriuMarriner!

DerdriuMarriner on 10/29/2020

Tolovaj, Thank you for the pretty pictures and the 10 fun facts.
It's quite eye-opening to read about the brutality -- as you mention as fun fact 9 -- that was eliminated from the final versions. To paraphrase Shakespeare's Juliet, would Sleeping Beauty be as appealing if known as Briar Rose?
Previously, over the last year or two, I read and voted on all your articles even though I didn't leave comments on the older ones. But I thought that with time now to leisurely go back to my favorites on Wizzley (I've read all authors on the German Wizzley and all but five or six authors on the English), I'd leave the questions that I didn't ask the first time around.

Tolovaj on 12/19/2017

Thank you Ben-El, for your kind words.

Ben-El on 09/08/2017

Thanks Tolovaj for your exposition of the Brothers Grimm! I loved the write-up and new info I read thereby. Also read that of H.C. Andersen. Hope you're having a wonderful day and writing up another interesting piece. on 07/18/2017

also search for the Snapchat app. And after that follow the online directions to download this app on your tool. When the download is finished you have to enter.

Tolovaj on 08/20/2013

You are right, WriterArtist, these people did impressive work. Not just Grimms, they are only two among thousands more or less known scientists and enthusiasts who helped to preserve the past to help us making better future.

WriterArtist on 08/20/2013

We owe it to these writers to preserve our valuable heritage and folklores. I am thankful to them that they took it on themselves to rewrite the stories, most of them would have forgotten and got deeply buried otherwise.

Tolovaj on 08/19/2012

Thank you, it is greatly appreciated!

Mira on 08/19/2012

On my (new) Literature Board, actually :-)

Mira on 08/19/2012

Now on my Writing Board on Pinterest :-)

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