Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Grimms' The Twelve Brothers: First edition verses Seventh

Still loving my new copy of the First Edition of the brothers Grimm Tales.  Sometimes I'll get disappointed when there isn't a big difference between stories in the first edition verses later ones, but I guess it's good to know that Wilhelm (who did most of the editing) didn't completely change every story.

Some changes are more well known to fairy tale fans-the fact that Rapunzel's witch/fairy found out about the prince because Rapunzel was pregnant and showing, or the fact that Snow White's stepmother was originally her mother.

So I'm on the lookout for differences in tales that aren't as well known. I found some very interesting edits in The Twelve Brothers, a version of "The Wild Swans." The link is to the latest edition, if you want to read the whole thing.

The story begins with a King and Queen who had twelve sons, and expecting their thirteenth child.
First edition: The King doesn't want the last child to be a daughter, and threatens to kill his sons if the Queen should give birth to a girl.
Final edition: The King wants to give his only daughter the entire inheritance, so he makes the same threat to his sons.

This is a pretty interesting change. The original King is so obviously sexist and wrong, and yet the change is almost worse in a way because it makes it seem like favoring a daughter is linked with evil. That was my first impression, since we're so wired to look at fairy tales through a gender lens, but actually upon further reflection I think the change was made just to avoid a major plot hole. If the King really hates girls, and has no problem killing his own children, why would he allow his daughter to live and run around the castle? It makes much more sense to threaten to kill your sons if you prefer daughters.

Well, the Queen is too loving a mother to allow her sons to be murdered. She sends them into the forest to hide until her baby is born. If the baby is a son, she will have a white flag raised from the castle; if it is a girl, it will be a red flag and they should flee.
First edition: It's briefly mentioned that the youngest son is the Queen's favorite
Final edition: The youngest son is named Benjamin and given a larger role. There is an extra scene in which he begs her to tell him why she is so sad, and she hesitates to tell him at first, but then shows him the room with twelve coffins that have been prepared for them.

The brothers hide and watch for the flag. When the baby is born (the last edition mentions that this was during Benjamin's watch), there is a red flag, and their lives are all in danger. The young men are angry that they should have lost their lives for a girl, and swear that if they ever see a girl they will kill her. The brothers make a home for themselves in the woods and hunt.
First edition: "Whenever they encountered a maiden, she was treated without mercy and lost her life"
Final edition: The brothers conveniently seem to avoid actually encountering any females, so they are not murderers any more.

Meanwhile, their little sister has grown up, and one day finds twelve shirts that belonged to her brothers. She is told the story, and decides to go out in search of them. She encounters one of her brothers at home.
First edition: That brother threatens to kill her, but she pleaded that she would keep house for them, and they allowed her to live.
Final edition: The brother she meets is Benjamin, who didn't want to kill her at all. Before showing her to his brothers, he made them promise not to kill the first maiden they saw. The brothers, rather than simply realizing they could use someone to do housework, were impressed by her beauty, delicacy, and sweetness, and loved her.
Also, rather than doing the housework solo, she helps Benjamin do the cooking and cleaning. I found this very interesting, and probably countercultural? This seems to be a very rare instance of a male doing any sort of housework in the Grimms' tales.

The family lived and worked together happily, until one day, the Princess found twelve beautiful lilies and picked them, only to be told by an old woman that the flowers were her brothers, and now they would be turned into ravens forever. The only way she could save them would be to take a vow of silence.
First edition: The Princess must be silent for twelve years, at the risk of her brothers dying if she broke her vow
Final edition: The silence was shortened to seven years

Gruelle Image2The Princess was discovered by a King, who asked her to be his wife. She did not speak, but nodded. Only her husband's mother was wicked and put into her son's mind that his new bride was a wicked beggar and must be put to death. The King would not believe his mother at first, but finally was persuaded, and agreed to have her burnt. Just as the flames were getting near, the last minute of the curse was up. The twelve ravens came flying down and turned into men, and their sister was able to defend herself and tell her story. The King rejoiced.
First edition: "Now they had to decide what they should do with the evil mother-in-law. Well, they stuck her into a barrel full of boiling oil and poisonous snakes, and she died a ghastly death."
Final edition*: Rather than the main characters imposing their own justice, the same fate was determined by a court of law

*Thank you to Julia Mavroidi for pointing this out to me. My translation (this Barnes and Noble copy) ends this way: "But the wicked mother-in-law was very unhappy, and died miserably." Apparently their editor/translator (uncredited, that I can find) still found the ending too violent

Cover and first picture-Andrea Dezso, Walter Crane, John B. Gruelle

For more on "The Twelve Brothers," here's an interesting article on Fairy Tale Origins


  1. Very interesting! Would love to see more comparisons like these. The Twelve brothers has never been my favorite fairytale of this type (mainly becuse the King seems all oo easily convinced to kill his wife), but it has some interesting details, such as the sexist father (who frustatingly neither learns his lesson, nor is punished)or the twelve coffins.

    On men doing housework: Since in the 1857 vesion it is explicitly mentioned that Benjamin is the youngest and too weak to hunt, it can be assumed that he is still a child. Children who were not yet old enough to find work or help their father with his work would stay at home with their mother (or the eldest sister who would take the role of the female authority figure if no mother was present) and help her with housework. I think The Grimm's decided to make Benjamin so young in order for his question about his mother's sadness to seem more innocent and therefore have more impact. (I feel reminded of the scene in the Bible when Isaac asks his father Abraham why they do nothave a sacrificial animal with them).

    Your comment on the ending quite confused me, as in all versions of the 1857 edition I have access to (I checked Wikisource, Gutenberg and my own print version) the evil Queen is still punished by putting her in a barrel of boiling oil and snakes. (Thinkig of it: Wouldn't the hot oil just kill the snakes?). The difference is that while in the 1812 version "they" simply decide to punish her that way, while in the 1857 one it is a court of law that makes the decision. I thik this may be one of the instances in which the translation wasn't quite faithful to the original text.

    1. That's true, it would be nice if the Father were to later repent or something.

      Interesting about Benjamin being a child, and I wonder what would have happened in families if there were no females? Would the youngest naturally take up the housework?

      And also interesting about the ending...must be my translation isn't that accurate (I use a Barnes and Noble copy, and there's no information about translator/edition/anything). I will add that to the post

    2. Well, your analysis is much more in-depth than the side-by-side comparisons I did may back when.

      I always find it strange that people seem to remember this story more from the Andersen version "Wild Swans". I encountered the Grimm version first in print. Before that, the first version I saw on-screen was the Jim Henson's The Storyteller version "The Three Ravens" (note, it's Storyteller star John Hurt's 76th birthday today).

    3. Where are your side by side comparisons? I tried searching on your blog and couldn't find them

      I think maybe people remember Wild Swans because Andersen only has the one version and the Grimms have several, so it's harder to keep them straight? I know I remember Wild Swans more distinctly because we had a cartoon version as a kid

    4. I LOVE the Storyteller! It's my favorite on-screen fairy tale adaptation:)

    5. Here's the post I made on this book:

      I didn't want to dwell much on this book because I was trying to limit my Grimm intake. I've found that diets of fairy tales have a disproportionate amount of Grimm in them.

  2. I love my first edition. So many little (or big) differences to ferret out! I also love the fact that the notes include some additional stories or versions that were not used in the main text. I had been wanting to read a translation of this edition for years and am delighted that Mr. Zipes finally published one!

    1. It's definitely a treasure trove! Still so much to read and learn...

  3. Interesting! I read a Hungarian version of this recently, in which there is no transformation of any kind - the brothers live as bandits in the woods, and the girl works as their housekeeper for years until they return to the ways of decent people. In that version, they were sent away by their mother and became bandits because they were so rowdy she had enough of them :D

    1. The sending away rowdy kids is a funny touch, but I feel like without any sort of transformation the story feels a little more.. disappointing? Is that story considered a fairy tale?