In this latest addition to my recommendation series, I’m going to talk about some of my favourite classic fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm. As always, I encourage you to share your own recommendations in return. In terms of my picks, you may notice that the common thread that links them is a reversal of the ‘damsel in distress’ trope in favour of stronger, better developed female characters; something that whilst admittedly rare in classic tales, can indeed be found and is worth celebrating in my opinion.
Hansel and Gretel
There are several reasons why Hansel and Gretel is my very favourite fairy tale of all time; from the striking imagery of the house made of sweets to the eeriness of a forest setting, and from the sinister notion of a cannibalistic witch to the protagonists’ gritty revenge. Not least amongst these however are the facts that Gretel is the one who outsmarts the villain and saves the day, and that the relationship at the heart of the tale is one of family, with the heroes’ happily ever after coming in the form of a reunion with their father, not handsome princes and dainty princesses.
The Nixie of the Mill-Pond
There’s lots of great imagery in this tale as well, and it’s fairly unique in that we follow a couple who are already married and in love by the time we join them, rather than being the typical damsel and hero who conveniently stumble together at the end of the story. Really, it’s a tale of everlasting love and unyielding commitment, once again led by a proactive and resourceful woman, as she goes to extreme lengths to save her husband after he is ensnared by a malevolent water spirit. This reversal of who is saving whom is really refreshing.
Fitcher’s Bird is another story with sibling love at its heart; this time a trio of sisters. It also features some very striking and creepy moments (including a torture chamber and a basin filled with blood and dismembered body parts) that make it very memorable. Our heroine saves both herself and her sisters, and her family bands together to seek characteristically dark vengeance against the evil sorcerer who wronged them. It’s deliciously dark and another real favourite of mine.
The Robber Bridegroom
In this tale, a bride-to-be learns of her would-be husband’s murderous ways and (with the help of an elderly woman) escapes, exposes him for the monster he is and frees herself from their doomed betrothal. Again, I love it for its darkness, but also for its banding together of women to outsmart the wicked men, and I feel it’s particularly worth note for its depiction of an elderly woman who is both empathetic and heroic, breaking away from the evil-old-crone stereotype.
What are some of your favourite Grimm fairy tales? Let’s chat about them.