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Grimms' Fairy Tales

Grimms' Fairy Tales


by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Analysis: Allusions

When authors refer to other great works, people, and events, it’s usually not accidental. Put on your super-sleuth hat and figure out why.

Religious References

  • The Bible (The Twelve Brothers.32)
  • Folk Christianity, or the interpretations and practice of Christianity that deviate from the official teachings of the Church, but reflect the everyday religious lives of people (The Bremen Town Musicians.97; Old Hildebrand.321; The Two Kings' Children.375; The Animals of the Lord and the Devil.463; Eve's Unequal Children.526; The Hazel Branch.594)
  • Pre-Christian Beliefs: (Mother Holle.89; The Elves.140; The Water Nixie.267)
  • Because fairy tales are often set in long ago and far away, they don't always reference concrete historical events or places. But fairy tales, like all folklore, exhibit a cool phenomenon we like to call intertextuality: the idea that all texts reference other texts.
  • Basically, nothing exists in a vacuum, and you can't tell a story without at least implicitly referencing the other stories in that genre. In the case of fairy tales, the Grimms most likely knew about preexisting versions of some of the tales in their collection, and modified them to reflect the values they wanted to convey.
  • Researching fairy tales ends up being a bit like playing detective, as you need to figure out which versions preceded the version you're working on, which choices an author, taleteller, or editor might've consciously or unconsciously made in adapting the tale to their current context, and so on. Sherlock Holmes has nothing on us.
  • And, as a final note, we have to point out that these fairy tales have been shouted out to more than almost any other work of literature ever. Versions of these stories are everywhere in our culture—you just need to keep an eye out to spot them.

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