Thursday, July 15, 2010

Reading Grimms; or, Picking an English Translation, Etc.

A fairly regular question over the years has been what version of Grimms I use. I have addressed the issue a little on SurLaLune--it is buried at the bottom of the page of the Grimms collection on SurLaLune here, but I'll quote the essential info here:

Grimms' Tales for Young and Old: The Complete Stories The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm All-New Third Edition

In the 21st century, two of the most accurate and best translations of the Grimms' tales are by Ralph Manheim and Jack Zipes. The Zipes translation, currently in a third edition, includes extra fragments and earlier manuscripts, but many readers prefer Manheim's translations. The choice is aesthetic and should be decided by the individual reader. However, if you are looking for a reliable English translation, I recommend selecting either one or both of these translations.

Still, that one doesn't describe my particular methods and madness, so for today, I thought I would share a little more.

First of all, I do not use just one version of Grimms, for a multitude of reasons, a few of which I'll discuss here. I liken it to asking a Bible scholar which version of the Bible they read. The answer would be several! My list is much shorter, but definitely numbers more than one.

I am not a proficient German reader without much painstaking effort. (With Romance languages, especially French, I am MUCH more fluent.) So I usually rely on translations into my native English, of which there are an abundance.

Finding a reliable translation can be tricky. I don't have the time and inclination to discuss the issues--besides which they are not my specialty--so I will instead recommend a wonderful thesis by Martin James Sutton: The sin-complex: a critical study of English versions of the Grimms’ Kinder- und Hausmärchen in the nineteenth century in comparison with the German originals. A shortened version was printed into a book, but is difficult to find and out of print to boot. The good news is that the thesis is available in full online for your edification from The University of Auckland. I so appreciate when this happens! The thesis is provided as a PDF in three parts, all of which are linked from the handling page. Here's the abstract, too:

This thesis investigates the English versions of the Grimms’ Kinder- und Hausmärchen (= KHM) published between the years 1823 and 1884, i.e. from the first translation by Edgar Taylor and David Jardine, German Popular Stories (1823 and 1826), to the first complete edition of the Grimms’ collection of stories and notes by Margaret Hunt, Grimm’s Household Tales (1884). Each of the first eleven chapters deals with a specific English edition and gives an analysis of one or more stories from that edition together with the texts of the German original. The two versions, German and English, are placed alongside each other in parallel columns to facilitate comparison. The twelfth chapter takes the final paragraph of one story, ‘Sneewittchen’ (KHM 53), and examines the seven different English versions of it in the editions discussed in the previous chapters. The final chapter compares the quality of English translations of the KHM in the nineteenth century with that of the Grimms’ sole venture in translating tales in the English language into German, viz. Wilhelm Grimm’s Irische Elfenmärchen (1826). Included as an appendix is a tabulated concordance of the contents of the twelve major editions discussed in this thesis. The investigation shows that the areas deemed to be sensitive ones by English translators were those which had to do with what Darton (Children’s Books in England, 1982, p.99) has singled out as ‘a deep-rooted sin-complex’ in England. Any story that touched on the issues of religious belief and superstition, the human body and its physical nature, violence and evil, and the intense emotions felt by human beings which prompt them to commit violent and destructive acts, was inevitably viewed with concern and mistrust, especially by purveyors of children’s literature in the nineteenth century. All these issues, as well as the element of fantasy which so readily admits and entertains them, were prone to considerable revision by successive translators of the KHM.

In other words, Sutton explains the issues with various early translations of Grimms. He includes references to later translations such as Manheim and Zipes, overall supporting the consensus that these are two of the best translations available today, and ever, in English.  Professors across the land agree for either one of these are most commonly assigned as textbooks for classes using fairy tales.

Personally, I use the Zipes much more often than the Manheim simply because there are extras included--and added in subsequent editions since it is now in its third edition.  My needs are for as much material as possible with a reliable translation.  The Manheim is excellent, too, and sufficient for most people's needs.

However, the nature of SurLaLune requires a public domain text which makes Sutton's The Sin Complex a helpful resource.  Years ago, thanks to availability I chose to depend primarily on Margaret Hunt's translation for the website.  It appears quite often in printed versions today, sometimes uncredited.  Of the many nineteenth century editions, it is considered one of the most reliable and is also one of the most easily attainable.  I have a reprint version which also includes the Grimms' notes to the tales, at least the best English translation of them available.  Most print editions of Hunt's do not include the Grimms' extensive notes.  The notes are problematic, a strange mesh of Hunt's own knowledge and the Grimms, but they are available, more than I can say for other translations.  Year ago, I scanned the notes and started editing them to include on SurLaLune.  Many are available, although I have never finished editing all of them. 

When I am looking for kid-friendly versions of the popular tales, I usually use versions found in Andrew Lang's colored fairy books.  When I first started SurLaLune 12 years ago, those were the most accessible for me and thus ended up as many of the annotated versions on SurLaLune.

At times, I also use D. L. Ashliman's site where he has translated many of the most popular tales himself with his own notes and occasional comparisons. 

The Annotated Brothers Grimm (The Annotated Books) The Classic Fairy Tales Grimm's Grimmest

For the armchair reader not as concerned with the strictly academic, I also recommend Maria Tatar's The Annotated Brothers Grimm.  It only provides many of the most popular tales, but the introductions and annotations are informative for most readers and includes illustrations.  The Opies' The Classic Fairy Tales is not strictly Grimms, but provides some more insight into the most popular tales as well as some from other sources.  Finally, it is out of print again, but Grimm's Grimmest is another standard recommendation for those seeking the "grittier" versions of some Grimms--there aren't many tales there, but they are presented grittier than the standard Grimms.  The versions in there rely on the earlier, less edited, tales from the Grimms.

So the simplest answer if you just want to have one version of Grimms on your shelf would be to choose the Zipes translation or the Manheim, if you prefer it aesthetically. You may choose to supplement it with many of the versions mentioned here if you want more information.

The Grimm Reader: The Classic Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Also of note here is an upcoming translation of the 40 most popular Grimms, translated by Maria Tatar as The Grimm Reader. It is not a complete Grimms but offers a new translation of the tales for those looking for a new version to compare and contrast.  I haven't seen it yet, but it will be the newest translation available from a respected scholar.

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