Marvels & Tales 19.2 (2005) 350-354
[Access article in PDF]
The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm Accepted into UNESCO's Memory of the World Registry
In June 2005 the Grimms' annotated reference copies of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen were officially inscribed in UNESCO's Memory of the World Registry, which is dedicated to preserving the world's documentary heritage. The following text by Dr. Bernhard Lauer, director of the Brüder Grimm-Museum in Kassel, explains the foundation for the nomination, which led to UNESCO's ultimate recognition of the documentary importance of these texts from the founding years of fairy-tale studies.—Ed.
The Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales) of the Brothers Grimm are, next to the Luther Bible, the world's best-known and most widely distributed book of German cultural history. At the same time, they are the first systematic compilation and the first scientific documentation of the entire European and Oriental fairy-tale tradition. They have been translated into more than 160 languages and cultural dialects from all continents.
The Kinder- und Hausmärchen are like a concave mirror that captures a fairy-tale tradition marked by several cultures, compiles it in a new form, bundles it together, and reflects it in such a way that a new tradition emerges and, bound to the work itself, unfolds with worldwide impact. The worldwide distribution of the Grimms' fairy tales is also a demonstration of their exemplary character, which, rooted in German romanticism, takes up the poetry of the human realm of imagination and sets it down in a universally valid form. The uniqueness and global impact of this collection may be ascribed to the fact that the Brothers Grimm, in their literary encoding of the preliterary tradition, extended beyond the German and European frame of reference and created a universal pattern for the cross-cultural fairy-tale tradition. [End Page 350]
The most significant preserved historical source for the origins and effect of the Grimms' fairy tales are the Kassel Handexemplare (Annotated Reference Copies) of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen, with numerous supplements and notes written in the Grimms' own hand, as well as various other handwritten materials.
Jacob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm (1786–1859) Grimm, the famous German fairy-tale collectors and philologists, are among the great minds and personalities of the nineteenth century. They found recognition and appreciation not only in their own time and country but also far beyond to the present day, when they continue to enjoy manifold regard through out the world. With their groundbreaking collections and historical-critical research approach, which focuses on the language, history, and uniqueness of popular culture (of the Volk, i.e., "the people"), the brothers did more than just make an important contribution to the political unification of Germany in the nineteenth century. Through their scientific efforts and political activities, the latter of which were clearly marked by ethical principles (e.g., their participation in the protest of the Göttingen Seven in 1837 or Jacob Grimm's activity in the first German National Parliament in Frankfurt's St. Paul's Church in 1848), they always stood up for the principle of liberty founded upon law and history. Their historical and critical conception radiated out in an exemplary manner to other European peoples' search for identity and national rebirth and, in addition to Germanic philology and modern literary folklore, strongly influenced Celtic, Romanic, and Slavic philology, which were coming into being at that time. Above all, the Grimms achieved world fame through their Kinder- und Hausmärchen, which are found in millions of homes throughout the world.
Although the Brothers Grimm were born into and clearly marked by a time of awakening national consciousness and emerging national movements, they never conceived of their scientific research and collecting activities as being limited to the boundaries of their own country. Instead, they always cast their sights far beyond Germany's borders and included numerous other cultures and traditions in their research. Not only biographically—from the small Hessian town of Hanau, where they were born, to the country town of Steinau, to...