Motivation for the research

Like many others, my interest in Märchen[1] began in childhood, reading the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales collections[2], or the literary fairy tales[3] by Hans Christian Andersen. I was entranced by their enchanted realities where animals spoke, celestial bodies gave advice, and people transformed into non-humans. A speaking horse’s head[4] was as real to me as a spinning maiden, because “to the child, there is no clear line separating objects from living things; and whatever has life has life very much like our own” (Bettelheim 1976, p.46).

The Grimms’ two-volume collection of Märchen[5], called the Kinder und Hausmärchen[6] (KHM[7]) (commonly translated as ‘Children’s and Household Tales’) has been stimulating creative expression since the first illustrations by Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm’s younger brother Ludwig Emil Grimm appeared in the second  edition of 1819. From illustrations to cinematographic realisations, the power of this “primal, nonrational fantasy world” (Noel Daniels in Grimm 2011, p.14) has inspired artistic imagination[8] across countries and cultures. Fairy tales continue to do so, such as the recent work of Russian photo artist Uldus Bakhtiozina[9] shows, in her photographic book project depicting traditional Russian folk tales.[10]

As a child growing up in Germany (then West Germany) in the 1970s, fairy tales were never far from the television, and the large number of film adaptations speaks for their appeal throughout the decades. An internet search in January 2015 for ‘Märchen’ films yielded a recently updated list of 190 productions, ranging from the earliest German film in 1936[11] to the most recent movie and television remakes in 2014[12], with a plethora in the 1950s by the former German Democratic Republic (GDR – now Germany) and the former Federal Republic of Germany/West Germany (FRG – now Germany) which continued well into the 1960s. This was followed by a growing output by the former Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (CSSR – then Czech and Slovak Federative Republic, now Czech Republic and Slovak Republic), with numerous collaborations with the former GDR, the former FRG, and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR – now dissolved into twelve post-Soviet states).

[1] The English term ‘fairy tale’ – while commonly used to refer to the Grimms’ Märchen – can be misleading since ‘fairy’ might refer to the spirit entities (fairy, fay, fae, faerie, etc.) of European folklore, and in particular of the British Isles. This research excludes this tradition in its entirety, solely dealing with the cultural and historical context of the Continental fairy tale tradition as embodied by the work of the Brothers Grimm in the first half of the 19th century in Germany. The Grimms’ collections will form the base point of the research, from which to move backwards in time and outwards in location.

[2] Fairy tales or Märchen can be defined as  short narratives, which are familiar and verifiably old. Märchen belong to the folklore genre, derive from an oral literary tradition, have no discernible author and originated amongst the people, not an educated élite (Warner 2014, p.xvi).

[3] This research will deal exclusively with tales classified as folk tales, not with literary fairy tales (Kunstmärchen, literally translated as Artsy Fairy Tales) which always have a known author. This distinction is important amongst scholars of folklore.

[4] A horse named Falada from the Märchen ‘The Goose Girl’.

[5] In contrast to the English term ‘fairy tale’, the German word Märchen is a diminutive of the Middle High German noun mære: a notice of something that has happened, and in this sense, a message. While the noun cannot be evidenced in Old High German, the adjective māri has the same etymological root, and it means ‘famous’ (Rölleke 2004, p.10). Compare this with the Old English adjective mære: famous, illustrious, glorious (Mitchell & Robinson 1992, p.338).

[6] First editions 1812 and 1815 (Grimm 1812; Grimm 1815), seventh and last edition during their lifetime in 1857 (Grimm 2010a; Grimm 2010b).

[7] KHM is the standard abbreviation for the collection of tales, from the German title Kinder und Hausmärchen.

[8] A selection of best known artists’ fairy tales illustrations can be found in a publication by Taschen (Grimm 2011).

[9] Uldus Bakhtiozina (n.d.) Uldus Temple. Aavailable at: [last accessed 08.02.15]

[10] The Daily Beast (2015) Russian Fairy Tales go Punk: Uldus Bakhtiozina’s gorgeous dark photos. Available at: [last accessed 08.02.15]

[11] Hans macht sein Glueck (literal translation: ‘Hans creates his luck’), a droll story first found in KHM’s 2nd edition (1819).

[12] Six productions: five for television (three from Germany, one French/ German collaboration, one Finnish/ German collaboration), and one US movie.

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