In 1812 in Germany, brothers and literary scholars Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published a collection of 86 folktales, Kinder und Hausmärchen, known in English as Grimms Fairy Tales. A major source of the brothers’ inspiration was the Romantic nationalism sweeping over a still-unified Germany. They believed a country’s folk tales were a valuable reflection of its culture—and could therefore be helpful in nation building.
Folklorists Sara Cleto and Brittany Warman share the surprising history of the Grimms’ collection, from its connection to the early field of folkloristics—and that it might not be quite as “authentic” as the brothers wanted people to believe—to its literary impact on authors such as Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and Neil Gaiman, to its use in propaganda in support of dangerous political ideologies.
Their insights into how these tales—too often dismissed as simple children’s stories—have profoundly shaped Western culture will stay with you ever after.
Cleto and Warman are former instructors of folklore and literature at Ohio State University and co-founders of the Carterhaugh School of Folklore and the Fantastic.