Review: The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales

The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy TalesThe Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales
by Maria Tatar

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Hard Facts of Grimms' Fairy Tales / 0-691-11469-2

Like many of us, I am deeply interested in fairy tales and I eagerly anticipated this book, looking forward to an engaging, informative handling of the content and textual analysis of the Grimms' tales, with a focus on the un-"child-friendly" elements so common in the stories, due to their original intent to entertain mature audiences.

Unfortunately, I was profoundly disappointed in this book. Clarity and organization are severely lacking and the whole book feels very much like a hastily expanded dissertation that was haphazardly padded to 'book size'. The writing runs in various different directions, often seemingly at random, with no clear view of why a certain topic was discussed, nor how it led into the next topic.

For example, in the first chapter ("SEX AND VIOLENCE: The Hard Core of Fairy Tales"), Tatar deals very briefly and very superficially on the existence of sex and violence in fairy tales before moving hurriedly on to devote the bulk of the chapter on the Grimms' financial difficulties, publishing woes, irritation over harsh critics, and such varied and dissimilar themes as the differences in vernacular between various editions, the misfortunes of modern compilers who have not had the older, less heavily edited versions available, and authors who failed to realize that the "Grimms" author were two people, not one. Most of these topics, as the shrewd reader will note, have little or nothing to do with sex or violence in Grimms' fairy tales or any others, so it is deeply unclear why this comprised the bulk of a chapter titled "SEX AND VIOLENCE".

Another flaw in this book pointing to a dissertation source is Tatar's baffling obsession with diagrams. Multiple diagrams are devoted to detailing the difference between "fairy" tales and "folk" tales. This was not a topic that interested me whatsoever, and the multitude of pages devoted to it was deeply annoying. What does the difference between a fairy/folk tale have to do with the "hard facts" of the Grimms' tales? Nothing, as we later find out. It's just something Tatar is interested in, and she hopes we will be, too. Slightly more pertinent is the number of diagrams devoted to detailing the relationships between various story archetypes, but once again, I did not buy this book to learn about the archetypes of fairy tales, but rather to deal with the "hard facts" of the Grimms' tales - specifically the existence of, explanation for, and critical analysis of the sex, violence, and abandonment in the Grimms' tales, along with the fact that a number of endings were very much "happily ever after". The lack of serious treatment of these grim topics makes me feel that this book was misnamed in an attempt to drum up sales.

I do not think it is appropriate to market a book to an audience expecting analysis and explanation of the content of the Grimms' tales, when the book should more accurately be billed as a "history of the publication of the Grimms' tales" or "an analysis of relationships between archetypal characters in classic fairy/folk tales" or something similarly close to the actual content of this book. If you want a book on deconstructing fairy tales in general, this is a decent resource, if somewhat dry. If you want a book on the grim realities of the Grimms' tales, look elsewhere.

~ Ana Mardoll

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