To the Reader . . .
You are probably already familiar with "Aschenputtel," "Sneewittchen," "Rotkšppchen," and half dozen or so additional fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm; however, the Grimms published some 210 fairy tales in their famous Kinder- und Hausmšrchen, and some of their lesser known tales are just as engaging as the more popular ones. As you know, in fairy tales many of the expectations of realism are suspended. In the stories you are about to read, animals talk, as do drops of blood and the head of a dead horse; a golden fish transforms a hut into a castle; ants, ducks, and bees perceive the needs of a kindly simpleton and come to his assistance; witches transform people into objects like birds and stones, or traverse several miles with one stride; not only angels talk to people, but the devilís grandmother does as well; and a dead queen is restored to life. Characters in fairy tales take all of these supernatural things for granted; they are never surprised when they encounter a witch or a talking animal. Magic and enchantment are everywhere in the land of fairy tales. Still, there are exceptions; this collection contains one tale that contains no supernatural elements.
Most fairy tales take a hero or heroine through a trial or trials to a happy ending. You will meet a girl who needs to remain silent for six years to release her brothers from an evil spell, as well as two young men who must face witches to obtain the release of loved ones. Fairy tales have a predilection for the number three. Three trials are common: a simpleton must accomplish three difficult tasks to win the hand of the princess, a wife needs three attempts to free her husband from a powerful water sprite, a boy with the lucky skin has to get three hairs from the devil's head, and a young boy and girl must outwit a murderous cook three times.
When you enter the world of fairy tales, you find yourself in a never-never land, in no particular country and in no particular time. Many fairy tales begin with "Es war" or "Es war einmal"; these formulaic expressions serve only to place the story in the remote past. With respect to place, we read expressions like "in einem Dorfe," "durch einen Wald," "in ein Reich," with no indication of where the village, the woods, and the kingdom are.
One thing you will discover about unexpurgated fairy tales is that they are not, as Maria Tatar points out, "repositories of higher truths and moralities." A diminutive fellow helps a band of robbers steal from the king's treasury, and returns home safe and happy. Eye-for-eye retribution is commonplace in fairy tales. A young hero takes revenge on the king who tried to kill him, a kidnapper is transformed into a poodle and forced to eat glowing charcoal. A murderous stepmother is placed into a barrel that has been lined on the inside with nails; the barrel is then rolled down a hill into a river. But the reader sees none of the gory details and feels none of the pain. The most violent scene of this collection depicts a witch who, intending to chop off the head of her stepdaughter, inadvertently beheads her own daughter. The stepdaughter then takes the head and allows drops of blood to fall from it at three different places in the house. As horrible as this scene could be, it probably seems worse on this page than it does in the unreal world of the fairy tale. In any event, you will be able to judge for yourself which fairy tales can be read unchanged to small children, and which ones may need to be amended.
Since it is anticipated that most readers of this book will be students who are learning German, the Grimmsí early nineteenth-century spelling, capitalization, word order, and punctuation have been brought up to date; moreover, most archaic words and expressions have either been replaced by their modern equivalents or glossed. I have included in the blocks of vocabulary that accompany each fairy tale those words that I think you will find especially useful not only in reading the stories but also in retelling them. The marginal notes are intended to minimize your need to consult the glossary, and the glossary will curtail the use of a dictionary. Because of the tediousness and complexity of assembling a glossary, I know I must have missed a few words; for this I apologize.
But enough of this. Now itís time for you to begin reading. Enjoy the experience!
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