Book Review: The Mythology of Grimm: The Fairy Tale and Folklore Roots of the Popular TV Show

I have always loved fairy tales. As a youngster, I had stacks of anthologies featuring authors like Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, and Perrault. I especially thrilled to the tales of young women being clever and resourceful. They would find themselves in impossible straits and then work towards a resolution. Sometimes they won. Sometimes it was at great personal loss. Nevertheless, it was always a fantastic story of human suffering and triumph.

When I discovered Disney’s fairytale movies, I was ecstatic. I would get to see all my favorite characters in their very own films. CinderellaThe Little Mermaid! Beauty and the Beast! Briar Rose and Snow White!

Loses her voices is NOTHING on the original tale.
Loses her voice is NOTHING on the original tale.

 …wait. What? What is this cream-cheese coated BS? And why is the prince always being the savior? Oftentimes in the original tales, they are pretty clueless until the end. 

OK, yes it’s fun. And the music is <erm, can be> great. But, it isn’t the *real* stories. It isn’t the way I remember it; like it was in the tales.

To say I was disappointed is an understatement. My recollection of those stories was of a dark and gritty world. A world where winning the day was often threaded through with sorrow and loss.

Shut up. I was a goth type in my younger days.

OK. Might still be a touch gothy. But, I digress. 

Still. I wanted the stories that I recalled from my youth. Stories that involved a good amount of surmounting terrible odds, with cleverness and wit being the deciding factors instead of looking good in a pink (NO BLUE!) gown.

Really? Dress color is what we arguing about when Maleficent is hanging about??
Really? Dress color is what we are arguing about when Maleficent is hanging about??


Fast forward to 2011.
NBC decides on a new show called Grimm. It would feature as a base the world of the Brothers Grimm, only set in modern times. How would things change? What would the creatures of that dark and often awful world do to survive in a millennial setting?

Did it deliver?
Oh, my yes.

I remember watching the pilot episode and being enthralled with glimpses into a world that not only grasped the fairy tale world, but told it like it was.  Dark. Grim1. Foreboding.

But, I quickly realized that there was so much more to the fairy tale mythology than I already knew. Layers and layers of information of which I was ignorant. Holy crap! Did I miss things?  Was the information I read in those anthologies of my youth missing things?

Yes. Yes, they were.
Whole reams of information were glossed over in those fairy tales because the people who were reading them at the time they were published already knew about that stuff. The metaphors and symbolism were part of their daily life. It was a fascinating glimpse into world that I thought I understood.  I therefore did what any upstanding writer slash literary historical dabbler would do; I researched.
And I ran into a whole mess of confusion and arguments2.

Well, crap. But, I liked the series and I kept watching. Also? Nick Burkhardt was super hot. But, I still felt like I might be missing some of the symbolism being offered by the show.

Enter Nathan Robert Brown author and mythologist. In his most recent offering, “The Mythology of Grimm: The Fairy Tale and Folklore Roots of the Popular TV Show”, he has collated not only the series episodes, but delved into the myth and meaning behind each. Most chapters start out with a brief retelling of the original fairy tale that inspired an episode. Also, each chapter has boxes that contain “Grimm Words,” that is, words that appear in the episode and what they actually might mean nowadays. There are also “Tasty Morsels,” which are nuggets of information that either explain some of the things that the original audience already knew or a bit of historical awesomeness.

A Grimm Words example:

Hind:  As it is used here [within the retelling], is a female deer that has been alive for more than three years. The older a female deer is, it is said, the more firm the meat becomes.

A Tasty Morsels example:

Remember the Folter Clinic where runaways of Portland go for medical treatment? Well, maybe they should have paid more attention to the clinic’s name. In German, the word “Folter” means “torture.” So….yeah….not exactly the kind of place you’d want to go for a sore throat.

From there, Brown compares and contrasts the episode to the original fairy tale.


Und dann3?  He then delves into the psychology and mythology of the episode. Even better? He does so in an entirely readable and approachable way.  Brown uses contemporary and fun language to make a somewhat daunting task – that of figuring out what all the behind the scene information might be – into an easily readable and educational read.

I highly recommend this book, both for the members of the fandom and for anyone wanting to know a little more of from where their granny stories stem.            

“The Mythology of Grimm: The Fairy Tale and Folklore Roots of the Popular TV Show” is coming out this September.

1 – Ha! A pun! ;D
2 – If there is ANYTHING literary and language historians like to do, it is argue and contradict one another.  <Ask me how I know>.
3 – Woo, making those four semesters of German count!

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