The Mythology of Grimm: The Fairy Tale and Folklore Roots of the Popular TV Show

The Mythology of Grimm: The Fairy Tale and Folklore Roots of the Popular TV Show

by Nathan Robert Brown


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NBC’s hit television series Grimm pits modern detective Nick Burkhardt of the Portland Police against a cast of terrifying villains—lifted directly from the pages of classic fairytales. In the world of the show, the classic stories are actually a document of real events, and Nick himself is descended from a long line of guardians, or Grimms, charged with defending humanity from the mythological creatures of the world.
From The Big Bad Wolf to Sleeping Beauty, The Mythology of Grimm explores the history and folkloric traditions that come into play during Nick’s incredible battles and investigations—tapping into elements of mythology that have captured our imaginations for centuries.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425271025
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/30/2014
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 729,392
Product dimensions: 8.20(w) x 5.40(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Nathan Robert Brown is an author, pop culture mythologist, and technical writer from Texas, currently residing in Florida. He received the 2009 Harry Brown Award for The Rape of Lilith. Nathan has done extensive research in world mythology, folklore, urban legends, ancient civilizations, and world religions, and is an expert on trinities universal themes in myth, religion, mysticism, and pop culture. He is the author of many books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide to World Mythology, World Religions at Your Fingertips, The Mythology of Supernatural, and The Mythology of Grimm. Nathan is also a public speaker and pro-bono demonology consultant

Read an Excerpt



Once upon a time, there was a man who loved writing and mythology . . . and fandoms . . . and Grimm. So when this man was given the opportunity to write The Mythology of Grimm, he saw it as a win-win situation. He also had no idea what he’d gotten himself into or how this project would completely take over his life.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet . . . I am that man.

I’d like to start off by stating that this project has occupied nearly every single day of my life for the last seven months or so. It has also been both a joy and an honor to write . . . and, at times, I worried it might drive me over the edge of madness (but I assure you, it would’ve been worth it in the end even if it had). As I got into the writing of this book, it soon became apparent to me that it was growing into a beast that could not be fed (or, at least, not fed enough). The manuscript had already gone far beyond its allotted word count before it was even three-quarters finished. As a result, I had no choice but to cut some things during the editing process. While I did my best to omit as little as possible, there were just not enough pages available in the final book (which you now hold) for me to fit in every single thing about the Grimm universe that might be considered noteworthy. However, I assure you I’ve taken great pains to be as accurate and thorough as possible. To be honest, I now know any book that covers everything having to do with the mythos of the Grimm universe would likely require a multivolume encyclopedia.

As you begin to read, you may notice that the majority of chapters in this book follow a similar format (with a few exceptions here and there). Most include retellings of the original fairy tales on which many Grimm episodes have been based. Why create retellings, you may be wondering? Why not just use the original stories, word for word? Well, to be honest, many of the original fairy tales were written down between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. To put it simply, people wrote very differently in those days. They used words that are no longer in the common vernacular of the English language . . . and some stories include little language quirks of the past that, for many modern readers, can sometimes be confusing or boring—or both. Since one of my main goals with this book was to make it an informative, interesting, and fun/lighthearted read, I decided from the beginning that I would use retellings instead of just quoting the source texts word for word. Anyone can go find the original stories. However, I believe that by retelling these stories I have been able to make them more accessible. Doing so has allowed me to show readers not only the events of these tales, but also the context (and, at times, subtext) of them. I also add a little side comment here and there. Some of these stories have some pretty crazy stuff in them, after all. Why ruin everyone’s fun by ignoring it? Having spent much of my life in the South, I have learned it’s often better not to hide your crazy relatives in the basement when you could bring them into the living room and show them off.

I fully realize, of course, that certain folks—such as literary loyalists and folklore traditionalists—might be upset with me for retelling these stories in my own words. And I think I’m good with that. I decided long before I took on this project that readability and accessibility were far more important than trying to please any would-be critics by sticking to traditional ideas. After all . . . if Grimm teaches us anything, it’s that sometimes you’ve got to shake off the old practices and prejudices of your predecessors and challenge the status quo. So that’s what I have tried to do. I took off the reins, as much as possible, in the writing of this book.

In addition to the retellings, most chapters will offer information on the background of each tale, as well as discussions of how these stories have been interpreted by mythologists and folklorists over the years. And, when applicable, mythical and historical points related to some tales will be examined. However, please keep in mind that none of these should be seen as absolutes. As with most things in mythology and folklore studies, it’s all open to interpretation. My goal with these sections is to simply introduce you to the metaphors and symbolism related to these stories, so that you might understand them from a broader point of view.

Before I finish up this introduction, I feel that I should make one thing perfectly clear—most of the stories and retellings in this book are not appropriate for children. These are not the fairy tales Disneylied to us all about when we were kids. There will be sexual innuendos. There will be backstabbing. And, above all else, there will be bloodshed. Folks (or, in some cases, animals) are going to die in the stories you read in this book, often in a number of creatively nasty ways that Disney would never even dream of depicting in an animated film (but, apparently, the Brothers Grimm and other fairy-tale writers felt these tales were totally fine for kids . . . and, to be honest, they probably were fine for kids who grew up between 1600 and 1900).

Wicked mothers-in-law will meet with ugly and painful ends in tubs full of poisonous serpents.

Children are going to be abandoned and left to die by the parents who are supposed to care for and protect them.

Innocent little girls will be sent alone into the woods to face voracious, salivating creatures that lurk in the shadows . . . looking for the first opportunity to devour them.

The corpses of dead women will be found hanging in forbidden closets.

So, let’s just say you might want to give this book a look through before you decide to read it to the kiddies before bedtime. While, yes, a number of the stories I have retold in this book do end with the words “they lived happily ever after,” one must understand that this happiness is, more often than not, reserved for a chosen few. In nearly every story, death, horror, and heartbreak await. Because . . . in the true world of fairy tales . . . there is no such thing as a happy ending for everyone. It all depends on where you’re standing when the tale is over.


CARLY: I thought he was gonna kill me.

HANK: Why?

CARLY: He’s a Grimm. It’s . . . what they do.

HANK: A what?

NICK: A Grimm . . . It’s sort of a family problem. Look, I promise I’ll explain it later. But right now you just have to trust me.

—“Kiss of the Muse” (2-20)

Long before the TV show Grimm was even an idea in someone’s head, there were the OGs—Original Grimms—Jacob and Wilhelm. And, both before and after these two brothers graced the planet with their presences, there were other men and women who served as trailblazers as pioneers in a new genre of literature that we now know as “fairy tales”—men like Charles Perrault and Joseph Jacobs, as well as women like Madame d’Aulnoy. While the Brothers Grimm are certainly the best-known folklorists of the fairy-tale tradition, even they had predecessors (just like Nick Burkhardt) and drew upon the knowledge of those who’d come before them. And they had, as one day Nick presumably shall have, descendents who learned from their examples. In this chapter, we shall look at the ghosts of Grimms past, who have allowed the creation of the present mythos of the Grimm universe.

The OGs: Original Grimms

Jacob (YAH-kob in German) Grimm was born in Hanau, Germany, in 1785, and his brother Wilhelm (VIL-helm in German) in 1786. They were the oldest of six children, the first- and second-born sons of Dorothea and Philipp Wilhelm Grimm—a scribe and magistrate to the nearby town of Steinau. Their father’s occupation came with a nice salary, allowing him to provide his family with a comfortable middle-class lifestyle (a bit more of a rarity in those days). Jacob and Wilhelm received educations under a private tutor, Herr Zinckhahn, who schooled them in subjects such as Latin, French, geography, botany, and history. Philipp was already grooming his oldest son Jacob for a career in law. Wilhelm was exceedingly intelligent as well, and seemed to have a bright future ahead of him. However, as sometimes happens, fate was about to throw the Grimm family a curveball.

In 1796, when Jacob and Wilhelm were only eleven and ten years old, their father was stricken with pneumonia. The sickness soon took the man’s life. Since he’d been too young to qualify for a pension when he died, Dorothea Grimm had no choice but to use the family savings to support them all. They soon had to give up their nice spacious home in Steinau and move into a much smaller place. Within a very short time, the life of the Grimm family was turned on its head.

In 1797, Jacob and Wilhelm were sent to live in Kassel, Germany, with Dorothea’s sister, Henriette Zimmer, so they could attend school at the illustriousLyceum Fredericianum. This was a big opportunity for the brothers, but it by no means meant their lives would get any easier. The school was a rough place for boys like them, who came from neither nobility nor privilege. Jacob often found himself fuming with anger due to the teasing of his socially prejudiced classmates. Wilhelm, on the other hand, was usually too sick to be bothered with such things. He was regularly afflicted with colds, lung/heart illnesses, and fits of asthma. However, the Brothers Grimm persevered through all these hardships and eventually graduated from Lyceum Fredericianum at the top of their classes. Despite this achievement, their experiences with poverty and social prejudice were still not at an end.

In order for the brothers to be allowed to study law at the Philipp University of Marburg (Jacob in 1802 and Wilhelm in 1803), both had to acquire special exemptions and permissions (because they were not from an affluent or noble family). They succeeded in this and gained admission. However, this did not mean they could simply breeze through like the rich kids. Both brothers had to work their rears off while at Marburg, and they were better for the experience. In fact, later in life, Jacob would write in his autobiography of what he learned from his time dealing with poverty at Marburg, saying that such a situation “inspires a healthy sense of pride based on the consciousness of one’s own merit by contrast to what is bestowed on others for their rank or wealth.” The Brothers Grimm undertook the study of law with little more than their intelligence, work ethic, and diligent study habits. Jacob’s first year at university was hard on both Grimm brothers because they were separated. Wilhelm remained at the Lyceum to finish his final year. The brothers never did well when they were apart. Most likely, this was because they could share everything during their times of poverty, and doing so made their difficulties more tolerable.

Unlike their wealthy and/or noble-born classmates, the Brothers Grimm had no choice but to live as modestly as possible. They didn’t qualify for stipends, so they had very little money between them—just enough for essentials like food and rent. They shared a very small living space with a single bed, which they also shared. Some people tend to read a little too much into the fact that the Brothers Grimm often shared a bed, but you shouldn’t. This was not uncommon for the time (even Abe Lincoln used to sleep in a bed with multiple men because that’s all his presidential campaign could afford). While their upper-crust classmates used their born-into wealth to play, travel, gamble, and pursue other such entertaining distractions, the Grimm boys had their noses in books. It didn’t take long before they’d proven themselves far superior—as students, scholars, and just plain old human beings—to their wealthier counterparts. Their obvious academic potential caught the attention of one professor in particular—Friedrich Karl von Savigny, the founder of the German Historical School of Law.

Savigny took the Brothers Grimm under his wing, introducing them to philology (the study of the structure, relationship, and development of languages) and historical research. He also gave them access to his personal library, an impressive collection of records and texts. Savigny was a big influence on the Brothers Grimm—especially Jacob, who dedicated his first philological publication, Deutsche Grammatik (German Grammar), to the man.

Savigny’s library contained more than just texts on philology and history, however. It also offered many works of romantic literature from as far back as the Middle Ages. The Brothers Grimm, who had loved such tales as children, soon became infatuated with these kinds of stories. Many believe it was this period of their lives that likely sparked the Brothers Grimm’s love affair with the folktales that eventually became their legacy.

In the early months of 1805, Savigny invited Jacob, then about twenty years old, to join him in Paris, France, as his research assistant at the University of Paris. Jacob was to assist Savigny in writing a text on the history of Roman law in the Middle Ages. Jacob could not bring Wilhelm with him, unfortunately, which meant the brothers were once again separated.

Jacob Grimm was fluent in French (as was Wilhelm) and did very well for himself while in Paris. He began to cultivate an interest in French law and culture. In 1806, only a year after his move, he was offered a well-paying position at the Hessian War Ministry. Since this job would provide him with the financial means to support his entire family, who’d remained in poverty since his father’s death, Jacob immediately accepted the job. However, as already stated, the brothers didn’t do well when they were apart. Jacob often wrote of this in the letters he sent to Wilhelm while in Paris. He wrote in one letter that, if in the future either of them planned to be away from the other, “the other must give notice at once. We are so accustomed to being together that the idea of separation causes me great distress.” While Jacob’s new job could be a bit tedious and boring, he carried out his responsibilities diligently—he needed the money to provide for the rest of his family.

In 1807, Kassel came under the control of Napoleon, who made the city the capital of his newly founded Kingdom of Westphalia and gave it to his younger brother, Jérôme, to rule. During this time, Jacob felt an increasing desire to leave his career in law to pursue his love of literature. He applied for a royal position at the public library in Kassel at the palace of Napoleonshöhe (formerly known as Wilhelmshöhe).

In 1808, King Jérôme of Westphalia offered Jacob a position as a royal librarian at the palace of Napoleonshöhe. This was an event for celebration, allowing Jacob to pursue his love of literature without sacrificing the income he needed to support his mother and siblings. However, good news was often accompanied by bad for the Grimm family. Just before Jacob officially received his new position, Dorothea Grimm died. This made Jacob solely responsible for his siblings. One can only assume this was a time of conflicting emotions for Jacob Grimm—sadness at the loss of his mother coupled with joy at receiving a position that allowed him to follow his passions.

For a guy like Jacob Grimm, the post of royal librarian at Napoleonshöhe seems to have been the perfect job. He only had to spend a few hours each day doing actual work, usually just cataloging new entries and performing other administrative duties. For the rest of the day, the library was his to explore. Jacob was soon given an additional post as auditor to the Council of State for the War Ministry. However, this doesn’t seem to have been a very time-consuming job. Perhaps the best part of the deal was that Jacob was able to send for Wilhelm to join him. It was during this period that the Brothers Grimm first began working together to collect various stories of folklore. It is important to note that the Brothers Grimm did not “create” the stories they are known for but collected and recorded them. However, this doesn’t belittle their contributions to the literary world in any way.

As seems to have been a theme for those with the Grimm name, their prosperity was mixed with hardship. By 1809, Wilhelm was twenty-three . . . and he was in pretty rough shape. He was in such bad health, in fact, that the family sent him to Halle, Germany, to be treated by Johann Christian Reil, a famous physician at the time. Reil used “magnetic” treatments (which, these days, are known as “junk science”). Wilhelm was given these ridiculously expensive treatments for six months, but they appear to have done nothing to improve his condition. In addition to his asthma, Wilhelm’s heart seemed to be ailing as well. He would later write in his autobiography, “The pain, which felt like a fiery arrow was being shot through my heart, left me with a constant sense of anxiety . . . I was not completely distraught by my illness and, when things were tolerable, I was able to work and even find some pleasure in it.”

Between Jacob’s work obligations and Wilhelm’s struggles with illness, the brothers continued to collect their stories—often by interviewing various volk (or “folk,” in this usage meaning something like “common people”) and writing down the stories as they told them. From 1809 to 1811, the Brothers Grimm pursued their work tirelessly as much as time allowed. A pair of inspired men, they hoped to publish a text of the folktales they’d collected. Only a few years after they’d begun their undertaking, this dream became a reality.

In 1812, the Brothers Grimm published their first printing of the folktales and fairy tales they’d collected. The title of their work was Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales). It would be one of the most well-received books of its time, turning the Brothers Grimm into nearly overnight sensations in the literary world. At a time when the German people found themselves under the foreign rule of Napoleon’s French empire, the primarily Germanic nature and origins of the tales in Kinder- und Hausmärchen were viewed by some as a kind of cultural resistance, a way to retain a national identity in the face of foreign occupation. It would seem the Brothers Grimm agreed with the sentiment that there was a political element in their efforts to collect these fairy tales. In his autobiography, Wilhelm wrote that “Undoubtedly, the world situation, and the need to withdraw into the tranquility of scholarship, contributed to the reawakening of this long-forgotten literature, but we were not just seeking solace in the past, we also hoped that the course on which we had embarked would contribute somehow to the return of a better day.”

Politics aside, the Brothers Grimm saw themselves as stewards of a nearly lost oral tradition of storytelling. With their collections of stories, they hoped to inspire other scholars to do as they had done—preserve such tales in written form (even those with pagan/pre-Christian origins) as accurately and entirely as possible. And, from 1812 to 1815, the Brothers Grimm continued to expand and revise their original Kinder- und Hausmärchen, publishing a number of updated editions and related collections of mythology, folklore, and fairy tales. However, the world in which they lived was changing around them (and not exactly in positive ways). In order to put things in context, there is no choice but to give you a bit of a history lesson, dear reader.

During the years in which the Brothers Grimm published their first works on fairy tales, German opposition to Napoleon’s occupation had intensified, especially when the occupying government tried to force the German people to speak only French. The German people were getting fed up with their French rulers. Unfortunately for Napoleon, he made a fatal error in 1812 when he attempted to invade and conquer Russia. To put it bluntly, he got his butt kicked. The Russians began a “scorched earth” campaign, setting fire to and then abandoning cities and towns as Napoleon’s army advanced into them. As a result, he could not resupply his men with stolen goods from the areas he took. His losses were dire, not only from battle but also from hunger and sickness. Napoleon began his campaign in Russia with roughly 500,000 troops. By December of 1812, roughly 380,000 of these troops were dead. About another 100,000 of them were prisoners of war, captured by the Russians. Napoleon fled Russia as fast as he could, even abandoning his surviving troops so he could return to the relative safety of Paris. The epic failure of his Russian campaign greatly weakened Napoleon’s military might, and just about all of his enemies (of which there were many) now smelled blood in the water . . . and they were beginning to circle.

In October 1813, a coalition army made up of Russian, German/Prussian, Austrian, and Swedish troops engaged what was left of Napoleon’s army at Leipzig in what would be the largest battle in European history until World War I. Roughly 600,000 troops took the field. The battle that followed is referred to as Völkerschlacht (Nation Battle or People’s Battle) by Germans. In the English-speaking world, this event is commonly known as the Battle of Leipzig or the Battle of the Nations. Overwhelmingly outmanned, outgunned, and outmaneuvered, Napoleon suffered a crippling defeat and retreated (yet again) back to France with his tail between his legs. Unlike the Russians, however, the coalition forces pursued him relentlessly, and by 1814, France was under siege. Napoleon was captured, forced to give up his throne, and exiled to the Mediterranean island of Elba.

The French had already been ousted from Kassel in 1813, when Jacob Grimm was given a diplomatic position in the Hessian Peace Delegation. He traveled to both Vienna and Paris to aid in the drafting of peace treaties. While this, once again, required the Brothers Grimm to be separated, it was well worth it to both if the distance meant an end to Napoleon’s empire. Once the necessary treaties were drafted and signed, Jacob rejoined Wilhelm in Kassel and resumed his position as a librarian. The next ten years would be, according to Jacob Grimm, “the quietest, most industrious . . . and most fruitful period” he’d ever known. Jacob and Wilhelm worked side by side as writers, chroniclers, and scholars. Both became incredibly prolific writers and published many more works over the years, such as Deutsche Mythologie (GermanMythology), Deutsche Rechtsalterthumer (Ancient German Law), and Deutsche Sagen (German Heroic Legends), among others.

While Jacob and Wilhelm were undoubtedly delighted to finally be reunited at the end of Napoleon’s rule, everything between them wasn’t always all unicorns and roses. As brothers tend to do, they often disagreed, had heated arguments, and just generally got on each other’s nerves. Jacob had always been the more ambitious and aggressive of the two brothers. As they grew older, though, Wilhelm began to feel his life had been overly dominated by his older sibling. He also grew increasingly intolerant of Jacob’s temperamental attitude, which made him a bit difficult to deal with at times. For example, in a letter Wilhelm wrote to his friend Ludwig Achim von Arnim (a German poet and novelist), he complained of often feeling frustrated with Jacob’s negativity: “He tends by nature to engage in criticism, and has nurtured this tendency, so that he always sees the worst side of things . . . I often worry about this condition, but then he is always extremely sensitive, often believing he’s been abandoned or neglected. He acts unhappy about it, but the truth is he is the one who alienates people with his testy nature.” Despite the occasional disagreement between them, the Brothers Grimm remained close their entire lives.

In 1825, Wilhelm married a woman named Henriette Dorothea Wild. Known by her nickname Dortchen, she was the daughter of a pharmacist living in Kassel and the great-granddaughter of a renowned philologist. Married life seemed to agree with Wilhelm, who is quoted as having referred to marriage as “God’s best blessing.” Jacob, on the other hand, remained a lifelong bachelor. In April 1826, Wilhelm and Dortchen had their first child. They named him Jacob. Sadly, the boy died that December. Infant mortality rates were far higher in those days, of course. They would have other children, but one can imagine how heartbreaking the loss of their firstborn must have been for the couple.

Even though Wilhelm was married, the Brothers Grimm continued to live under the same roof and worked together by day as librarians. In 1829, the chief librarian of the Royal Library died. An elector was chosen to select a new chief librarian and, unfortunately, neither Jacob nor Wilhelm got the job. The elector wasn’t too fond of Jacob and felt that he’d neglected his duties because he’d published his text German Grammar while working as a royal librarian. Poor Wilhelm just seems to have been viewed as guilty by association. Realizing they’d likely never be promoted now, both brothers resigned from their positions. Upon their departure, the elector is often said to have made the following (sarcastic) remark: “The Grimms are leaving? What a loss! They’ve never done anything for me.” FYI—the elector also seems to have shortly thereafter realized what a terrible mistake he’d made. Only a few weeks later, he made generous job offers to both Jacob and Wilhelm . . . which they declined.

The Brothers Grimm now moved to Göttingen, where Jacob took a job at the university as a professor of German linguistics and law. He was also given the additional appointment of head librarian. Wilhelm, as he often did, relied on his older brother and acquired a job as a librarian under Jacob. Later on, he was given a post as a professor. The reason the Brothers Grimm chose Göttingen most likely had to do with the fact that it had one of the largest and most coveted collections of texts in the world at the time. In addition, it was the first lending library in all of Germany.

By 1833, the world was transforming around the Brothers Grimm yet again. Germany had drafted a new constitution and elected its own parliament. The winds of change seemed ready to blow away the monarchical past. Unfortunately, when Ernst August I assumed the throne in 1837, the first thing he did was abolish the constitution and get rid of parliament, making himself the sole authoritative power. He also required all civil servants (which, at that time, included university professors like the Brothers Grimm) to swear oaths of allegiance to him. Seven professors resisted, among them Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.

These seven professors (eventually known as the Göttingen Seven) collectively drafted a document that stated they were loyal to the 1833 constitution and that the king had no right to abolish it. As one might imagine, the king didn’t take the news very well. Within a few weeks, all seven were dismissed from their jobs. Three professors were singled out as the ringleaders of the whole thing, Jacob Grimm among them (big surprise). The king ordered all three to leave the lands he ruled within three days or be arrested and thrown in prison. However, their strong resolve and willingness to stand against the tyranny of the king’s decree (who’d made it obvious he cared nothing for the will of his subjects) made them champions of the people . . . sort of.

Before being forced into exile, Jacob Grimm publicly addressed an assembly of students and professors: “The freedom of Christian men,” he said, quoting Martin Luther, “must give us the courage to resist our ruler if it turns out he acts against the Spirit of God and if he offends human rights.” Unfortunately for Jacob, many of his colleagues at Göttingen had sided with the king on this particular issue, choosing job security over freedom. There was no outcry among their fellow scholars for the king to repeal his decision. Sadly, as time passed, a certain amount of the German population came to view Jacob Grimm as a traitor to Germany instead of a hero of the people. Even their old mentor, Friedrich Karl von Savigny, refused to give his endorsement to their protest. Some dissidents remained, though, continuing to support the rebellious professors, and a group even tried to raise money to help the Göttingen Seven. However, after the professors made their very public protest, the university experienced a series of hardships that were blamed on the Göttingen Seven. The king stepped in and provided financial aid, later remarking that money was all he needed, all anyone needed, in order to secure the obedience of “dancers, prostitutes, and professors.” This guy was a real peach, wasn’t he?

Jacob returned to Kassel, followed shortly thereafter by Wilhelm and his beloved Dortchen. The brothers were greeted as heroes by the inhabitants of Kassel but, while everyone seemed willing to give them a pat on the back, no one was willing to offer them employment. Stripped of their incomes, they had no choice but to rely on savings, the generosity of friends, and the sporadic earnings they made from publishing. During this time, they immersed themselves in a new project that had never before been attempted—creating a comprehensive German dictionary. These were, yet again, difficult times for the Brothers Grimm. They weren’t strangers to difficulty, however, and they muddled through as they always had—together.

In 1840, both Jacob and Wilhelm were offered positions at the University of Berlin and the Academy of Sciences by the newly crowned Frederick William IV of Prussia (while Berlin is now part of Germany, it was in the Prussian Empire at that time) thanks to friends such as Savigny and Bettina von Arnim, who appealed to the king on their behalf. These positions came with very generous stipends, finally bringing an end to the brothers’ financial difficulty. This also allowed them to continue working on their comprehensive dictionary of the German language, which had turned out to be an even more time-consuming and monumental undertaking than they’d originally anticipated. They were able to move from their modest accommodations in Kassel to luxurious living quarters in Berlin (along with Dortchen, of course).

By 1848, the world of the Brothers Grimm seemed ready for transformation yet again. Many German states were changed by the large protests in Berlin and around the country, in what came to be called theMärzrevolution (March Revolution), known to most English speakers as the Revolution of 1848. The protestors insisted the king meet their demands—the establishment of a parliament, a new constitution, freedom of the press, and a return to a unified German nation. Frederick William IV, caught entirely off guard by the appearance of such a giant mob of protestors, verbally conceded to all their demands. While this moment was followed by a period of turbulence and occasional bloodshed, as such transitions often are, things finally began to change for Germany . . . and they changed for Jacob, as well.

Jacob Grimm was elected to the new parliament in 1848, which was comprised of 95 judges, 81 lawyers, 103 teachers, 17 merchants, 15 physicians, and 40 wealthy landowners. Needless to say, he was in excellent company among so many of his fellow intellectuals. At the time, in fact, many referred to it as the Professors’ Parliament because the vast majority of those who’d been elected were academics, scholars, and otherwise well-educated men. Jacob had always dreamed of changing many of the social prejudices and ills he’d experienced in his youth, and he undertook his new duties with great enthusiasm. However, his enthusiasm soon turned to disenchantment as the monarchy took steps to diminish the power of the parliament . . . eventually to such a degree that its members were impotent to do much of anything. Before the end of 1848, Jacob was through with politics. He left parliament, saddened by feelings that he’d failed to affect any real change. He also resigned from the university that year. In 1852, Wilhelm did the same.

By that time, both of the Brothers Grimm were in their mid-to-late sixties. At a time when the average life expectancy was just over sixty (for those who survived infancy), this meant they were old men. Now in their retirement years, they continued working together on their German dictionary. One can’t really claim either of the Brothers Grimm ever really “retired” in the modern sense of the word.

Jacob undertook a German translation of the epic “Reynard the Fox” (a folklore story tradition found in the Dutch, English, French, and German culture groups that follows the adventures of the trickster, anthropomorphic fox named Reynard) and wrote comparative analyses of its renditions in various languages and cultures. Wilhelm translated a number of old Scottish songs as well as various ballads, songs, and folktales from Denmark. The two worked together on a new translation of The Elder Edda, an ancient poetic epic of Norse mythology, as well as many other epics and works of romantic literature from other languages and cultures. The brothers befriended a number of well-known writers—Edgar Taylor (who translated many of their tales into English), Peter Christen Asbjørnsen (a renowned Norwegian folklorist), and Sir Walter Scott (the famous Scottish playwright, poet, and novelist who penned Ivanhoe and The Lady of the Lake).

Despite his regular illnesses, Wilhelm beat the odds (something the Brothers Grimm were rather talented at doing) and lived to the ripe old age of seventy-three. However, his history of poor health finally caught up with him and, on December 16, 1859, he died from ailments of the heart and liver. Jacob, who one can only imagine was heartbroken by the loss, gave a eulogy at Wilhelm’s funeral. He expressed his love for his little brother, calling him his Märchenbruder (roughly translated, “fairy-tale brother”).

After the death of Wilhelm, Jacob continued working diligently on that accursed German dictionary both he and Wilhelm had begun together so many years before. Even when he was so old and frail he could scarcely move, it is said he would prop himself up with a pillow and work on it late into the night. Ironically enough, the project would never be finished . . . not even halfway. The German dictionary only ever got as far as the letter F, to the word “Frucht” (fruit). As Mark Twain once remarked of German in his essay “The Awful German Language,” “Surely there is not another language that is so slipshod and systemless, and so slippery and elusive to grasp. One is washed about in it, hither and thither, in the most helpless way; and when at last he thinks he has captured a rule which offers him firm ground to take a rest on amid the general rage and turmoil of the ten parts of speech, he turns over the page and reads, ‘Let the pupil make careful note of the following exceptions.’” It seems German can be one seriously maddening language . . . even for native speakers like the Brothers Grimm.

Jacob Grimm left this world four years behind his beloved little brother. On September 20, 1863, Jacob passed away from an unspecified illness. The two brothers were buried as they had lived—side by side—in Berlin. Both requested their tombstones bear a simple inscription:

“Here lies Wilhelm Grimm.”

“Here lies Jacob Grimm.”

While the Brothers Grimm are undoubtedly the best-known pioneers of the fairy-tale genre, they are by no means the only ones. In fact, other trailblazers in the field came both before and after the brothers chose to put pen to paper. And so, let us next look at one predecessor to the Grimm tradition—Charles Perrault—followed by a later folklorist by the name of Joseph Jacobs.

Charles Perrault: The “French Grimm”

Born in Paris, France, on January 12, 1628, Charles Perrault grew up to become one of the most talented and influential men of his time. While he spent much of his life making a living as a civil servant, he was also a renowned writer and poet. Like the Grimm brothers, who came after him, Perrault began his professional career studying law. He also served as secretary for his brother Pierre. A tax collector at the time, Pierre later became a scientist and is credited with developing the concept of the water cycle or hydrological cycle. When he finished school, Perrault took a job working for one of Louis XIV’s most influential ministers—Jean-Baptiste Colbert. Colbert appointed Perrault to the post of secretary of the Petite Académie, making him responsible for monument inscriptions and any inscriptions placed on medals in honor of the Sun King (an alternative title for Louis XIV).

In 1671, Perrault was made a member of the Académie Française (French Academy) and had by then proven himself a talented bureaucrat in the royal administration. In 1672, he married a woman named Marie Guichon. He did this despite Colbert’s objections that the girl’s dowry was too small. In fact, Perrault’s marriage to Marie resulted in a rift in his friendship with Colbert. Despite this, Perrault was promoted to the post of surveyor general of His Majesty’s Works later that same year. Sadly, his beloved Marie died in 1678 due to complications during the birth of their first daughter (they’d already had three sons). Perrault was shattered by the loss but pulled it together and continued to provide for his family.

In 1683, Perrault’s longtime benefactor Jean-Baptiste Colbert died. The year before, he’d made one of his sons the new surveyor general of His Majesty’s Works, and Perrault had been forced out of the position. The man who replaced Colbert as minister, unfortunately, had long disliked both Colbert and Perrault. As soon as he was granted authority as minister, he stripped Perrault of all his posts and had him excluded from the Académie Française. Left to provide for his family without the pensions and stipends that had always been his financial support, Perrault turned to writing (and used it as a weapon against his opponents at the Académie Française).

In January 1687, he published Le siècle de Louis de Grand (The Century of Louis the Great), which started a number of heated debates between the intellectuals in France (later known as the quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns). The Moderns rallied around Perrault, who argued that the unnecessary veneration of ancient authors and the critical judgment of women in the arts had to stop. The “quarrel” sparked a time of progressive thought and change in France—in arts, literature, and women’s rights.

Shortly after his little war with the Académie Française, Perrault found himself newly inspired by folklore. Years passed as he sought to create a new genre of literature—fairy tales. In February 1696, he published his first fairy tale—“La belle au bois dormant (“Sleeping Beauty”)—in the French literary magazine Mercure galant. This was only the beginning. Based on the positive reception of this tale (and likely in desperate need of money), Perrault published a collection of fairy tales under the rather long title Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralités (Tales and Stories from the Past, with Morals) in 1697. Today this work is more commonly known by its subtitle—Tales of Mother Goose. That’s right . . . Mother Goose was a Frenchman (just ponder that for a second). The collection includes a number of fairy tales that remain well-known to this very day—“Cinderella,” “Puss in Boots,” “Tom Thumb,” and “Little Red Riding Hood” (a German version of which would later be recorded by the Brothers Grimm).

On May 16, 1703, Charles Perrault’s life ended where it began—Paris, France. He was seventy-five years old. This is pretty impressive, considering the average life expectancy at the time was around thirty-six (factoring in infant mortality, of course).

Joseph Jacobs: The “English Grimm”

Joseph Jacobs was born on August 29, 1854, in Sydney, Australia. In 1872, at the age of only eighteen, Jacobs immigrated to England in search of a better life. Interestingly enough, he began his career (like both Perrault and the Brothers Grimm) studying law . . . though he did so at the University of Cambridge. Eventually, however, he began to pursue subjects in the humanities—anthropology, history, literature, and philosophy. Jacobs soon came to be a learned and well-respected folklorist, and from 1889 to 1900, he was editor of the journal of the Folk-Lore Society of London—Folk-Lore.

While Jacobs penned a number of texts on the subject of folklore, he is best known for his collections of fairy tales (many of which were illustrated by John Dickson Batten). In 1890, Jacobs published his first collection—English Fairy Tales. The positive reception of this work led him to create two new collections, Indian Fairy Tales (containing tales from Hindu Dharma mythology) and Celtic Fairy Tales, in 1892. Two years later, in 1894, he expanded on two of his past works by publishing More English Fairy Tales and More Celtic Fairy Tales.

While his collections of tales were popular, many of Jacobs’s theories on folklore were not. During the late nineteenth century, an overwhelming majority of folklorists favored the theory of polygenesis—that similar fairy tales are found in different cultures due to the universality of the human psyche. Jacobs, however, believed in a theory of monogenesis—that each story was created by a single person or culture and then spread throughout the world, from one culture to another, modified to fit into each by the new culture groups who adopted them. He also tended to focus more on the historical and sociological contexts of tales in his analyses, ignoring any psychological and/or spiritual points of view. While many of his ideas are accepted by folklorists of today, they often put him at odds with those of his own time.

In 1916, Jacobs published his last collection of stories—Europa’s Fairy Book (or European Folk and Fairy Tales)—and dedicated it to his many granddaughters. He was living in New York at the time, having moved there in 1900 in order to work as the revising editor on TheJewish Encyclopedia. Joseph Jacobs passed from this world on January 30, 1916, just after the publication of Europa’s Fairy Book. He was sixty-one years old. Many of the stories he collected and recorded, however, survive to this very day.

So, in a way, Joseph Jacobs is immortal, as his name and spirit live on in the works he left behind, as do those of the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, who came before him, and as do the names and spirits of others who chose to record the folk and fairy tales of days past for future generations (such as Robert Southey, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, Madame d’Aulnoy, and Hans Christian Anderson). Without such men and women, it is quite possible that these stories would have been lost to the passage of time.

Classifying Fairy Tales:
When it comes to classifying and categorizing folktales and fairy tales, the Aarne-Thompson (or Aarne-Thompson-Uther) tale type index has been the standard for many decades. This system was first created by a man named Antti Aarne, who published it in 1910 as Verzeichnis der Märchentypen (Directory/Index of Story/Tale Types). In 1928, this system was expanded and revised by Stith Thompson and came to be referred to as the “Aarne-Thompson Tale Type Index.” Thompson again expanded and revised the system in 1961. However, even this would not be the last time someone would add to what Aarne began.

In 2004, Hans-Jörg Uther decided it was time to change the Aarne-Thompson tale type index (by then, it’d come to also be known as the AT number system). Uther, however, did not just expand and revise the original system as Thompson had. He rebuilt the whole thing, from the ground up, and published it as The Types of International Folktales. Uther’s new take on the Aarne-Thompson system now came to be known as the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classificationsystem (or ATU number system for short).

Please understand that what follows is but a condensed version of the ATU number system. Fully explaining each facet of the system would require a book unto itself, and we just don’t have enough pages for that. One should also understand that many stories do not fall into just one category. As you’ll likely begin to notice throughout your reading of this book, many stories overlap and fall into multiple categories. Of course, it would be ridiculous (not to mention nearly impossible) to expect any classification system to cover all possible story types with one category for each.

While there are definitely longer versions with various subcategories, the main categories of the ATU number system are as follows:

I. Animal Tales (1–299)

II. Fairy Tales (300–749)

III. Religious Tales (750–849)

IV. Realistic Tales/Novellas (850–999)

V. Tales of the Stupid Ogre (1000–1199)

VI. Anecdotes and Jokes (1200–1999)

VII. Formulaic Tales (2000–2399)

What the Grimm Did You Say?:
NICK BURKHARDT: So, zaubertrankmeans “potion”?


NICK: Wouldn’t it just be easier to say “potion”?


NICK: Then why don’t you just say that?

MONROE: Because it’s so much more than that.

—“Love Sick” (1-17)

Unfortunately for the writers of Grimm, they created a show based on a tradition that stems from the German language . . . which is, undoubtedly, one of the most difficult and confusing languages in the world. As if this didn’t make things hard enough, they expanded the mythos of the Grimm universe to include other languages—French, Spanish, Latin, Greek, and various Native American dialects, among others. And it would seem this decision has been giving them headaches ever since . . . And online translators are just making the problem worse.

One need only go online to discover that many folks have been scrutinizing the linguistics mistakes on Grimm ever since the beginning. And, in their defense, there are plenty to be found. In fact, when Grimm is shown in Germany, the German words for certain Wesen often have to be retranslated into different German words. Take the word “Fuchsbau,” for example. While English-speaking audiences have no problem accepting this term as meaning a fox-type of Wesen, for a native German speaker it becomes confusing because to them that word just means “a fox burrow” or the place where a fox lives. Therefore, for German audiences the name of this Wesen is changed to Fuchsteufel (Fox Devil) to avoid confusion.

The name of the rhino-type Wesen called Dickfellig is also problematic. The ig at the end of the word makes it an adjective for native German speakers, whereas it is used as a noun on the show. Then there are problems of context, like when Monroe claims that his people refer to the Murciélago as Geölterblitz and says that it means “Literally, bat out of hell”—it doesn’t. It literally means “greased lightning.”

So . . . what’s the takeaway from this? Should Grimmsters just abandon the universe of their beloved show, simply due to a bunch of foreign language issues? No. The takeaway from this should be that Grimm, in a sense, has a language all its own . . . one known only to those familiar with its mythos. Have the writers made mistakes in linguistics? Sure. Do the foreign languages on the show often need to be retranslated in the countries where they are natively spoken? Yes. Does any of this affect the story in any crucial way? Well, that’s up to you.

While the origins and language of Grimm are interesting, there is another element of the show that is far cooler—weapons. And Grimm is full of them. From the “castration blade” and Siegbarste Gewehrof Aunt Marie’s trailer to the brutal, skull-bashing maces and morning stars of the Löwen Games, there are plenty of ways to kill—or be killed—in the life of a Grimm.

Time to arm yourself.


Yeah, it’s a veritable museum of Wesenology, chronicling the Grimms’ proud tradition of hunting and beheading people like us.

—Monroe, “Kiss of the Muse” (2-20)

Weapons are pretty important to a Grimm, one would assume. After all, taking down a rogue Wesen is hard enough as it is. Doing so empty-handed, even more so. However, as Nick Burkhardt has learned during his time as a Grimm (sometimes, the hard way), equipping himself with the right weapon can mean the difference between life and death. After all, you wouldn’t want to bring a doppelarmbrust to a Siegbarste Gewehr fight—would you? That’d just be embarrassing.

Aside from providing Nick with “the books,” centuries of Wesen-hunting know-how written by the Grimms of years past, Aunt Marie’s trailer also contains a vast arsenal of interesting weaponry. Some of the weapons found in the trailer are just generically useful (for example, the kanabo), while others have been designed for taking out specific types of Wesen (such as the Siegbarste Gewehr and Murciélago Matraca).

One side note before we begin—not every weapon discussed in this chapter has necessarily been used on the show. However, the inside of the weapons cabinet has been shown enough times for most (if not all) of its contents to be identified. In this chapter, we intend to discuss as many of the more interesting weapons seen in Grimm as possible, both those that have been used and those that have not (well . . . not yet, anyway).

So, let’s begin our journey into the weaponry of Grimm with one of the first Wesen-specific weapons to be introduced on the show—the doppelarmbrust.

You know these were designed specifically to stop Blutbaden? I suppose I should take that as sort of a backhanded compliment, huh?

—Monroe, “Leave It to Beavers” (1-19)

When Nick Burkhardt first tangled with a rogue Blutbad in the “Pilot” episode of Grimm (1-01), he probably would’ve found it useful to know there was a doppelarmbrust in Aunt Marie’s trailer. Unfortunately for Nick, he hadn’t started making use of the trailer’s arsenal just yet. So instead, his partner, Hank Griffin, just busted some caps in the creepy postman of a Blutbad—which appears to have been just as effective (but not nearly as awesome).

The doppelarmbrust is not introduced to the audience of Grimm until the episode “Leave It to Beavers” (1-19), when Nick discovers this double-loaded piece of hardware in the trailer weapons cabinet. With a little assistance from Monroe (which is just a little awkward, since he’s a Blutbad), Nick manages to master this anti-Blutbad weapon.

The term “doppelarmbrust” comes from German and, roughly translated, means “double crossbow” (doppel = twin/double; armbrust = crossbow). This weapon is designed to allow the wielder to fire two bolts (or crossbow arrows) one after the other, without the need to reload for the second shot. In Grimm, the bolts are specifically designed and loaded with herbs that are problematic for Blutbaden—hellebore and hemlock extract.

The first bolt, loaded with hellebore, has a sedative-like effect on Blutbaden (in one Greek myth, hellebore is used to cure a king’s daughters from “lunacy,” which originally meant something like “moon madness,” so one can see how its use against Blutbaden kind of makes sense). This would come in handy if, for example, a Grimm needed to interrogate a Blutbad without killing him/her (or, at least, without killing him/her right away). The second bolt, on the other hand, is loaded with hemlock, which is a poison that’s deadly to just about anyone (whether they be Wesen or human). One would imagine the second bolt was intended to deliver a fatal shot to a Blutbad after interrogation, or just to be a more lethal secondary shot after the initial bolt had slowed him/her down.

While you’re unlikely to find an exact duplicate of the Grimm doppelarmbrust in historical arsenals, a crossbow that fires multiple bolts is not an unheard of concept. Various innovations on the original crossbow design can be found throughout history, in fact, from Europe to Asia. In keeping with the German roots of the Grimm mythos, let’s first look at an extremely powerful crossbow from that part of the world—the wallarmbrust.


Excerpted from "The Mythology of Grimm"
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Copyright © 2014 Nathan Robert Brown.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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