When W. H. Auden claimed that Grimms’ fairy tales “rank next to the Bible in importance,” he may have been right—at least in 1944. Auden could not have anticipated, however, the criticism that Grimms’ tales were to undergo during the last half of the twentieth century, beginning already in 1947, when the brothers’ tales became controversial because of their implication in Nazi ideology.
Nor could Auden have anticipated how the classic tales would be challenged throughout the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. Foremost among those asking tough questions were feminists, progressive pedagogues, and sociopolitical critics, whose resistance to the stories was fueled by revelations that the Grimms had reshaped tales to suit their own nineteenth-century middle-class values.
This reevaluation and the surge of fairy-tale studies over the last forty years have definitely altered the reception of Grimms’ tales. Writers, filmmakers, and creative artists in every medium have produced countless new fairy tales and adaptations. There has also been a flood of new editions, anthologies, and translations of authors and editors who had long been overshadowed by the Grimms.
When Jack Zipes published his 2004 translation of Sicilian folktales collected by Laura Gonzenbach, he wondered whether Gonzenbach was “more important perhaps than the Brothers Grimm.” I’m not sure about that, but just asking the question proves the fairy-tale canon is in flux. In 2010, an overwhelming number of tales compete for our attention—not only in bookstores, television, and movie theaters, but also on the Internet. Nowadays, even Disney has to try harder.
Donald Haase is Professor of German at Wayne State University. His previous books include Fairy Tales and Feminism: New Approaches (2004), and The Reception of Grimms’ Fairy Tales: Responses, Reactions, Revisions (1993).