Spotlight: Grimm's Fairy Tales & Beyond

Grimm portrayal of Briar Rose or sleeping beauty
Disney portrayal of Sleeping Beauty
Pied Piper walking down the street followed by Rats
Pied Piper followed by children

How Grimm is Disney? Students examine similar questions in the study of German fairy tales.

GER 130: First Year Seminar - Fairy Tales and Children's Literature: The Cultural Legacy of the Brothers Grimm

Once upon a time, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm made a collection of fairy tales, originally intended as a scientifically-collected sample of oral narratives. It quickly became a mainstay of the nursery. The Brothers Grimm edited and shaped their "original," often bawdy forms into narratives aiming to educate and entertain children. The tales were initially seen as representing a specifically German Geist [soul] and part of a project attempting to create a sense of "Germanness" in a time when the German nation did not yet exist, but they rapidly spread throughout Western culture. "Today," notes Assistant Professor of German Anjeana Hans, "these tales are thought of as part of a common cultural heritage, as embodying certain archetypal questions and developments that transcend individual national cultures."

Professor Hans' seminar reexamines fairy tales and traces the ways in which they continue to develop. Students also track the way in which the tales have become part of the cultural imaginary that orders our understandings of ourselves and our experiences in the world. Students re-read these texts critically, uncovering the forgotten origins, hidden meanings, and secret purposes that so many of these texts originally had. The class engages with the texts in a variety of ways, from analytical to anthropological to creative, in order to more deeply understand their cultural purposes. Students' final projects have come in the form of one set of mixed media visual pieces, film,  illustrated book, and poetry.

In the end, students learn not only the history and development of the fairy tale and cultural conceptions of childhood, but they gain familiarity with certain seminal texts of children’s literature, and in the process develop techniques of literary and film analysis.

Carrington Obrion headshotProfessor Hans' class was a wonderful introduction to the possibilities Wellesley offers.... one of the best academic experiences I've had so far. It also led me to delve deeper into folklore this semester in a course on Russian fairy tales.

—Carrington O'Brion ’15