CE - Anthropology

Hänsel und Gretel: das Märchen in Kunst, Musik, Literatur, Medien und Karikaturen [Hansel and Gretel: The Fairy Tale in Art, Music, Literature, Media, and Cartoons]. Wolfgang Mieder. Vienna: Praesens-Verlag, 2007. 323 p. 21 cm. (Kulturelle Motivstudien, 7). ISBN 978-3-7069-0469-8: EUR 30

Wolfgang Mieder, a native German who is currently a professor of German language and folklore at the University of Vermont, is a prolific scholar, having published over 100 monographs and 300 articles, in both German and English. He is particularly known for his work in paremiology (study of proverbs). In this work, Mieder has assembled a vast number of texts and images (mostly from Germany and the United States) to demonstrate the degree to which the Hansel-and-Gretel story continues to live on in Western culture in various forms. The volume appears as the seventh in his series Kulturelle Motivstudien, in which Mieder presents his collections of materials relating to literary motifs and themes taken from European folk traditions. One could characterize his work as reception studies.

KMH 15 (Grimms Kinder- und Hausmärchen [Fairy Tales] no. 15), as “Hansel and Gretel” is known, regularly appears in first or second place on the list of most popular narratives in Western literature, perhaps explained by the universal human experience it portrays—children leaving their parents and going out to experience the world, i.e., a coming-of-age story. The basic message of the tale is that despite the dangers the world poses, children can master it on their own and at the end of their trials discover a “good world” with a happy ending. To be sure, many modern versions of the story challenge this assumption and turn it on its head.

In the 12 chapters of his book, Mieder offers a textual history of “Hansel and Gretel,” discusses its various interpretations. He traces the reception of the tale in “art” (illustrations by 12 artists between 1815 and 1984); music (folk music, pop music, and opera); prose works (20 texts, including one in English, the popular Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Garner); poetry (33 texts, about half in English); proverbs (in German); comic strips (12 from English and American sources, 1974 to 2003); cartoons (41 cartoons from 1966 to 2003) and political cartoons; and advertisements (from 1948 to 1996). There are no indexes or bibliography, presumably because they would have added considerably to the length of the book.

Many scholarly works have been written about the Grimms, fairy tales, and some of these overlap with Mieder’s, such as Hans-Jörg Uther’s Handbuch zu den “Kinder- und Hausmärchen” der Brüder Grimm (Berlin, 2008—see IFB 09-1/2) and his Enzyklopädie Märchen und Sagen (see RREA 10:151); Heinz Rölleke’s Die Märchen der Brüder Grimm: Quellen und Studien (see RREA 13:206), Märchen der Brüder Grimm: eine Einführung (see RREA 10:149), and Grimms Märchen und ihre Quellen (see RREA 11:150); Ulf Diedrichs’s Who’s who im Märchen (see RREA 2:224); and Regina Freyberger’s Märchenbilder-Bildermärchen: Illustrationen zu Grimms Märchen 1819-1945 [Illustrations to Grimms’ Fairy-Tales, 1819-1945] (Oberhausen, 2009—see IFB 09-1/2).

Mieder’s work differs from these in the narrowness of his scope, since he focuses on only one of the fairy tales. Furthermore, Mieder’s perspective is that of a social historian and folklorist. His intent is to use the Hansel-and-Gretel story as a means of shedding light on recent cultural history, and also to reveal how familiar literary themes have been used over and over again to comment on contemporary situations (often as a parody, corrupted form, or “anti fairy-tale”), precisely because these themes are so recognizable. [wh/akb]

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Last update: January 2013 [LC]
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