I must confess right away that I’ve always been a fan of fairy tales. As a young boy, my favorite and frequent rental from the library was a two-volume set of fairy tales (along with books about sexual abuse, teen pregnancy, drug abuse, and deadly insects/fish/mammals), so perhaps my attraction to this particular anthology is specific to me, and may not appeal to you.
Regardless of your fondness for fairy tales, I heartily recommend this book. I initially spotted it in Barnes & Noble, flipped it open, and immediately learned that the frog prince is a phallic symbol. From that point on, I had imagery in my head of a giant penis asking a princess to kiss him, and I couldn’t rest until I had the book. Covering most of the popular Grimm tales, translator/annotator supplies tidbits about the symbology common throughout the stories, their counterparts in different parts of Europe, and allusions to their more violent predecessors (the Grimms tried to tone them down for young readers). The stories are punctuated by a variety of paintings and woodcuts and lengthy introductions concerning the differing interpretations of the text. Bruno Bettelheim, for instance, turns every word into a Freudian symbol, and thus the tales are full of giant penis and Å’dipal urges. More interesting, too, is the struggle between these largely pagan, naturalistic tales and the stalwart Christian influence present in Prussia. Like Beowulf, there is an obvious editing by the Grimms to twist the motives and virtues of the stories or replace them entirely with Judeo-Christian mores. In some cases, it’s not hard, when you consider what an important part Nature played in folk literature: the step from Mother Nature to Jehovah is not so far-fetched. But that’s another entry entirely.
If you’re busy, The Annotated Brothers Grimm is easy to read in bits and pieces. Most of the stories are fairly short, even with the added commentary. It took me a couple of weeks, because I was reading several books at a time, and was rather harried with the new semester at that point, but I could have knocked it out relatively quickly were it not for that. A recommended read, even if you just get it from the library.