The Mythology of Grimm: The Fairy Tale and Folklore Roots of the Popular TV Show by Nathan Robert Brown

This work is a must read for any fan of the NBC series Grimm, which recently began fourth season with all the timeliness of a series that started shortly before the bicentennary of the brothers’ original publication. This is the latest installment of a series of television mythology books by Nathan Robert Brown and, as always, he more than does his subject justice. The pacing, the organization, and even the index with many of the foreign and invented terms translated all help both the diehard fan and the casual reader immerse themselves in the series’ ongoing and unfolding mythos. Brown, a fellow Midwestern State University alumnus, has outdone himself once again. But, frankly, this book would be worth reading even if it had been written by a Geierkönigin. Much like the original tales themselves, this book is not for children and the reader would be well advised to give it a thorough read through before deciding to “read it to the kiddies before bedtime” (xiv). For this adult reader however, I could not put the book down once I had opened it.

The book opens with a brief historical sketch of the life of the Brothers Grimm. I say “life” in the singular because so much of it was spent together, and they seemed to suffer during their occasional but brief separations (5). The contextual setting of their earliest work of note, Kinder und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales), in 1812 while the German states were dominated by Napoleon, quickly made them a household name as they retold traditional stories in a way that helped form and reinforce pan-German identity in the face of a foreign conqueror. Indeed, it was this very sense of Germanness that later contributed to the concept of Volk that would determine, for better or for worse, so much of the course of the twentieth century. Better still, the first edition was not considered “German enough” so they upped the ante with different word choices, reflecting their unfinished dictionary project, in later versions. The history missed out on a few details of the unification process of the German Empire that was completed in the heated days of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, but these in no way detract from the overall worth of the opening chapter. The section then moves on to short comments on the lives of a predecessor in folk and fairy tales, Frenchman Charles Perrault, and a successor, Anglo-Jewish scholar and a professional hero of mine Joseph Jacobs. These are important in demonstrating the foundations upon which the work of the Brothers Grimm is established and the beginning of a successor tradition across Western culture.

The main body of the book is divided into chapters that roughly reflect the progression of the series. Unfortunately for a reader unversed in the series, there are many spoilers (though there are none for either the book or the show here). A countering strength, however, are Brown’s retellings of the stories upon which the show’s writers have drawn. This is done in the finest of traditions, as the Brothers Grimm themselves adapted the stories they collected from oral transmission in order to present a more cohesive text. As Brown puts it, one of his main goals with this book was “to make it an informative, interesting, and fun/lighthearted read,” so he chose to “use retellings instead of just quoting the source texts word for word” (xii). Because accessibility, both for the show and the original material, is of prime importance, retelling the tales is a necessity that quickly demonstrates its utility.

The sidebars peppered throughout are also interesting. Named alternately “Tasty Morsels” and “Grimm Words,” they provide further access to the world of Grimm. The “Tasty Morsels” provide context or background for the stories that might not have fit in with either the main text or retellings. The entry on the Nosegay is particularly amusing (58). The “Grimm Words” function as a sort of in-place dictionary for various terms for the Wesen and their world. Both sorts of entries are set aside as useful sidebars and can be ignored or returned to at a more convenient time should the reader be so inclined.

In all, the work is a success, and a stunning one at that, and a much treasured addition to the bookshelf of any Grimm fan.

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J. Holder Bennett spends his time in the “real” world, whatever that means, as a history professor in North Texas. The rest of the time he focuses on his real love: fandom. For the past fifteen years he’s helped run A-Kon, an anime and manga convention in Dallas, and recently organized the Fandom and Neomedia Studies (FANS) association to bring together fans and academics for the better understanding of their mutual love. He has also done work on historical fiction and collaborated on analyses of science in cinema. Yes, he’s that guy.

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