The Great God Wish

Paths through the Forest: A Biography of the Brothers Grimm

by Murray B. Peppard
Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 266 pp., $7.95


by Anne Sexton
Houghton Mifflin, 112 pp., $5.00

About Wise Men and Simpletons: Twelve Tales from Grimm

translated by Elizabeth Shub
Macmillan, 118 pp., $4.95

Friend Monkey

by P.L. Travers
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 284 pp., $6.95

A Game of Dark

by William Mayne
Dutton, 143 pp., $4.50

The Third Road

by Martha Bacon
Atlantic-Little, Brown, 188 pp., $4.95


by Nina Bawden
Lippincott, 144 pp., $3.93

Innocent Grove

by Geoffrey Wagner
World, 124 pp., $4.95

The Lorax

by Dr. Seuss
Random House, 60 pp., $3.50

Children and Fiction

by Wallace Hildick
World, 222 pp., $6.95

Bear Circus

by William Pène du Bois
Viking, 48 pp., $4.95

How the Mouse Was Hit on the Head by a Stone and so Discovered the World

by Etienne Delessert
Doubleday, 32 pp., $5.95

The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine

by Donald Barthelme
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 32 pp., $4.95

Tooni the Elephant Boy

by Astrid Bergman Sucksdorff
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 48 pp., $4.25

One Misty Moisty Morning: Rhymes from Mother Goose

pictures by Mitchell Miller
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 40 pp., $2.95

The Brothers Grimm
The Brothers Grimm; drawing by David Levine

Lewis Carroll wrote Alice for the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church. Edward Lear made up his Nonsense Songs and Stories for the children at Knowsley Hall where he was painting Lord Derby’s parrots. Beatrix Potter told the Tale of Peter Rabbit to entertain a five-year-old invalid. In collecting and publishing their Fairy Tales the brothers Grimm had a loftier end in view: the greater glory of Germany. Not that they didn’t care for children: Wilhelm was a doting father, Jacob an affectionate uncle; both had romantic views about the sacred innocence of childhood. But pleasing children with fairy tales was only a by-product of their great endeavor, which was nothing less than to recapture the whole German cultural heritage. Fairy tales were part of a grand design which also comprised folk tales, heroic tales, mythology, translations from Old German and Danish, German legal antiquities, and the monumental Grammar and Dictionary.

What a pair the brothers were! From childhood utterly devoted to each other and to the great project, living in the same house, working at two desks in the same study, talking less as they grew older and only needed to discuss the details of their work, absorbing a wife (Wilhelm’s, when he was thirty-nine) and children without impairing their profound harmony. They were in no way sheltered from the rough winds of history, as we learn from Murray Peppard’s enthusiastic biography. Clearly his book is a work of love, and full of interest, if now and then a bit heavy-handed (“Jacob, the lifelong bachelor, was not blind to the charms of women and he was an alert observer of the fair sex”).

As a young man Jacob earned his living as librarian to Jerome Bonaparte, then King of Hesse, and attended the Congress of Vienna in 1814 as secretary to the Hessian legation. In 1837, when both brothers were professors at Göttingen, they and five colleagues protested so effectively against the absolute rule of the new Elector of Hanover that they had to leave the state and, after difficult years, settled in Berlin. Yet for all the domestic and professional upheavals, the quarrels with other scholars, the publishing delays, the ever-present worries over health and money, the brothers were happy, as those are who have a vision and spend their lives in realizing it. I looked up W. P. Ker’s essay on Jacob Grimm: Ker sees their progress and conquests as

…a demonstration of the power of that great god Wish whom Jacob Grimm was first to name. The moral seems to be Fay ce que Voudras, when that counsel is rightly understood.

They collected fairy tales in Hesse and Westphalia in the same manner as Walter Scott, a few years earlier, had collected the ballads of the Scottish Border. Oral tradition was all-important, and they sought out grandmothers, shepherds, nurses, far-traveled soldiers, anyone…

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