Romancing History

Tag: National Tell A Fairy Tale Day

Storytellers Extraordinaire

National Tell a Fairy Tale was February 26th. In order to commemorate this auspicious day, I thought maybe remembering the lives of some of the most well-known storytellers of all time would be in order–The Brothers Grimm.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in an 1843 drawing by their younger brother Ludwig Emil Grimm.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm began their careers studying law. Privately their fascination with the myths and legends surrounding local folklore led them to begin researching these tales in earnest.

Here’s 4 interesting facts you may not know about the the Grimm brothers:


The Grimm Brothers didn’t write any of the fairy tales associated with them.

Although stories like Snow White and Rapunzel have become synonymous with their name,  none of the tales included in their first anthology, Nursery and Household Tales, was written by either Jacob or Wilhelm Grimm. Most of the stories existed long before the brothers were born in the mid-1780s. The tales were actually a collection of rich oral traditions passed from generation to generation. When the brothers discovered there was not one written collection of the stories, the began a quest to interview friends and relatives to capture the folklore before they became extinct and took great care to preserve the tales as they were told by peasants and villagers.

Cover of the 1819 edition of Nursery and Household Tales illustrated by Ludwig Emil Grimm.

Their collection of stories were not originally intended for children.

The original 1812 edition of Nursery and Household Tales contained sex, violence, and extensive footnotes regarding the variances in the folklore from region to region. And it contained no illustrations. The original version of Cinderella had the evil stepsisters cutting off their toes and heels in an effort to squeeze their appendage into the infamous glass slipper. Not to be out done, the first edition of Rapunzel had the girl with child following a casual affair with the prince.

The Grimm Brothers were a publishing success story.

By Wilhelm’s death in 1859, what we now know as Grimm’s Fairy Tales was in its 7th edition and the anthology had grown to include 211 stories. The collection now featured intricate drawings as well. Today Grimm’s Fairy Tales is available in over 100 languages and have been adapted for stage and screen by Walt Disney and Lotte Reineger.

Illustration of “Pied Piper of Hamelin” from the Grimm’s collection of German legends. Illustration by Kate Greenaway

The Grimm Brothers wrote more than Fairy Tales

Following the success of Nursery and Household Tales, the brothers also published two volumes of German folk legends which include stories such as The Pied Piper of Hamelin. In addition they wrote several books on mythology, linguistics and medieval history. In their later years, the brothers took a teaching position at Gottingen University as professors of Germanic studies and began a massive project to write a dictionary of the German language. They both died before the enormous undertaking was complete having only reached the letter F and the word frucht, meaning fruit.

Fairy Tales continue to capture the imagination of the public around the world and with the growing popularity of movies like Into the Woods and television shows like Grimm and Once Upon a Time it’s as clear as Cinderella’s glass slipper that even grown-ups love a good fairy tale.

Share your favorite fairy tale in the comments below.

Will the Real Cinderella Please Stand Up?

Cinderella and her fairy God mother

Cinderella and her fairy God mother

In honor of National Tell A Fairy Tale Day (no, I didn’t make that up), I wanted to spend some time chatting about one of my favorite fairy tales, Cinderella. Penned by Charles Perrault in 1729 and popularized by Walt Disney in the 1950 animated film, the very name brings to mind images of the rag-clad cinder-girl transforming into a beautiful young woman fit for a prince.

Did you know that this timeless tale of love and destiny finds its origin outside western culture? Although there are no pumpkin carriages or fairy god-mothers, see how similar these ancient versions are to the beloved classic we know as Cinderella.

Rhodopis' Golden Sandals

Rhodopis’ Golden Sandals

One of the first known versions of the Cinderella story appeared in ancient Egypt. The beautiful Rhodopis was captured in Thrace and sold into slavery. Her blonde hair and fair complexion made her unique and highly prized among the dark-featured Egyptians. After purchasing her with a bag of gold dust, Charaxos gave her a lavish pair of golden sandals as a symbol of her high place in his home. One day an eagle swooped down and stole one of her golden shoes, carrying it all the way to Memphis where it landed in the lap of the Pharaoh. Believing this was a sign from the gods, Pharaoh sent his trusted advisers throughout Egypt to find the woman who had the matching shoe and bring her to Memphis so he could marry her.

The Tale of Yeh Xian (Yeh-Shen),  the Chinese Cinderella, was penned more than a 1000 years before the first Western version of the fairy tale. Yeh Xian was the daughter of a Chinese King. When her mother died, her father remarried and had a daughter with his second wife. Yeh Xian’s stepmother disliked her because she was kinder and prettier than her own daughter.


When Yeh Xian’s father died, she was forced to work in the kitchen by her stepmother. The lonely orphan’s only friend was an unusual fish with golden eyes. She fed the fish and it grew to an enormous size. When her stepmother discovered the fish, she killed it and served it for supper. Distraught at the loss of her only friend, Yeh Xian is visited by an elderly man who advises her to save the bones and seek their help if she was in trouble.

As the time of the Spring Festival drew near, Yeh Xian’s step mother and step sister plan to attend the celebration but she is required to stay home. When Yeh Xian seeks help from the fish bones, her worn, raggedy work dress is magically transformed into a beautiful green silk cloak. Jade jewels adorn her neck and luxurious golden slippers embellish her dainty feet.

Exquisite Chinese Slippers

Exquisite Chinese Slippers

Now properly attired, Yeh Xian makes an appearance at the festival and captures the attention of many admirers. Fearing she has been spotted by her stepmother, Yeh Xian flees the celebration leaving one of her shoes behind. The slipper ends up in the hands of a merchant who offers it to the king to win his favor. Intrigued by the elegant footwear, the king sets out to find its owner. When Yeh Xian tries on the slipper, her appearance alters once again. The king is immediately smitten and proposes.

silk-road-mapWhat accounts for the similarities in stories recorded thousands of years apart in vastly different cultures? Historians believe that the oral traditions of many cultures were shared among traveling merchants along ancient trade routes like the famed Silk Road. Once introduced into a new society, these stories were adapted to reflect the traditions and morays of the storyteller’s culture.

In some cultures, a well-told story could be traded for goods, free a man from prison or win the hand of lovely maiden. Although I wouldn’t expect any of those results, what fairy tale will you share today?


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