A look at how Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm put together their famous book of fairy tales, Nursery and Household Tales, and how folklore and stories have evolved over time:
The Grimms, however, changed more than the style of the tales. They changed the content. Their first edition was not intended for the young, nor, apparently, were the tales told at rural firesides. The purpose was to entertain grownups, during or after a hard day’s work, and rough material was part of the entertainment. But the reviews and the sales of the Grimms’ first edition were disappointing to them. Other collections, geared to children, had been more successful, and the brothers decided that their second edition would take that route. In the introduction, they dropped the claim of fidelity to folk sources. Indeed, they accurately said more or less the opposite: that, while they had been true to the spirit of the original material, the ‘phrasing’ was their own. Above all, any matter unsuitable for the young had been expunged.
As with the rating committee of the Motion Picture Association of America, what they regarded as unsuitable for the young was information about sex. In the first edition, Rapunzel, imprisoned in the tower by her wicked godmother, goes to the window every evening and lets down her long hair so that the prince can climb up and enjoy her company. Finally, one day, when her godmother is dressing her, Rapunzel wonders out loud why her clothes have become so tight. ‘Wicked child!’ the godmother says. ‘What have you done?’ What Rapunzel had done goes unmentioned in the second edition. Such bowdlerizing went on for a half century. By the final edition, the stories were far cleaner than at the start.
“The Lure of the Fairy Tale.” — Joan Acocella, The New Yorker