by Sue Penkivech
Nearly anyone who’s old enough to have been told a fairy tale or to have seen a Disney movie is familiar with the Brothers Grimm, whether they realize it or not. A pair of German linguists, Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm published their first collection of fairy tales in 1812, titled Children’s and Household Tales, which included such stories as “Rapunzel”, “Hansel and Gretel”, “Rumpelstiltskin”, and “Sleeping Beauty”.
What many people don’t realize is that the Brothers Grimm’s initial work wasn’t especially well received. While titled “Children’s Tales”, many of the stories the book contained weren’t appropriate for children. Instead, they were a byproduct of the brothers’ research into German folklore, transcriptions of often macabre legends that were further annotated by the brothers themselves. Later editions addressed these concerns, with some stories removed and replaced by others, but the fairy tales read by children today lack certain elements of the original stories. I know the “Cinderella” story I read to my daughters definitely didn’t mention the stepsisters cutting off parts of their feet so that the glass slipper would fit, or their eyes being pecked out by pigeons, dooming them to live the rest of their lives as blind, crippled beggars.
What does all of this background have to do with the movie “The Brothers Grimm”, directed by Terry Gilliam in 2005? Both a lot, and very little.
The main characters of the movie are Jake and Will Grimm, played respectively by Heath Ledger and Matt Damon. Jake is, indeed, a collector of fairy tales, but that’s where the similarities end between their lives and those of the original brothers. The Brothers Grimm in the movie are con artists, who send their friends ahead to villages to bring old legends to life so that they can come in and save the day. And, coincidentally, collect a large fee for their services.
All that ends when General Delatombe (Jonathan Pryce) demands that they solve the apparently supernatural disappearances of young girls from the town of Marbaden, and Jake and Will find themselves in the middle of a fairy tale. Except this one is real.
So, if the movie isn’t a biographical account of the lives of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, what does it have in common with them?
Their fairy tales, of course! The movie starts off with Jake Grimm exchanging their cow for magic beans instead of the medicine he’s been sent off to get, and goes on from there. “Hansel and Gretel”. The gingerbread man – who in this rendition, devours the child before running away. The wolf from “Little Red Riding Hood”, now one and the same as the huntsman who killed him. And most importantly, the witch from “Snow White” – now transformed into a centuries old Thuringian Queen (Monica Bellucci)who lives in a tower reminiscent of Rapunzel’s, whose beauty exists only in her magic mirror, and who seeks to regain her youth by drinking the blood of twelve young girls. Throw in some great acting and awesome special effects, and…
If that isn’t a story worthy of the Brothers Grimm, I don’t know what is.
Sue Penkivech is a bookfair merchandiser, a former school librarian, and an aspiring writer. Her work has been published in Barren Worlds, “Fantastic Pulp Magazine”, and her short story, “Zombie Elves”, received first place in the 2009 Spec The Halls Contest. She’s prone to rambling about what she’s reading to anyone who’ll listen – which might be why she has so much time to read! Visit her on the web at suepenkivech.wordpress.com!