The Grimm brothers versus Charles Perrault
"Why is French Little Red Riding Hood different from German? After a brief look at the literary history of the two neighbouring countries, France and Germany, it would appear that Grimm's fairy tales are remodelled versions of Perrault's: Cinderella, Puss in Boots, Sleeping Beauty - all the stories that have become childhood classics already exist in the French writer's Contes de Ma mère l'Oye, which were passed on to the Grimm brothers by Huguenots. The tales were then adapted for use in popular education.
Little Red Riding Hood
Little Red Riding Hood: German or French?
My 6 year old daughter speaks German and French, just like me. She loves fairy tales, so at home we have storybooks in both languages. One day we noticed that the German and French versions of Little Red Riding Hood differed: for example, in the French book, Little Red Riding Hood brings a little pot of butter and a cake to her grandmother; in the German book, it's a piece of cake and some wine.
"Details" you may say. Well, maybe so. But I wanted to know for sure, and I discovered something that baffled me and will certainly baffle many of my compatriots.
My own Rotkäpchen, the Little Red Riding Hood of my childhood, was read to me in the great book of German fairy tales compiled by the Brothers Grimm. "Kinder und Hausmärchen", "Tales of Childhood and Home", published in 1812. And yet, you see, this German Little Red Riding Hood actually comes from France.
Wait, there's more. Dornröschen, Blaubart, de gestiefelte Kater, Aschenputtel, der kleine Däumling, all French! Sleeping Beauty, Bluebeard, Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Thumbelina, they can all be found in a collection of folk tales published in 1697, some 115 years earlier. The collection is entitled "Histoires ou contes du temps passé avec des moralités" (Stories or tales of the past with moralities) and was published by the famous Charles Perrault, a man of letters and member of the French Academy.
Perrault's tales told to the Grimm brothers a century later
The Grimm brothers lived in Kassel, in the Hessian region, at the beginning of the 19th century. They were the first in Germany to build up a quasi-scientific collection of folk tales, transcribing tales that were brought back to them orally. Today we know that the two brothers never went overland as the legend has it, to interview peasants in their cottages. They had them told in their living rooms. They probably heard Perrault's tales from a certain Madame Viehmann, a middle-class woman from Kassel, and the three young Hassenpflug sisters. These people were Huguenots and therefore of French origin.
The Grimm brothers, who liked to present themselves as collectors of old German traditions, hunters of popular and anonymous heritage, were therefore not very particular about the origin of their tales, which sometimes came from other collections. They would have been aware that some of their tales came from Perrault's book but they never admitted it.
On the other hand, they made many changes to these tales to adapt them to their time and make them more educational
Adapted tales, less cruel and more moral
Let's take our Little Red Riding Hood again. In Perrault's version, the mother does not warn of the danger in the forest. In the Grimm version, the mother orders Little Red Riding Hood to stay on the path. In Perrault, the wolf asks Red Riding Hood to lie down naked in her bed, which is far too immodest for the Grimm brothers. In Perrault, the wolf eats Little Red Riding Hood and the tale is over. This ending is far too cruel for the Grimm brothers, in whom not only are the little girl and her grandmother saved by the hunter, but in which, in addition, Little Red Riding Hood fills the wolf's belly with stones, which kills the weighed-down beast.
If you look at the storybooks published today in France and Germany, you can see that the different versions and rewrites have influenced each other and that the two versions have become very similar. And one thing is certain: almost all the French versions have taken up the ending of the Grimm brothers: whether the wolf makes it or not, Little Red Riding Hood always comes back to life. Personally I prefer it and so does my daughter.
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