Märchen Monday: Introduction and “Aschenputtel”

When the Grimm Brothers collected their Märchen from different parts of Germany, did they guess that children from all over the world would someday read them, too? These days, however, many of us grow up with different versions — often the “Disney versions” — of the Grimms’ folktales. In this case, we may be really surprised when we finally read the originals. Would you like to be surprised along with me?

Yes, this is an invitation to a readalong! I’ve been wanting to do one for a while, and I think the Grimms’ Märchen are the best place to start. Lots of German for me (and for other German learners who want to read along) — and lots of translations for everyone else! I recommend the Web site GrimmStories.com, which has the Märchen in eighteen different languages. If you’re learning Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Turkish, Vietnamese, or even English, then let’s learn together!

Today, let’s take a quick look at one of the most famous MärchenAschenputtel. Can you guess what the English title is before clicking the EN tab on the top of the page?

Märchen Memories

Let’s begin each readalong post with our childhood memories. Did you read or hear this story as a child? If so, what version of it?

I think most of us know Perrault’s Cinderella better than the Grimms’ Aschenputtel. Perrault’s version was also the inspiration for the Disney movie from 1950! When I was a little girl, I watched it over, learning all the songs by heart. I haven’t seen the new live version, though.

There is a simple way to tell if you’re reading Perrault/Disney rather than Grimm. Does it have ugly stepsisters, a fairy godmother, and a glass slipper? If so, then it’s not Aschenputtel!

Going Back to Grimm

So why should we care about the Grimm versions? Don’t some stories appear in every culture, with different details but the same essence? What makes one culture’s version better than another?

A friend sent me a podcast by an Eastern Orthodox professor who can answer that for us. He says: “. . . the Grimms were profoundly Christian in their imagination. What they did with these classic fairy tales was reconstruct them in a way which reflected a Christian imagination and heart.” (Link) It is that Christian imagination and heart that I am most interested in.

This professor was Dr. Vigen Guroian and the Märchen he chose for that lecture was Aschenputtel. I love his analysis of the story’s Christian symbolism. The best part is that it’s not just his own subjective interpretation. He argues convincingly that it’s what the Grimm brothers themselves intended. For instance, when Aschenputtel prays for help and receives assistance from turtledoves, it reflects the brothers’ faith that the Holy Ghost abides not just in believers, but in all creation. There may also be a Christian interpretation in Perrault’s fairy godmother, but I don’t know if Perrault wanted to emphasize it in the same way. With the turtledoves, Aschenputtel takes its place among other stories that nourished Europe’s Christian imagination: birds falling silent at St. Francis of Assisi’s command . . . fish swarming to hear St. Anthony of Padua’s preaching . . . a repentant bear carrying St. Corbinian’s possessions on its back.

We won’t have Dr. Guroian with us for the rest of readalong, but I wanted to acknowledge his influence today. Our future Märchen Monday posts will be longer and follow the style of his podcast.

Next Märchen Monday: Der Froschkönig oder der eiserne Heinrich

Read it here: Link

2 thoughts on “Märchen Monday: Introduction and “Aschenputtel”

  1. I’m a bit behind because of the end of term, but I’ll be reading along.

    I think one thing that makes the doves better than the fairy godmother is that they add an extra bit of distance — Perrault’s fairy godmother is fairly straightforward, but the doves increase the strangeness of the tale.

    1. Cristina @Linguavert

      It will be nice to read something with you again!

      Every time I see a modern movie that follows the Cinderella template (whether it knows it or not), I see an obvious fairy godmother figure. This is only partly because the Perrault version is more familiar in Hollywood. I suspect the other reason is that it’s just harder to “translate” not just the turtledoves, but also the tree on the mother’s grave where they normally roost.

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