Day 6

Day 6 encore: Four stories that prove the Brothers Grimm are even grimmer than you think

A new translation of the first Brothers Grimm book sheds new light on just how grim the brothers could get. Jack Zipes, editor and translator of the brand-new Complete First Edition of The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of The Brothers Grimm.

A new translation of the first Brothers Grimm book sheds new light on just how grim the brothers could get. Jack Zipes, editor and translator of the brand-new Complete First Edition of The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of The Brothers Grimm, shared some of the most startling stories and details when he spoke to Brent in November, 2014 about his new collection, which includes stories that have never been translated into English and other long-lost tales. 

 How Some Children Played at Slaughtering

"Once there was a father who was slaughtering a pig in the yard," Jack Zipes told Brent. "His two sons saw him do this, and they decided to play slaughtering. One of the brothers became the pig, and the other became the slaughterer and he slit the throat of the younger brother. In the meantime, the mother was watching upstairs from a window and saw what had happened. She ran downstairs and took the knife out of the boys throat and, out of fury, she stabbed the older boy in the heart. And then she realized the baby was upstairs, and in the meantime the baby had died and drowned in the tub. She was so remorseful she committed suicide. The father, he was so dismayed that after two years he wasted away."

The Children of Famine

"A widow is starving with her two children," says Zipe. "And because she can't find any food, she thinks she might have to eat them. The two children, two girls, do their best not to get eaten by their own mother." The story ends abruptly and cryptically, with the children promising to lie down and sleep "until judgement day" and the mother departing to "nobody knows where." 

Why Wicked Mothers Became Wicked Stepmothers 

Some of villainous characters who became wicked stepmothers in later versions were biological mothers in the first edition of the Grimm tales. Snow White's own mother wanted to murder her daughter in the original tale. 

"She was only seven-years-old," says Zipes. "The mirror declares a seven-year-old more beautiful than this obviously beautiful queen, and the mother is so enraged that she wants her daughter murdered. In Hansel and Gretel, it's also not a stepmother. It's a biological mother who wants to abandon her daughter in the woods where they will probably be eaten by beasts. So there are these shifts that the Grimms made, either because they thought this was a detriment to mothers...or because they were mirroring conditions that were fairly typical in the 19th Century. Many women died during childbirth and the fathers would marry a very young woman who might be close in age to the eldest daughter and of course there would be a rivalry of some kind."

The Original Ending of Cinderella

One bloody detail of the Brothers Grimm tales that survived well after the first edition is the ending of Cinderella, when the wicked stepsisters try on the glass slipper. "We have a biological mother who hates the stepdaughter, Cinderella," explains Zipes. "She wants her two daughters to profit so she advises them to either cut off their toe or cut off their heel so their feet will fit into the slipper. That doesn't happen because the blood oozes out of the slipper and a bird, a dove usually says, 'Looky look look, there's blood on the foot.' The Prince goes back and finally marries Cinderella. Then on their way to the wedding, the stepsisters are invited and they are riding in a carriage that is following Cinderella and the Prince and the doves come back and peck their eyes out."

All illustrations © Andrea Dezsö, courtesy of Princeton University Press