GHDI logo

Preface to the Second Edition of the Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm (1819)

page 3 of 5    print version    return to list previous document      next document

It was one of those lucky coincidences that we happened to make the acquaintance of a peasant woman in Niederzwehrn, a village near Kassel, who recounted the best and greater part of the fairy tales in the second volume. Frau Viehmann was still vigorous and not much more than fifty years old. Her facial features were solid, intelligent, and pleasant. Her large eyes saw sharply and clearly. She preserved the old legends in her memory and admitted herself that this gift is not bestowed on everyone and that many are incapable of keeping track of the intricacies. Her manner of storytelling was deliberate, confident, and uncommonly lively – she clearly took pleasure in it. At first, her narrative was very free, then, if one wanted it, once again slowly, so that with practice one could transcribe it. In this way, much could be preserved word for word and its truthfulness unmistaken. Whoever believes that sloppiness and distortion are the rule with oral traditions, and that they therefore cannot endure, must hear how exacting this woman's narrative was and how she strove for accuracy. When she repeated something she never changed it. As soon as she recognized an oversight, she corrected it, even when she was in the middle of her story. The devotion to oral traditions among people who continue to live in the same way is stronger than we, who are so accustomed to change, can comprehend. For that reason, it has a certain urgent proximity and inner efficiency that other things cannot so easily attain, however splendid they may appear on the surface. The epic basis of folk literature can be compared with the greenery which in its manifold forms is omnipresent in nature at various levels, something which satisfies and refreshes without ever becoming monotonous.

In addition to the tales in the second volume, we received numerous supplements to the first volume as well as better versions of many of the stories published there from the same or similar sources. As a hilly land far away from the grand boulevards and mostly occupied with farming, Hesse has the advantage of being better able to preserve old tales and customs. A certain seriousness, a healthy, thorough, and brave mind-set that history will not ignore, even the large and attractive frame of the region's men – it was at one time the actual dwelling place of the Chatten, a Germanic tribe – all these have been preserved and allow the lack of comfort and elegance (in comparison to other lands, Saxony, for example) to be considered more as an advantage. One perceives as well that regions which are rougher but also magnificent belong to the lifestyle of the whole as does a certain strictness and poverty. The Hessians must certainly be counted as those among our Fatherland's peoples who have held on most firmly through the changing times to the unique features of their essence as well as to their old dwelling places.

first page < previous   |   next > last page