Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, popularly knows as The Brothers Grimm, were German academics who, in the early 19th century, studied, compiled and published hundreds of folklore tales that have become an integral part of Western culture. They published their first edition of tales, titled Children’s and Household Tales, or just Grimm’s Fairy Tales, in 1812 and many editions have been published since.
Listening Library has just released a new audio version of 21 of the Grimm Brothers’ original fairy tales (not to be confused with the cleaned-up versions they later published as more suitable for civilized children). It’s narrated by a full-cast that includes some of the best and most popular readers in the business.
Here are the stories and narrators:
“Rapunzel” read by Katherine Kellgren
“Cinderella” read by January LaVoy
“Little Red-Cap” read by Simon Vance
“Little Briar-Rose” read by Grover Gardner
“Little Snow-White” read by Kate Rudd
“Rumpelstiltskin” read by Jim Dale
“The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces” read by Alfred Molina
“A Riddling Tale” read by Janis Ian
“The Twelve Brothers” read by Graeme Malcolm
“The White Snake” read by Scott Brick
“The Elves” read by Bahni Turpin
“The Six Swans” read by Davina Porter
“The Twelve Huntsmen” read by Dion Graham
“The Goose-Girl” read by Edoardo Ballerini
“Sweet Porridge” read by Jayne Entwistle
“The Golden Goose” read by Luke Daniels
“Eve’s Various Children” read by Roy Dotrice
“Snow-White and Rose-Red” read by Julia Whelan
“The Frog-King, or Iron Henry” read by Kirby Heyborne
“The Sea-Hare” read by Mark Bramhall
“Hansel and Gretel” read by Robin Miles
If you’re an audio reader, you can look at that list of narrators and just know that this is an excellent production. Several of these readers are award-winning mega-stars in the audio business.
The stories, of course, are mostly familiar, though, if you haven’t read the original tales and have mostly been exposed to the Disneyfied versions, they will surprise you. For example, Cinderella has no fairy godmother, there’s no pumpkin coach or crew of helpful mice, and her slippers were golden, not glass. And did you realize that Snow White is really kind of stupid?
If you’ve never read 21 Grimm Brothers fairy tales back to back, you may also not realize how repetitive the stories’ elements are. There are so many kings and queens, princes and princesses, vain beautiful women, couples longing for children, wicked stepmothers, beautiful daughters promised as prizes (to superficial men who are willing to marry them just because they’re beautiful), brothers turning into birds, huntsmen, apples, needle pricks, bad bargains, eyes being pecked out by birds, really uncomfortable shoes, and lots of happily ever afters.
Some of the lesser known stories are really disturbing and it’s easy to see why they’re not popular. There’s also quite a bit of sexism and classism and a disdain for anything not beautiful. Growing up with these tales, Is it any wonder that from a young age we learn to admire and reward beauty while feeling contempt and disdain for anyone who doesn’t measure up? The worst story is “Eve’s Various Children” in which Eve presents her pretty children to God and he gives them the gifts of nobility, learning, and other riches. When Eve sees the great gifts they were given, she fetches the ugly, dirty and “coarse” children and asks for blessings for them too. But they are made laborers and peasants because, as God explains and Eve understands, there has to be somebody to serve the pretty people. What a horrible story!
Despite my distaste for some of the Grimm Brothers’ folktales, I think everyone should read them as they were originally written because they’re part of our history and culture. Listening Library’s 3.5 hour long audio version is now my preferred version and I will be listening to these stories again with my children (who mostly know the Disney versions) and using the opportunity to discuss each story’s merits and flaws. I do not think these stories deserve 5 stars, but this audio production of this influential work absolutely does.