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SPOTLIGHT: Sources of the Grimms' fairy tales

Thursday, July 23, 2015


To celebrate THE WILD GIRL being released in the US tis week, I'm going to share some vintage Wild Girl posts this week - I hope you enjoy!


Everyone has heard of the Grimm brothers.

Everyone has read some, at least, of their famous fairy tales.

What few people know, however, is who originally told the stories to the Grimm brothers. The names of the original tellers has been lost to all but those fairy tale scholars that have painstakingly pieced together clues taken from the brother’s notes and diaries to name the sources of the some of the world’s best loved fairy tales.

For example, ‘Aschenputtel’, (better known today as Cinderella), was told by an old woman in a poorhouse in the small medieval town of Marburg where Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm went to university. Her name is thought to be Frau Creuzer.

‘Hansel and Gretel’ was told to Wilhelm in the house of the local apothecary, Herr Wild, which was next door to where the Grimm brothers lived. It was most probably told by Herr Wild’s second youngest daughter, Dortchen. She most certainly provided the famous rhymes, usually translated into English as ‘Little mouse, little mouse, who is nibbling at my house?’ with the children replying, ‘it’s the wind so wild, the heavenly child.’

‘Little Red Cap’ was told by Jeannette and Marie Hassenpflug, young women in their late teens and early 20s, who also told ‘The Robber Bridegroom’ and ‘Brier Rose’ (better known as ‘Sleeping Beauty’), as well as many others. Their brother Louis married the Grimm brothers’ younger sister, Lotte. 

‘The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes’ (sometimes called ‘Twelve Dancing Princesses’) was told to Wilhelm Grimm by Jenny von Droste-Hülstoff, the niece of a university friend. She had a warm and tender friendship with Wilhelm, so that many thought they might marry, but the wedding never came to pass.

‘The Bremen Town Musicians’ was told to Wilhelm by Jenny’s aunts, the sisters of Werner von Haxthausen, who studied law with the Grimms at Marburg University. 

‘The Goose Girl’ was told to the Grimm brothers’ by Dorothea Viehmann, a poor old woman, widow to an innkeeper, who came to the Grimms’ house selling vegetables and butter.

‘Snow White’ was originally thought to have been told by the Wild family’s housekeeper, Marie Müller, better known as Old Marie. Now many scholars believe it was told by Marie Hassenpflug instead (though the Grimms had not yet met the Hassenpflugs when this story was first recorded). It is likely that a number of different variants were told by different tellers, and that the Grimm brothers blended the best elements of them together.

‘The Twelve Brothers’ was told by Julia and Charlotte Ramus, daughters of the local pastor

‘Rumpetstilskin’ was told to Wilhelm by his next door neighbour, Dortchen Wild. She also told him ‘Six Swans’, ‘The Frog King’, ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’, ‘Sweetheart Roland’,   ‘Mother Holle’, ‘The Three Little Men in the Wood’. ‘The Singing Bone’, ‘All-Kinds-of-Fur’, and ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’. 
In fact, she told almost one quarter of the Grimm brothers’ first collection of fairy tales. 

Dortchen and Wilhelm fell in love during the collection of the fairy tales, but were unable to marry for many years thanks to her father's disapproval and the Grimm brothers’ poverty. It was not until a small collection, chosen especially for children, was published that the tales at last became popular and the two star-crossed lovers were at last able to marry. 

I tell the story of their star-crossed love in my novel THE WILD GIRL:  

Please leave a comment - I love to know what you think!

Martin Johnson commented on 01-Mar-2018 07:07 PM
Heard you with Richard Fiddler this week. Loved it.
So, where did Dortchen get the stories she told Willem from? She must have heard them from someone else, or did she make them up? Do we know?

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