What are the Grimm Brothers doing In Hanna?

Once Upon A Time…

In Hanna, our heroine (Saoirse Ronan) and her father Erik (Eric Bana) live in a cabin in the woods. Her education is confined to what her father teaches her from an encyclopedia and what she furtively reads in a book of fairy tales. Then one day, she leaves the safety of the woods to deal with the outside world. In most fairy tales, of course, one must enter, not leave, the woods for the story to get started. Nevertheless in Hanna, fairy tales, from the film’s structure to the many allusions to the Grimm Brothers, permeate the thriller. For Hanna, Grimm’s fairy tales provide a means to negotiate the outside world as crucial as her encyclopedia or father’s training. Hanna is not unlike the German poet Schiller, whom Bruno Bettelheim quotes in the introduction to his The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales: “Deeper meaning resides in the fairy tales told to me in my childhood than in the truth that is taught by life.”  And the two people most responsible for publishing that meaning for the masses were the Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.

…Lived Two Academics…

Born a year apart––Jacob in 1785 and Wilhelm in 1786––the Grimm Brothers would grow up to collect and publish collections of regional fairy tales that children would read and remember for generations to come.  While they would be known for fantasies inhabited by dwarves and giants, princes and ogres, their own upbringing and academic interests were rather dry. They were raised in a large family in the countryside with the father as court official. However when he died in 1800, the family struggled to get by. The two brothers were educated in Kassel, later studying law at the University of Marburg.  There they developed an interest in linguistic and philology, with the primarily study being on the phonetic changes in the German language. Only as a consequence of this work did they start to collect and transcribe folk and fairy tales.

…Who Collected Fairy Tales…

Beginning in 1806, the brothers, interested in preserving the folk traditions of their region, started collecting stories. While later romantic anecdotes recalled the brothers touring the country, listening to the stories of peasants and farmers, the two mostly worked from home and their college, where they invited storytellers in and transcribe their tales. By 1812, they collected enough to publish Tales of Children and the Home, their first collection of 86 fairy tales. Two years later, they published a second volume with 70 more stories.  The collection would change slightly with each new publication. At its largest the collection contained 211 tales. Other editions reflected public criticism of the violence in the stories, and some pushed the brothers to more fully Germanize the tales, editing out foreign influences. But perhaps the most important change was the 1825 Kleine Ausgabe, which cut the collection down to 50 stories and included illustrations by their brother Ludwig Emil Grimm. The combination of stories and illustrations appealed to the pubic and made it a best seller. With in years, the tales had been translated into a number of other languages. And each edition would include new illustrations by such celebrated artists as Gustav Doré, Richard Doyle, Warwick Goble Ann Anderson, and more recently David Hockney. Perhaps the artist to most take advantage of these stories graphic natures was Walt Disney, who used the tales (“Cinderella,” “Snow White,” “The Frog Prince,” etc) for a number of his animated films.

…and became famous for such tales as…

Through the 20th century, the popularity and influences of the Grimm Brother’s tales has grown.  The stories have inspired operas, ballets, musicals, plays and novels. Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales is only the most famous in line of studies that take seriously the psychological, moral, and social implications of fairy tales. Stephen Sondheim’s famous Into the Woods even made that study a musical. Others writers and thinkers continue to debate the beneficial value of fairy tales. In 1945, after World War II, Allied forces banned Grimm tales from German school curricula for fear its mix of savagery and Germaneness would re-inspire a vanquished country.

…"Hansel and Gretel"…

A story in the first (1812) collection, “Hansel and Gretel” has gone onto be one of the most famous, if not gruesome, of tales––although witches, cannibalism, and hunger are standard themes in folk tales. In the original tale, a family facing hard times attempts to lose their two children, Hansel and Gretel, in the woods. But each time the children are abandoned, Hansel follows a trail of pebbles he has left to find his way back. On the last venture, he uses breadcrumbs instead, which are quickly eaten by forest birds. When Hansel and Gretel follow the birds, they find themselves even deeper in the woods at a cottage where an old lady offers them food and a place to sleep. But the old lady is a witch. She traps the children, making Gretel her slave and locking Hansel in a cage, fattening him up in order to cook him. In the end, the kids outwit the witch, pushing her into the oven and stealing her treasures. The story was popularized later in Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera Hänsel und Gretel, and has been retold in a number of modern versions.

…."Rumplestiltskin"…

The narrative of contract and exchange in “Rumplestiltskin” has been a standard device in folk tales, and is repeated in many of the Grimm’s tales. In this story, a miller boasts his daughter can spin straw into gold. When the king hears this, he locks her away until she does what her father promised. Helpless, the daughter is confronted by a magical creature negotiates a deal with her. He’ll spin the straw into gold for her necklace. The next day he offers the same deal for her ring. On the third day, when the girl tells him she’s nothing left to offer, he suggests she give him her first-born child. The next morning, when the king discovers all gold she has spun from straw, he marries her. Later, as promised, the dwarf reappears when she gives birth to her first child. The woman begs him to let her keep her child. He responds that she can keep her child, if, after three days, she can guess his name. On the third day, a queen sends out a trusted companion. Far into the woods, he finds the dwarf’s home, and hears him singing: “To-day do I bake, to-morrow I brew/ The day after that the queen's child comes in;/ And oh! I am glad that nobody knew/ That the name I am called is Rumpelstiltskin!” When the queen reveals his correct name, the dwarf disappears. 

…"The Robber Bridegroom"…

Few of Grimm’s tale or as grim, or popular, as “The Robber Bridegroom,” a story that incorporates murder, butchery, gang rape, cannibalism, and magic animals. A miller pushes his daughter into the arms of man who appears to be a wealthy suitor. After a short period, the man convinces his betrothed to visit him in the country. He lays down a trail of ashes to show her the way, but when she visits, she also drops peas behind her for insure her safe return. Deep in the woods she finds a dark empty house. A bird calls out to warn her that a murderer lives there. An old lady offers to hide her. Suddenly the bridegroom and his outlaw gang arrive with a young woman they have captured in tow. They then proceed to chop up the poor girl and eat her, but in the melee the girl’s chopped finger with a ring on it flies into the hood of the hiding bride. After the murderous orgy, the old woman helps the girl escape, and they follow the path of pea plants that have grown up since the girl’s visit. Later the groom returns to visit girl at her father’s home, only to be confronted by the bride, who tells everyone what she saw in the woods. The groom laughs her story off, claiming she must have been dreaming. At that, the miller’s daughter pulls out the cut finger of the murdered girl. In revenge, the miller and his friends attack and kill the groom and his gang. Not a favorite for children, the story has fascinated adults. Eudora Welty’s 1942 novel of the same name turns the locale into 18th century Natchez, Mississippi; in 1975, musical based on that novel was staged. MargaretAtwood’s 1993 novel The Robber Bride alludes to the story but changes the genders.

…and "Snow-White and Rose-Red"

While sharing the same name, the story “Snow-White and Rose-Red” bears no relation to the more famous “Snow White”. Rather this story combines a wide array of fairy tale elements: mean dwarfs, young maidens, friendly animals, shape-shifting royalty. Two sisters, Snow White and Red Rose, are the best of friends. One winter they hear a knock at the door, and outside is bear asking for something to eat. Rather than run away the sisters feed him. The next summer, the girls encounter a dwarf with his beard caught in some rocks. Being kind to him as well, they free the dwarf by cutting his beard. Rather than be grateful, the dwarf barks at the two girls that they have ruin his beard. Over the summer they rescue the dwarf several times, and each time he is ungrateful. At one point, the dwarf, being attacked by a bear, asks for help one more time. But before the girls can do anything, the bear kills the dwarf. The bear suddenly turns into a prince. He explains that the dwarf had put him under a spell and stolen his treasure. Grateful for the kindness shown by the girls, the prince-that-was-a-bear marries Snow White and his brother marries Red Rose.

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