Grim fairytales

That’s grim, not Grimm.

Well, both, actually. As some Americans — and all Germans — know, the Grimm fairytales can be quite grim. Some of us have gained a particular perspective on this point from Stephen Sondheim’s wonderful musical, Into the Woods. More of us have apparently gained a saccharine perspective from a group of Disney movies, none of which I’ve seen. But what you really need is the perspective of Felicia, the “German Girl in America.” If you‘re not familiar with this YouTube channel, you’re missing out, so you should quickly go watch some of her many videos after finishing this post! Felicia is a young woman from Germany who has lived in Cincinnati off and on for a few years now and speaks incredibly fluent and nearly accentless English. (For example, she makes only one tiny error over a period of 18 minutes in her latest video, 5 Disney Fairytales and their Cruel German Originalswhich is the one I’m writing about here. The small error is that she pronounces wilderness with a long i, which you must admit makes sense, since wild has a long i.)

Anyhow, the stories she discusses here are Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and the Frog Prince. As I said, I haven’t seen any of these — or if I have, it’s a repressed memory — but I certainly know the basic American versions of the stories, which may or may not be like the Disneyfied versions. Felicia describes the German originals, making edifying comparisons and contrasts along with way. It’s definitely worth your time!

Also, although I won’t discuss any other particular videos from her channel — at least not in this post — I highly recommend that you take the time to explore them, whether you have any familiarity with German culture or not. Most of the videos either explain some aspect of German culture for Americans or explain some aspect of American culture from the point of view of a German. You may or may not be surprised — depending on your prior knowledge and preconceptions — but you’ll learn something along the way, no matter what, and you’ll enjoy doing so.

By the way, speaking of the brothers Grimm, I’m sure you’re wondering what the connection is with Grimm’s Law. Actually, you probably haven’t even heard of Grimm’s Law, unless you’ve studied historical linguistics, or done some reading on your own, or learned about it in a wonderful 7th-grade course (more about that in a separate post). Grimm’s Law was proposed in 1822 by the German linguist Jacob Grimm, who was indeed one of the two Brothers Grimm who assembled the famous fairytales! You can read about Grimm’s Law in Wikipedia, for example, but you might want a very brief summary here. You do need one bit of historical background first: the 19th-century Germans were looking for patterns that applied without exception, so they proposed a principle that was known (of course) as Die Ausnahmslosigkeit der Lautgesetze, or The Exceptionlessness of Sound Changes if you insist on an English translation. Grimm explained, for instance, why Latin pater corresponds to English father, Greek pente to German fünf, and Latin pede to German fuss, along with other related consonant changes that are all part of the same picture. I know, that’s too brief, but go read about it. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with fairytales, although I suppose some of my friends who majored in Folklore and Mythology could probably explain some connection that I’m not seeing.

Categories: Life, Movies & (occasionally) TV