GET INSIDE GRIMM.
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.
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Nathan Robert Brown Nathan Robert Brown (1977-present) is an author, pop culture mythologist, and technical writer from Texas, currently residing in Florida. He received the 2008 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/tripartite systems and universal themes in myth, religion, mysticism, and pop culture. Nathan is also a public speaker and pro-bono demonology consultant. He is the author of many books, including The Mythology of Supernatural: The Signs and Symbols Behind the Popular TV Show, The Complete Idiot's Guide to World Mythology, and The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Paranormal.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
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 Disney lied 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.
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 illustrious Lyceum 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 g...
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