Them Grimm Brothers

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Like most people, I thought I knew the Brothers Grimm. Not personally, mind you, but I was familiar with their work, having read and heard their stories all my life. On the other hand, I had always been told that the versions I had read (and had read to me) were much more tame or sanitized than the originals.

I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find a new volume at our library that claimed to be the “Complete Brothers Grimm” and to be new translations straight from German (as opposed to “walking it through Mayan”, I guess). A quick perusal of the table of contents made me think I was already familiar with many of the fairy tales therein: The Princess and the Frog; Snow White; The Gallant Tailor; the Fiscally Conservative Politician and others.

After checking it out, boy, did I not know the Brothers Grimm!

Take, for instance, the story of the “Princess and the Frog.” You are probably familiar with this story and its accompanying moral. The “original” story, however, is slightly different from what you remember. [I put “original” in quotes because many of the Bros stories were just retellings of traditional German folk tales.]

So anyway, the “actual” story is about this girl who is the youngest daughter of the king. Her favorite thing to do is sit down in the forest and (I’m not kidding) toss this glass ball up into the air and catch it. She apparently does this for hours at a time. One day, though, she fails to catch the ball and it (of course) falls into a deep well. She sits there and wails for a few minutes, maybe hours, until this frog (who saw it all but has a high tolerance for wailing) offers to jump into the well and get the ball back.

The princess grabs a stick and pounds the frog senseless, knowing—as we all do—that frogs aren’t supposed to talk and she must be suffering a drug-induced stupor … possibly caused by licking the frog earlier.

Just kidding. The princess tells the frog she’ll give him gold and jewels and all kinds of stuff if he’ll bring her the ball. The frog makes a counter offer, saying he’ll get the ball if the princess will make him her constant companion and let him sleep in her bed. The princess says sure.

When the frog surfaces with the gold ball, the princess grabs it and runs away giddily, happy to have her glass ball back. That evening, she’s eating supper when (you guessed it) the frog comes to the door and tells the king about the bargain the princess had made. The king tells her the frog is right, so she lets the frog in, lets him eat her food, and carries him upstairs to her bedroom.

Once in the bedroom, though, the princess (wisely) puts the frog in the corner. But he starts complaining that he should be allowed on the bed. So the princess picks him up and chucks him as hard as she can at the wall, where he makes a splattering noise and slides to the floor.

I’m not kidding. That’s what really happens in the story. But it doesn’t end there. When the frog reaches the floor, he turns into a handsome prince and—in spite of recently having been tossed against a wall—decides he wants to marry the princess. The princess says, “OK” and they get married.

Then, suddenly, they’re in the carriage or taxi or whatever and they hear this loud popping noise. Turns out the cabbie is an old friend of the prince’s who put metal bands on his heart to keep it from breaking when the prince got turned into a frog. Now, though, the bands are popping as the cabbie’s heart swells with pride over the prince’s newfound happiness.

And that’s how it ends.

Uplifting, huh?

The thing that struck me is that I have always been used to the Grimm’s stories coming with a moral. Something like, “And so the princess learned not to judge a frog by its warts” or the like. This book has none of that. In fact, of the handful of stories I have read so far, there is neither a moral or a point. They kind of travel along nonsensically for a few pages before ending abruptly with none of the principals having learned anything.

Why were these stories written down at all? I would imagine that the intelligentsia would say that the morals are there and we’re just supposed to infer them. That would be fine except that there is no moral to be inferred in these stories. They’re just random actions strung loosely together until the Bros reached their word count.

But they are addictive. I keep reading and reading, thinking the NEXT story is bound to have a point. It never does, but I can see myself finishing this giant tome in record time, ever hungrier for meaning and never being fulfilled. There’s probably a moral in that, but I’ve been reading so much of this drivel I can no long process such higher thoughts.

BTW, I think the moral of “The Princess and the Frog” is probably “Don’t swallow the bands on your cigars ‘cause they might get wrapped around your heart and KILL YOU!”

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