Grimms’ Fairy Tales - Fairy-Tale Witches and Mother Goose

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Grimms’ Fairy Tales
Fairy-Tale Witches and Mother Goose

The Brothers Grimm, Jakob (January 4, 1785-September 20, 1863) and Wilhelm (February 24, 1786-December 16, 1859), first began collecting these stories in 1806 largely from female sources. Two hundred and ten stories would be published although not all in the same edition. Their original intent was to preserve the folk tradition that they perceived as the expression of the German soul. (Ironically many of the stories derive from French-Huguenot sources.)

Jakob Grimm was also the author of the massive four-volume Teutonic Mythology (1835). He himself drew parallels between folktales and mythology, especially the Song of the Nibelungs.

The massive popularity of Grimms’ fairy tales sparked the modern field of folkloric studies. Unlike Hans Christian Andersen or Oscar Wilde, the Brothers Grimm didn’t create their own stories but relied entirely on sources. Yet, at the same time, they didn’t merely transcribe the narrator’s voice as today an anthropologist theoretically would, but selectively edited, polished, and revised these stories. The brothers admitted deleting phrases and topics they considered unsuitable for children but insisted that they preserved the “spirit” of the tales.

The Brothers Grimm, Jakob in particular, did not initially perceive that they were writing for a children’s market but envisioned a readership of other scholars and folklorists. “Folklore” however had not yet emerged as a respected academic subject; the topic confused many people. In the rational, industrialized nineteenth century, the stories seemed like they should be intended for children, yet the subject matter of many of these tales (sex, pregnancy, child abuse, incest) was not exactly conventional middleclass bedtime-story material. Grimms’ fairy tales were initially criticized as inappropriate for children.

Their publisher—and Wilhelm—realized the commercial potential of their work (although the Grimms themselves never made much money from their tales). Subsequent editions were revised to be more appealing to middleclass parents:

Image While in some cases stories became more violent, sexual references were deleted.

Image Evil but formerly biological mothers transformed into wicked stepmothers.

Image Christian references were inserted and emphasized. Greater emphasis was placed on rites of marriage and church attendance. (In early versions of The Frog Prince, for instance, once the frog has transformed back into a handsome prince, he and the princess hurry to bed; in later versions, they hurry off to church to be married first.)

The first edition of Kinder- und Hausmärchen was published in 1819. Eventually seven editions featuring substantial revisions would be published.

While there are witches, elves, goblins, millers, and devils aplenty in Grimms’ fairy tales, there are almost no “fairies.” The original German title does not actually refer to fairies, or to any other type of supernatural creature for that matter. The title is more accurately translated as Children’s and Household Tales or Nursery and Household Tales and frequently as Grimms’ Tales for Young and Old.

Witches appear in many of the tales, including the following.