“So that by that time the Grimm brothers arrived to began their collection, much material had overlain the remote mythology of the early tribes. Tales from thee four quarters, inventions from every level of society and all stages of Western history were commingled. Nevertheless, as they observed, a homogeneity of style and character pervades the total inheritance. A continuous process of re-creation, a kind of spiritual metabolism, has so broken the original structures in assimilating them to the living civilization, that only the most meticulous and skillful observation, analysis and comparative research can discover their provenience and earlier state. The Grimm brothers regarded this rich composition as a living unity and sought to probe its past …”
The year 1812 brought Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow and, like a quiet fanfare of German rejoicing, the first volume of the “Nursery and Household Tales” . But the iron Jacob Grimm had to use his iron in more than scholarship. In 1814, after Jerome Bonaparte’s expulsion, Jacob was sent to Paris to demand resitution of his village library, Kassel, which the French had stolen. Later that year he was secretary of the Hessian legation at the Congress of Vienna, presenting- among the uniforms and ball gowns- the sharp, tough image of an uncompromising intellectual, learned in law, history, national rights.
And then he was off to Paris again, demanding the return of more filched books. The French librarians feared and hated him: “Nous ne devons plus souffrir ce Monsieur Grimm.” The other Monsieur Grimm- gentle, unassertive, stayed at home, wandering through the villages around Kassel and listening quietly to folk tales. Nobody ever said that he was insufferable.
Much of the rest of their story is of academic appointments, hard work, the slow amassing of honors, culminating in an exalted professorship and the final dignity of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin. There they stayed, accumulating honors and reputation till they died. Wilhelm succumbed to heart failure in 1859; Jacob followed four years later. In Berlin they lie buried side by side.Snow White and Rose red had had a good life: “they divided between them the great treasure which the dwarf had gathered together in his cave.” The rose trees that were their totems stand before the window,” and every year bear the most beautiful roses, white and red.”
There are no roses without thorns, and Jacob’s tree is thornier than Wilhelm’s. Jacob pricks us more sharply with the grim science of philology. Most people respond with smiles to Grimm’s fairy tales but with shudders to Grimm’s law. And yet one achievement is relevant to the other. To probe into the dark forest of German folklore meant also to examine the trees, root and branch, leaf and bark: no lore without language. Jacob was the first grammarian of German to look at the language as a process working through time, not as a static museum filled with fixed an immutable words. He started his “Deutsche Grammatik” in 1819 and finished it in 1822, the year of Grimm’s law.
What is Grimm’s law all about? It is about language as a changing, living thing, and it is about the patterns of linguistic change. To Jacob Grimm, as to the other language scholars of his time, the term “German” did not mean just the tongue spoken in Berlin or Gottingen or Kassel. It meant everything that could be recognized as a dialect of German, and it moved to the borders of languages that were not German at all-English , Dutch , Danish, Swedish. English, after all, is a kind of German:”My father is a good man” is demonstrably of the same family as “Mein Vater ist ein guter Mann.”
It seemed that there had once been a parent language, now long dead, that had had many children-some of these themselves dead- the tongues of the Goths and Vandals among them- ; others, like English and Dutch and High German- were much alive. You could see that all these teutonic languages were brothers and cousins; they all ate “Butter” and drank beer or “Bier”. They had diverged somewhat from each other, and words that must have had a common origin had grown apart. Thus, German used the word “Zahn” and English preferred “tooth.”
But if you compared ancient enough writings in both languages, you would find that the German Z ( pronounced “ts” ) was once “t”, just as in English, and that there had even been a “th” after what was now the final “n”; the German word had been “tahnth”. And once upon a time English had had the word “tanth.” In England this word had changed by a quite natural process to “tooth”; first of all get rid of the “n” and, as compensation, nasalize the preceding “a” ; then get rid of the nasalization ; then change the “a” to a good long “o”, giving “toth”; then push the back of the tongue higher, giving the “tooth” we have today. By examining the history of sound changes in reverse, you end up with German and English as pretty much the same language.
There was a time, then, in prehistory, when the children-English, Dutch, Norwegian, and so on- had not been born: only the original parent existed. This parent had left no written records; you could only discover roughly what he had been like by comparing his children one with the other. The earliest language of the Teutonic family that had left any records was Gothic, the tongue of the barbaric invaders of Rome, but it gave some idea of the character of the great dead Germanic father; the grammar was complicated, and there were endings somewhat like Latin. Jacob Grimm’s language book caught a shadowy, conjectural image of the “Urvater” , the original primitive Germanic tongue. And it asked the question how did this tongue come into existence?
Nin Harris: “…the mystique and force behind the literary fairy tale. This hinges on the elements of magic and the uncanny. Zipes quotes and modifies Freud in order to show how it is this element of the uncanny is one of the “significant elements” of the fairy tale, which survives modification again and again in order to weave its way into the consciousness of either child or adult. This is the crux of Zipes’ argument , that “the very act of reading a fairy tale is an uncanny experience in that it separates the reader from the restrictions of reality from the onset and makes the repressed unfamiliar familiar once again” .
Zipes equates this with a quest for home, which is psychological and nebulous in the first instance (within the reader’s mind) and which is social and value based in the second(within the tale). He goes on to delineate the potential for liberation within the world of the fairy tale. Zipes asserts that it is a process of moving from a child’s inner world to the outer world via a process of identification and objectification of the canny within the uncanny (that is: all that is not familiar) thus acclimatizing the child to his role in life. This can be done in a regressive way, via the tales of Perrault and his contemporaries, or in a manner that reflects the “process of struggle against all times of suppression and authoritarianism”. Zipes is of course espousing the latter.”
Joseph Campbell: A fourth viewpoint was propounded by the French sociologist, Emile Durkheim. He argued that the collective superexcitation (surexcitation) of clan, tribal, and intertribal gatherings was experienced by every participating member of the group pas an impersonal, infectious power (mana); and this power would be thought to emanate from the clan or tribal emblem (totem); and this emblem, therefore, would be set apart from all other objects as filled with mana (sacred vs. profane). This totem, this first cult object, would then infect with mana all associated objects, and through this contagion there would come into being a system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, uniting in a single moral community all believers.
The great contribution of Durkheim’s theory, and what set it apart from all that had gone before, was that it represented religion not as a morbid exaggeration, false hypothesis, or unenlightened fear, but as a truth emotionally experienced, the truth of the relationship of the individual to the group.
This recognition by Durkheim of a kind of truth at the root of the image-world of myth is supported, expanded, and deepened, by the demonstration of the psychoanalysts that dreams are precipitations of unconscious desires, ideals, and fears, and furthermore, that the images of dreams resemble–broadly, but then frequently to the detail–the motifs of folk talk and myth. Having selected for their study the symbol-inventing, myth-motif-producing level of the psyche–source of all those universal themes (“Elementary Ideas”) which men have read into the phenomena of nature, into the shadows of the tomb, the lives of the heroes, and the emblems of society–, the psychoanalysts have undoubtedly touched the central moment of the multifarious problem.
In the light of their discussion, theories which before seemed mutually contradictory become easily coordinated. Man, nature, death, society–these have served simply as fields into which dream-meanings have been projected. Hence the references of the wild motifs are not really (no matter what the rationalizing consciousness may believe) to the sun, the moon, the stars–the wind and thunder–the grave–the hero–or even the power of the group, but through these, back again to a state of the psyche. Mythology is psychology, misread as cosmology, history, and biography.