Fairy & Folk Tale Wiki

German tales is the common denomination to those tales written or collected in Germany, usually in German or some of its dialects.


Late 18th Century and early 1800s[]

The first fairy tales and collections written in German started to get published in the late 18th century and early 19th century. Although ost of the tales of that time were heavily influenced in style by the French fairy tales of that century and the previous one, there was already built a sense of identity around most of them, with many authors calling them "volksmärchen" or popular tales, showing already a sense of national identity and possible inspiration on oral tradition, despite those tales they wrote being considered currently what they called "kuntsmärchen", or literary fairy tale. Between those collections are worth mentioning Abendstunden in lebrreichen und anmuthugen Erzälhungen by Justus Heinrich Saal, published in 1767; Volksmährchen der Deutschen by Johann Karl August Musäus, whose first volume was published in 1782 and the fifth and last one in 1786, and which among its tales we can found such tales as a version of the Snow White story that preceded Grimm's titled Richilda, The Nymph of the Fountain and The Stolen Veil, a tale that many deemed as the main inspiration for Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's ballet Swan Lake; Dschinnistan by Christoph Martin Wieland, whose first volume was published in 1786 and the last one in 1789 adding to a total of 19 tales, that includes a mix of Wieland's own tales as well as some translations of stories by Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy and Anthony Hamilton; the four-volume collection Neuen Volksmärchen der Deutschen by Benedikte Naubert, whose first volume was published in 1789 and the last one in 1793; and Feen-Mährchen, first published in 1801 and whose author's identity remains unknown, and that contains some tales that will become latter a huge influence in Grimm's tales, such as The Singing Ringing Tree, The Three Belts, The Giant's Forest and The Seven Swans. Playwright Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853) wrote several satyrical plays in 1797 taking inspiration from fairy tales, mostly from Perrault, like Puss in Boots and Knight Bluebeard. In 1800 he wrote a new play inspired on another fairy tale by Perrault, this time Little Red Riding Hood, titled Life and Death of Little Red Riding Hood: A Tragedy.

19th Century[]

The popularity of the previous collections, along the desire of building a national identity discovering the true popular tales, was what motivated Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm to collect their own tales. It's known that they started to show interest as soon as 1802, thanks to the existence of letters that Jacob Grimm exchanged with his college professor Friederich Karl von Savigny, in which Jacob Grimm writtes down some earlier version of the tales we will latter publish along his brother Wilhelm. Despite their enthusiasm, the brothers Grimm didn't plan to publish the tales they colected themselves, and only after sending in 1810 manuscripts with a considerable amount of stories to the German writer Clemens Brentano, who by then was living in the monastery of Ölenberg, in Alsace, they decided to do it. In 1812 the first volumen of Children and Household's Tales' first edition was finally published, and it included some of the most iconic Grimm's fairy tales like Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Rumpelstiltskin, The Golden Goose, Little Red Cap and Hänsel and Gretel on it. The second volumen was published three years latter, in 1815, and included such classics as The Goose Girl, Hans my Hedgehog and The Singing Springing Lark. Despite that, the brothers Grimm weren't quite satisfied with their work, and only four years after, in 1819, publishing the second volumen of the first edition they published a new edition, in which they omitted some tales because they deemed too similar to their French counterparts, like it was the case with Bluebeard, Puss in Boots, The Summer and Winter Garden, The Ogre and The Lion and the Frog, and adding some new tales like The Bremen Town's Musicians, as well as changing some of the already added tales they kept. The brothers Grimm published up to seven editions of their collections, with new additions on each one, publishing the last one and definitive in 1857, reaching the number of two hundred tales included on it.

But the brothers Grimm weren't the only German fairy tale authors that published their collections at the beginning of the 19th century.There was actually a trend in Germany at the time of publishing fairy tales collections intended for the young readers. The same year the Grimms published the first volume of their collection's first edition, just nine months ahead, Johann Gustav Büsching published his collection Volkssagen, Märchen und Legenden, that included his own tale on the stories of The Fisherman and His Wife and The Juniper Tree as well as other tales the Grimm noticed the similarities with theirs, as it was the case of Das Mährchen vom Popanz with The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs and Das Mährchen von der Padde with The Three Feathers. In 1818 Karoline Stahl published her collection Fabeln, Mährchen und Erzählugen für Kinder that included several retellings of some of Aulnoy's tales, as well as a tale titled The Ungrateful Dwarf, that will be Wilhelm Grimm's inspiration for another Grimm's classic, Snow White and Rose Red, that will be first published in 1826 as part of Hauff's collection Der Scheik von Alessandria und seine Sklaven, and latter added to Children and Household's Tales third edition in 1837. Theologian and pedagogue Johann Andreas Christian Löhr published in 1819 the first one of the two volumes of his collection Das Buch der Maehrchen für Kindheit und Jugend, followed by its second volume one year latter in 1820. The collection included tales by Perrault, Galland, Grimm, Musäus and a retelling of Beauty and the Beast titled Das Röslein, in where the action was translated to the Middle East and added to the story a new character called Besenstielchen (tr. Little Broomstick). Daughter of a broom maker and the heroine's best friend, the heroine's father sends her with the Beast with the hope the Beast will keep her believing she's the heroine, called here Sumi, but the Beast finally discovers the truth, sends Bensentielchen back and Sumi has to go and live with him. In a similar fashion to Löhr's and Stahl's collection Johann Heinrich Lehnert published in 1829 his collection Märchenkranz für Kinder, that includes tales by the brothers Grimm and even a retelling of Aulnoy's The Ram, that changes the original's tragic conclusion for a happy ending.

It was also at the beginning of this century when the distiction between literary and folk tale becames clear, as well as the appearance of many influential writers that created some of the most iconic German literary tales. The most well-known, both inside and outside Germany, is undoubtedly E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822), with such tales and The Golden Pot, first publihed in 1814, and specially The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, first published in 1816. Less known that Hoffmann, specially outside his native Germany in most countries, but equally prolific was Wilhelm Hauff (1776-1822), who published up to three collections. The first one, The Caravan published November 1825, heavily borrows from Antoine Galland's translation of One Thousand and One Nights, taking place all of the tales in fantastical Middle East-esque lands. Among the most popular we should mention The Story of the Caliph Stork and The Story of Little Muck. The second one, titled Der Scheik von Alessandria und seine Sklaven and published in 1826, is actually made up mostly of tales by other authors, the brothers Grimm among them, allegedly because Hauff didn't have too much time to write new tales because of all of his travel around Europe, although one of his most well-known tales, Dwarf Long Nose, made its debut here. That tale no longer took place in a Middle Eastern kingdom as Hauff's previous tales did, and that was the same case in the tales from his third and last collection, titled Das Wirtshaus im Spessart and first published in 1827, that included one of his most dark and depressing tales, The Cold Heart, in which a man named Peter Munk lost everything important in his life because he sacrificed his heart in exchange for riches. Like Hauff Theodor Storm (1817-1888) is not really well known outside Germany, but published in the 1860s three literary fairy tales, the most well-known being The Rainmaiden, published in 1863. Other German literary fairy tale writer from this century worth mentioning is Robert Reinick (1805-1852), whose tales were published posthumously and among which we can find The Root Princess and Prince Gold-Fish and the Fishermaid.

By the mid-19th century the Grimm's collection started to become influential, with more authors collecting popular tales with Grimm's work as a model. Some of them specialized their collections on tales from different German regions that they felt were negelected by the brothers Grimm, like it was the case of Karl Müllenhoff, whose collection Sagen, Märchen und Lieder der Herzogthümer Schleswig, Holstein und Lauenburg was first published in 1845 and that included a tale, Maid Maleen, that became one of the latter additions to Grimm's collection; Ernst Meier, whose collection Deutsche Volksmärchen aus Schwaben, was first published in 1852; Carl and Theodor Colshorn, whose collection Märchen und Sagen aus Hannover, was first published in 1854; and Ulrich Jahn, whose collection Volksmärchen aus Pommern und Rügen was first published in 1891. Meanwhile other collectors decided to be less specific, referring to the tales they collected as simply German or national tales, like it was the case of Heinrich Pröhle, Johann Wilhelm Wolf and Ludwig Bechstein. Of the last three Bechstein was the most popular one, considered by many to be more popular even than the brothers Grimm back then, although his popularity decreased since. Bechstein's first published his first collection, titled The German Fairy Book, in 1845. The book included many of Grimm's most popular tales such as Little Red Cap, Hänsel and Gretel, Snow White or Little Briar Rose, but most of them were collected by him, such as The Little Nut Twig, The Golden Roebuck, Gold-Maria und Pitch-Maria, The Old Wizard and His Children, Zitterinchen, and Millet-Thief. A new edition was published in 1857, and like Grimm did, Bechstein deleted some tales from the first edition, such as Little Broomstick, as well as adding some new ones, most of them from Müllenhoff's collection, among we can find As-Pretty-as-Seven, The White Wolf, Oda and the Snake and The Man Without a Heart. Around that time, in 1856, Bechstein published his second collection, The New German Fairy Book, made up mostly of tales already collected by other authors, Johann Wilhelm Wolf among them, with a few tales like Angela of the Ducats being collected by Bechstein himself.

It must be said that throughout the 19th Century many writers collected tales from territories that despite historically belonged at some moment to the by then defunct Holy Roman Empire and published them in the German language, despite those territories being currently part of non-German speaking states. Among those cases we could mention August Stöber, who collected tales from Alsacia, currently belonging to France, and published them in 1842 in his collection Elssäsisches Sagenbuch, in which we can find the tale The Little Pancake House, that many fairy tale scholars deemed as a huge influence in the changes the brothers Grimm made to Hänsel and Gretel in later editions; Anton Peter, who collected tales from Silesia, a territory that is currently part of the Czech Republic and Poland, and gathered them in the collection Volksthümliches aus Österreichisch-Schlesien in 1867; and Elisabeth Lemke, who collected tales from Eastern Prussia, a territory that's currently part of Poland, Lithuania and Russia, and published them in the three volume collection Volkstümliches in Ostpreußen, whose first volume was published in 1884 and the last one in 1899. But the most well known of them all must be Josef Haltrich. Born in Transylvania, Haltrich collected tales from his native land and published them in the collection Deutsche Volksmärchen aus dem Sachsenlande in Siebenbürgen in 1856. Among his most popular tales we should mention The King's Daughter Who Could See her Whole Kingdom from her Castle, that the brothers Grimm added to their collection's seventh revision under the new title The Little Hare from the Sea; The Wonder Tree, The Feather King, The Rose Maiden and The Magic Horns.

At the end of this century many German composers took fairy tales as a source of inspiration for their works, with Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921) being the most well-known example with his most famous opera, Hänsel and Gretel, being an adaptation of the fairy tale of the same name of the brothers Grimm, that premiered in 1893. Less-known was Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930), Richard Wagner's third son, whose opera Bearskin, that premiered in 1899 in Munich, was an adaptation of another fairy tale by the brothers Grimm, translating the action to the Thirty Years' War.

20th Century[]

At the beginning of the 20th Century the German literary fairy tale was still in good health, with new authors publishing new tales, such as Elsbeth Montzheimer (1858-1926), whose collection simply titled Märchen, that was first published in 1923, includes such tales as The Strawberry King, The Queen's Harp and The Grateful Brownie. Although he's mostly known for his translations of French works Franz Hessel (1880-1941) published in 1926 the book Noodles Slightly Colored that included a story titled The Seventh Dwarf, a retelling of Snow White told in the first person from the point of view of dawrf in whose bed Snow White spent her first night at the dwarfs' house.

Unfortunately we can talk about German tales in the 20th Century without talking about how the Nazi Party reappropriated them, specially Grimm's tales, as part of their political agenda, giving the tales new interpretations that supported their consevative ideology. In 1925 Georg Schott published his essay Weissagung und Erfullung in deutschen Volksmärchen, that among others interpretations said the tale Cat and Mouse in Partnership was a cautionary about about the dangers of coexistence between races; Karl von Spieß frequently talked about "purifying the German tale from foreign influences"; Friederich Panzer wanted to create new folklore studies exclusively surrounding German tales, completely ignoring all the comaprative research done untill now, that compared all available folktales no matter from where they where from; and in 1937 Matthes Ziegler published his essay Die Frau im Märchen, where he used the heroine from German tales as examples of the Nazi Party's ideal of womanhood. Because of that right after World War II German tales were seen as a reason of the atrocities committed during the war, gloryfing cruelty, xenophobia and militarism, and its diffusion was limited.

We can say the second half of the 20th Century was a path of redention for German folktales. In the German Democratic Republic this started in the 1950s when Arnold Zweig, the president of the German Academy of the Arts in East Berlin at the time, defended the thesis are not inherentily reactionary, examplifying it with the Grimm's tale The Knapsack, the Hat and the Horn, in which a commoner youth takes revenge in the King and Princess that have stolen the titular magic objects from him. In the 1970s a variety of texts that changed the perception that many audiences have of fairy tales were published. In one hand we have authors who parodied the tales and updated them to explore themes they considered more relevant. In his book Janosch Tells Grimm's Tales, published in 1972, German humorist Janosch not only updated the Grimm's tales relocating them in contemporary settings, but also rewrote them as a way to critize bourgeois values and make socila commentary. That way, Janosch's version of The Brave Little Tailor was a critic against nuclear warfare, while his version of Hans my Hedgehog ends with Hans becoming a start that everybody who previously critized his appearance now wants to look like him. Günter Kunert (1929-2019) published that same year his book Daydreams in Berlin and Anywhere Else, which included a retelling of Sleeping Beauty in which instead of the princess who has kept her beauty and youth despite sleeping one hundred years Kunter imagines how old the princess would look once the prince who has to wake her up finally reaches her. On the other we got authors and scholars who published texts analysing the tales to prove they were still relevant and good for society. The most famous example was neo-Freudian psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim, whose book The Uses of Enchantment, first published in 1976, played a key role into starting to see classic fairy tales again not as a tool to fuel prejudices and repress people, but to help children cope with their life experiences instead, even after the many criticism that were directed towards the book. Another key figure in that path was German academic nacionalized American Maria Tatar with her essay The Hard Facts of the Grimm's Fairy Tales, published in 1987.

Cinema played as big of a role in that path of redemption then Academic studies, or even more so. In 1956 the film The Brave Little Tailor, based on the Grimm's fairy tale of the same name, was released. The movie portrayed the titular hero as an undergog who thanks to his cleverness and cunningness defeated stronger enemies. But the main villain of this adaptation is a new character that wasn't in the fairy tale. The presence of prince Eitel, the princess' other suitor, shows us how the story is reworked as a fight between the working class hero and the born-royalty villain. In the 1960s a new wave of Grimm's fairy tale adaptations appeared, that included among them adaptations of Little Red Riding Hood, Old Mother Holle and The Golden Goose. New adaptations of the Grimm's fairy tales appeared in the 1970s and 1980s, being worth-mention Snow White and Rose Red released in 1979, The Prince Beyond the Seven Seas in 1983, and Rapunzel or the Magic of Tears in 1988. But not only the German fairy tale films were inspired by the Grimm's fairy tales. Some of the most popular German fairy tale films in the 1950s were actually adaptations of tales by other authors. The two most famous were The Story of Little Muck, based of Wilhelm Hauff's tale of the same name, and The Singing Ringing Tree, based on one of the tales from the collection Feen-Mährchen. The last film, directed by Italian filmmaker Francesco Stefani, was scripted by Anne Geelhaar, who made several changes to the original story.

21st Century[]

By the new millennium fairy tales' presence in German pop culture was already completely restored. Adaptations were pretty common in television, both animated and live-action. The cartoon TV show Simsala Grimm followed the adventures of two characters, Yoyo and Doc Croc, visiting a different Grimm's fairy tale each episode, although in its third season they started to adapt also tales by other authors like Wilhelm Hauff and Hans Christian Andersen. In regards of live-action TV adaptations, German TV stations started to create their own series of TV fairy tale movies, like it was the case of ZDF, whose series Märchenperlen started to broadcast in 2005, and specially Das Erste's 6 aud einen Streich, that started broadcasting in 2008.

The interest about folk tales was renewed in 2009 when German folklorist Erika Eichenseer discovered several manuscripts of unpublished folktales collected by German folklorist Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1811-1886). Schönwerth's until then unpublished folktales finally were available to the public when in 2015 Eichenseer published the collection The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales. The book was really hyped by the mainstream media at the time, selling the tales as " the first collection of uncut stories, written as they were told, unlike Grimm's fairy tales", a selling point that was criticized by experts like Jack Zipes. The collection included version of ATU 510A Cinderella (Ashfeathers), ATU 451 The Maiden Whi Seeks Her Brothers (The Three Flowers) ATU 502 Iron John (King Goldenlocks), ATU 403 The White Bride and the Black Bride (The Portrait, The Snake Sister), ATU 402 The Animal Bride (Follow me, Jodel!), ATU 400 The Man on the Quest for his Lost Bride (The Iron Shoes), ATU 575 The Prince's Wings (The Flying Trunk) and ATU 425N The Heroine Humilliates the Unwanted Suitors (The Enchanted Quill).

See also[]

  • Austrian tales, the tales collected from Austria, also a German-speaking country.