Into the Woods Again and Again

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PERHAPS THE GREATEST IRONY concerning the profound legacy of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s Children’s and Household Tales (1812), celebrating its bicentenary worldwide this year, is that the fame of the tales is due in great part to Edgar Taylor, a British lawyer, who produced the first English translation, German Popular Stories, in 1823. Actually, Taylor adapted the Grimms’ tales, and thus transformed them into unusual jocose stories for children and middle-class families. He also included 22 hilarious illustrations by the great caricaturist George Cruikshank. Surprisingly, the serious Grimms, who never took care to have their tales enlivened with illustrations, were so impressed by Taylor’s highly successful book that they followed his example in all the editions they published after 1823 and until 1857. The Grimms remained true to their original scholarly intention of salvaging the great oral tradition of storytelling, while artfully editing the tales according to the tastes and values of their contemporary reading public. Meanwhile, Taylor, who published another translation called Gammer Grethel in 1839, continued to influence the reception and legacy of the Grimms in Great Britain and also in North America up through the twentieth century. Thanks to Taylor and other British translators, the Grimms became known as delightful writers for children whose books also had an appeal for adults, even though the original works were never intended for children.

more from Jack Zipes at the LA Review of Books here.

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