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
The 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