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Reviewed by:
  • The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales
  • Donald Haase (bio)
The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales. Maria Tatar . Expanded second edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. xxxvi + 325 pp.

The fairy-tale scholarship that emerged in the 1970s and 1980s is remarkable in both its quantity and quality. Most of this work occurred in the wake of the Grimm bicentennial celebrations in 1985-86, which occasioned a fundamental reassessment of the brothers' tales and generated enormous interest—both scholarly and popular—in the fairy tale. Among the influential works of scholarship that were published during those two decades, I think in particular of the several editions of Grimms' tales edited by Heinz Rölleke; Ruth B. Bottigheimer's Grimms' Bad Girls and Bold Boys(1987); James M. McGlathery's The Brothers Grimm and Folktale(1988); and the many books authored, edited, or translated by Jack Zipes, from Breaking the Magic Spell(1979) and The Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood(1983), to The Complete Tales of the Brothers Grimm(1987) and The Brothers Grimm(1988). I also think of Maria Tatar's elegant study of the fairy tale's "hard core," The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales.Published in 1987, The Hard Factsis not only one of the most important studies that emerged from the bicentennial years, it is also, in a broader context, an exemplary work of scholarship. Attesting to the book's enduring values, Princeton University Press has now reissued it in a second expanded edition.

When I reviewed The Hard Factsafter its first publication, I emphasized its successful interdisciplinary mix of methods from folklore, literary criticism, social history, and psychoanalysis; its lucid introduction to the fundamental realities of Grimms' collecting, editing, and rewriting; its sound analysis of the Grimms' male and female characters; and Tatar's compelling deconstruction of the Bluebeard tale and its critical reception, which in the meantime has become [End Page 335]one of the most frequently cited passages of her book. My assessment and admiration for this book have not changed. Its arguments and demonstrations remain fresh, and the expanded second edition brings new materials that enhance the book's usefulness, especially in teaching. Specifically, the expanded edition includes a new preface that speaks eloquently to the problems and power of Grimms' fairy tales in our cultural and personal lives and the need to "interrogate and take the measure of their project" (xvii) precisely because of that power. The new edition also offers translations and commentaries for six tales from the 1857 edition of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen("Little Red Riding Hood," "Hansel and Gretel," "The Robber Bridegroom," "Cinderella," "Snow White," and "Thousandfurs"). Both the preface and the commentaries provide exquisitely formulated insights into Grimms' stories and in some cases brought on, at least for me, head-slapping insights into texts that have become all too familiar. For example, Tatar's brief discussion, in the preface, of "Little Red Riding Hood," the alternate ending the Grimms appended to it, and the unusual Swedish variant cited in the brothers' notes to the Kinder- und Hausmärchenprompted me to critically reconsider my understanding of how the Grimms constructed gender in the tale and to rethink how I have been teaching this story. The commentaries to the newly translated tales discuss them in psychological and cultural contexts and compare them to variants in literature, film, and popular culture. Here, too, Tatar offers fresh perspectives. For instance, after pointing out that "Snow White" has inspired fewer adaptations among artists, writers, and filmmakers than tales such as "Cinderella," she concludes that "'Snow White may well be dying a natural death in our culture (235).

The expanded edition of The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Talesenriches an already rich volume of scholarship, one that, because of its clarity and engaging style, appeals to a very wide audience and is frequently used in undergraduate courses. For the scholar and student, the second edition might have been an even richer resource if the new preface and commentaries had provided references to existing scholarship on the topics that Tatar presents so engagingly—for example, on film adaptations...


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