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The wiki article is not all that helpful. It says the volumes were criticized because adults did not think they were suitable for children. The rest of the paragraph, unfortunately, is all suppositions.

The first volumes were much criticized because, although they were called "Children's Tales", they were not regarded as suitable for children, both for the scholarly information included and the subject matter. Many changes through the editions – such as turning the wicked mother of the first edition in Snow White and Hansel and Gretel to a stepmother, were probably made with an eye to such suitability. They removed sexual references—such as Rapunzel's innocently asking why her dress was getting tight around her belly, and thus naïvely revealing her pregnancy and the prince's visits to her stepmother—but, in many respects, violence, particularly when punishing villains, was increased.

Can anyone shed some light on the matter?

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    The wiki paragraoh you quote provides references. Did you try them? May 16, 2012 at 19:16
  • I did not go and buy the books, no. I'd rather exhaust the free alternatives before spending money. Besides, maybe someone here owns these books already (here's hoping).
    – Trevoke
    May 16, 2012 at 19:21
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    They're on Google Books with full content: The Hard Facts of Grimm's Fairy Tales and The Annotated Brothers Grimm May 16, 2012 at 19:33
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    if you find the answer you want there - please feel free to answer your own question. We don't mind that around here -- if you've got a good Q & A you can answer it yourself. Thanks! May 16, 2012 at 20:35
  • Fairy tales have been retold and rewritten repeatedly. That's the nature of folk tales. The Grimm versions were themselves sanitized of most of the sexual content of earlier versions. The name was and is popular, so publishers presented stories as "Grimm's fairy tales" even when they were completely rewritten or not from Grimm at all.
    – user22221
    Jun 19, 2014 at 12:09

3 Answers 3

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The Annotated Brothers Grimm book, in the introduction, states very clearly that the Grimm Fairy Tales were originally meant to be a cultural repository of tales - with the destined audience meant to be scholars. Over time, people complained the text wasn't great and kids were actually beginning to read those, so the texts were fleshed out further, polished, and cleaned up a little, and the audience became children, and the cultural role of the Grimm tales took a second place to their didactic role.

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  • Yep, the Grimm brothers were indeed in a scholarly pursuit. As a matter of fact, outside of fairy tales the Grimms are known chiefly for their work in linguistics such as Grimm's Law. May 18, 2012 at 0:59
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They were bloody. They were violent. There was rape. One particular story called "How Some Children Played At Murdering," is not one you generally see anthologized because the children commit murder. Sleeping Beauty is pretty much a story about sexual assault- she's comatose, he ahem takes advantage, then she gives birth. Pretty sure she doesn't wake up until after that point.

They were originally collected as a linguistic reference, I believe, so content wasn't an issue, but as you mentioned, eventually kids got hold of them.

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    Yep; Sleeping Beauty actually slept thru giving birth.. she only woke up when one of the twins, attempting to nurse, found her finger by mistake, and sucked out the splinter that had lodged there causing the sleep. (Yes; that's the original cause.)
    – K-H-W
    Aug 30, 2012 at 14:13
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    Adele: What are you talking about? Grimm's Sleeping Beauty ("Dornröschen"), the king's son finds her, kisses her, and she wakes up. That's it. No sexual assault. No giving birth. No twins. In general there's a lot of violence but very little sex in Grimm.
    – user22221
    Jun 19, 2014 at 12:05
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    @gmcgath are you sure you're not reading the sanitised versions?
    – OrangeDog
    Mar 26, 2017 at 12:07
  • Well, can't un-read that.
    – Misha R
    Jul 27, 2018 at 13:17
  • Just looked up the children murdering story and it seems to me that this inspired future tales. I was reminded although it is a quite different story of a man who is stuck in a well in modern times and the children he appeals to kind of kill him via neglect despite having conversed with them.
    – releseabe
    Oct 13, 2023 at 19:54
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An excerpt from the "1810 Grimm Manuscripts" by Oliver Loo pg 285:

"For the Brothers Grimm, the Runge Märchen were the theoretical and practical ideals after which they tried to model their collection. Rölleke goes on to list several interesting quotes for Brentano, the Grimms and Arnim. He starts with a quote from Jacob: It would be good, to start in the beginning with a Runge Märchen or a few other examples… (Jan 22, 1811 to Brentano; Stieg IV, p. 161 f.). Arnim was not of the belief that the story of the Fischer was an actual Kindermärchen. Even the Juniper Tree because of a certain barbarity was not quite right to me. (End of December 1812 to the Brothers Grimm; Stieg III, p. 262). Jacob countered: that you do not hold the Märchen of the Fischer and also the Juniper as actual Kindermärchen, seems to me impossible (Jan 28, 1813; Stieg III, p. 269). But Arnim defended his criticism: Where from does it come, the one expression of Pißpott in the Fischer, on top of that quite pointless, because a hut makes it much more understandable, in a couple of boys of one of my local acquaintances it has held so, that he can not get it out of them again, all day they babble about the pißpott (Beginning of Feb 1813; Stieg III, S.273). I find that very amusing. This still happens today and can be rather frustrating to a parent."

This is one answer. Achim von Arnim, a well known novelist, does not consider that a "certain barbarity" in KHM #47 can make it a "Childrens's tale. Which barbarity he is thinking of, he does not say- it could be the killing of the boy, the killing of the step-mother, or the eating of the boy by the father. Arnim did not consider the word "Pißpot (piss-pot) to be suitable for children.

As can be seen, Jacob defended it. Since Wilhelm was mostly responsible for the later editions, it was he who made the changes to the texts. The "sanitizing" was mostly due to him. Had Jacob been more involved in the later editions, I think he would have left them alone.

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