- Brothers Grimm: German Popular Stories by Edgar Taylor
Brothers Grimm: German Popular Stories is a reprint of Edgar Taylor’s English adaptations of the Grimms’ Kinder- und Hausmärchen. This edition is not annotated, but does include a section of scholarly notes offering varied-length overview comments for each story. It also includes relevant historical writing that gives context to Taylor’s work, such as John Ruskin’s 1868 introduction and letters between Taylor and the Grimm brothers. There are two reprinted introductions, one to Taylor’s later Gammer Grehtel and the other by “the enthusiastic publishers” Robert Meek for Grimm’s Goblins, which “reflects the popular receptions of the Grimms’ tales as children’s literature that was largely brought about by Taylor” (31). Included in this edition is also a bibliography of sources for both the tales themselves and further research. Editor Jack Zipes begins the book with a scholarly introduction titled “German Popular Stories [End Page 304] as Revolutionary Book,” in which he investigates the motivations of and influences on both the Grimm brothers and their English adaptor. Zipes argues that it was primarily through Taylor’s English adaptation, German Popular Stories, that the Grimms’ Germanic tales found a wide reading public. He argues that Taylor’s adaptation is revolutionary because “the book prompted the Brothers Grimm to revise their publishing strategy and seek a broader readership for their collected stories in Germany” (17). Zipes’s essay addresses the intentions of the Grimm brothers in their initial undertaking, how Edgar Taylor came upon their work, and finally what motivated Taylor to change and adapt the Germanic tales in the manner that he did. Overall, Zipes’s introduction is the work of a scholar deeply knowledgeable about the genre of fairy tales.
What is most compelling in Zipes’s introduction is his argument mapping the influence of Taylor’s work on the readership of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. In charting this difference, Zipes makes clear the distinctions between the 1812 edition of the German-language folktales and Taylor’s 1823 English adaptation. The motivations behind the German 1812 edition, Zipes argues, were the brothers’ desire to “discover ‘true’ and original tales that emanated from the common folk” (23) that would “breathe new life into the German cultural heritage” (22). Zipes points out that Taylor based his adaptations of the tales “on ideals and myths about the origin and dissemination of folk tales that the Grimms perpetuated” (32), and ultimately produced something “acceptable for a rising bourgeois class and a general population that was becoming more and more literate” (31). The oral tradition Taylor favored in his adaptation “shaped the tales to be read to children” (33), whereas the original German Grimm tales included layout and content (such as copious scholarly footnotes) that made clear they were intended for “the perusal of adults” (26). Zipes’s conclusion regarding these changes is that Taylor’s reworking of the tales had an important impact on how the Grimm brothers perceived their tales and how a broader, international reading public understood the German fairy tale. Taylor’s adaptations emphasized simplicity and reworked the original morally opaque fables into didactic learning tools. This emphasis prompted Wilhelm Grimm to begin “editing the German tales for the benefit of children” (17) in later editions of the brothers’ work. But unlike the more obvious lessons Taylor’s tales created, Wilhelm still emphasized the “natural virtues of the stories that were to serve as exemplary lessons without didactic morals” (17).
While Zipes’s introduction establishes a fascinating connection between the Englishman’s adaptations and the Germans’ vision of their philological philosophy, it is unclear precisely what he considers to be the revolutionary element in the relationship. At the beginning of the essay, it seems as though the revolutionary element is in the relationship between Taylor’s adaptation and the effect it had on the later editions of the Grimm brothers’ work. However, at the end Zipes argues that even after Taylor’s [End Page 305] work found its way into their hands, the Grimms...