The Stubborn Child

There is an article in this week’s New Yorker magazine about Grimms’ Fairy Tales. (The cartoon above, by the way, which has nothing to do with anything,  is hat-tip to this week’s The New Yorker issue). There are two varieties of fairy tales, the article states. “One is the literary fairy tale, the kind written, most famously, by Charles Perrault, E.T.A. Hoffmann, and Hans Christian Anderson. Such tales, which came into being at the end of the seventeenth century, are original literary works – short stories, really – except that they have fanciful subject matter: unhappy ducks, princesses who dance all night, and so on…..The other kind of fairy tale, the ancestor of the literary variety, is the oral tale, whose origins cannot be dated, since they precede recoverable history.” The Grimms insisted that almost all of their material was gathered from these “oral traditions” and are purely German in origin. The stories are a bit grim, to say the least, featuring “mutilation, dismemberment and cannibalism, not to speak of ordinary homicide, often inflicted on children by their parents or guardians.” The brothers themselves nationalists and they hoped to make their young readers “feel and be more German.” Hitler’s government made every German school teach the Grimms’ books and so, understandably, after the war, the Allies banned their books in most cities.

Here is a paragraph long Grimms’ story included in the article entitled The Stubborn Child:

Once upon a time there was a stubborn child who never did what his mother told him to do. The dear Lord, therefore, did not look kindly upon him, and let him become sick. No doctor could cure him and in  a short time he lay on his deathbed. After he was lowered into his grave and covered over with earth, one of his little arms suddenly emerged and reached up into the air. They pushed it back down and covered the earth with fresh earth, but that did not help. The little arm kept popping out. So the child’s mother had to go to the grave herself and smack the little arm with a switch. After she had done that, the arm withdrew, and then, for the first time, the child had peace beneath the earth.

Strange story. The child was on his deathbed but does that mean he actually died? It never says so in the story. In fact, there is more the insinuation that they buried him alive.

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2 thoughts on “The Stubborn Child

  1. German history — from the time of the Holy Roman Empire to the downfall of Hitler in 1945 — emphasized severe paternalistic punishment for children who did not obey their parents, or violated the laws of the state. Indeed, a militant type of child rearing was common in Germany during that time.

    Fortunately, this “corporal punishment” autocratic trend has lessened significantly in Germany since the second half of the 20th century. Let’s hope that it ends altogether in Germany in the near future.

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