The Big Three: Perrault, Andersen, and the Brothers Grimm

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about fairy tales. In exploring the different stories, I’ve found what I consider to be the most famous authors of fairy tales; Charles Perrault, the Grimm Brothers, and Hans Christian Andersen. So today I’m going to dive a little more into their backgrounds.

Charles Perrault

From: France, late 17th century

History: Born to a wealthy family, Perrault studied law and had a career in the French government. He was involved in the development of art and literature during his lifetime.

Writings: Perrault spent much of his career publishing essays on art, literature, and even the development of opera. In 1686, he wrote an epic poem about the Christian saint, Paulinus of Nola. In 1695, at the age of 67, Perrault published a collection of fairy tales, Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals, subtitled Tales of Mother Goose. In 1699, he published a French translation of 100 Fables from the Latin poet, Gabriele Faerno.

Inspiration: Perrault drew mostly from the tales that were handed down orally for generations.

Most Famous For: Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Puss in Boots, and Sleeping Beauty.

Legacy: Perrault is considered by many to be the founder of the modern fairy tale genre, even though it had existed previously.

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

From: Germany, early 19th century

History: The Grimm brothers were two in a family of eleven. While initially fairly well-off, their father’s early death forced them both to assume more responsibility. They were both hard-working and studious, graduating at the top of their respective classes from a prestigious school. They went on to study medieval German literature at the University of Marburg. Jacob was appointed the court librarian for the King of Westphalia and later, along with Wilhelm, became a librarian in Kassel.

Writings: In 1812, the brothers published Children’s and Household Tales, a collection of 86 fairy tales. They revised it and added to it over the years, until it contained over 200 stories. They also published two volumes of German legends and a volume of early literature history. The Grimm Brothers also published works on Danish and Irish folk tales and Norse mythology.

Inspiration: The brothers, like Perrault, drew from the traditional stories they had grown up hearing. They also included their versions of some Perrault tales, like Cinderella. They wanted their work to reflect the German culture, so most of the tales are specifically German, or at least the German version.

Most Famous For: Cinderella, The Frog Prince, Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Rumplestiltskin, and Snow White. (Look up the actual German titles sometime; they’re kind of fun to try to say. For example Snow White=Schneewittchen.)

Legacy: The Brothers Grimm are the go to source of fairy tales. They popularized the genre and had a comprehensive collection of works that are still well-known today. The Disney empire was built on movies based on their work. While some scholars today debate how appropriate the grim (pun intended) and often violent tales are for children, we still tell them, though perhaps happier versions.

Hans Christian Anderson

From: Denmark, mid 19th century

History: Andersen was the only child of a poor family. He received a basic education and at 14, moved to Copenhagen to pursue a career in acting. Eventually he was encouraged to write.

Writings: Andersen did a lot of writing, so I’ll skip to the important bits. He published the first two installments of his now famous Fairy Tales in 1835, completing the first volume in 1837. They sold poorly, especially compared to the two novels he wrote around the same time, which were quite famous. In 1838, he wrote another collection of stories, Fairy Tales Told for Children. In 1845, Andersen finally began getting recognition for his fairy tales. He published three more collections and continued to writes fairy tales in installments until 1872.

Inspiration: Andersen first began his writing by using the stories he grew up hearing. As he grew more confident, he began writing original stories, drawing on the common themes  and motifs of fairy tales.

Most Famous For: The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and The Ugly Duckling.

Legacy: Andersen was one of the first authors to write original fairy tales, rather than transcribe them. He, along with writers like George MacDonald (who is fantastic!), set the standard for fairy tales, as well as what would become the fantasy genre.

So there you have it! A look at the most influential writers of fairy tales. It had to be a short look, so I encourage you to do some research on your own about these men. They had such interesting lives and careers. And fairy tales themselves have an incredible history! Comment below and let me know what fun facts you find about them!

Until next time, word nerds!

6 thoughts on “The Big Three: Perrault, Andersen, and the Brothers Grimm

  1. I have a book of beautifully illustrated Andersen fairy tales that I think I bought at a library sale for super cheap. I bought it years ago and still haven’t read all the way through it but what I have read has been interesting so far. I am biased to Andersen for this reason when it comes to fairy tales.

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  3. Perrault is the true founder of fairy tales as we know them, the first to pluck stories that been around for centuries out of obscurity and record them. The Grimms get too much credit. In fact, most of the Disney versions are based on Perrault not Grimm. But Perrault was less known as a name because he published under the moniker Mother Goose.

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